“Le Quattro Volte” is an idiosyncratic film by Michelangelo Frammartino. It lasts for an hour and a half, following cycles of life in the hills of Calabria. In four chapters the film successively chronicles a year in the life of an old man, a young goat, a tree and a batch of charcoal. There’s no dialogue, you do hear murmurs of human speech, but they’re unintelligible and there are no subtitles. There’s also the barking of a dog, the bleating of goats and clanging of their bells and the wind sighing in the branches of the gigantic pine that’s felled for a village celebration.
Perhaps watching such a film doesn’t sound like a particularly entertaining way to spend 90 minutes, but when I saw it in 2011, I found it captivating. In the same way I found watching a small cluster of fly agarics (Amanita muscaria) last week. They emerged, looking for all the world like iconic toadstools in a Walt Disney cartoon, but by the following day they looked more like plates, then like shallow bowls, after which they fell over and started to disintegrate.
They say that the one certainty in life is change and, as in both the film and the toadstools, change often occurs in cycles. The cycles may be over years, months, weeks or days, but there’s an inevitability to them, whatever the cycle length. Most of us find change unsettling, even when it is part of what one might call gentle cycles, as illustrated in my examples.
However over the last seven months we have had a great deal of a much more disruptive change thrust upon us. One of the more difficult aspects of change is the grief that we feel for what has been taken away. We recognise grief when someone that we love dies or suffers from a life-changing accident or disease. We may also recognise grief when we lose something that has been a familiar part of our life, or that hold precious memories for us. But we may also grieve for our way of life, the things that we are used to doing, the people that we are used to meeting or gathering with.
Grieving isn’t a well defined process with clearly delineated stages as is often written about in self-help books. Grief is individual and if there are stages, one may bounce backwards and forwards dealing with denial, isolation, anger, bargaining, depression before accommodating and accepting a ‘new normal’.
Over the past few months, I have found the cycles of nature very helpful in adapting to the changes that have happened and that may be what appealed to me about “Le Quattro Volte”. I have also found the psalms to be of great comfort, because the psalmist frequently found change and the circumstances in which he found himself troubling and God was always there at his side to comfort him.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.