Island Blog – Garlic, Gratefulness and Fairies

In the afternoon sunshine of yesterday we set off to the Fairy Woods to gather wild garlic. I had a recipe for pesto and was keen to make it. Popz on his quad, me on my feet, Poppy trotting alongside, we wound our way through the violets, primroses, wood anemones and sorrel, between the mish-mash of ancient trees, all pushing out green. Turning down towards the shore we couldn’t avoid squashing a carpet of Celandine, faces pointed towards the sun, yellow as new butter, petal perfect. The ground was crunchy, old leaves drying, finally, and as far as we could see, a wide stretch of emerald green wild garlic leaves fluttered in the breeze. I knew I had to find 150 grams and made, as it turned out, a good guess. As we wandered back home, seeing absolutely nobody, we reflected on how this lockdown is a blessing for us. And how it must be a prison sentence for so many others. It’s good to be grateful, good for the health of the person with a thank you in her mouth.

In South Africa, nobody is allowed to go beyond the perimeter fence of their own garden, reserve, township or flat. Anybody found on the streets is at the mercy of the police. One person from each household is allowed to shop alone and once a week. All sales of alcohol and cigarettes are banned. I don’t think that sort of lockdown would make me all that grateful, although gratitude is not something we feel because we have everything. Sometimes our everything is someone else’s nothing much, but we can still find a thank you, if we trouble ourselves to think and reflect and, to a degree, compare our situation with another’s.

This slowdown lockdown time is giving us opportunities to check ourselves from the inside out; to question why we feel this flash of discontent or loneliness or self-criticism. What is it that brings these feelings? Have I felt this before, even when lockdown was not in place? Chances are, I have. So let me poke around through my memories, remembering how good they are at lying. Let me stop when the feeling comes and turn to say ‘hallo’. Let me look this feeling smack in the eyeballs and ask it what it wants from me now, now that I don’t need it at all. There is time for such work these days and, if we are canny, and if we have remembered our dreams and hopes for our own future, we have the chance to find an answer. Ah, so this thing that you do that annoys the bejabers out of me and always has……yes, that thing, the one you have no intention of stopping, even supposing you consciously know you do it in the first place, which you probably don’t.

So, instead of allowing that irritation to rise in me, I will consider a different way to live with this thing in you. How about I am so busy doing my own thing that yours is just a whisper in the winds of change? Or perhaps I will notice and reflect on my own habits that I know irritate you; if I have the humility to go there, of course. It takes courage to go there. Many of us don’t bother. We want everything, not just something and there’s not a lot of gratitude in that. In fact we prefer, if you don’t mind, to grumble about ‘your’ irritating thing, to growl at it, to let it control us, for that is exactly what we are doing.

Well, poo to that. I know that I do spend much time poking about inside myself, and that for some I am a bit of a laughing matter, but it is my thing. If I want to rise from this slowdown lockdown not only intact, but elevated and forever changed, which I do, then I must adopt an attitude of non-judgemental humility and that non-judgement must apply to me too. This way gratitude lies, even for those who cannot walk as we do every day into the Fairy Woods, even them. A time of reflection is laid out before us now, like the Celandine and, if we turn our perfect petals to the light of the sun, we can all come out on the other side of this as better humans.

We never did see a fairy.

Island Blog 124 – Chiaroscuro

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It’s not a sausage.  It’s a delicious word, nonetheless, and it is the meeting point between light and dark.  Of course, there is always a meeting point between light and dark, day and night joined together until the sun burns out, the light and dark, or shade, in a painting.  Used in the world of opera, it describes two voices, one soprano, one deep, might be contralto, might be tenor or bass, joined to create a thrilling balance for our ears to hear.

So, this lovely ‘meeting of opposites’ has a pretty name and if you say it with an Italian accent, plus the hand gestures, you can quite lift your day.  Chiaro, means ‘clear and bright’, and Oscuro, dark and obscure.  Five musical syllables, and the ‘Ch’ is pronounced as ‘K’.

This meeting of contrasts is everywhere in our world, and, without one, we fail to see or appreciate the other.  When it rains a flood for weeks on end, and the water moves indoors, it must be a very dark time.  Outside, in the village hall, on the sodden streets, in a corner shop, there will be smiles of light, offers of sympathy, support and hope.  I don’t have to see it for myself to know I speak the truth.  Whenever life feels dark, somebody or something casts light in our path and, with that light, we find we can go on a bit further.  At another time, darkness brings a welcome relief.  It’s the balance than matters.  We want both in equal portions to find a happy rhythm.  But let’s just consider the chiaroscuro of life, the meeting point, and an entity in itself.

As we look we find ourselves, for we are both light and dark.  All of us.  Our relationships, too, for they are also a meeting of light and dark.

Well, you can forget the dark, someone might say.  Who wants dark in a relationship?

Have you ever met somebody quite unbelievably light?  For this person, everything is ‘wonderful’  I have met such people and I didn’t believe they were real at all, for it is against our human nature to be all light and no dark.  Of course, the dark bits can be hidden for years, but they will show themselves in behaviour choices, skin condition, ailments and disease.  We are fashioned in balance, and our journey through this life is one of learning and more learning.  We develop a creative agility in order to survive and this means we must recognise the dark and the light and make them both welcome at our table.  I know I have wished for all light and no dark, but, even as I wish it, I know I am a fool, for how could I ever really feel another’s pain and grief, if I had never felt my own?

I have heard folk banging on about the shoulds and shouldn’ts of benefits, taxes, governmental rulings, as if everything ‘should’ be dished up on an endless supply of pretty plates.  I know that some are struggling, many are struggling, with real problems in their lives, with limitations and deprivations I can only ever imagine, but hand-outs seem to be expected across far too wide a swathe of humanity.  If we sit at home, watching complete nonsense on the tv and building on whatever is currently causing angst, and never step into the light of day, of course all we are going to see is darkness. If we feed Black Dog, Black Dog will grow big and strong.

I remember my old granny telling me that when I felt sorry for myself for longer than ten minutes, I needed to cheer someone else up, with a phone call, a visit, a text message, and never mentioning one word about my own self-pity.  My mum always says she is ‘absolutely fine’ when anyone asks her how she is.  And, do you know what……..  both those women have it nailed, because in both cases, their refusal to wallow, their very act of lifting the collective moment, initiates a dramatic change deep inside.  I can leave a house, having arrived with both my legs heavy as old porage, my chin scraping the ground and all my aches and pains playing a noisy percussion throughout my body, as light as air and thinking no longer about Me, me, me.  Something extraordinary has happened quite silently inside me, something that tells me I am the chiaroscuro of the afternoon, for, in me, the light met the dark and became a thing of balance and beauty.

Next time you look at a wonderful painting, or listen to a piece of music, or a song, remember that, although there is both high and low, dark and light, lift and fall, tears and joy, that this is what, this is who we are too – a glorious blend of opposites.

And then step out and share it.