Island Blog – Friend, Ships and Wide Open

If I was to ask you – how many true friends do you have – might you have pause for thought? Let me help you out with a definition or two…..

A true friend is always wide open. They may not be able, at the very moment of your ‘massive drama’, to speak with you on the phone, or rush over to your place. Perhaps her granny has just fallen into the wheelie bin whilst searching for her missing dentures; perhaps the kids have buried the dog in the sandpit and all she can see is a wiggling mound; or, maybe, she has just burnt the strangled eggs, is late for work, can’t find the kids, the granny or the dog and her partner has gone off with both sets of house keys. But, rest assured, this true friend will be thinking of you all the way through her own massive drama and will make contact the very first moment he or she can. Then when he/she hears of your pain, she will not compare it to hers. She might not even mention it. She will listen, respond without fixing, suggest nothing unless you ask for such, just leaning into your flow of pain, putting her hand in yours and saying – Let’s sail together on this.

This probably narrows the list down somewhat. On reflection, you might think, I wouldn’t go to this person, or that with my massive drama because it will pass and if I tell him/her I will need to follow up once the missing members of my family are re-located, returned to the upright and able, once again, to breathe. Or, perhaps this person might think you weak, or fix you with some cutthroat bright solution which will confirm she knows you’re weak. How long has she thought that about you? It gets worse, this line of thinking. It heads one way only, into the pit of all that you feared, have always feared. And now it’s the truth. You are a lame duck, a pathetic wimp of a woman and nobody likes you anyway. You can see the neon flashing sign above your head. It reads, Loser. So don’t add this one to your dwindling list. Nobody is that desperate.

This true friend might not be the first person who comes to mind. After all, not one of us is immune to self-protection. Most of us keep our true selves very private, considering what we will reveal and how we will reveal it on a moment to moment basis. There are things I have told no-one, not never, and I am sure you are not so different. But when you look at your list, pondering each name and reflecting on past history, shared moments both good and uncomfortable, you will eventually get that list down to about 2, if you are very lucky. And this, my friends, is absolutely normal. We may have hundreds of acquaintances, but the true friend, the one who just sails along with you, keeping a respectful distance when required, one who watches you fly the crests of monster waves as a purple storm approaches, or who keeps her eyes on you as you head towards jag-toothed rocks in some crazy game of Chicken, and who prays for your safe return, well, she’s the truth.

In a perfect world, this would describe a mother or a father, or both. Parents who do not load their own expectations of supreme success onto the soft-boned backs of their young, who do not reward according to achievements; who welcome you home late, under-age drunk, in suggestive clothing or with a biker boyfriend twice your age and with no space left for another tattoo; A loving mum and dad who, when you fail your exams for the third time, or when you tell them you cannot spend another day in this college, university or relationship, no matter how much of a messy split, will welcome you into loving arms and who will stand beside your decisions for all time.

I hope I have been that mum. I suspect we all do, we mums. To be a true friend and a parent is not simple, however. We want for our kids what we didn’t have for ourselves. We know, as they don’t, how tough the world is on colour, creed, race, sexuality, relational splits, career women, traditions, freedom of speech, independency. The labels live on. In fact, they are thriving. Nobody escapes the criticism, the labels, the judgement. But a true friend, one who sails beside you, who sees who you really are will make all the difference in the world. Even if this friend lives miles away she knows you without needing to own you; you don’t have to start from the beginning with her, not ever. She knows that you will fill in gaps if you want to and not if you don’t. She may well challenge you, you can be sure of that. But inside that challenge there is only heart, only love. You can tell her to truck off, as she can tell you to do the same, but she is authentic. You are authentic. Your true friendship is authentic.

Ok, so now we might be down to one. Still lucky.

Island Blog – Waiting, Silence and Engagement

This day I walk into absolute silence. Nothing moves, not a whisper, not a leaf, not a nothing. Under the tree canopy, beech, birch, sycamore, hip-hop, ash and alder, all branches, all leaves are completely still. T’is a rarity on this wind blown island and one to be noticed; one to become engaged in, to stand still beneath the huge silence and to become a part of it.

It is tempting to march on, my thoughts pushing at me like a man might ‘encourage’ me to get a move on. The Hurry Up of life is a part of our being. In order to get this done, I must move quickquick because the next thing is out there tapping its fingers on the table and rolling its eyes, impatiently. Do I always need to buy into this? Well, no, I don’t. Not now, anyway.

Standing under this still canopy, I reflect on those days, when the list was so tightly packed as to be almost impossible to achieve. Is there time between the napkin ironing and the school run, the first school run, for me to walk? Maybe, but only if you go like a dingbat, whatever that is, and avoid any such nonsense as looking out, up or around; no following a woodpecker’s looping flight, no sniffing of a wild rose in the cupped hand of that wee burn because that might take a few minutes being as you will have to lift your skirts, flip a fence and clamber.

These slow days, these days of so-called retirement, lend me time. Time that begs a payback and that payback is engagement. So, I engage. I turn to watch the sea-loch. It is flat as a mirror, burst open only by an otter, hunting. The waters close over almost immediately, as the air does once I push through it, ready, cleansed, new, for the next thing that might interrupt the still. The track is empty, as it mostly is. The stones lay flat or sometimes upskittled by a passing estate vehicle. I notice change. A branch fallen, a new growth spurt on a blackthorn, a higher rise of glorious grasses, a touch of sunlight illuminating a dead branch on an ancient tree.

In these extraordinary times, there is stillness. In fact, there is complete stopness. Where there was a flow of communication, a moving towards each other, we now step back. This day, as giving people delivered food, fish, vegetables and mail to our lockdowndoor they all pulled back as I came forward to receive. That space in between us has become, could become a long term space of fear. It must not be allowed to do that. In many ways it is so simple to go with the rules right now, but when they are lifted, will we lift, also? It thinks me, a lot. Living with Captain Vulnerable, I have many thinks about it, to be honest, and find it quite hard to see my feet on any of the future ground.

No matter. I will wait, as I did beneath the still trees, until something new illuminates my thinking. After all, I have lived through many battles, climbed many mountains, felt the fear and still marched on. And, in the meantime, I will celebrate the care and the giving and the inventiveness of those who have made these extraordinary times their chance to engage in ways they might never have known, had life stayed ordinary.

Island Blog – Three Keys in My Hand

I have one, no, two meetings this week. One on Tuesday, a zoom with a writer friend, and one on Wednesday with my counsellor. In my opinion, many of us need to find someone just a bit more above things than we are. I have always found that a hand reaching down is a huge help, despite the initial shame I felt at asking for it. And there’s a thing. As this lockdown keeps us stuck/imprisoned/safe, there are many who are finding it super tough, whose mental stability is being seriously challenged. I get it. As one who has always been mentally turmoiled to a degree, and who sees that last week was Mental Health Week (as if one week would ever be enough) I am more than happy that the world is getting it, or, at least, the slowmovingrulemakers are thinking wider, perhaps. In my life I have met many who could flower but cannot flower within the confines of stigmatism and of what is socially acceptable. Hence the hidden pain. And the most destructive judge of all lives within. We are all flawed, broken to varying degrees, doing out very best to fit in without sticking out in ways that might draw attention to our faults.

Looking out upon the natural world is key, but we must also look within. As I have been a student of self-improvement for decades, I have absorbed a million positive phrases and still found myself not quite at home with myself, no matter how bright the epiphany. However, I am finally beginning to understand that time holds the second key and time requires my patience, my faith in the strength of a human spirit and my trust that the goodly gods are working for me, and not against me. When the world demands something I do not want or cannot give, I need this trust. If we were all meant to be the same we would be mere automatons. We are far from that, thank goodness. Although we are currently required to live as such, it will pass eventually. Confined to home, required to wash our hands a hundred times a day, separated from loved ones, stuck in the wrong country and so on, we have this time to reflect on who we are and on the life we want for ourselves once we are freed from the chains that bind. Think on that.

I watch the young birds fly through my little garden, feathers awry, all ruffly spot and unsure of where to land. New life learning old ways. For them, survival is the teacher. They cannot suddenly square up to a cat or challenge the dive of a sparrow hawk without almost certainly turning into lunch. But we can. If we consider our predators, our demons, our self-doubts and our fears to be in control of our lives, then they will be. Noticing every thought and questioning it is key number three. Even if I am uncertain of my path, my voice, the strength, or lack of it, of my own human spirit, if I decide to turn this thing around, to turn myself around, then wonderful things begin to happen. I don’t need to run from my doubts and fears, my thoughts and worries, I just need to about face and question. Do I really think this or is this thought thinking me? Then, if it isn’t useful, I say cheerio. I don’t need you. Every time I do this, I empower my true self. I am not controlled by my thoughts. I control them, and in this uncertain life when a single day can throw a tidal wave over my carefully constructed sandcastle, my thoughts are the only thing I can control.

I know what it is like to be in the darkness of depression. I know how overwhelming life can be. I also know how to rebuild my spirit and I am thankful for all my guides over the years. Not everyone finds their way. Some souls are lost. Most of our illnesses come from inner stress, manifesting in the physical body, sometimes destroying it. This time of reflection is a gift to us all, not only to make new ways to live for ourselves by taking a long hard look at our core values, our life choices, our work and our families, but to look and to see others who may need our clear and open friendship. Those, whom we might have dismissed before as misery guts or gloomy or bad tempered. Nobody wants to live like that. Nobody. But everybody needs somebody to lift them at some point in their lives.

There are less of us still breathing in the world today. This virus is greedy and it isn’t done with us yet. Let us make sure that the ones who will emerge back into the light of ‘normality’ even more broken, even more damaged and even more fearful of their futures, do not have to walk alone.

Island Blog – Valentine

There is a valentine in all of us, even the most cynical cynic, even there. Not one living soul on this planet would say that a show of love doesn’t touch a heart. It always matters. It can come with flowers, a card, or a romantic getaway date. It can come inside a hospital ward with a hand held tight. It is there in the eyes of the forgiver and the forgiven. It lifts like sunshine into an ice wind, melting, softening, kinding. It says I see you, and you matter to me. A glance can send love, a smile, a pause to talk. We remember such times and they warm us with a memoric hug as we step back into old shoes and new rain. Love is love and we all need to see it and feel it.

As life batters us, drawing the skin across our bones and flabbing our bellies, the roses, the card and the romantic getaway may lie in our past. But love doesn’t. Thankfully we can show love anytime we so choose. Although in our emotionally strangled country we make a BIG POINT about the difference between love and like, there is no difference at all. A kindly word to a harassed ticket collector on the commuter train is showing love; a knock on our frail old neighbour’s door to ask if she needs anything from the shop is showing love. A jump to arms if someone is in trouble – that’s showing love too. Giving time to someone when we think our 24 hours are already solidly booked – that’s love. There are as many ways to love as there are people on the planet and the source is an everlasting spring, one that no drought can turn to dust.

St Valentine served the needy and the sick. I doubt that was always fun. In the end he was martyred for it and that thinks me. Showing unconditional love bothers folk. He must be up to something. Nobody can give love all of the time. Oh, really? Giving love is not being perfect. We can still snap and crackle, shout and lose the plot; we can still regret, deny and blame; in other words, we can still be who we are, but feel differently about ourselves. Giving love to everyone we know and randomly meet does not mean great displays of affection that might lead to arrest. It doesn’t mean that someone who never hugged has to learn how to. There are many other ways. Kindness, compassion, time given, a helping hand, a smile, a compliment, an acknowledgement that this other person matters, even if I never see him or her again. And the way I feel after giving such a gift……what is that sunshine warmth inside me? Well, it’s love. When I break out of my selfish little life to show another that I see them, that they are important, no matter who and no matter where, I am changed inside.

And I can break out right now.

Island Blog 159 On Marriage

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It all starts with a Wedding, that’s what I say.  When I get an invitation to someone’s ‘Marriage’ I have this strong urge to call them up to correct their grammer, or is it grammar……….. because the wedding is the bit when you make impossible vows and completely believe in them, and the marriage is the rest of your life together.  So not the same thing.

These vows are written in stone, or so you think at the time.  They also ask of you more than will ever be asked of you in any other part of your life.  What seemed like an uphill struggle before, when you were free and single, evanesce as you face the stark and solid truth that the old mother-in-law has the upper hand and, what’s more, always will.  Now that I am one myself, I feel very unsure of myself at times, and rightly so.  The old type of mother in law was comfortably certain of her place on the family throne, whereas we unsure ones watched them from the servants gallery and vowed we would never be like them.  Well, mostly we are achieving just that, and, in doing so, in approaching with more tact we are making new mistakes.  It is the way of things.

I don’t remember if I promised to obey or not, but what laughs me a lot, is that it matters one way or the other. The animated discussions I have overheard concerning which words are left out and which put in to a wedding ceremony adds a value that most certainly dilutes in time. I suppose in the olden days, if someone didn’t obey or honour or cherish and it was brought to the Judgement Mound and proclaimed before the Wise Men, and if it was found to be true, due punishment would have been administered, its legacy, shame.  Nowadays, the Judgement Mounds are covered with heather and bluebells, their ancient role all but forgotten.

After the fluffery wuffery of the wedding, and the first halcyon days of playing house, the serious business of life clicks in.  We put away the wedding dress and don the apron.  It’s not a bad, but a good thing, because scrubbing a floor in a wedding dress is asking for trouble. So, we move on into our new days, we two people who have made the biggest decision of our lives.  No maps are handed out.  We will now sail into uncharted waters, learning from each other and working day by day to weave a new cloth from the colours each one brought to the mix, very different colours, different histories, different understanding of light and dark, texture and balance, give and take, up and down.  Who will lead and who will follow?  Who will let go and who will hold on.  Who thinks of solutions and who chews over the disaster?  None of this has really been revealed as yet for neither of us have stood the test, not yet.  Falling in love is a momentary thing.  Staying there, when things begin to annoy and upset, letting them take their place in the weaving of the cloth when all you want to see are the vibrant colours of joy and happiness, is quite another.  The trick is to let that happen without feeling a sense of loss.  The trick is not to imagine this woman is trying to mother me, when she shouts at me for sock-dropping, or that this man is trying to control and contain me, when he challenges the cut of my dress  The trick is, the trick is………

The goodly thing about Goodly Life is that it keeps waking us up each morning with birdsong or Chris Evans or the dooby doo of an alarm clock, or a baby’s wail, or that eerie silence that tells you it snowed overnight.  We keep waking, we keep feeling hungry, needing a walk, a cup of tea, a chat with a friend.  Our brains must plan school mornings, bus time-tables, train schedules and packed lunch boxes.  This is it, this is life and this, shared, keeps us moving through our daily rounds, bumping into each other, working out the best way to do this or not do that, until gradually we weave ourselves into one cloth.

If any of us knew what lay ahead, we might never begin.  How we learn to deal with whatever comes along, is all in the strength of that cloth, the warp and weft of it, the necessary tension, the edging.  When storms prevail and loud black clouds hang overhead all packed with lightning flash and cold wet rain, we can use this cloth for shelter and warmth, but it will only give back what we have woven into it.  The history we make together is not solely of our own pasts, but it is a new thing.  We bring in children, carving their histories out for them, at least, in the very beginning. Each of us is a new creature, with unique quirks and gifts, thoughts and concerns.  Each one of us sees a thing differently, even if we mostly agree on the image it creates in our minds.  However,  there is one thing I have found to be almost universal, and that is the instant and unconditional love a parent feels for their child.  I know life can sour a relationship, but after the angry words are spoken and the protection in place, I still believe this love surpasses all other loves, and it never fails to astonish on first encounter.  I remember it each time a babe was born from me, that however scared I may have been of dangers unknown, I knew I would protect this child’s life with my own, and I still would.

At this end of a verrrrrry long marriage, there is a very colourful cloth around us, five colourful children and their families.  Nobody could say we quietly got on with our lives together, obeying the rules, but, instead, raved against the wrongs, laughed and lived wildly, generously, and mostly in complete chaos.  On this day, we look at each other and we both marvel.  How on earth we managed, against all the odds, to be celebrating 43 years together, even all ‘vowed up’, is a mystery, and not just to us.

What larks!