Island Blog – Alone and Together

This morning I see one bushbuck, one giraffe, one warthog. The bushbuck, nervous, ears twitching for sounds of danger comes to the water hole. He has probably been tossed out of the family group, the herd, if, indeed, there is a herd, and is alone in this vast terrain. He will be seeking another group, a mate, the chance to clack antlers with a rival in order to earn his place. The giraffe looked at first like a movement of tree trunks as I could only see his legs but as he slowly wandered onto the track he was caught in silhouette against the rise of the African sun. He looked back at me through velvet eyes as I looked at him, then turned to lope away, all speckles and sand and alone. The warthog is a grumpy old bugger. Yesterday, as I walked the pup around the house, he started forward and I took off like lightening. Nobody wants to meet the front end of one of those horned-up wild pigs. His vision is poor but his temper is rich and his sense of smell very strong. It was the pup he didn’t like, being a natural wimp around humans, for which I am always grateful. I lifted the pup over the rails of the stoep and arrived shortly after in what must have looked like a very ungraceful half-somersault, my dress up around my ears and my sandals all wonky-chops.

It thinks me of wandering alone. Although I know full well how precious are community, family, friends and other social encounters and relationships, I also know we all walk alone through this life. Each one of is an intricate tangle of nature, nurture, experience, choices, personality and character. We also all look different, which if you think about it is quite a miraculous feat of engineering. Even as one of identical twins, the word identical is an overstatement. Deep inside both will have an unique pattern, no matter how the outside is designed. One can sing, the other can’t hold middle C without slippage; one finds this joke hilarious, the other puzzles to find more than a polite smile; one loves eggs done this way, the other, that. And so on.

When we were five young children and travelling north for our Scottish summer break, our mum had us knitted and kitted in matching jumpers. We could choose the style but not the colour. Yellow, one year, blue the next and so on, always in bright primary colours. We had to wear them for the journey. Mum said that it was so she could find us in places like York Station or on Princes St, Edinburgh as we skittered like excited monkeys through the crowds of moving feet, eyes level with a thousand navels and worse, even more handbags that could deliver a mighty head clonk if we weren’t paying attention. I don’t think we looked after each other much, being intent on our own agendas and deeply fed up of being One Of Five. Although I didn’t visit the same knitted uniform on my kids I do remember those wild times such as boarding the right train intact as a family, or shopping in a mall where, quite frankly, havoc could be wrought at any moment and always by One Of My Five.

I see that the world thinks in terms of numbers now. We are number this on a plane, at work, in school, in a theatre, the tube, the office and it saddens me because we are not numbers, we are individual people, no two alike. We are Just One among many other Just Ones, linked through culture, our job, our street, out village, our church, our market, our orchestra, our singing group and more. But I is not always We. Paying attention to the ‘I’ is something we may have forgotten altogether, such is the pressure of group thinking. We may also have forgotten how to nurture and nourish and listen to the I. In this fast moving world of apps and social media, advertising, subliminal or overt, competition, addiction, poverty growing disproportionate to wealth, corruption and the general malaise of apathy and defeat around Big Brother and his Nanny State, we (no, I) must remember what it is to be unique among millions. I must stop running and think for myself. This might take a while because, if I am honest, it is easier to go with current worldly thinking, which has a strong and powerfully persuasive voice but which is really relieving us, ever so slowly, of our own unique voices. I might wonder what it is I do think. I might come up blank, at first. I might not know where to begin following my own inner voice, once I can hear it again. I might find myself stopping to talk with a street beggar and feeling deeply conspicuous. (it gets easier with practice). I always wanted to, to give, to show respect, but none of my friends do and if I have ever faltered beside such a sad picture of a human life, I would feel a firm hand on my elbow, guiding me away, and a bright schoolmarm voice in my ear suggesting ‘Coffee?’

We travel alone, and yet together. We need each other for friendship and so much more……..but it is our prime duty to respect our own unique individuality, to relocate that inner guiding voice and then to take appropriate action, because every single one of us is here for a purpose, one purpose per living soul. It is our job to work that one out. Alone.

Island Blog 116 To See Darkly

 

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I saw this large white thing on the sealoch, pushing the water into a triangle with the rocky shore as the third median.  I peered for a bit through the paint-spattered windows as the cover of the night slid back to reveal a new morning.  I always do this ‘peering’ thing first, actually not just first, but second and sometimes third, in a vain attempt to kid on that, overnight, my eyeballs have grown young again.  Ah, halcyon days….. when I could see so much more, often too much, and sometimes that which would have been better not  seen at all, and certainly not by me!

Anyway, I waffle away from the large white thing.

Before it disappears completely, travelling at a fast lick through the frothy tide line, I grab the hefty set of Zeiss binoculars, or ‘bins’ as I gather they are fondly known, and nearly fall into my coffee with the weight of the things.  I don’t believe any bird watcher ever held these up to their eyes for long.  I would need to consider the employment of a personal trainer for at least a year just to manage a period of time longer than 35 seconds.  However, being a woman, I can achieve a great deal in 35 seconds, so I stick them onto my face and focus quickly, to the usual no avail, because why?  Because, as well as giving me instant arm ache and the beginnings of a shake in my ulna, well, both ulnas to be honest, the flaming glass bit mists up as my hot eyeball challenges the cold lens.  Vital seconds pass, as does the large white thing, into the trees that overhang the near shore.  Hmmm.

I call it a Snow Goose.  It was too big for an eider duck and too small for a swan or a flamingo.  Snow Goose it is.  There!  I feel dead chuffed and highly priveleged and can live this fantasy for days.  I saw a Snow Goose today!  That’s what I say in the shop to a resounding chorus of envying OOhs and Aahs.

It makes me think.  Of how we can see things that aren’t there, and not see things that are there.  How an un-misted glass lens can show us something we think we can explain, and how a misted one can talk complete pants to our human brains.  When we ‘see’ something through our eyeballs, we bring a process into being.  First, we see, then we fix this vision into a place, and then, without any conscious decision, we pad it out with all manner of daftness, imaginings, past baggage, phobias, indoctrinated beliefs and hopes.  When I see a beggar on any street, I see someone calling for help, and I will always give something. I follow my own heart in this matter.  When another sees the same sad sight, they may feel angry, begin to judge, or see laziness, bad choices, weakness – in other words, they might look down on the beggar as less than human.  It’s called ‘perception’ and it is in every one of us, however much inner work we might embark on to learn humility and compassion.  We can’t help it.  It is part of who we all are.

When I decide, which I sadly do, now and again, that someone else is heading in the wrong direction, I say so.  And then I learn a new fact or two about them, and regret, deeply, my hasty judgement.  I work on, to soften my perceptions, or, rather, to shut them up, but they can rise unbidden, un-called for, and always at times when I am not mindfully in control of that sneaky little set of wires that run from my brain to my mouth.

One area of perception, that never fails to cause a stooshie, is that of Boundaries.  Whether it is between black and white, the Ukraine and England, England and Scotland, or the African States, there is this thing about boundaries that could curdle milk in a nanosecond, one that everyone has an opinion on, based on personal perception.  Oftentimes, I hear folk talking heatedly on a ‘boundary’ subject. It can wire up a whole shopping queue once it gains momentum, but what saddens me is that I so often hear not what any individual really thinks, but what someone else has said on tv or written in a newspaper.  When you actually consider the other human beings involved in these situations, with only theories posturing as reality, how can anyone opinionate?

My world may be laughably fantasmic to some, even to many, but if we all  (and I believe we all do) want a life of peace and neighbourly-ness, then our arms must be open, our hearts too and, one day, our countries.  Voltaire said, ‘It is sad that, if we are to be a patriot, we first have to make an enemy of the rest of mankind.’

I think a different way to you, and you, to me.  I feel differently about the whys and the hows and the whens of things, but this can either be a glorious Snow Goose pushing through the saltwater of a new tide on a new morning – or, it can be ignored as something I couldn’t quite see, through my glass, and darkly.