Ever since she allowed him to do that first blog post, he won’t stop composing. He wakes her at all hours of the night. He interrupts her in the middle of conversations, while eating, while driving, attending to nature….
He acts as if he has to catch every insight in metaphor at once, before he loses it. Walhydra hopes bloggers eventually hit a rhythm with all of this…but meanwhile she’d like to get some sleep.
Worse, this is happening while Walhydra is on a week-long visit with her dear mother, Senior Witch—away from any practical, 21st century connection to the ‘Net. Senior Witch’s dial-up Windows 95-era browser keeps shutting Blogger down as an illegal operation. The would-be writer just knows he’ll forget everything before they get back to civilization.
Walhydra and hubby Jim call her mother “Senior Witch”—secretly, of course—because she is such an unselfconsciously enlightened soul. In her eight-plus decades, she has passed through Christianity and out the other side gracefully, without even noticing.
She protests that she is “not at all spiritual.” She wishes she knew what having a religious experience was like. Meanwhile, she does spontaneously what Jesus would do and walks lovingly into situations which Walhydra is still trying to intellectualize.
When the Lutheran Church was going through its latest round of squabbling over the supposed danger of affirming same-sex couples, Senior Witch said to her pastor: “I don’t understand what my son’s marriage has to do with my marriage. I don’t know what he does in bed, and he doesn’t know what I do—except in the textbook sense, of course.”
Walhydra is visiting because, as eldest and physically closest of three children, it is her assignment to help her mother make the transition into elderhood. Senior Witch has been a brilliant mother, housekeeper, pastor’s wife, college professor, grant-funding agency manager and neighborhood organizer. Now short-term memory loss and the attendant anxiety keep her from balancing her checkbook. Ex-social worker Walhydra has to summon all her patience and courage to coach Senior Witch through a loss of self-reliance which is both frightening and painful to experience—and as much so to witness.
Fortunately, Walhydra and her mother have been frank and loving adult friends for over 30 years. When either catches herself trying to avoid distress by “protecting the other’s feelings,” there is almost always some new opening of intimacy to follow. They are not at all good at hiding from each other.
So, Walhydra finds herself wondering when Senior Witch picks Iris as the rental DVD for their last night together. Judi Dench, one of their mutual favorites, portrays the rapid decline into Alzheimer’s and death of philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch, in a screenplay based on the memoirs of Murdoch’s husband John Bayley (Elegy for Iris and Iris and Her Friends).
Walhydra keeps glancing sideways at her mother as the love story of Murdoch and Bayley unfolds. “Is she trying to tell me something? Does she recognize her own future in Murdoch’s losses?”
But all of Senior Witch’s comments are about how well they have done this movie of two books she greatly appreciated, and how great an actress Dench is. As usual, she seems to enfold someone else’s tragedy within her own compassion without personalizing.
Which, of course, Walhydra almost always does.
Once the film ends, Walhydra concentrates through teary eyes on teaching her non-techie mother for the umpty-umpth time how to use the DVD player—after Senior Witch says, “Maybe I’ll watch that again once or twice after you’ve left.”
They end the evening searching, first in Senior Witch’s concordance and then through Google, for the last words of the movie. The elderly Murdoch concludes a lecture on love and goodness, her highest ideals, with the Psalmist’s words to God—which she speaks while holding the eyes of her husband in the audience (Psalm 139:7-10):
Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?
Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there shall thy hand lead me,
And thy right hand shall hold me.