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 – A Chance to Bloom

As I walked yesterday along an empty track, empty of people, I mean, life is springing into beauty. Nesting tits dart in and out of the gaps in the drystone walls, primroses leap like sunlight from beneath the old pines, bumble bees scurry into their mossy burrows and the sparkles on the sealoch popple diamonds, as if a thousand fireflies fly low across the surface. The air is crisp and blue and, above the sky, we are healing. Who would have thought it, thought this? That, just by not driving everywhere, flying, catching a train or a bus, we could, in one week of lockdown see a noticeable repair job going on the in ozone layer. How utterly remarkable and what a surprise. We can mend our world, if we take serious note and if we all decide we will not go back to how we were.

Going back to normal is something I have never got my head around. It is actually impossible to go back to anything at all, never mind ‘normal’. Although things may well resume in a way similar to that which we once knew as normal, we ourselves have changed. The process we have encountered, gone through and learned from has made new neural pathways inside our brains. These pathways are opportunities for change and new growth, for a new bloom to flash revealing light in our eyes. Understandably, those who need us to ‘go back to normal’ will be pushing for our business once this is over and done, but we are not sheep. We are big brained humans with a collective and deep need to protect our world.

The wildlife abounds, the waters are cleaner, effluent free and offering safe habitat for all species. Including us. Although I am one of the most fortunate women on earth, to have this wild place to wander through daily, I still know we all really want things not to go back to normal. Not to go back at all. How we turn this desire into action is way beyond my thinking. I found it hard enough to do that with five kids pulling on my apron strings, never mind a whole flipping world of apron string pullers. But I do know that it takes one, then two, then a street, then a village, then a town, a city, a country to make an impact on the whole. There is always a point in making personal change and it never fails to affect someone else. They say that if you want to receive love you first need to give it. And, much as it has irritated me in the past, I believe it to be the truth.

We have been gifted a reprieve, new steps to dance, a chance to bloom.

Shall we?

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 140 Larks and Kate

 

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Singing is a lark don’t you think?

I feel like singing a lot of the time and sometimes in the wrong places such as the dentist’s waiting room or in a queue at the airport.  In my imagination I play out what would happen if I did sing.  That old lady over there would probably smile.  The kids would gawp and wonder if they had stepped into a movie and all the rest would study me from top to toe and think me bonkers.  None of that would matter if I could guarantee sounding good, which is never a given.  I would have to be travelling alone because being with someone else puts me in a situation of being One of Two, giving Two the right to an opinion and to take preventative action, neither of which boost conifdence.  I can feel very sure about a spontaneous decision and very unsure indeed about that same decision in the flip of one second when I am One of Two.  No, I need to be One of One if I plan to orchestrate my own flashmob without the mob.  I suspect this leaves me ‘flash’ and all my minders will roll their eyes and nod their heads at that association.

What, I wonder, is so wrong about bursting into song all alone whilst completely sober just because other people are around?  Other people are always around.  I would have to wander a desert or fly to the moon to find no people around.  It isn’t the same singing in the shower, or the car or when the house is empty and I don’t know why but it just isn’t.  There’s a sudden joy that pre-empts a desire to sing which I just don’t feel in the shower or the car or when the house is empty.  There is something about being out in the world, being among fellow humans, being alone among the crowds;  a sort of devilment, a pixie sense of fun, a frisson of excitement at absolutely nothing.  This is when I want to jump over the railings or tightrope walk a garden wall; when pavement squares threaten bears and, in their less dangerous moments, hopscotch.  I like sitting on the pavement and I do if I feel tired of the concrete seeping into my legs but rarely, if ever, has anyone joined me.  Why do we hate to stand out in a crowd when we so long to be individual and recognised as such?  It’s about looking foolish isn’t it. (not a question)

The thing is this.  We are a long time dead.  A boarding school best friend, lost over the years and found again quite recently has just contracted a wasting disease and died within months.  She was the same age as me.  When we unwillingly schooled together, we recognised a fellow scallywag immediately.  She didn’t want to knuckle down to ancient scratchy-knickered traditions any more than I did.  We found many ways to make life fun, and to make fun of everyone else.  She was wiry and fizzing with energy and always up for a lark.  And now she’s gone. But I did know her and I am remembering her and that time we hooked up in London and shared lunch and memories.  Our lives had been different and neither one a merry breeze but we were resilient, strong, feisty women who ‘sung’ our hearts out at every opportunity whether it sounded good or not.  If I had Kate behind me as my foolish imagination began to propel me into a flashmob without the mob, she would have joined me, not having a clue what to do but looking all enthusiastic about it anyway.  Perhaps we are born bonkers and perhaps this bonkerness is so deep within us that no man nor beast nor disaster nor catastrophe can even dent, never mind eradicate.  Well YAHOOO! to that is what I say.

When we talked, Kate and I about the other girls there, we discovered she had kept up with them whereas I had not.  She knew bits and pieces about each girl’s life and had met up with a few of them, even returning once to an old school reunion which I most definitely didn’t, not least because by that time I had 65 children and lived on the moon.  I wonder about their lives lived – what they really dreamed of.  We never talked that way at boarding school.  We talked about netball and ghastly cheese pie and who had fallen out with who, and why.  Most girls kept in line. The risk of being punished was way too great for any out-of-line-stepping.  It was all about the ‘Team spirit gels!’ – a team spirit structured by Them for Us, regardless of allergies or differences of opinion on the ‘how and why’ of such a structure.  Clomping to church in galoshes on a dry morning did little to encourage this team spirit and a whole lot for my inventive imagination.  In fact, I think it may well be precisely because I was grown in Boot Camp and then, at my most difficult stage, packaged off to Corntonvale au Sud, that I learned singing at all.  I don’t mean this literally, although I was a choir member and I did take my pianoforte exams, but more the sort of singing that comes from a deep place, one that won’t be stopped, one that doesn’t mind how it sounds when allowed to escape;  that singing that lifts and separates better than any playtex living bra; when one of two is suddenly one in a million and forever fixed in 999999999 minds, with adjectives various affixed; that singing you meet in another’s eyes, the one that tells you it’s ok now. There are two scallywags in this convent.

Singing is a lark.  Kate was a lark.  Therefore Kate was Singing.

Island Blog 111 Love Defiant

 

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‘Love is giving someone the power to break your heart, and trusting them not to’.  Some wise soul said that, and I pinched it.

When we fall in love, we fall into infatuation at first.  We can think of nobody else all day.  Their face and voice lift us up to heights we never knew before.  Every time.

When I looked up Love on the interweb as my old ma calls it, every link on the first page and beyond guided me towards young love.  Now, young love is not just for the young.  The ‘young’ adjective describes Love, not the people feeling it.  We can fall in love at any age, and thankfully, we do or the world would be chock full of lonely old people, who have loved and lost and find they can love again.  But love is not just a feeling.  It’s a verb.  In order to maintain a love between two people, both have to work, sometimes, very hard and over long periods of time.

So what is love, the verb?

Well, after the first overwhelment of love, hitting us right in the heart like a meteor has landed there, things slowly change.  Is this, we ask ourselves, the death of love?  Did I make a huge mistake? Is the ‘honeymoon’ period over?  Hopefully, yes.  Now we are getting real.

You may have made a mistake in your choice of lover, but you also may not, for at this point comes commitment, a cementing of a love, a choice to grow it into something long term, something that will sustain both people for the rest of their lives.  Ok, so we ‘commit’ whatever shape that takes and on we go.  At first we can allow things to irritate, because we are still floating on cloud nine and, as we know Love is blind.  But, when those things that irritate don’t disappear, we begin to wonder, because our initial plan to make the other person into a carbon copy of ourselves, isn’t working.

This is the uncomfortable bit.

‘Vive la Difference!’ is something we can laugh about and nod our heads to, but can we actually live with it?

There is another saying, that ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry’.  Well bin that one.  I believe that saying sorry and taking appropriate action thereafter is precisely what Love is.  Otherwise we can just go on with our irritating habits, expecting the other person to get over themselves without considering their feelings and that is not ‘love’.

‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’ is another.  However, the small stuff grows into big stuff if left unattended and, by the way, the small stuff is in the way every hour of every day is it not? Dropping socks on the floor, nagging about who does what, harping on about slamming the car door, not helping with the shopping/kids/accounts etc.

So how do we un-sweat it?

Honestly, I can’t answer any of it, for this subject is one discussed to death all over the world in many languages.  What I can say is that Love is a journey, not just a feeling.  Beyond the chemstry, the longing to get home to a loved one, the daily joy, is a great depth of other things, essential things that, if applied with patience, will grow into a lifetime love.

But what about all that small stuff?  Does he/she get away with it all? Hmmmm.  Jury is out on that.  I have made all the mistakes, harping, nagging, moaning about my lot, and you already know that, if you’ve read Island Wife.  But, what I have learned, thankfully, is that love is not about getting my own way in everything.  It is not about a clear stage, just for me, with himself prancing about like a dancer in tights, to lift me up every time I feel like a pirouette.

No, love is about Compassion.  Kindness.  Loyalty.  Friendship.  Affection.  And each one of these is a choice, NOT a feeling.  In fact, feeling them is unlikely at first, given the small stuff sweats.  These depths of love are something to do, to work on, to write down as reminders.  It’s like going back to school.

Goodness…… that sounds old and boring, even to me who knows all this first hand.  But, as nobody can explain the truest, deepest meaning of Love, its high price and its long term rewards, then we just have to believe in it, even though, as a rule, we really only believe in that which we can explain through logic.

Love is not just about those first fiery weeks/months or even years.  It’s not about agreeing on everything (which is fortunate as we hardly agree on anything)……nor is it something to be taken lightly, thrown away without deep consideration and every effort made to find it again should it appear lost.  It’s not real in movies or romance novels.  It’s not just for Christmas or for days when I feel good about myself.  You won’t find it winning the lottery, or being promoted or writing a bestseller.  You find it by making daily commitment to it’s development and growth.

And my last word, learned through experience, is this.

Forgive, even if nobody says sorry.