Island Blog – Circle, Cheat and Language

I write much about the circle, the cycle of life and death. My belief is that we are too afraid of both. We take life for granted, afraid that the life we know will be taken or destroyed and when that life is threatened or stolen, we cannot accept it. Well, I get that bit. When someone beloved dies it is nothing less than catastrophic. But death? If we could step back a bit we might just be able to acknowledge that nothing lasts forever, no-one lasts for ever. That sounds sensible, as long as I am not the one with the beloved who died. It doesn’t matter how it happens, expected, sudden, too young, too soon, it always cuts like a knife and that wound takes forever to heal, if, indeed it ever does.

So how do I walk my talk? I have no answer right now because each time I hear of a young life snuffed out before that person had a chance to shine, I feel a punch in my gut. This is not right. This is not the order of things. Life is a cheat. I look for reasons even if I really don’t want to find them. I hesitate and dither. I want to see that vibrant person laughing across the table from me, that snapshot that I take into my heart and fix on my wall. I don’t want to think about any pain or struggle. I don’t want to know that someone as young or younger than my own children has gone. I cannot imagine the grief of a parent in the face of a young death, their chances of ever recovering. It is a stone too big and too powerful with ripples that go on and on and on.

So, I am not so smart about death, it seems. As much as I would like to be as peacefully accepting as those in cultures who are taught about loss and about death as an honourable and inevitable place of spirit and connectivity, I founder on the rocks. I know those damn rocks and have foundered and foundered, not when my husband died because his death was sort of natural and his age made it all sort of okay, but when a child dies. A child dies. It is too much to bear. I sit here, useless and sad, wondering and clueless. I can do nothing, say nothing because I know nothing about this and I pray I never will. My mum died first and that is how it should be, but it is no given, as I know.

I honour anyone who knows what it is like to bury a child, however old that child was. I know a few and when I think of them I stand on tippytoe, on the rocks, waving like a fool because what else is there to do in the onslaught of such a storm? They are alone and will always be, in that grief. I ache for mother, for father, I wave for them but I am not them. I am a million miles away with all children intact and with a heart full of sadness. Life is a cheat, but so is Death. We just don’t know the language of either.

Island Blog – This Goodly Day (even if it is Monday)

A bit sleepless for no good reason. I wasn’t bothered, nor troubled. I just experienced awokeness. When dawn tiptoed in around my blackout curtains I decided up was for me, so I upped accordingly. Coffee and a watch for the rise of light, the lift of garden birds, the backdrop of accompanying sounds. I heard the trickle of the burn. Trickle for now but in the Autumn its voice is wild with flood, catapulting over rocks and plummeting into the pool, then under the track and offski to the sea. The eternal flow. Rain falls, burns erupt in noisy excitement and then spend days splashing everyone on their way to join Mother. It is indeed a joyous sound.

I hear the tap tap of my complication of creepers, wisteria, jasmine, clematis as their floating fingers try to gain some sort of purchase. Might need help, I tell them, and they waggle at me. I see an otter fishing in the sea-loch, flipping silver fish against the morning light, the darkling hills. Geese set forth and fifth and sixth, in fact, make that double figures, across the flat water with goslings in tow. One parent leading (guess that’s himself), then babies, then mother. A line, no ten, twelve lines crossing together as the black backed gulls circle. I watch them. The airborne predators lift, and lower, tip and flip and by golly if I see just one of them pick off a babe, I swear I will finally wild swim. They all arrive safely and now, my coffee cold, I can draw breath once more. It is quite a wide loch and I am, on reflection, rather proud of my ability to hold my breath. I remember trying it in a bath as a girl and exploding back into the air after about 60 seconds in a state of snot and sneeze. Not something I put on my CV.

I weeded a bit and discovered a tiny clematis creeper (who planted that?). I madly cleared the grass and such like around it to give it space. The flowers are huge and magenta. So brave. Not just the colour, nor the size of the flowers but all that struggle beneath Aquilegia, and other tall things I cannot name. I affixed the stems to the structure that upholds the original clematis which is 30 years old and not flowering quite as much as she once did. I know that state. Then I remember who planted the wee magenta thing. It was I some 3 years ago and I allow myself the forgetness of such a birthing because I was thwack in the thick of caring during that year. Nonetheless it is such a relief to solve such a question, I find. Reminds me I am not losing any plot.

I walk beneath brilliant green boughs, dappled sunlit tracks and take myself, slightly resistantly, to the old pier. The pier that Popz built and from where he ran the whale-watching trips for many years. Latterly, when the trips no longer left from that pier and he was no longer captain of the ship, he took down a plank of wood to make a sitting bench. Using old stones to form the elevation, he laid the plank and many many times we went there. First, he walked, his little Poppy dog beside him barking at pretty much everything, and latterly, driving on his quad. Sometimes he could get off the bike and sit with me on the bench, sometimes he could not. We would take tea in a flask and biscuits and just sit, often in companionable silence whilst we listened to the geese, the oystercatchers, the curlews, the gulls, seals and herons, marvelling at dragonflies of electric colours, butterflies and various buzzing thingies. We talked over that explosion of Thrift (Sea Pinks) that fanned out from the rocks, the bloom of downy feathers here, the way the seagrass chooses where it wants to grow, the slip and slide of the tide. I sat there in the sunshine for a while and took it all in. I am glad I went today. I could see his smile, the Old Impossible, and we walked back together, even if I cannot remember him walking in my memory.

T’was a goodly day.

Island Blog – After the Rain, Relation Ships and a Blackbird.

This weekend my daughter came with her girls. I know they all love it here, the freedom, the wild swimming, the spontaneous Let’s Do it thingy. Even I did that. Boots at the ready. My daughter knew little else other than ‘here’, the wild places, the free flow of life, even as she had to go through the awful teenage years, the indecision, the lost and found of herself. But, still, she, like her brothers, think of this place as home. It was a wonderful two days, jam packed with pretty much everything and nothing really planned. We went with our moment, as you have to with all the sudden island rain and the shapeshift of seasons within a single day. If you are busy not paying attention, a whole gamut of weather can swamp you, or, worse, you can miss a sunlift, an elevation, an invitation to connect. Get involved with Spotify or something on TV or your FB page and an opportunity moves on by, missing you as you, with hindsight, will miss it. As a result of this missing thing it is easy to see rain as a continuity. Which, btw, it is not.

The day my girls left, it rained stair rods. I doubt all of you know what the heck stair rods are. They are those rigid steel rods that hold (or held) carpets down on stairs where the horizontal meets the riser. They were ferocious in my rememberings. Meeting one of those in bare feet with the enthusiasm of youth in an exuberant push t’wards elevation and the ensuing pain did stay with that foot for some time to come, gaining no sympathy, despite the bruise. Those were the days when I knew that butting up against a rigid was altogether my fault, as was pretty much everything else involving collisions. Too fast, not thinking, not planning ya-di-ya. But as it still happens to me, although not with stair rods for they no longer exist, I can still bruise and bash myself through sheer exuberance, acting spontaneously and without considered thought. It is either that with me or it’s frozen immobility. I have never managed to be grey.

My daughter is the opposite of me. She always was. She is very obviously a lady. She is calm, quiet, considered, gracious and thoughtful. She would never dive into a swimming pool before first checking it has enough water in its belly. Our differences have been both a perfect match, like yin and yang, or a pulling away. This visit brought a new light to our connection. We are learning to grow an adult friendship. Now it may seem that this beginning has come a little late to those who managed to forge adult relationships with daughters when the daughters first became young women, but in my family it could never be that way because himself required full spotlight, leaving only a little glow for the rest of us to forge anything at all. He was unable to allow us time together without him and so his departure has gifted just that to us. I observe all our relation ships now have new rigging. Slowly, slowly, we are setting sail on a different sea and in a new direction. It is not something I ever expected but I am loving it. How strange life is. How heavy is the influence on children when parents still hold on to their own childhood baggage, that learned behaviour that, on reflection, can be destructive and can keep a unit confined to barracks over many long years. I know I colluded in that confining thingy but, as is obvious, there is nothing I can do to change what was, what I was, who he was and what we did to our children. They are, each one of them, strong, dynamic and good loving people. And, like us, damaged. But I can do something about the Now. I can change, say sorry, listen and learn. I can be humble and encouraging, I can leap into the new with open eyes and an open heart. I can sail alongside each one as we adventure on, working with the wind shifts, the tidal turns, the clouds, the sun and the rain.

‘After the rain’ doesn’t always apply to the outside stair rods making way for the sun. Rain will fall on the inside and the outside of us, and rain is life-giving water. We need it and when it does slow and stop and the world opens up like a smiling face, we can be thankful for both the rain and for the stopping of it. Taking every moment as a gift, not missing a single one, watching, learning, observing and listening, we can change or begin anew at any age. I find saying sorry for being crap at times very freeing. I am learning how to honour whom I was as a mother. Both awful and wonderful, rain and sun. It is the best anyone can be. To have the courage to be vulnerable, especially around children can mean so much to those children. I recommend it. I don’t recall ever hearing my parents say they were sorry for the things they got horribly wrong. Their generation held it all inside, too afraid to be humble for fear of losing control and status. I can see that. But we, my generation, have learned from this and have discovered that, contrary to old beliefs, it is a strong and brave man or woman who steps up, palms open and says I am sorry and who really means it. And, after the rain, the blackbird’s song is pure and bright and completely new.

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 160 Heads and Tails

best-inspiring-quotes

This morning I walk out into sunshine.  The greylags are crossing the sea-loch, their babes in tow, paddling like the good little muckers they need to be.  Collared doves float between the telephone wire and the bird table and a little mouse just shot along the windowsill (on the outside).  When I empty the compost bucket into the worm-tastic bin, I stand for a moment watching the new mini-hive with just a handful of workers tending a new queen cell, buzzing in and out, always doing the right thing.  Baby birds line the fence, their beaks open, their wings fluttering, their voices pleading, and, sure enough, there is a parent to make everything okay.  The little blackbird we found in the garage, once lifted into the back garden, yelled its head off until mum and dad appeared, making encouraging noises and darting back and forth between the branches.

‘Yes, yes…..they say, we know you haven’t grown a tail yet dear, get over it……. but if you don’t remember those wings can lift you off the ground, then you never will!’

It thinks me about the way they live, those that have a purpose and know it and never forget it.  Okay they are creatures, not humans, but I am game to learn from anything and anyone.  Learning to fly, sans tail, is something we can all do if we choose.

And, unlike animals, we can think and we can reason.

Perhaps that is our problem, because we might forget at times to be thankful for what we have.

Example…….I look out at the garden and I think….oh flip just look at those weeds!  I look around my house and see the dust.  I have a shopping list and I don’t feel like shopping.  But these are just my work, my everyday, my purpose.  Within each of these tasks I find it, if I focus on the task itself, and if I consider it a thanks to life.  Yes, I have weeds that grow faster than I can yank them out, but, at least I have a garden;  yes, there is dust, daily arrivals of it and yes, it shows up in the sunshine, as do the filthy windows, but, at least I have a furnished house with windows; yes, I have a shopping list but at least I have money to buy what I need, a shop down the road, a car to take me there…….and so on.

With these and so many more of my gifts, comes responsibility, my responsibility to each of them, to honour each one, with respect and good humour, for what is this life, if not a gift?  Whatever hardships I may encounter, they will never be as hard as they are for others.  I tell myself that, often, at times when I forget I have wings.

These times are valuable times.  Pushing them away, pretending they’re not there is never the answer.  Feelings about life come and go;  times are good and times are not good;  the way we see something one day is not necessarily the way we will see it the next.  We all want to be happy all of the time, and, yet this is an ideal, an impossible dream, perfection.  In order to become the best we can, we need a lost tail day or two here and there, because, although it may be uncomfortable, it helps us to remember that we do have wings.

Oh, and good news for those with lost tails…….

They grow again.