Island Blog – Rest and be Thankful

It is 4pm, or it was when I thought to write this. Then two lovely men delivered me a huge double glazed window and quite entertained me with their efforts and genuine smiles. It lifted my spirits, even if it was pitch black out there and they were two hours late. Yawning like a giant the evening feels like a big black hole, and, yet, I am warm, well lit with twinkly winkly lights and fat church candles on pedestals. I have good food, a merry little log burner and, now, a huge double glazed window for the fitting. We are all safe. You will guess there is a ‘but’ and here it comes.

I notice, these days of early widowhood, the shock of sudden absence. Oh, I am still here and so it Poppy dog, although she is not the whole shilling these days. Grieving, perhaps. I don’t question her, nor she me. We just abide in this strange new world of silence. This silence is fillable, of course, with music, talking books, lovely delivery men, the postie and passers by, people I know and could have rushed out to hug, would have. Can not now. We communicate through arm flapping and blown kisses and they are gone. I turn back. To the kitchen, to the log burner, to the Poppy dog, to good food for one and the evening yawns on.

I think back to all the times I was irritated, scratchy, demanding my own space, yelling for the kids to stop yelling, throwing out barking dogs into the night for a cool down and completely engaged with a life I did not appreciate enough. Now I realise how precious that time was; now I realise, moving on through the years as children left home, one by one until there was just me and just him, how precious that was too. My dad once said to me, as we chatted while he packed for another long haul trip to sort rich men’s chickens, usually in the desert, that it was quite something to be in that place. He questioned the rightness of it. We met and fell in love, he said. We brought forth children (he was a man for uptown wordage) and then got on with life. As they grew wings and flew away we found ourselves staring at each other and thinking…..remind me…….who are you? I had no experience to lean on and probably didn’t get it, but I do now and I did as that time came for me. When the ones who kept us together with all their teenage opinions and rights and that passion to change the world, left, it was just us and we were strangers. We had both gone through things together and many things alone. This will not be breaking news to any who recognise this awkward place of reconnecting, or not. Over those turbulent and demanding years it is inevitable that a couple will pull apart, pull together and pull apart again. We change according to our circumstances and circumstances alter facts. I was this young woman, he was that young man and then kids blew the whole dynamic to powder and shrouds. We lost ourselves to them, on both sides of the bed.

Now I sit here in the early dark (by 3.30 pm here) and consider it all. I can do this now with yawning evenings and so many days ahead of just me and just Poppy. I took the time with him for granted, those latter days when he was always here and so was I. Do you think I could shift this planter to a better place for wind protection? Can I go for a walk now (looking at those burgeoning rain clouds) or should I wait? He would check the sky and say, You have ten minutes, or, if you wait for five, this shower will clear and give you twenty. Shall we play scrabble, eat this, watch that, talk about this child, or that? It was like nothing, like breathing. It came and went as a natural part of a naturally shared day. Now it is just me and Poppy and she doesn’t play scrabble, nor care much what I eat or watch and has a similar diffidence to incoming rain. But it isn’t just someone missing. It is the historical other part of me, the one who, for all his faults and failures that infuriated me, the ones I commented on, sulked at, stomped around in, in loud boots and all to no avail, it is he who is missing and there are times the silence is so loud I am deafened.

I don’t want him back. Poor soul at the end, he had had enough and chose to go. But the yawning evening speaks volumes about all I took for granted, all that bothered me at surface level, all I had no idea I would miss so much some day. So, my point is this. If anyone out there stops to think about how lucky they are to have a someone, even an infuriating someone who shares their history, then it might be time to recognise that, to be thankful and, better to speak it out. When I ranted on about himself to my old mum, years ago and once she was widowed, she rounded on me. At least you know he is coming home, she said.

I rest my case.

Island Blog – Hide and Seek

Peering out this morning, through rain smeared windows, the birds look like they are fraying at the edges. The flowers too, poor bowed soldiers in the face of a strong opponent, flagging beauty, ripped petals, but still standing firmly rooted. I had a wee chat with them this morning when I went out to fill the bird feeders. Stay strong, I told them. This too shall pass. Returning to the warm and coffee and a chattering woodturner, I think today will be a day to hide in. Not from, but in.

As a child, hide and seek was the best game ever, especially in a friends house where there were many more rooms than people. Connecting corridors, secret doors, lofts and cellars. the ‘hider’ could disappear for days on end in that rich man’s castle. However, the slightest sound of incoming sparked a rich anticipatory excitement in my young breast. I wanted to be found. I had been inside this old wine barrel for ages, my twisted legs were sound asleep and I wanted one of Cook’s jammy dodgers. Funny how things change. At first, I wanted to stay hidden forever and then, at the first creak of a floorboard, I longed for deliverance. It thinks me.

At times I want to hide away. I can see me now, in my mind’s eye, dropping like a stone behind the sofa when someone knocks on the door. I remember dashing upstairs to dive under the duvet, blocking my ears from the ‘Hallooooo!’ noise as someone just walked in. I don’t answer the phone, avoid the picture window through which everyone looks as they walk by. In short, I invoke no intrusion on my hide-ness. Of course, on Hide days everyone and his wife call, visit or peer in. On Seek days, when I would happily host a convention complete with light refreshments, the world is silent, mouthless, happy doing something else that doesn’t involve me.

Hiding during isolation and lockjaw (down) is simples. Almost nobody is out there. In fact, for all I know, the island has set sail for other lands; perhaps Englandshire is no longer attached to Scotland; perhaps all the islanders, bar the odd one or two who walk by, have emigrated to Australia and there is just us left, hiding from nothing and no-one, never again to be sought. The thought smiles me, but only because I know it to be imaginary nonsense. Of course everyone is still here; of course we are still joined from south to far north and of course all the islanders still inhabit the homes I know belong to them. That’s true……isn’t it?

Half the fun of Hide and Seek was getting lost myself. If I was seeking, creeping on silent toes, avoiding old creaker boards, and not committing to memory the way I had come, I could find myself half way down a completely unknown darkened corridor with someone coming my way. It could be her ladyship, in full sail, as ever and with a tongue inside her thin strip of a mouth that could cut through steel; or it could be his Fumbleship, the ancient old grandpa who thought everything a chuckle, especially his sharp edged daughter in law. I remember overhearing her tell him once that he was only living there because of her great beneficence. I didn’t know what that word meant, but he did, and after a great hoot of laughter, one that nearly carried him downstairs rather faster than usual, he continued his merry way leaving her pink faced and puffing. He found me that day, hiding behind the desk he always sat at to read his paper. Hallo little one, he whispered. My eyes were wide with rabbit terror but he just chuckled softly. Shhhhh, he said. I won’t tell. And I was more than happy to remain hidden, hearing his gentle breathing , the snap of news pages, my nose inhaling the smell of his pipe.

I felt both hidden and sought. And in that moment I knew I could be both at the one time. It filled a space in me I never knew was there. Instead of either this or that, either black or white, either yes or no, there was a whole wonderful world in between and I for one decided I would step into that world, curious as Alice.

And so it is, still.

Island Blog – Patching and a Merry Dance

As I complete my task of sewing up a hole in Sheepy, it comes to me. All my days I have worked on repairing the tears other people made in things, in each other. From Sheepies to hearts, from fixtures to fittings, through burned casseroles to burned chances, I have pulled out my needle and thread or my magic wand or the car keys and set out to patch and heal. I felt like an angel at times when it seemed to work and an obstacle in the way when it didn’t. This morning’s epiphany showed me that a lot of my actions were, in fact, self-gratification. Although my intent was to dry sad eyes and to mend broken hearts, I had set myself up as the answer to the problem. In other words, it was really all about me, not them. It saddens me to realise this. My own longing for love manifested itself in my attempts to please others, more, to be the one inside their lives who could patch to perfection. A wiser me would have done it differently. A wiser me would have stood beside them in their desert and listened, comforted, told them they can sort this and asked them how they might see themselves doing just that, whilst assuring them I would stay right beside them at all times.

I am grateful, always, for the way life teaches me important lessons. Not as an opportunity to blame myself but to move forward in my learning, with curiosity and acceptance. The way a new understanding comes into my head whilst repairing a hole in Sheepy chuckles me, even if I do immediately dash back over the decades past with a machete in my hand, ready to take revenge on my earlier ignorant self. Woa! I say. Steady girl. That woman back there had the best intentions and did good, really good, mostly. She didn’t know what you know now, old woman. She didn’t know the lack of unconditional love in her own life would drive her to select herself as guardian protector of pretty much everyone in her care. Give her a break and tell her Thank you for all you did in love.

These are wise words. Seeing something old in a new light, one that illuminates all the faulty wiring simply means I tried my very best under the circumstances. No matter that I was naive or seeking to fill my own black hole with good deeds (which never works by the way). Let the judge in me leave the courtroom. I recall my mum saying a similar thing to me once after she had felt criticised and judged by us. She said, simply, I Did My Best. And so she did.

However, whilst we girls and women of good intention repair until our fingers bleed, we may forget that we too need that care and love. I certainly did. I took the smallest portion, the back seat, the last straw. I taught myself to accept mean graces because all the best ones were doled out to others. I was the one who cleaned out the landcover with a smile, allowing everyone else to run indoors for toast and jam. I was the one who couldn’t sleep if a child was troubled at school. I was the soother, I was the warmth and the safety net. But what was I to me? Not enough and there’s another learning. In my day to think of self for more than five minutes was heresy. Women who shared the same turning of the earth, at the same time as I, knew this too. To be accused of being selfish was devastating.

Now we know different and thank goodness for that. However, it does present us with a problem. If we have loved and patched and healed others for most of our lives, how can we now place ourselves centre stage? The super trooper is too bright and we have forgotten our lines. Do we have opinions or did we just repeat the ones we heard others opine? Do we like pasta, kangaroos, thunderstorms, cats, driving, dancing naked in the rain? Can we quickly make a decision when someone asks Early Grey, Darjeeling, Builders, or coffee? Oh……I’ll have what you’re having. Wrong answer. But we all make it. We have spent so many years obliging that we have mislaid ourselves.

Recently I have been stopping myself from answering like a well trained robot when faced with a question. I pause. this pause can irritate the questioner. It’s a simple question after all but I am tossed on a stormy sea and feeling seasick. In the past I was a I’ll Have What You’re Having sort of woman and she is quick to come forward at such times with her pinny on straight and her bright voice loud in my ears. I push her back. Hold………! What is it I want? I know what I want but I don’t think it will be popular so I can’t let it out. Speaking my truth takes balls and I am terrified of critical judgement, of upsetting the others, the applecart. However, it also feels free-ing.

I suspect it is never too late to learn. I’m curious, too. I might discover what I do like, what I do want and that learning might lead me a very merry dance.