Island Blog – Hope for Change

There’s a hum I hum when things infuriate or frustrate me, when I meet a bump in the road. It, the hum, begins in upper case and probably in B minor, my favourite key and the one that fits best between clenched teeth. These bumps in the road are not just there for me, but for all of us at times. Of course, there can be no actual bumps inside this house because, if there were, himself would be tipped, all ungainly, from his wheelchair and then I would be tasked with the job of lifting him up. Neither of us want that. Once he is down there, gazing at the cobwebs, the seat of the wheelchair is as far away as base camp, Everest, or it looks like that to me. So, no bumps allowed.

However, actual bumps are not what I’m talking about. I mean bumps, as in ‘stops’ in the running of a life; things that go wrong without asking if it’s ok to go wrong. They could be little things or huge things, but, either way, they alter facts. Life herself makes a subtle shift in a new direction and it is easy to get left behind as she turns away. Standing by the roadside is not taking anyone anywhere, so we are expected to accept this shift and to turn with Life. We can do this in B minor, with clenched teeth, or we can take on the major key and loosen our jaw. I am actually sick to death of loosening mine. I have done it a zillion times and will, inevitably, be required to do another zillion times before the fat lady sings the whole flipping song. But, being sick to death of this required repair work on my attitude is not all that helpful. I get indigestion, for starters, and then cross and then crabby and before I know it, the bump has become a Monroe, one I will really struggle to climb.

Rebecca Solnit (another favourite) said that ‘Change comes, not by magic, but by the incremental effect of countless acts of courage, love and commitment.’ And I believe her, however fed up I may get with all these acts of courage, love and commitment, required daily. I may be an official unpaid carer but so is everyone else. If we don’t care, we might as well walk into the sea with stones in our pockets, for life has no meaning at all. The danger in our country now, perhaps across the world, is apathy, not caring, giving up, shrugging at the gift of Life and making no effort to engage with our fellow humans. With Christmas coming, many are thinking of others in a wonderful caring way, but that mustn’t stop come January. If, like me, the opportunity to improve my attitude comes at you daily, hourly, minute by minute, then we are the lucky ones, for we have no choice in the matter. We cannot be outfoxed by a bump in the road. I have learned and still am learning that I can make or break a situation with my attitude. I can make someone smile, or make someone cry. I can lift and encourage or cut down and break. That power is immense and we all have it. The choice is down to us. We may not be able to predict a new bump in the road but if we have decided not to make this broken world any worse than it already is, we can find our way around the bumps with laughter in our eyes and loving care in our hearts.

That way lies hope, change and the first few lines of a new song, one we can all sing together.

Island Blog – I want to be Lizzie

When I was just a young girl, in trouble, as usual, I wanted to be Lizzie. Lizzie had the life I didn’t have. She, never in trouble, was an only child, a beloved and cherished daughter, allowed her own sway to a great degree when I felt I held no sway at all. I was the eldest of five, four of them girls and one boy, the closest to me in a birthday sense and the one I had tried to eliminate for years, without success. He was, and still is, a survivor. And, now, I am glad he lives on, as he is a rock in my turbulent ocean.

Lizzie was allowed to eat her beans on toast on a little table in front of the Woodentops, or whatever was showing at tea time, as I was when I visited her. Her parents had only her to concern themselves with, to indulge and to encourage; only one to buy school shoes for, so that she, unlike me, could negotiate the style, where I could not. My school shoes were boats with laces, blooming out before me every time I looked down, making me smart with shame. I could have taken a wall down with one kick of those awful things whereas Lizzie could wheedle a slightly pointed toe and a slant towards style. She had no need to take down a wall because she had none in her life, or so I thought.

Later, at secondary school, I wanted to be Elaine. Elaine was sporty like you wouldn’t believe and I ran out of puff in just a few minutes. She shone on the lacrosse field, the netball field, all fields and I was always put in goal. They said, the team, that my face was enough to terrify any attempt at scoring. Not sure that was a compliment, although I laughed with them at the time. Elaine was a farmer’s daughter, free to swing from a terrifyingly high rope slung from the rafters above a massive pyramid of shucked grain. We flew through the sky and jumped into the grains, sinking but not too far. My dad would have had a blue fit at the danger of it, but I was on fire and returned home with a wild sense of freedom. The proximity of danger always thrilled me, from pointy-toed winter lace-ups to pyramids of grain and no set bedtime. However, arriving home with that wild sense of danger and freedom did me no favours. I was horsed into a bath and all my clothes washed with an accompaniment of loud tutting and, strangely, no more invitations to the house of Elaine.

But, now, in my late sixties, I am very thankful to be who I am. Had I been either Lizzie or Elaine, I would have missed being me. I did for a while. For years in truth but now I am glad to be me. It thinks me. There are many of us who waste a lot of time and energy in wishing we were not ourselves. Others have more, do more, succeed at more. And, yet, in looking so hard at what others have, we forget the individual gifts we have been given, and, believe me, we all have them. They are unique to us, to me, to you and we are the only one (forgive the bad grammar here) who can give back to the world, one that needs exactly what we/I/you have to give. In a world where we can feel like a number, we must turn away from such thinking. Just because we feel like that doesn’t mean we need to buy into it, to accept it. Because we don’t.

To notice is to be aware. To be aware is to be alert. To be alert is to be powerful and to be powerful never means over other people. It asks us to be powerful over ourselves. Now we’re talking.

I am glad I am not Lizzie. I am glad I am not Elaine. Neither choice would have been sustainable and I can never live another’s life. I can only live my own. So what is my own life? Am I a number or am I an aware, alert and powerful woman inside my own shoes? It’s a good question.

You answer it.

Island Blog – Jiggetty Jig

Home again, home again, etcetera, and I am just getting into the swingle of it here. Agreed, the slap of cold did hit me head on (and foot on for I had omitted to pack stout boots for the chilly ground), but welcomes always warm and they certainly warmed me. Now on the island and with a fire lit for the day I am thankful for having a home at all, let alone such a cosy one.

The furniture within has re-arranged itself, as I suspected it might. When the Old Dragon (me) is gone long enough, himself will make things the way he wants them. In the case of chairs and other well-placed items of comfort, they are all pressed against the walls of the house and looking rather startled. I decided I would not be willing to spend my evenings against a far wall, two miles from the fire, but it took some negotiating and a lot of justifying with just a tiny mention of the fact that I live here too and that I am important, to pull my (somewhat relieved) arm chair back into the mix.

The reason for the changes is to more easily facilitate the wheelchair, the chariot, upon which himself will glide (endlessly) through the rooms. Naturally, a turn or two will be required on this restless pacing, hence the rejection of the startled, and rather upset, sitting room furniture. I lifted two more chairs upstairs to join all the other ‘unnecessary’ furnishings, such as lamps, tables, ornaments, free-standing artwork and so on, apologising as I went and wondering how much more the beleaguered office can hold without crashing down a floor. Everything, you see, has to be ‘safe’ for himself and, besides, I am done with picking up, dusting off and repairing things precious to me as he fells them and continues his glide through the days.

I find it doesn’t bother me so much now, if at all. This house is now a certified safety zone with easy access to pretty much all he needs. So many things that worked before can never work now without an accident and we don’t want one of those. The heart monitor beeps. The fall alarm glows red on the desk reassuring me that those kind voices somewhere in Scotland are one press of the button away. Sometimes himself presses by accident when no accident has occurred and I suddenly hear Lorraine or David asking if everything is ok. I tell them it is, and so sorry, but they are always kind. God’s angels for sure.

From 40 degrees and no plans or to do lists or prayers to keep myself together, compassionate, my eyes off the things that irritate, to the island and Christmas marching ever nearer. I turn up the tunes and wonder where my fairy lights are. As I burrow into the dark cupboard that holds everything else, I smile. Fairy lights found, but they are not going to be the brightest this Christmas because I shall be twinkling too and my batteries never go flat.

Island Blog – From There to Here

Leaving 40 degrees and arriving back to zero in the belly of a couple of planes with the ambient temperature of an airport or two in between requires a person to be vestment canny. Well, I really don’t know what I was thinking as I packed for Africa but it appears I put little thought into my return. Today I am wearing most of my frocks over jeans with a vest at skin depth, a long sleeved tee over the said frocks and a jumper to complete my shapeless bulk. When I step outside, I add to that a puffa jacket and a scarf long enough to wind into a neck brace. A most fetching look.

I noticed, among my fellow passengers, as a foggy Glasgow appeared at the windows, that they had considered a vestment strategy. How had I not? This question has thought me a lot since I returned to zero. All I can guess is that I was in such a flapdoodle as I packed for the sunshine that my brain dealt only with the immediate. Then I realised that dealing with the immediate has become my default, for everything is immediate around dementia care and any unnecessaries are pushed into the shadowland. Although it is delightful, in many ways, to realise how much of life can be unnecessary when necessary, it behoves a girl to remember those things that still await her in the wings of her life. In Africa I went to a spa and had my nails done. This was a first for me as I usually just bite them off or clip them to the quick so as not to scratch anybody by mistake (or intentionally). I have enjoyed watching my French polish flash little white moons into my looking and this little indulgence will not revert to the shadowlands again. Although this indulgence may not be a regular thing, at least I know the pleasure of it. It isn’t just the nails and how they look. It is the time taken for myself, to sit and watch someone else caring for me. This is important, for all of us, not just me. Taking time to spend time with Me is not something many of us talk about without either getting embarrassed at the blank faces around us as we try to explain what we mean, or getting the giggles. Well, it does sound a bit ‘out there’ does it not? I think the key is not to bother explaining it at all to a world completely caught up in logic and the daily dash to Nowhere. Of course, not everyone is doing this dashing thing but most of us are if we are honest.

But the wisdoms keep coming. They go back to Rumi, to Ancient Greece, and further back, and we still don’t listen, because we have not learned how to live this way, the way of emotional intelligence, the way of good health, calm hearts and heads, peaceful sleep, gentle breathing and love of self, not matter what the demands of our lives. I don’t think it’s easy, far from it, but I do know we need to wake up to a different way of being. In a hysterically busy world we are but cogs in a million wheels, or that is how it seems. children, work, families, governments, religions, rules rules and more rules can overwhelm the very best of intentions. We can feel like tumbleweeds in a desert wind.

So how to change that feeling of being out of control of a life? I am no guru with a mouthful of answers but what I have learned in this decade of dementia care with all its associated ‘immediates’ is that I want to come out of this as intact as is possible. Too many of my compadres have fallen sick as a result of intense caring over a long period, wherein any time for self was intermittent and without a plan. Perhaps, like them, I thought it wouldn’t drag on for years but it does. Perhaps, like them, I thought I could wait for me, that I would be there at the other end, just as I was before. I don’t now. Now, I know better. This is a journey and there is no map, no destination I can stick a pin in. And it’s ok. In fact, I would not have learned the valuable lessons I have learned had dementia not come knocking. One of these lessons, the one I most value, is the importance of self love and how it never seemed important before. I don’t believe I am alone in this. With accusations of selfish up-yourself coming from older generations, schoolmarms and all the other ‘For Your Own Good’ ies, it would have cried anarchy and that meant trouble at any age. But I have learned to own the ‘selfish’ accusation and it fits me well. Let them think that, is what I said to myself and myself grinned wide.

There is no rule book for self love either. Only this. Stop and listen, as the world threatens to swallow you whole and the noise of it is deafening and the demands relentless, to what your heart whispers. Hear it and do as it guides you. Just once will do for now, because when it whispers again, you will hear it more clearly. Then go with it a second time, a third, a fourth and on and on until your heart is a match for both the outside world and the inside mind. I admit there is quite a lot of stopping required at first, until you get in step with You, but the rewards are endless. Eventually the outside of you fits the inside no matter what Life brings.

I arrive home tomorrow. Let’s see how clever I am at walking my talk when the old ways and I collide on a familiar doorstep. One thing I do believe in is all that stopping to listen to the inner whisper.

It just has to have made a difference.

Island Blog – Spring into Winter

Tomorrow I leave African Hothot, traversing space and time over 24 hours, to land in what sounds like an icebox. En route I will meet, without meeting, thousands of other travellers going back the way I came or on to lands I may never see for myself. Many, like me, will be confused about what to wear during our journeys, knowing that what lies ahead of us is drastic change. I find change is often like that, but that’s another blog altogether.

I will miss the sound of inexhaustible cicadas and frogs. I will not miss the mosquitos. I will find myself listening for the lite bytes of sound across the bush from maids and gardeners I cannot see, who josh and laugh with each other all day long as they go about their work. I see them delivered and collected, standing together on the bed of a truck, butterfly coloured, their teeth white dazzlers in the sunlight. They look but never wave unless we do first, at which point they leap into action and we feel like famous people. Always friendly, always smiling, always generous, proud of their work, with a strong faith and a strong community, these Africans could teach us all a thing or two about how to be an effective human.

In the local town when buying food or cogs for machines or plastic grommets for piping, some folk recognised me, as I did them. Two months of exposure does that. I will miss the crazy drivers and the dirt tracks in game reserves; a sudden 6 metre giraffe by the roadside or a baboon family under a shade tree, invariably scratching. The jacaranda, coral, frangipane and other wildly coloured up trees will be just brilliant memories as I wing my way into winter. And Spring, back home, will come again. The dead time is Nature’s rest and she needs it as we all do. Unlike many, I love the winter as I love the sunshine warmth. Winter is a time for reflection and reading by the fireside, for bracing walks, long johns and hot buttered toast.

And Christmas is coming……

Island Wife – Hallo Happiness

Today the temperature stands at 36 degrees and feels like 40. I know this because, by this time I have got the hang of 40 and I recognise the colour of it and the weight. Add to that baggy-bellied air a humidity count of twice that and you just know I am melting. The pool, to date a pleasant cooling aid, is hot enough to make tea and the bobbing thingy full of chlorine has a sun-twisted top. As makes perfect sense in the aforesaid scenario, my son has just lit the braai and the smell of the wood shoots up my nose, propelled by a lot of over-excited flames. We will feast on chicken joints, butternut squash brushed with rosemary olive oil, a crushed garlic clove au centre, roasted peppers and maybe a corn or two on the cob. From time to time we all dive inside for the blessed coolth of the aircons which never go silent out here. I cannot imagine what it must be like for the shanty dwellers in the townships and, in remembering them, I know I am very fortunate indeed.

This being fortunate indeed way of being constitutes my library of inner thinks. Despite the truth of getting older or feeling scared about pretty much everything or, perhaps, looking back over my 67 years with a critical eye and with a resident judge to pluck at my vocal chords, I focus on things that make me happy. I know that many of us set orf to India in search of this holy grail but I have never needed to do that, not least because I discovered some 30 years back that although Happiness may well reside in India, she also lives with me, and with you and with everyone else to cares to notice her. Although life at times may deal cruel blows or bore the bejabers out of me or trip me up so I fall and break my spirit, Happiness doesn’t go away. She is there at the end of a whisper. She shows herself in moments with a loved one (Oh……why couldn’t it have been longer…?) or on spotting a bright blue dragonfly on a flower (Oh, NO, I forgot my camera) or even in that moment when a stranger smiles at me (weirdo..) but it is entirely up and down to me to notice and to keep the moment without blemish. I could miss all of her visitations if I allowed the negative responses to her beauty. In short, nothing of her is kept and I have not changed for she has not changed me. I need to control my mind not the other way around. Even if life is tough, even if I am hurting or afraid, full of doubts and delusions, my mind is under my control alone. Will I let it keep Happiness moments from me?

Okay, now back to the library. I cannot sort this dichotomy out by myself. I have always known that the only way to learn and to understand a hidden depth is to pull up someone who has already plunged it. I find these sages in books. Only a fool with an over-active ego thinks she can move on without guidance and I am no fool. I know how noisy and compelling the shouty world is. I know how easy it is to believe that this world is all there is and how much disillusion lies in that belief. I know about getting lost and going hungry for something to change. I know about disappointments and sadness, grief and rage but so does everyone else. This is the human state and when I last looked we are all humans. What makes the eternal student stand out is their decision to control their mind. To practice noticing everything that lifts a heart. To stand in Nature and to watch light move across the hills, or to study (as I did this early morning) a single dung beetle pushing a huge giraffe poo along the sand track. I watched it succeed for a bit and then topple over and get stuck underneath . I saw it push its way out from under, only to see the prize roll back down the incline. I watched it go back and start again. I had no camera to hand. I just watched, holding my breath, willing this brave soldier on. And I was happy.

The practice of Happiness costs nothing. It requires no level of education (in fact, academia can present a big stumbling block) no required apparel or status. It doesn’t mind what colour your skin is, nor how old you are when you decide to whisper Happiness in. The only thing she needs, in order to blossom and flourish, is for a person to decide to notice everything that lifts his heart – the polar opposite to the way the world thinks. Instead of grumbling about someone’s rudeness, look elsewhere in search of beauty. It could lie anywhere so look up, down, ahead, behind you. I promise you will find something that lifts, and, when you do that as a daily practice you will find that when someone is next rude to you, you will see their hurting spirit and be gentle with your thoughts on them, because your core thought control is on Happiness – and not just for you – because once Happiness is a choice, you want it for every living soul.

And then the magic begins. No matter what turns Life takes, if I am in control of my thoughts, every part of me is filled with something I have yet to find a name for. All I do know is that this nameless thing has stopped my acid reflux, calmed my heart, grounded me and shown me the great wide sky. Something has changed because I decided to change and that something is showing me how, in seeking Happiness, I have no need to travel further than my library of books; no qualifications beyond my desire to learn; no appropriate clothing, footwear, status, colour, creed, religion or history.

I only need to be open to new learning and willing to make it my daily practice.

Island Blog – Animals and Persons

Yesterday, as we drove home from Graduation Puppy School (with a rosette, if you don’t mind) we saw a run-over snake on the sand road of the wildlife estate. We had a moment between us. It could have been an accident, or it could have been deliberate. Not many of us are fond of snakes, although I am as long as they don’t appear in the bathroom whilst I am somewhat compromised.

It thinks me of how we busy ourselves protecting animals. So many of us give to animal charities without a second thought. Dancing Bears in cages, abandoned dogs and cats in darkened suburbia, starving and lonely; rhinos under threat from the abhorrent sex aid markets; gorillas for their feet (ashtrays); zebras and leopards for their skins; the heads of all of the above as trophies.

But how often do we think of the protection of people? I am not talking abused children here, nor battered wives or husbands, all of whom elicit our auto-natural sadness, empathy and support and quite right too. But I am talking Ordinariness here. The people who, daily, cross our paths and over whom we might easily run in our daily dash to Nowhere. Ok, it is Somewhere in our perception but not in theirs and that’s my point.

in our ordinary days we cross paths with so many people. Not, I concur, on the island as much as, say, in London, Chicago, Glasgow or Edinburgh, but there will be, guaranteed, on everyman’s journey a crossing of paths. Encounters may irritate, collisions may infuriate but if we can find it in ourselves to respect every other’s journey, we will be giving a gift to our broken world. Just a smile. Just a backing off, an invitation to go first, a stop in our road so that someone else does not feel ‘run over’, will bring a flood of surprising sparkles to a heart. If we could practice this until it becomes our way, inside the work place, on the road, in school, at home, with everyone, no exceptions, we might just set in place a cure for the (thus far) incurable.

The snake is gone. Eaten by something. As happens more often in our peopled world than we might like to admit And we can change that. If we begin with one day, one choice, one decision, one commitment. That is how revolution always begins. One dream…….. and others watching.