Island Blog – Stories make a Difference

Home alone, for another few days. To be home alone is always something full of space and the freedom to move any way I choose. I can play music through all the speakers, eat lunch at 11 am, stand at the window for as long as I choose and all without having to explain or justify. I can go off in the car all of a sudden and in any direction. I can write in peace, move furniture around, read all day long, if I so choose. Without the demands of caring, and, in my own little home, I can breathe freely. There are no hip hop happy carers bursting through the door to scatter pebbles of question and joke into the still waters of my thoughts. I hear no calls for help. I feel no sighs of resignation rise in my gut. I can think something all the way through to a conclusion, take action, complete the task, survey my handiwork, and all in silence.

It has taken gargantuan effort and the wisdom of the Dali Lama to arrange this week of Me. A natural resistance is just the beginning, but when someone really doesn’t either get that I need a break and not one that requires money and a packed up car, nor feel there is anything good at all about being deposited in a care home in the first place, gargantuan effort is required. I had honestly thought he would refuse last minute, but he didn’t, despite his obvious confusion around why any of this was happening at all. I remember reading, and being advised way back, that the only way to manage life as an unpaid dementia carer was to find a way to inhabit his world. I took it seriously, back then, and have worked hard to accommodate the lapses in memory, the rise of anger and frustration and resistance, projected at me, but having lived this way for almost a decade now, I have a little cynical goblin inside my head. He says this:- just hang on a minute, what about your world? What about your life? Are they saying that you no longer matter – that you need to bend your old body into an impossible shape, and for how much longer, hmmm?

He has a good point. It is a huge ask to vacate your own life for an unknown period of years. What happens to it once you have left it beside the path? Does someone else pinch it? Will you ever be able to find it again, remember the landmarks, the big old tree in whose shade you hid it? Of course the gurus of this world, and the hip hop happy carers and the cheery fixit friends you meet in the village will reassure you with the smooth chocolate of positive thinking, that all will be well in the end. I like to hear that and, even if, at times, I don’t believe it, I receive it. It tastes good for a few moments. But I know, as they do not, that I am changing too. Sometimes I fear that this change in me will grow roots like ground ivy, impossible to eradicate. Other times I eat the chocolate very slowly savouring it on my tongue and refusing to brush my teeth for hours afterwards. The swingle of it all is an emotional rollercoaster that keeps on going as if it has forgotten the way back to base. There has to be some damage and, at the very least, someone gets sick.

In the time I have to myself, I read, work my tapestry, and have just finished listening to a talking book, not through headphones that have to come off at every call for help or grab for my attention but free flow through all the speakers so that wherever I go, I remain inside the story. The book that has drawn me into a fantastic tale of True North and the people of the Sami with all their snow-covered history, their deep spirituality and respect for the spirits of the ancients is The Eye of the Reindeer by Eva Weaver and read by Anna Bentinck. A stunner of a story and one Anna reads so beautifully. I must confess, I will look for Anna as reader even before I check the book she is reading, so gifted is she at voices, emotion, of taking my hand to lead me deep into another world. For days I lost myself in the world of the Reindeer People, moving with them across the vast tundra and into the snowfields of Lapland. I sat around the fire each evening with them, my body tense, as the hungry wolf pack circled the corral. I sighed with relief when the herd arrived safely down from the high mountains, down to the shelter-woods, young calves at foot, as the bite of winter nipped at their ankles, or laughing with happiness when, at the first whiff of spring, the nomadic herders felt the drumbeat of a thousand hooves, the reindeer returning from their migration. I even tried reindeer cheese. Yuck, I thought, but then realised that in the face of no alternative, I would gain a taste for it. My heart lifted at joyous moments and cried at the cruelties man bestows on man or woman on woman.

Losing myself in a story of another life, one I will never lead and can only sneak inside using my imagination, I return changed. Back into my own home, my own life, standing on my own floors or sitting at my own fireside, I find a different way of seeing things. I hold this difference close to my heart for I know it is a kindly thing and one that will keep me safe. Maybe I can’t explain it. Maybe I can’t tell you exactly what or how this different way of seeing things will manifest in my life, but, then I don’t need to. It is just for me after all and, besides, words mean little if they end with a full stop. They need to become something that lives, a new song, a new drumbeat. Looking for answers to all those cried-out questions in a landscape I already know as well as I know my own garden is not going to take me anywhere. I can look till my eyes turn gibbous. I can read every word on how to care for dementia, aka, how to become a saint, and learn nothing more than that which I already know.

But, walking into a story, now that is quite a different thing. I don’t know how it works but it does. Learning of another life, one of hardship and friendship, of hopes dashed and dreams fulfilled, I can take stock. I can remind myself that there are as many ways to live as there are people in the world and that the one thing I can do, regardless of my circumstances, is to make a difference. To himself, to myself, to everyone I meet. I can go back for my bundle in the shade of the big old tree before anyone notices I am gone. Then, with a lighter foot, I can rejoin them, changed. I might look the same and sound the same, but I am neither. In my mind I am watching the silence of snowflake fall even thought the path I walk may be dry and dusty. I am staring deep into the eye of the reindeer and seeing the Sami people making rope from birch bark or clearing new snow so that their herd can eat the buried lichen and moss. I am here and not here at the same time.

And it is good to know that there is another book out there, just waiting for me to walk into and out again, bringing with me all the ingredients I need to make all the difference.

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