Yesterday, as I sat in my garage, a shrew scooted along the wall and into a hole. This is not new, neither me sitting in the garage, nor an encounter with a shrew. I sit here because I can hide from anyone walking by whilst enjoying a wonderful view of sea-loch and faraway hills through the open maw of the garage. And, it’s usually raining. It also gets me out of the house for a minute or two, away from the cares of dementia, its insistent demands and worries whilst I sip my coffee and consider life, both specific and general. I can go into my imagination out here among the plant pots and the rusting implements, the fishing rods, long seized up, and the tins of old paint.
The shrew slinks at speed across the expanse of concrete floor. Hallo, I say quietly, so as not to blow its eardrums. It isn’t alone this time. A second shrew crosses the line. Aha, I say, you have a mate! This would explain the stripped leaves on my gladioli and those unearthed and nibbled hyacinth bulbs. Can we have a word about that, please? I don’t mind you living beside me but shouldn’t there be, even roughly drawn, a code of mannerly respect between us?
Nothing happens for a few seconds and then two more shrews appear. These two are smaller, less afeared of my presence and they are playful. I watch with a wide smile on my face as these two shrewlets gambol and chase each other, rising on their hind legs to bat at each other, then tumbling together just like exuberant children. I hardly breathe, wanting to see more, to feel the heart lift that bursts up like a surprise, something rare and precious, a few seconds of pure delight with the power to change my face from furrowed to as wide as a sunshine sky as my worries turn to dust.
It thinks me of what is important in life. They say it takes more muscles to frown than to smile and yet, how easy it is to choose the harder workout. Furrowed by whatever stuff goes on inside someone’s head, it is ‘normal’ for a face in repose to give out the wrong message. How many times have I commented on the faces of doom inside a passing car. Watching other faces in a queue or in a cafe, mouths downturned, eyebrows pulled into a single line, eyes fishlike, throats empty of laughter, I consciously lift my own features into just enough of a smile so as not to look like an escaped crazy and to remind myself to feel playful.
I think it is simples, the reason why we look so miserable half the time and it is all to do with the pictures inside our heads. If and when we allow all those things that tie us down to take charge, they will move in with the speed of a shrew, set up camp and start a family. You can revisit that head from time to time and wonder who turned the lights off. Well, you did. I did. The trick is to live with all the worries as just worries, all of which need putting on a list. Once listed and numbered each one can be addressed and marked “done’. Those that can’t be fixed should be let loose into a force 8 gale, preferably one that has no plans to change direction. These worries are too big for me to deal with and if I can’t deal with them through my own power then I have to accept and let go. As the list gets smaller, whilst I berate myself for not taking action sooner considering how simple it was to turn one all-consuming worry into a situation sorted, I find a smile. All that time wasted when I could have been in the garage talking to shrews or making conversation with the face of misery in a cafe, or even giving a huge grin to the faces of doom inside that passing car. It is amazing how dramatic a change can be initiated by the gift of a smile, and, once I have given that gift and returned to my worries, I find them hiding under the sofa, blinded by the new light inside my mind.
When I was a child, I thought like a child. Now I am a woman who still thinks like a child. I recommend it. It doesn’t solve all of the problems but it sure does give those facial muscles a rest.