Island Blog – The Friend Ship

Sailing, as we all do, alone, and some of us more alone than we might like, I oftentimes find another sailing beside me at the most unexpected moments. Now, as a sailor’s wife I know this unexpectation to be impossible. In that vast expanse of flat ocean, even one in a grumpy or ferocious mood, I can always see someone coming, and from far off. However, in a grounded life, I don’t always see someone coming. I might be distracted, sweeping the floor, or suddenly in the wide mouthed conservatory, like a goldfish in a bowl. Someone might come walking by, someone who pauses to communicate affection and support from their friend ship. They move by in silence, the window glass between us, the Covid restrictions refusing a close encounter. Even as they pass me by, the feeling that they and I confabulate leaves me feeling like I just took something in something warming like porage or soup. More, it elevates my steps thereafter. I feel seen, acknowledged, noticed, of value. This friend in his or her ship may well move faster than I through the ocean, but it matters not, for this encounter has told me I can keep going, regardless of my slow pace. I may have a smaller ship, less crew, less rations, less focus on the whereabouts of my destination. They seemed to be certain of theirs, after all, or it appeared so. But they paused in their trajectory, just for me.

I notice that before this time, this time of isolation and the lack of our ships meeting as we did so gaily and with no thought of it ever being stolen from us, I took it all for granted. I might even have waved it away. Another day for this for I am busy with my own piddling thingamajigs and have no time for this friend or that. Let them WhatsApp me first, or call at the very least to ascertain my availability. Funny how all that has dissipated now in this lockdown fog. Funny, again, how much I have learned to value any contact. I may not instantly respond, but that ship that just passed me by with a friendly wave will not be as it might have seemed to them. I did not disallow, not did it mean nothing much to me. It meant very much.

It thinks me. Do I honour those friend ships that bother to slow and to communicate? I caught them as fish in my net in the abundance of my past life, whence I might think that life would always supply me with a big haul. I could afford to throw some back as unwanted bycatch because I never considered that I would ever be standing alone on a ship, the helmswoman, crew-less and traversing an ocean that seems to go on for ever. It also learns me. I may be alone on my slow ship in the midst of storms and slack-water, in the doldrums or riding on skyscraper waves but I am not alone. There are other ships out here, even if I cannot see them. Ships will gravitate towards each other in the ‘way out there’ of sailing. I know this. I have encountered this. Even if we are all sailing alone, we care for each other in the wild spaces, in the ride and crash of darkling skyscraper waves and it teaches me.

My analogy comes to ground, and still as a teacher. My loyal friends who still walk by, who still text, email and message, who still call, despite my carelessness, who communicate in silence through the window, I salute you all. I value your persistence and loyalty, the ocean depth of your always finding me no matter what I do or say or what I don’t do and don’t say as I hold this wheel and fight the ocean traverse.

Thank you for being my friend.

Island Blog – Poppies, Tides and Hugs

There is something deep about a hug. Like an ocean flowing over, through and around you. It won’t drown you because you can breathe underwater. Enveloped inside big strong arms, feeling the pressure of warm fingers, the familiar smell of home. I am home. You are here. You and I are, for the length of this hug, as one body. My love flows to you as your love flows to me, right down to my very core, fizzing along my capillaries and through my muscles and over my skin like the first sip of champagne. When we part, the tide has turned. From slack water to ebb or flow. Birds lift in anticipation, fish swirl in the depths, sensing a change; seaweed flutters in confusion. Which way now?

After months of slack water, these son-hugs turned the tide. Tall, strapping men, fit and healthy, warm and soft, gifting love and support, hugging. They have to bend down a bit for a hug with me and even further down to hug their wheel-chariot dad, but they can flex and stretch, rise up again effortlessly, as once we did. Buried in their chests I breathe them in, remembering. Not so long ago they dandled on my knee, fed from me, squealed their delight, screamed their anger and now look at them, fathers themselves with knees for dandling their own little ones. How fast life travels, how fragile it is and yet how strong. How long is a life? There is no answer to that. What matters, it seems to me, is what we learn during that life through observation, sail correction, through the anger and the joy, the near drowning.

Moving through a morning of poppies, I feel the inner shift. Tomorrow, if the wind rises, these crimson wide-open petals may be ripped and stripped. I saw them as buds at 6 am. By 7.30 they showed me a cadmium red mandala. By 8 they were face-up to the sky, black mouthed, anticipating insects, their petals combing the breeze like silk. To seize the day, the moment of lift, as they do, teaches me. To show me life is beautiful, fragile as poppy petals, strong as sons, and, most of all, to be truly lived, no matter how long or short. No matter at all.

Island Blog – Inside Out

My washing machine, which, by the way, has behaved normally for a long time, has suddenly begun to turn clothes, bedding and other things, inside out during each wash. At first it annoyed me. What do you think you’re doing? I asked it. I mean, you have washed things as I rendered them into your maw for, oh, years now, and all of a sudden, without consulting me, you turn things about. Yes, I know that most goodly women wash everything inside out. We are advised to do this. It says so on the label. But I never read labels and there was a frisson of excitement that arose in my goodly breast as I pushed everything in with the outside on the outside. I love to break the rules anyway.

As I fight with a huge cotton/linen duvet cover that is half inside out and half outside in, I have some thinks. Going deeper, I wonder if the Universal Mother Protector is trying to tell me something. What could that be? Is she advising me that, before it is too late, I begin at the age of 67, with a hec of a lot of washing years under my belt, to obey the rules? Surely it can’t be that. This bedding, these jeans and tops, frocks and socks have managed with my disobedience for as long as I can remember and nothing has fallen apart. Well, not many things, anyway.

Then I walk my thinks into other areas of life. I ponder the inside and I ponder the out. I know only too well that if the inside of me does not relate and connect with the outside of me there is trouble. If I feel one way and communicate another, I am lacking congruence. My inside, feeling as she does, is sloshing about in my drum if I don’t show her to the world. If I see injustice, feel the pain of it, the wrongness of it, and say or do nothing, I am disconnected from my own self and I will carry that disconnection like a lead weight for a long time. Regrets, shame, crimes of omission, admissions of guilt, apologies proffered, wounds healed, all will fester in a darkling silence, challenging the health and well-being of both my mind and my body. You, on the outside of me will see none of it, feel none of my disconnection. But I will.

The start point is to admit this disconnection to myself. To acknowledge that I am outside my inside and that the two haven’t been on speaking terms for way too long, is critical. Do I want to? Well, no, not really. I want the outside of me to look goodly. I want the inside of me to catch up, to hurry up and fit the space without me having to do any of this tedious inner work. But this is not how we learn, not how we grow, develop and understand the vital need to be inside out. Now, I am not saying that we need to rush out to tell folk a thing or two about what we don’t like about them. Not at all. In fact, what we find, as we admit our fear of being inside out, is that we don’t want to do that at all. What we find, as we gently open up to our own fears of being naked before all men (dreadful thought) and women (slightly less so) is that compassion arises like Venus from the waves, gentle, soft, loving and at peace with both ourselves and all those who are not us.

As I pull out the washing nowadays I smile at the inside out-ness of random things. I know this washing machine, this behemoth of importance, has a lesson to teach me. Nowadays I can inside out-flip a big duvet cover in minutes. In paying attention to something that most of us would dismiss with a worldly snort, I am learning to reconnect with the inside of me. I recommend it.

And so, it is.