Island Blog 146 Travelling Light

suitcaseAs I pack my bag for the trip to the Reader Room on Skye, I meet all sorts of thought tangles. What to take, what not to take and in which suitcase. The big stripey one or the smaller spotty one? Both have noisy wheels and both weigh too much empty. I won’t need much, will I? Just jeans and tops, a warm jumper, walking boots, books, notes, wash things, face paint, a frock for the night, leggings. The smaller spotty one will do. Until it won’t.

Travelling light is a dream of mine, almost a passion. I want to be light and flexible, easy to move along please, to glide through doorways, over metal bridges without needing CPR on the other side. I want to fit into that space the huge-suitcased lumberers leave between themselves and the dangerous side of the pavement or platform. To scurry, hurtle, dash with momentum and forward thrust. I want to be at my destination before half of these goodly folk have reached the ticket barrier. I catch earlier trains that way, denying myself the takeaway coffee, the creamy bun. I don’t push or shove. I am perfectly respectful of the Overladen, but my constantly working mind maps out the fast route and my feet take me on. I don’t mind queuing at all and must be the only Brit who doesn’t. I just factor it into my dash to wherever I’m going, and speed up where necessary when momentum is paused.

Travelling light, I tell myself, is a state of mind, a decision. Taking too many changes of clothing, just in case, comes from a place of fear. Will I have the ‘right’ thing to wear? Will I be too cold or too hot? Have I the right shoes? All of this is dithering and arrives me laden, out of breath, hot, bothered, and with a load of unnecessary vestments, not one of which gets beyond crumpling itself in the dark depths of my suitcase. But we all do this dithering, if we’re honest.

When I first decided to travel light, it was to a funeral in Yorkshire. I just needed the gear for the church, and mufti. We said bye bye to the kids, minder, collies and cats and left Tapselteerie. It was coming into York that we discovered we had left the cases in the front hall. As our life had always been lived by making good decisions quickly in the face of adversity, we dived into a dress shop and bought this and this and that, then shoes, and arrived at the funeral with the labels still attached. Nobody cared. It was enough that we had made the journey.

The second time was when I went South for a different occasion, on my own. This time, I did have my lightly packed suitcase with me, too heavy even when empty, and handed it over to the nice Easy Jet steward at check-in. I arrived, my case did not. Mum and I dashed to Sainsbury’s, picked this and this and yes, shoes, and off I went to my date. Nobody cared. It was enough that I had made the journey. My case arrived home ahead of me, minus a handle, rendering it completely pointless.

It has happened since, the careful planning, folding, fitting into a small space, all that I think I might need, in case of shipwrecks, strandings, sudden invitations to a military ball, a funeral, a heatwave in October, that my luggage has abandoned me. I have always found a laugh in it, after my initial fish wife impression. I have borrowed clothes I would never buy, applied make-up all wrong for my small pale face, shared toothpaste, boots and even underwear, but, most of all, I was given the chance to find my sense of humour and to lean on it as my support. In the absence of things, I found people, and people can rise over things every time. It’s boundless, the human spirit, warm and strong and constant. Their handles don’t fall off, and in the main, they do what they say they’ll do, and much, much more.

But we forget don’t we, as we live out our lives as islands.  We think we must have everything we need with us, just in case.  We imagine, with horror, the disaster of being cold, or hot, or lost, or stranded, of our train/ferry/plane being late or worse, cancelled, and yet, in all of those circumstances I have found human warmth and friendship.  I have found team spirit, good attitude and kindness.  In times of trouble, we look to each other.  Sometimes we might consider doing that every day, troubled or not.  It might make us less fearful.  We might engage in sharing ourselves with others until it’s easy to do, natural, uncomplicated.  All of us are alone, but we can travel side by side.

Now I’m going back to fret about packing, about the ferry being cancelled due to gale force 22, the bus breaking down on the way north, and, finally, me arriving on the wrong day.

Island Blog 121 Listen to your ears

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When I hear something, I hear it.  I may respond distractedly, or with intense concentration.  I may not quite hear it for a few seconds, when a word or phrase yanks me back into the room, back beside the person who spoke and then I will ask them to say it all again.  In domestic situations, taking into account familial or relational baggage, I may find myself in the blast of a dismissive retort.

You never listen to me!  I’m not going to talk to you until you put down that mobile, laptop, dog,book, whatever!  Then follows a doggy-type following around, an apology (if you’re lucky), a plead to say it again, an ‘I AM listening, honest’…….sort of drama, which, if I am very lucky, ends well, although by this time, having pattered about whimpering and wagging my tail, I am so not interested anymore, even supposing whatever I didn’t listen to, on first delivery, could get me to the ball after all.

I have read much on the difference between hearing and listening, and, to be honest, am none the wiser, confusing the two whenever I deliver said difference in an astonishing phrase of pure wisdom.  Nobody has ever corrected me, confirming my suspicions that nobody else gets the difference either.  But I do know how critical it is to listen to what our children say and really hear it.  Really not hearing it is the root beginning of an immense baggage collection, guaranteed foreign holidays for psychiatrists, counsellors and mediums, and establishing once and for all that 90% of our troubles, self-doubts and hangups stem solely from our mother.

But what about those things I hear without actively listening?  Those words far off, lifted at random from another conversation, over there somewhere, that can float all by themselves into my head to settle on a comfy sofa, feet up, just waiting for the chance to rise into my concious mind.  I can read something in a book, or in the poetry of a hymn in church and, without consciously choosing to remember any of it, I find myself looking at it as I wake in the early morning, hearing it anew, and marvelling at the brilliance of my aging brain.  Because our senses are all linked by millions of little byroads, I might watch the movement of the clouds across a darkling sky and find words in my mouth and I don’t mean ‘Wow, look at THAT!’  It might be a line in a letter (does anyone remember the last letter that came through the post, with a stamp, licked by the writer and handed over by Amy the Post?) or it might be a phrase from the book I’m reading, or something someone said, but I don’t remember the time or the context.  Somehow, it fits in with the clouds and the darkling sky and again I am astonished at the incredible majesty of the human brain, even though we only ever tap into about a third of its potential.  Just think what we could do and who we could be, if we only knew how to build a mental motorway or, even just how we might repair the byroads already in place.  But we don’t, despite all that irritating knowledge that highlights our human lack.  Why do we have this immense brain in the first place?

As we grow older we begin, everso gradually, to lose the byroads we do have.  One by one, they give way to sprawling grasses, weeds and foliage that turns a shortcut into a wilderness.  Ok, we know this.  We might not like it much, losing our glasses ten times a day, forgetting an appointment made some time before, leaving the margarine out of the cake, and so on, but it a fact of life and we may as well find the dance in it.

My old granny, long dead but unforgettable, never lost her dance.  When it could no longer be found in her strong and shapely legs, or her long elegant feet, it was there in her eyes for all to see.  In a shop, at a bus stop, in her own little flat, she brought that dance forward at every encounter with every person from the Red Cross collector, shaking her bucket outside the door, to the doctor or the minister, although she was highly suspicious of the minister, to be honest.  Even in hospital, dying, she lifted her smile to every nurse, every orderly without exception, and she was no goody-goody I can tell you, being overly full of mischief and with a keen eye for the caricature.  It was for herself, she danced, not to be seen to be dancing, for she had little care for such vanities.

Listening to my ears is not really possible.  It makes little sense, suggesting that my ears have ears and, with a few large-eared exceptions, this seems an unlikelyhood.  But when my little grandson said it to me this morning as we walked through a lovely wild place, I realised I had heard what he said twice.  First, effortlessly, in the normal way, and then, again, as if I was hearing myself hearing.  It made me realise, as I considered this new phenomenon, that not only is there wisdom, beyond their understanding, falling from the mouths of babes, but that, if I really think it through, this is the only way to live.  If I do practise listening to my ears, I distance myself from an instant response, one that might cause an injury to another’s heart.  Words spoken in haste, fuelled by baggage, can wound and wound deep.  Words written in anger can live for a lifetime and beyond.  But if I can learn to close my trap (oh hallo mother) and to keep my ears (all of them) open, I not only allow words to settle in the sofas of my mind, gently; not only allow the moment to move beyond my clutches, however much my fingers itch to capture and internalise it, but, in those precious moments of mouth closed, ears open, I can hear, albeit distantly, the grace notes floating across the divide and find that my feet take up the dance.