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MYSTIC CHORDS OF MEMORY

Mystic chords of memory Abraham Lincoln called them. That mix of emotions, perceptions, and fluid, evolving interpretations of the past. Our life stories change because, over time, we can integrate losses and grief and pain and imbue them with meaning. Life is lived forward but understood backwards. One religious tradition says this world is a “valley of tears.” I believe that because that has been my experience.  I do not need scripture to convince me. But all of us suffer. The Greeks tell us that human beings must suffer, suffer unto truth. “Yet in even in our sleep, pain which knows no forgetting falls from by drop upon the heart. Until, in our despair, against our will, comes Wisdom to us through the awful Grace of God.” Thus, have I been able to make sense of suffering in my life. If it did not reveal meaning or prompt change it would be futile. And the life of man nasty solitary brutish and short.

Pain, Loss. Memory. The Adelaide Oval has been both a field of dreams and a cauldron of nightmares for me. There, I planned to end my life on the evening of Australia Day 2012 during the final Test of India’s 2011-12 tour. Virat Kohli scored his maiden Test century, heralding a career that will probably entail eclipsing the immortal Sachin Tendulkar’s Test Aggregate. Both Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman played their final Test Matches on the Adelaide Oval in that Test. They never played another Test Match. But I went on to see a few more as a woman. Rahul Dravid, synchronicity, fate, God, call it what you will, conspired to divert me from my own tortured mind that night. I flushed the load of sedatives and sleeping pills down the lavatory and tentatively affirmed life over death. Nowadays, I invariably sit alone at the end of play in Adelaide in the shade at the River Torrens end and reflect on what has been and what so easily may have been.

As I wrote here in the opening blog of this summer Dravid’s grace, humility and transcendent calm touched a chord inside me when I was in the audience for his Bradman Oration. I dedicated a chapter of my account of that tour to him and the impact his words had on me during the most trying ordeal of my life. He somehow transmitted hope amid despair. He reached me when no-one or nothing else could.

I made my debut as a cricket broadcaster at the Adelaide Oval when India played there in December 2014.Last Friday I gave my last broadcast about Test cricket for the ABC, from their Adelaide studio. In 2014, I shared the ABC media box with Dravid, whom I had met for the first time after transition at Trent Bridge in Nottingham the previous July. We have since become friends though he looms larger in my life than I do in his. Every moment I have spent with him has been a joy because he is good man. And an inspiration because he is also a great man.  A moving account of our personal correspondence and the talismanic presence he has provided in my life was dramatized in a production by Sydney Theatre Company earlier this year. Still Point Turning described the significance of cricket as the thread connecting my life. As a bereaved kid it gave me a quiet solace and a respite from bullying. As a trans woman it has given me acceptance and a renewed faith in the goodness of humanity. By choosing to live that night in Adelaide I earned a second innings. I am following on. But it could have been much worse. And as Dravid and Laxman showed at home in 2001 if you hang on you can win following on.

Thus, Adelaide dominates my memories of the game. That relentless bright summer of 2011. India’s return in 2014. The death of Philip Hughes. The death of my male self. And fittingly, my final Test Match as a commentator.  The match concluded yesterday but I learnt that I was surplus to requirements on Friday evening. I went to Adelaide nominally a cricket commentator. I returned without any real prospect of working in the cricket media again. It has been that sort of liminal place for me. Endings. Beginnings. Rebirth.

Commentary is like playing. You get dropped without explanation. It has left me sad and perplexed. The camaraderie of the media box is wonderful. Cricket has given me golden friendships and joys that I would never have dare anticipate.  On Saturday evening I joined Gideon Haigh, Andrew Faulkner, Peter Lalor and Malcolm Knox for a ruminative dinner at an alfresco restaurant in the Adelaide twilight. I knew that I would not be returning to the media box. I was too sad and empty to bid them farewell. We have been on the road together for what seems like an eternity, including three Ashes tours to England. From them I have learnt so much, not least about obscure Australian rock bands. But most importantly I learnt much of human decency towards an outsider. They have been wonderful friends.

William Faulkner, the American novelist wrote, in Intruder in the Dust, “It’s all now you see. Yesterday won’t be over until tomorrow and tomorrow began ten thousand years ago.” That may sound sound unintelligible to you unless, like Faulkner and I, you have never suffered from the delirium tremens after drinking around the clock for several days. Alcoholism and drug addiction are vastly under rated methods of achieving creative apotheosis. And, yet they pale beside gender dysphoria. Out of darkness light and life. Out of pain and mental torture wisdom. Gethsemane. Calvary. Resurrection.

But I was not hallucinating on Monday evening when I returned to The Australian War Memorial where India’s tour of Australia was formally launched by Cricket Australia back in December 2011. That is when Rahul Dravid delivered his memorable Bradman Oration. His oratory and presence were worthy of both the majesty of the venue and the prestige of the occasion. Fate. Coincidence. Wisdom through the awful grace of God? Take your pick. But Monday night felt eerily like that night. And Monday night has not even begun yet. And it does not even have to begin at all. So, wrote Faulkner of Gettysburg. William not Andrew.

And so, I ended my journey as a cricket journalist precisely where it began, in the sepulchral gloom of the aircraft hall at The Australian War Memorial. Almost seven years to the night I occupied that same podium where my friend had stood. I spoke to a group of 150 school principals of Life. And Love. And Regret. And, of course Cricket. If I had submitted a manuscript dramatizing the past seven years this ending would have been dismissed as too cheesy, too improbable. It would have joined my sedatives in the cistern. From that bottomless nadir of despair in 2011 I could never have imagined that I would eventually speak to a capacity crowd at the Australian War Memorial as a trans woman. Malcolm nearly extinguished Catherine. But she ultimately lived to follow Rahul Dravid to the middle. That task was so challenging the BCCI had to invent Sachin Tendulkar to discharge it. I could not have scripted my farewell better. Malcolm would have been proud of her.

The game has a rich poetic heart. Now I will watch cricket from the stands as I did as a kid. No more the luxury of the media box. But that Rich Poetic heart of the game beats elsewhere. This Saturday I will return to the grassroots to play for Norths in Canberra. One more time. I never dreamt that I would play cricket longer than I commented on it. But the game continues to amaze and charm to the very end. Like the Test at Adelaide. One more improbable twist to remind us of our human limitations for prophecy. Harrison Oval is not the Adelaide Oval. But it is my home ground. It looks more beautiful than Lord’s. And be assured that is not an hallucination.