Monday, December 22, 2008

Simplicity is gentle

It was unlike any other day. I was taking a stroll on the banks of the river Isis in the Christ Church meadows. I paced up the last stretch of an avenue lined with beautiful English Elms that had shed much of its foliage. There was stillness and freshness in the lush green meadows. Along the Broad walk there are very few wooden benches. And on one of them, I noticed an old woman with a big white canvas spread over her lap. She wore a woolen cap, a sweater and a thick over coat to cover her fragile body from the cold of the Oxford winter. If not for all the paraphernalia spread around her on that bench, I would have passed her off as an old woman with dirty clothes who might ask for some spare change if you looked her way. I did look her way and she very gently asked “Are you from India ?”. I said “Yes” and there began a conversation that I will remember for a long time to come. I went nearer from where I got a closer look of the large canvas spread on her legs and held by her delicate wrinkled hands on which she was drawing beautiful, large pencil sketches of the big deciduous trees lined in front of her. As she made enquiries of what I study and how long I have been in the city, she told me she was herself an Economist who had devoted her recent life time drawing sketches of trees, writing stories and poetry around them and contributing in her own way to the literature on environmental issues. She told me she was a European of mixed ancestry. She was well read, philosophical, soft and bestows a memorable conversation. She also showed me her collection of books, poems and hand crafted cards with beautiful messages that she sells to passers-by. I bought one of them as a souvenir of the beautiful afternoon at the meadows, of the intelligent conversation in a chance encounter, of the perspective a stranger could offer me on life and of the gentleness in the simplicity of this old woman. She said “You have a gentle soul” and I acknowledged her with a smile. Zoe Peterssen was her name.


Samrat said...

Very touching story Vinz! It gave me an insight into how people add meaning to their lives doing something so different from ordinary, something so special. A life actually in absolute self indulgence. And that too which is so simple, gentle and close to the elements. It gives a feeling of returning back to our elements - the nature. Also, I acknowledge you being so observant, calm and serene, that you actually went to the lady, spent time with her, and was able to identify with her conversation! The title of the article is so aptly chosen - Simplicity is indeed gentle...Gentleness and simplicity lingers from the post...A good reading indeed.

Howie said...

I am writing with sad news of Zoe Peterssen. On the evening of Monday 29th August Zoe passed away peacefully.

On 15th August, low on energy, she fell over in the street and spent a week in bed at home, after which she spent a week in the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, where she was diagnosed with advanced cancer. It was a swift and decisive illness which she endured with great dignity. She received last rites from her priest friends from Pusey House, where she had been Artist in Residence in recent years.

I am sorry to write to you with this news. I feel greatly blessed to have known Zoe for the past ten years, and to have witnessed her special work. Personally, I count myself as merely one of Zoe’s many friends – it was by chance that I had an appointment with Zoe on the day when she took ill, and consequently I saw her often in the last fortnight of her life.

Zoe had very many good friends both near and far – there must be very many more who we have not been able to contact, so please pass on the news. Also, we do not yet have contact details for Zoe’s relatives and any information you might be able to share about this would be most helpful in sorting out her affairs.

We have set up a special email address for correspondence about Zoe:

The funeral is to be organised by her friends at Pusey House and is planned for Friday 30th September at 12 noon. Further details of the funeral will be sent out automatically in reply to emails, and will be posted on the Pusey House website:

Zoe was such a wonderful individual and I am hoping that the funeral will reflect the wide affection in which she was held. I recognise that many friends will be unable to attend, but I would like to invite you to contribute any stories or pictures (via email) which we could perhaps put together in memory of Zoe.

Jessica Mann said...

On the sad news of Zoe Peterssen's passing I would like to compliment you on the elegant picture you took of her. Please contact me regarding these images. We are planning on publishing a tribute to Zoe and I would greatly like to include your image of her. You will receive full credit. My email address is

Kind regards,