Island Blog -Still Breathing On

I meet with two other widows over coffee in a brightly lit cafe/chocolate factory. All last night I was fearful, not of meeting them but of going out at all. I had to choose paint, collect a prescription, buy soap from the best soap shop in history deliver a huge landrover tyre to the garage for unpunctuation and leave my own mini there for an hour or so. She, my mini, Miss Pixty Forkov, was having an argument with her onboard computer and I don’t blame her. She was telling me her tyres were fine thank you very much whilst her screen flashed me dire warnings of certain disaster. This long list of things confounded me, overwhelmed me and I had to take 3 deep breaths prior to firing up the engine. I realise this to be ridiculous. I have driven this tootling switchback road up and down endless hills and skirting 2 lochs for decades. But nowadays it can take on monster proportions inside my overactive imagination and it has everything to do with Covid restrictions and fears and widowhood.

Needless to say, once my lungs are well pumped back up again and my head silenced, all tasks are completed with ease. I arrive at the cafe and settle down with a double shot cappuccino to wait. I can feel myself calming down as we talk about how life is for each one of us. All our husbands died differently. All of us are still somewhat lost without them, no matter how pragmatic, how busy with ordinary tasks we may be. We feel abandoned and rather pointless. We live on for our children, not quite yet able to say we live for ourselves, having not lived for ourselves since we were 20 and that was half a century ago. What happens to souls after death, I wonder to myself. Is there an end date for a soul as there is for a body? If not, heaven must be overcrowded when I consider the thousands of years humans have been living out their lives. I look at my friends, two good strong women whose faces show me what they must see in mine. More lines, eyes not so bright, mouth busy but changed somehow, the ends pointing chinwards in repose. Is my heart broken? Is yours? We all agree. Yes our hearts are broken, our lives as we knew them stopped forever dead. It doesn’t mean we won’t heal, although the scars will always be there. It doesn’t mean we sit around feeling sorry for ourselves but it does mean we give life to these deaths in that we talk about them, about our dead men, the impact on our children, the legacy of loss, of father loss. You only ever get one of those.

For my own part, as the most recent widow, I have only just come to a place of acceptance, a sort of quiet river flowing underground. Sometimes this river hits a confoundment of rocks that cause a lot of hiss and spit, spume and roar. Other times a waterfall, rapids and quiet swirling pools. There are bends and long straights, deeps dark as the middle of a forest at midnight, shallows where fish skitter and reeds wave softly from where they root, denied air. I inhabit the ground above this river, walking alone. The river compels me, beckons me, calls to me and offers me continuity, hope and a future even if I have no clue what that future will be. I know, as my friends know, that our children watch us now like hawks, picking up on every stumble, every doubt, every fear. Mum is all we have left now. Mum must go on and we will make bloody sure she does, the old bat.

When we separate back into our own solitary lives, having covered most subjects in the book of subjects, I know we all feel lighter because of what we all have in common and because we are not afraid of death any more. It is not a word whispered as it was before we watched it happen to our life partners. At the very point of death, when we turned all practical and businesslike, we left a part of ourselves behind for ever. We can be afraid of driving short distances, of imagined dragons, but Death has no hold over us now. We met him, after all. We watched him cross the room. We felt his presence. We are taller now, stronger now and more likely to laugh with abandon at things we might well have censored before. We are woman, invincible and still breathing on.

Island Blog – Swanlift, Labels, Honey and a Captain son

This day I drive the switchback to the harbour town. I only go there these days on a specific mission, never to wander nor to dawdle, as once I did. As I heft right down the steep brae and see the tongue of the Main Street sticking out like thirst, it is coloured up with tourists, the many who are here for a longing, an escape from lockdown. I am so not joining them. They wander, holding ice creams, takeaway coffees, bags of shopping, children, all loving the tidal sweep of the bay, the seagulls fly, the fisher boats, the chip van. I swing right into the harbour car park and meet a tailback. There are just so many places for the parking and I get it. You arrive and you want to park. That’s all, but it is not enough because all the spaces are taken so we tailback, hover, pause, exercise patience and not patience. I am here to meet up with my captain son as his boat is in the harbour for a couple of hours before turning seaward once more with his passengers. We bench sit for I cannot go aboard. He brings tea, a chef made biscuit wrapped in a paper napkin and delicious. We talk of our lives, his young family, my aloneness. We watch the in and out of boats, of visitors in yachts, of locals checking their own launches and sailors. We say hallo and I watch faces. Of the ones I know as friends, I see the toll Covid and isolation has taken on them. Some visitors come too near and my mask hand twitches. They laugh, cough, move on and here I sit scared as a mouse, even on a bench in the sea air.

What happens to us in such times? It thinks me, much, of those (including me in the past) who felt scared just being around people, never mind an invisible virus. We were labelled as those with mental health issues. Now, I am one who would fight to the death to blow all labels into the stratosphere, no matter the smug relax of those who choose it at some committee meeting and then tootle home delighted with the fact that they don’t fit the confines of any label. So, right now I am afraid. And then I am not. This fear is tidal. It rises, full moons itself and then subsides into seaweed and sand. It is real. Very real. But I would stand at the gates of Challenge and shout ‘ Don’t label us!’. I would. And I will tell you why. Any label fixes a person. It might be on medical notes. It might be a long term tenant in someone’s mind. Oh, he, or she, has mental health issues. How ridiculous and how wrong is that! Does this mean we who have gone down like a swan in a swamp, cannot find a way out? Of course not. We can fly again, lift from fear again, become wonderfully white and light and flighty once again.

It is a thixotropic place. In the language of honey spinning, that honey gift from the bees, this word means honey that refuses to spin. It is mostly heather honey which is why it is common to buy heather honey in comb squares, wax included. In life it symbolises the same thing. A refusal to spin, to melt and demur. What I find in these times is that I oftentimes need to remind myself to relax my shoulders, raise my neck, breathe and go forward, especially en route to what I consider the Big City, bubbling with way too much busy life, a life I felt so easy peasy in before. Suddenly it presents menace. My honey refuses to spin. It is still there but affixed in a wax hexagon that will not let it free. I am not saying I like it. I love to flow. I love people, connectivity, chance encounters, but now I am confounded, afraid and my body is telling me she is not happy.

I know that I am bereaved broken. I know that learning how to live alone after almost 50 years is not going to turn me into a confidently independent woman overnight. I know, because of this, that I have mental health issues. Fear, accentuated; sleepless nights; hypervigilance; squewed thinking. of course I flipping do. It thinks me of anyone who is so labelled and who feels less-than, diminished, isolated because of that awful label. (all labels are awful). When any one of us is in a dark place the last thing we need is labelling. We are not what ‘they’ tell us we are. We are just in a dark place, a dark well, looking up at the light and just a bit terrified of moving towards it because we have no idea of what that light might throw on who we really are now, in the aftermath.

Island Blog – If this is how it is, then Act

I feel sad for our world today. I know I live in a tiny part of it, beautiful, stunning, peaceful but yet tiny. It doesn’t stop me noticing the rest. Although for many years I have busily inhabited the aforesaid beautiful, stunning and peaceful place, it seems like there is a loudspeaker on the others, on the bigger world. I know of corruption in governments, of hidden information in order to keep the ‘masses’ quiet and I have never been okay with that. It is as if the ‘masses’ are mindless idiots who don’t think and who don’t need to know. I am one. I am protected up here with the Gulf Stream and with lunatic winter gales the biggest threats to my survival. They don’t stop me knowing, even as I am able to turn off the news, ignore the ‘bad stuff’ that might infect my sleep.

In my busy young mother overthetopworkedout life, I ignored with impunity. After all, there were guests to feed, hospitality requirements (endless) and a family to protect and provide for, so I never had a scooby about wars and corruption and governments hiding pretty much everything. Now, there is silence, endless silence in my life and I finger my way into the light of outside information. I don’t understand most of it, which, by my way of thinking, is just the point, but I know when I hear, or don’t hear, something that butts against my gut, when something in me stands up. Hairs, goose bumps, those sorts of things. If you stood me up in a group and demanded explanation I could not find the words. Much as my dream job was to be a thoroughly difficult woman in all situations, I am not her. I loved to hear the confidence and courage from those who wore red shoes and lipstick and who stood to be noticed at great risk and just knew I would only ever be a choir girl to their solo.

Now I find myself needing to be that soloist. Not in a group, not in public, not on a soapbox on the corner of a dank lonely street but for my own self. I see, even from the aforesaid magical place, that I must make difficult choices, brave up and stand for myself. We would love to have had clear direction from our ‘leaders’ but even they had no idea how the virus would morph, develop and consume. Nonetheless I see good leaders and I see dithery ones. I still won’t blame. This is up to me, me is up to me and, you know what, it is how it was when people thought for themselves instead of waiting for direction in a crisis. We seem to have lost the use of that muscle.

I find myself listening to the news more now, just the headlines. There is fear and doubt in all our hearts. There is detail and posturing although how anyone can posture against an invisible enemy astonishes me. It’s a bit Scifi. But, I remind myself as I contrive a grin with my teeth, this is how it is now. My mail box is coloured with bright offers of ‘freedom’ through summer sandals to cheap flights to loans. The world has gone mad. The leaders are flagging (not all of them) and the country is sagging like an old woman tired of the fight. Another winter of fear? Maybe. Another lockdown? Maybe. Another slug of fear in our whisky? Maybe. Another endlessness of isolation and loneliness? Maybe.

I always see a ‘Maybe’ as a butterfly, or a moth. I have done since childhood, perhaps because the word was employed so often by my mother as I asked the endless questions that drove her crazy. And, the thing about Maybe is that she has two sides. Will and Won’t. Show and Hide. Run and Stay. And more. There are times for each side of her and we need to tap our own intelligence in order to know to react. Our own intelligence. Not the government’s, not that or our opinioned friends/mothers/relations, not that of our neighbours, but our own. Some of us have not gone there for years, maybe decades. Hallo Maybe…. But we have it people, strong within us. Ask yourself ‘What do I believe?’ What Do I think?’ And keep asking until the only right answer comes. Then Act.

Island Blog – Heroes Awake

Accordion to Radio Two, all of us who bother to wake up at all, are superheroes. Anyone who bakes chocolate cookies before 6 am, someone who runs 10k as Father Sun lifts into his sky or a woman who makes her own muesli, automatically grow wings to lift above the rest of us who achieved none of these. Even the morning greeting is directed to superheroes leaving me to feel somewhat wingless, and this feeling causes me thought.

In my memory, superheroes, or even just heroes, were those who achieved something remarkable such as leaping off a rocky bank and into a swirling river to save a life, or the old woman who took in homeless kids and asked for no benefits. People, in other words, who did what they did just because it was the right thing to do, expecting no publicity or recognition at all. Although I understand the need for a leader-ship to find a way to uplift us during the lockdowns with all their sadness, loneliness and fear, I do confess to hoping that we might now shift into a more realistic perspective on heroes. I think of the children. Is she a hero or a superhero just because she dressed herself this morning? Is he a superhero because he brought mum a cup of tea? Well, possibly yes if these achievements are long overdue, but only within the family. If children really believe it is that easy to superhero-up, then how on earth are they going to cope with the Big Bad World? Life is a truly wondrous gift but it is no easy one, not for anybody. I would like to see more intelligent teaching for our children, lessons on kindness and compassion, relationships, heart/mind balance and connectivity. Teaching them to notice, honour and develop their own skills and gifts instead of pitching them against each other. Showing them that each one of them is important and no less nor more important than her or him. This hero thing causes a non-hero to feel less than, every time, and that is a crushing feeling.

Perhaps my way of teaching all these things to my own children is not how it is out there in the BBW. Maybe it is just fine to hero yourself by totting up the number of likes you get on Facebook. More than her, less than him. I can’t see a happy outcome, can you? Nonetheless I know that the way I feel has no influence on the BBW, but it can perhaps have some among my own little grandchildren and maybe that is the best I can proffer from my not hero place. Life is tough enough without it being presented at a very early age to be a competition and then fed and nourished by social media, radio stations, online games and t.v. In my opinion.

I believe that our times of lockdown and isolation has given us the chance to rejig our thinking on life and if we are wise and visionary, thinking of our little ones who will face a very different world as they grow into adults, we will sew new seeds right now. We might find a voice instead of accepting what is powerfully offered by those wielding that power. Quietly, gently, we might think independently about our own life values. Banging on about how much better it was, apparently, in the olden days, helps nobody. Action is the key. I know that each of us is just one person and the powerful ones are, well, powerful, but we can do something within our own space and life to grow awareness, suggest a new way to see an old thing. We can support and encourage and this will make a difference however much we may doubt it. We can stop shrugging our shoulders and sighing resignedly.

My belief is that everything is just as it should be, but that doesn’t mean we can sit back when something troubles us. When that happens there is a call to action. What action? you might ask. All I say to that is ask yourself that question and wait for the answer. Once a heart is open, there is an invitation sent out and answer will always come. Covid has been a wake-up call. Are you awake?

Island Blog – Open and Close

Because I live at both ends of the day, like the animals, like the flowers, I see much. At 5 am the dandelions are closed, the daisies too and other sun-following flowers, the intelligent ones. The hybrids, I notice, just stay open, to night, to cold, to frost and I do, I confess, roll my eyes a bit. Your mummy didn’t teach you things, I think, but you are still beautiful. Maybe not long living, not survivors, not canny, but still beautiful short term. And that is how some people are, how youth is, supple and without dents and the lashes of life, the experiences. An one show. We have all had one of those had we just noticed we were having it instead of wishing we could just get to the next bit.

Slowly, and with the sun, the dandelions open, cautiously. I so get the cautious thingy as we have frost most nights. Just putting my nose and toes out there draws me back in to wait. That’s what the knowing flowers and birds do. They have centuries of experience in the fickle dance of nature. You say it is May? Ha…….let me play with you awhile. I think of the patient understanding of this. These flowers, these birds, adapt. It thinks me.

As we floundering humans with more intelligence (apparently) than the flowers and the birds, adapt, or attempt, to our release back into what we once thought Normal, we are foundering. The way things were will never be again. We are facing a new and uncharted terrain. How glorious. How natural. But we may have forgot the ‘Natural’ within us, that ability to adapt, to confound the voice of May, of any month in our given situation. I hear so many folk say they are relieved we are going back to normal and I recoil, like a snake. Hopefully unnoticed. How can anyone go back, first off, and then back to normal when normal is far from herself. She is ways off what she once was and we need to get that. Okay, I get the yearning for what was, what we understood, what we knew as absolute, the very ground beneath our feet, but that ground is no longer there so don’t think it will hold you up. This Covid has been a warning and one we must pay close attention to. I am no catastrophist other that the times when I have been. But not on this. We are perennials. We know how to follow the sun, our faces lifted and glowing in the light. We also know how to close and to go within, in to the warm, in to the loved ones, away from the cold and the winds that could blow the walls of Jericho down in a nanosecond sans trumpets. Are we paying attention? Life from now-now is not normal. It will be about acceptance and compassion. It will not be about waving fists at camper vans. It will not be about exclusion. It must be about the opposite, about sharing, about kindness, about, let us say, learning how other people work, those who do not have the mummy training that we did.

I watch the dandelions slowly close. I can see it happen because I can sit long just to watch. No other agenda now. Time? I have plenty. No interruptions. I recall agonising about the lack of it, yearning for it, shouting and raging for it. Now it is here, in abundance and if I am not engaged with that state, I can get angsty, fretful. But I am learning and in the main I know it as a gift and I am thankful, although not all the time. I remember my days as a thoughtless hybrid, dancing the light and believing it would last. I remember the sprinter in me and I also remember the long distance runner and my vote, now, goes to the latter. I am with the dandelions and the daisies, even as I love the short term glorious flourish of those blooms that have no flipping idea what they are doing.

So. We open and we close. We might like to think about that, as the borders open, the doors open. We are going to meet others who have really struggled through this past year; those who were stuck at home with those they were, before, able to live with only because they could get away to work. We are going to meet angry, upset, resentful, pressured beyond what we can imagine, on roads, in cafes, in pub gardens, in doorways and outside our safe picket fence. Let us allow everyone to regain some hold on what it is to be a part of the human race. Let us be kind, pull back, let forward, offer, pause, consider and, most important of all, deal with our own anger and frustration within ourselves and all by ourselves without projecting our pain on someone else who has more than enough to deal with anyway. Who said that if we really want to heal the pain the world, first we need to heal our own pain? I forget, but it is worth saying again.

Let us close to what we knew, what was and let us open to whatever comes next. After all, not one us has a scooby.

Island Blog – Free to Live

Yesterday I went for my covid vaccination. There is a new something in my blood, in my muscle tissue, that will forever change me. I am not the woman I was when I left home, all nervous and in loose fitting clothes for easy access and with my mask in my hand. The swerve and swoop of the drive through the silent and single tracked glen showed me big warm cows and fluttering water birds already singing a Spring song and behaving like they just fell in love. This swerve and swoop thingy will tell those who know me that I was not in the driver’s seat. I haven’t swerved or swooped for decades. I prefer 30mph at best. My son drove me and here’s another change. That time in the car with him was energising. We spoke of this and that, of cabbages and kings, of children and DIY and how am I and how is he. He made a mental note to collect fuel at the garage once we arrive and whilst he waits for me.

We arrived at the church with its footsteps urging Faith, Hope and Love and I walked over them feeling all three. I walk to the door of the church hall and see about 5 women sitting apart. I presume these are vaccinatees awaiting their jags so I pull away and back to the car to wait, for we are early by ten minutes. More cars pull up. Through their windows I see well known faces I have not seen for at least a year and it lifts me. We smile and wave at each other. They are also nervous and in loose fitting clothing. And waiting. After a few more minutes I go back, thinking this:- Flaming Hec, Fairbairns, why are you always so obliging? Get up and go ask! jeez…… perhaps these figures through the glass door are nurses, waiting inside whilst we litter the road with our own waiting. We could all be here for days. So I did walk back up over Faith, Hope and Love and those 5 women did indeed turn out to the nurses having a lunch break. They beckoned me in, more faces I know so well and have not seen for almost a year. Smiles and welcomes and how are you/s. It felt so good to be among people. It felt so good to see their bodies move, watch them laugh and interact and to flow like fresh, living water. The jag took seconds. Relax your arm. I chose my left, for I have heard an arm can be a bit sore for a couple of days and I am a rightie. Love your tattoo she said as the needle went in. Everyone does. It is, after all, a work of art.

Thats you! She smiled and I reapplied my loose fitting clothing. As I moved back to the car, to my son, I spoke with the queue of other 60 odd year olds, friends, familiar and loved faces and ones I have not seen for almost a year. We shared news, briefly. How is life? Oh, you know, ok. I saw their eyes above their masks and saw the strain. We will all feel it but seeing it in another’s eyes tells us the truth. This past year and the not knowing of the one in which we have now landed will show in our eyes and on our faces once the bandit coverings come off. It has to. Loneliness and isolation, fear and frustration, exhaustion and the loss of faith and hope is inevitable.

We have sunlight. That is what we tell ourselves. We have a new day, our inner core strength and our gratitude list. But there is a cost. Any time of deprivation will cost us. However we do have resourcefulness and that bloody mindedness that keeps us rising like the light, like the tide. Ebb and flow we are, rise and fall; sometimes a lift for others and sometimes needing a lift ourselves. It is reassuring somehow, this need for each other, this need to have a visual on those we took for granted before, calling out a brief Hallo as we hurtled through our to-do list for the day. Can’t stop, must dash, another time. And now we move sluggish and slow, filling in the hours, wondering when we can get back to that unthinking normal.

Another night, another morning. I move like an automaton through the early chores, light the fire, make breakfast. The silence in the house feels like a weight today. So many questions float around with the dust motes and with nowhere to land. Life with another is all about interaction. Question asked, question answered. Now I have to answer for myself. Agreed, the irritability factor is removed from my life now but a part of me, on mornings like this, long for it, for connection, communication, interaction; a meet in a doorway, a stand back, an ‘after you’; a smile, a laugh, a ‘listen to this’ or a ‘did you know that..’ Nothing. I hear a song come on the radio and the lyrics sing me. I hear about some stranger’s achievement or a joke or a story. I listen to the wind and hear the rain blatter the conservatory roof as those little bits of fallen masonry skitter about like mice tap dancing. Still dark, but I did lug in wood yesterday having checked the forecast so it’s only a garage snatch and grab.

All across the UK people are coping or not coping with this extended isolation and the discomfort of not knowing when it will all finally get better. Sometimes I play a game. I take myself into the little town to meet a friend for lunch in the bakery. I hear the buzz and bustle, the exchange of chat between other tabled folk, between the serving lassies and the customers in for a pie or a cake. It’s warm in here, happy, ordinary, normal. Later I decide to dress up and to go out for dinner. Seafood I think. I always do. Candles, the clink of glasses, the smiles of the waitress, the wave to the chef as he pops up for air, the feel of my dress and the chats with those who pass my table on their way to theirs. These are distant memories, once the norm and taken for granted, for who could have predicted the life we are all now living? I remember signing up to work in the hospital cafe on the mainland as a volunteer. My shift was settled, my uniform secured. That was almost a year ago.

I wonder what will come of this time? The faces I met with yesterday told me we have all changed in ways we never imagined. The easy flow of conversation was not as before. Standing back, no hugging, no touching, no sneezing, guffawing or coughing. Moving awkwardly around each other is confusing. We are not like this and yet we have had to learn new ways and the toughest part of all lies in our not knowing when it will stop. Will we remain fearful and awkward long after life begins to flow once again or will we let go of that fear and awkwardness? I have no answer. Friendships may have been lost through this time and new ones forged. We will emerge as newborns into the light of ordinary life I suspect, blinking in the sudden light of it, our eyes looking out for love, for connection, for purpose and direction; for lunch al fresco, picnics, dinner by candlelight, impromptu parties or just walking with mates, close up, touching, hugging, sharing rise and fall, ebb and flow, free to live once again.