Island Blog – Little Fires

I believe that grandparents have a gift. One that is gifted to them. They also have a gift to give, through translation, nothing lost, unless they choose to ignore the opportunity it brings them, and by extension, the generation below and the one below that.

On the first gift, I can say it comes as a surprise. This gift is one of a second childhood. Not physically, of course, but in a renewed lease of life. From banging on about arthritis to clambering over a fence with a cackle of glee; from medication programming to random acts of play; from soup at midday on the button to fish finger sandwiches just because we’re hungry – with ketchup, naturally. The awakening of the sleeping child is painless. Sparkles return to rheumy eyes and stolen carrots from the veg counter at Tesco’s are an absolute must. An old woman who has plodded, fallen- arched, and for many years, up one aisle, politely rounding to the next, might suddenly find herself speeding up for a swing-wheelie at the top. The giggles of the little ones egg her on and she just can’t help herself. Her mind is full of naughty ideas that came from nowhere. After all, these half-pint charges of hers have been sternly groomed for a perfect public face and mummy never does any of these things.

As mummy, we don’t either. Many of us are so caught up in right and absolutely wrong that we contain, without intending it, the free spirit of our children until their bodies can barely bend at all. And here comes the second gift, the one given. With granny we can fly and fly high. My granny was like that and we all adored her. The mischief in her eyes set little fires in our own and although she was in all ways the perfect lady, she showed us a side of her true self that my mother rarely saw as a child. I feel sad about that and wonder how much, and how often, I contained my own children in boxes at least two sizes too small for their exuberant personalities. But how else to protect, teach and develop a child into the adult we want them to be, hope they will become? This, in itself sounds like a box, but only to my granny ears. So is it just that we can ‘hand them back’ or is it that second chance to what, make amends? My own children, now parents, are not always delighted at granny’s antics. Initially I faced a few stern reprimands on my behaviour, feeling like the child in trouble and most uncomfortable. Can I say God or should I pretend he doesn’t exist? Can I answer questions on where babies come from, asked by a ten year old, or should I say “Ask Mummy’ thus making it very mysterious and serious? I get my nickers in a right knot at such times, and dither like an old woman who never thought an original thought, or was never allowed to.

9 grandchildren in, I now am more relaxed about the nicker knot thing. I pause a lot after a question is asked. I might distract, as I would a puppy chewing on a cat, suggest some toast or a bounce on the trampoline. I might answer the baby question, but vaguely, with something safe, like ‘Mummy’s tummy’ and leave it at that . As to God, I might say, some believe he exists, some don’t, and round with a question for them. What do mummy and daddy say? Always a safe bet, that one.

I don’t remember my mum having any bother with dithering. She just answered as she saw fit, no matter what parental bans we had put in place. And blow it. Thats what she said. She had no intention of bending to our whims and I cannot imagine ever being brave enough to challenge her. In my day and with my mother, challenge was verboten. However my generation have been confounded with all the new information about parenting. Strait jackets were out, for starters, and choices offered to small people on the best dinner plates. My own children, and I have heard them all employ this, would ask their 3 year old what she would like for supper. I managed to keep my snort silent, although it gave me indigestion and required my scrabble into handbag depths for a Rennies. Now, I am used to it. I remember, once, tapping a child on the leg when her tantrum threatened the entire neighbourhood, and being strongly warned never to touch a child again in anger. It wasn’t anger, I began to say, but said no more after making eye contact with the parent in case. The Childline number is readily available, after all, and there are posters in every school in most of the rooms, and at a child’s eye level.

However, the joys of playing hooky with grandchildren are the best. Naughtiness and mischief fan the embers of my internal fire any time I am with them. And I am reminded, often, of the gift I have received and the gift I can give – that reconnection with my own childhood and the chance to be the child free, the child outside the box, setting all the other children free from their own boxes and, together, heading off into a fantasy world of mischief and fun and laughter.

I am going to have to live for decades more, it seems.

Island Blog 161 In Pursuit of Excellence

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Unlike the pursuit of happiness, which is always the end goal of any human being and never the right one, the pursuit of Excellence is one that must be embarked upon to elevate our own sense of self.  Happiness is a secondary part of this pursuit, for, in each success, therein happiness lies.

The old-fashioned encouragement of our elders and leaders, in the form of teachers, parents, guides, will tell us to strive on, to do better, to make something ordinary into something extraordinary, In order to be the best, but this teaching needs further explanation.  We do not pursue excellence in order to beat someone else.  We pursue excellence in order to beat ourselves, that negative monkey-mind that keeps us always just below our own par.  In truth, it is ourself we make extraordinary and not the thing we do.  Although each success results inevitably in a ‘thing’ such as a published book on a shelf, a painting sold, a medal awarded, our name on walls in hallowed halls, the real happiness lies in the knowledge that we worked on, through difficult times, through darkness and doubt, cold comments and hot criticism, to achieve what now glows with light in the eyes of the world.  Despite all the difficulties we may have encountered, we continued with our work, perhaps in a lonely silence, until suddenly everyone wants to shake our hand, or bake us a cake,  even those who disbelieved and doubted as we faithfully marched on down our chosen path.

It doesn’t matter to me if this work is in the public eye or not.  Most good work is done alone.  It is easy, so easy, to be seduced into thinking that successes come with the genes, but we can be astonishingly good at many things, do little to develop them, giving up, saying ‘It’s not working for me’ and ultimately waste a gift, flush it down the loo, walk away from it.  Each one of us is placed just where we should be, and it is our job in this one life to locate it and build.  Not one single soul is without a gift.  Perhaps it is for caring, perhaps handywork or bending metal into shapes.  It might be to uplift others, to paint, write or make music.  It could be staying calm and strong at times when others panic.  It might be with animals, with parenthood, with teaching or entertaining, cooking, translating, sports or marketing.  The list is endless.

The problem is nowadays that everyone seeks glamour and judges themselves on that basis, especially the young, although it doesn’t stop in youth.  People consider their lives ruined when life drops a boulder into it, but this is not the truth, for just like that any one of us can lose a job, our looks, a lifestyle, a loved one and yet life is not done with us yet, for somewhere in there, after the grief and the mourning is past, there is something still at which we can excel.  We may not feel like it, but who does want to start again?  And yet, I have seen it too many times, the indomitable human spirit doing just that.

Pursuing Excellence is a way of being, not something for those born with a silver spoon.  Someone washing dishes can wash them consistently with excellence, if they have that burn inside them, that need to do everything to its highest level.  I meet so many people who seem to be waiting for something to happen.  I want to tell them it already is.

Consider this…… it isn’t the great thinkers and do-ers of the past who will make history now, but each one of us.  I don’t mean ‘out there’ in the world, I don’t mean an OBE or a spot on Britain’s Got Talent, but inside our own families and friends, and, more importantly inside our own hearts.  No recognition is worth a fig once the hype has died away.  What lasts for ever is the knowledge that we worked and studied and focussed and never never never gave up.  We alone made this happen. This is what will carry on, will carry us on, will be told down through the generations, will make others think, consider, re-evaluate their own priorities and make a change.  This is what really tells us we can do it, wherever we are placed, despite our limitations, our commitments, our troubles and strife.  One person, one gift, one chance to excel.

As one door closes, another opens.  You’ve all heard that one.  At times I scoffed at it, seeing nothing but closed doors, and considering that open door to exist only in the Secret Garden and other winsome tales, but that was simply because I had my blinkers on.  Thinking we are too old, too tired, too sick is to die whilst still alive. Someone said to me, at that difficult time, ‘It is my opinion that the only way out of any gloom is to turn the light on someone else.’  I thought, Cheeky So-and-So, but it did think me over the next while.  And, he was right.  Initially, when gloomed-up, we need to begin to forget ourselves, because the habitual thinking is poisonous to our minds.  Once we have shone the light on loads of others, seen their lives, heard of their troubles, we gradually realise how much we have at home.  Much that seemed so little not days ago.  Then, once restored, once our mouths are full again of laughter (most of it at our own self) we can ferret about inside our own life with fresh eyes for that ‘something we can do.’  Then, we baby step it out of the attic, dust it off and, without anyone else having a scooby about it, we begin to fashion a new thing, a thing that will challenge us, for we have never done this before, upset and confound us, meet with difficulties and comments, doubts and fears that we are being complete charlies, until one day we discover that we believe in it;  we believe in us believing in it.

And then, my friends, we are off, because we are now in Pursuit of Excellence.

Island Blog 107 A Change in Time

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Well here we are on a Friday again and it seems like yesterday is was last Friday.

I know that as we get older we find time passing more quickly, but even young and sprightly things tell me they find it’s the same for them.  We have endless encouragement through the wise sayings of Deep Thinkers to make the very most of every minute, and we all nod, because we believe in such a truth and then carry on rushing past precious moments and precious people.

As a young mother I would decline all offers of a ‘quick cup of tea’ because I always had to be somewhere ten minutes ago, and calmly so.  I left, rushed, arriving way too early in a bright pink fluster, having no doubt remonstrated with one, or a few, of my children at the top of my tension, parked badly and banged my knee as I cornered too fast.

Why did I do that?  And worse, why did I keep doing it?  To arrive anywhere with my chest calm, my heart softly beating, my blood moving steadily and freely was a very rare and tea-less occurrence.

I can still say no to a cuppa and leave wondering why.  If I have said yes, and sat my butt on a stranger’s chair, patted another person’s dog, looked around another’s room, I have come away, not necessarily with the best cup of tea ever slopping inside my belly, but with my heart and head completely changed.  It was the encounter that mattered and the pleasure I gave and received by just saying yes, and giving myself to another soul.

The conversation can be wild, can be funny, can be informative and is sometimes astonishing.  The things on the inside of us never see the light of day in a shopping queue.  It is only when we sit and share something as ordinary as a cup of tea, that a person opens their heart.

‘Life is short’ is one of those immensely irritating cliches that makes me want to scream.  The reason I want to, but don’t, of course, is that saying these well known throwaway words make absolutely no difference to either the person saying it, or the person hearing it, for all the smiling and nodding that goes on.  However, it is the truth.  Over one single day, I know of people fighting for their very lives, when last Friday they were full of healthy bounce.  When they recover, they will truly know that Life is Short and both will change their lives, and the one area that will enjoy their total focus will be that of relationships.

All those terribly worldy concerns will melt away into a dirty puddle.  Suddenly, and it is sudden, the choice of family over work is easy.  Suddenly, it no longer matters if there is an immovable stain on the carpet, or the cooker stops working.  It no longer matters that our mother/sister/neighbour/cousin said something or did something to let us down, either yesterday or when we were six.  The familial baggage we lug through our healthy years, we can lay down and walk beyond.  Just like that.

What matters is the happiness within the home, the smiles we can bring to the faces of our loved ones, by forgetting Things and putting Them first.  There will never again be a chance that we would say yes to the boss, and call to cancel dinner out.

Nothing travels beyond the coffin, but the spirit of a person.  All else becomes dust.

We, who are still bouncing this Friday and not fighting for a second chance at life.. we who can change everything right now……. might pause for thought.

Island Blog 28

This afternoon a gaggle of women sat down to discuss our personal responses to a study we are working on.  Although the time in which the words were written dates back over 2000 years, it has a relevance today in ordinary lives.  The language is dated, the context not relevant to us in this western, and predominantly material, world, but how we feel as humans changes not that much.

One of the main topics, that seemed to inspire us all to make comment, was on our own gift, or gifts.  A gift, by definition, is not something we have earned, nor learned, but, instead, something beyond ourself, something of a surprise, perhaps.

What is my gift?  We asked.  I am just an ordinary island woman, leading a life much like any other life.  I cook and clean, I sew or don’t sew.  I organise to varying degrees, my own life, and those of another or others.  I do nothing astonishing.  I am not a prima ballerina, a rock star, a princess or a surgeon.  I am just me.

Or am I?

What we learned, over cups of tea around a table in a warmly lit room, is that not one of us is ‘ordinary’.  For a start, we each have certain problems and challenges to wake us each morning.  These are specific to us.  As we pull on our sensible warm underwear, we each consider these challenges and make our decisions in context.  One of us is good at being cheerful.  She says her mouth goes up at the edges naturally.  Another is good at writing letters, at remembering those who often forget even themselves, and she loves to take out paper and a pen and begin.

Dear You….

Another can bake seriously risen cakes and buns and does it for pleasure.  Another paints and is lost for hours in the process.

I write and the same goes for me.

What we all realised is that we do what we do because it comes easily, because time loses its grip on us, because we forget context in the content.

Now see-saw that word.

Content.

We are content in our work.

And that is the whole point of a gift.  It is not something we struggle to achieve, nor do we have to study it to get good.  We just do it, effortlessly.  The skill is to recognise it and then, to take it out into the world for the benefit of others who don’t have the gift we have. Not for our own validation, although we all look for that, but for the good of humankind.

Or the village.  Or maybe, just for next door.