Island Blog – An Old Lady and This Day

Today I watched, on a Zoom meet, a woman of almost 90 and obviously quite the thing around the interworld. She, elegant and with the bright eyes of a bird, was clearly confident. She uses WhatsApp, Facebook and other apps with strange names, although she didn’t announce it in search of a Goodlordwelldonehowamazingyouare response. In fact I suspect she might have looked astonished had any of us shown our resistance or lack of interest in being thus in touch with cyber space. I thought on her life, about which I know absolutely nothing. She knew war and deprivation, loss and fear, possibly hunger and cold. She knew flappers and bombs, new jazz and silent movies. What things she has seen in her long lifetime, what things! And she is not confused, not at all, nor has she lost her beauty, that soft-lined old face with more laugh lines than wrinkles and not a whine in sight. I suspect she was fierce, could be fierce and might yet be fierce and that thinks me. In her days of simple but harsh life, she had to keep her humour and her resilience, her softness and her fight. She needed both heart and claws. I imagine she was decisive and direct, unfearful as we are now fearful to confront rudeness, untruth, injustice and wrongdoings. She looks pint sized but never let a pint sized woman kid you into thinking you are stronger, because you are not. It isn’t about size nor physical strength but about courage, passion and backbone. I wanted to sit at her feet to hear her stories. I just hope her young ask her for I do regret not asking enough for stories from my own old ones.

So an ordinary morning was flipped on its aspidistra. Just like that. An invite to a zoom, to meet women I don’t know turned into a whole day of thinks and mind flips, memories and chuckles. Ah, when we greet the day with open hearts, what delights and sights await our looking eyes! If we are looking, that is. I am always looking so that every incoming thing catches my eyes. Was I born with this? Perhaps, but that perhaps can get subsumed by lifely demands, lists, children, workloads and drudge until it becomes something you can’t really taste in a tired sandwich. I’ve been lost there too. But there is this thing in me that refuses not to live, to really live, even on shambolic tricksy days. I can feel low and full of self-pity and there’s a word or two on that. Self pity is everywhere inside us. It is an easy go-to when life happens, when life throws the shit our way and laughs in our faces. I tried resisting, I tried reasoning, I tried logic and denial and not one of them ever worked. Ok, I said. This is not working. Let us meet, my unwelcome visitor, across the table, my table, and discuss. I soon saw it, Self Pity, for what it is and, after a few direct questions, its voice became skinny against my inner core strength, my own self. It surprised me at first, and then as confidence grew, I took my power back. I am taking my power back, I had said in my best strong voice and it bent and cracked and crumbled until there was nobody but me at that table. It was a gasp for me because I never felt any inner core strength, nor power, but just ran into the fight with heart and claws and with no idea of the outcome. I bluffed, basically.

I wonder how many times that long-living woman did just that right out on the street of her life, within her home, along her neighbourhood. These days we fight with ourselves. In her day there was no such thinking. The tough survived, the weak did not, although I bet she helped a few. Back then, thinking was for the thinkers and not for we ordinary folks. We just pulled on our stockings and got on with it, with all of the ‘its’ day after day after day. Not a bad way to live. Although I do bow to the thinkers, they have, unintentionally, opened up a can of worms because many of us stay with the worms and forget to live, to dance, to fight for injustice, to laugh at disaster because we know what we can do in the face of it. Like her, like that old lady who changed my day and not just this one.

Island Blog – Mindful Boots

I can smell the frost as I awaken, even through the dark. It slips through the open window and tingles my nose. It is calm out there, no wind, no sounds of an earthly indigestion. I burrow into my warm duvet and listen, but not for long as I am always curious to open up a new morning, to invite it in and to marvel as my eyes widen at the beauty of it. Stags, baleful autumn moaners, challenge each other from somewhere deep inside the woods on the other side of the sea-loch, one that is quiet and settled. Mistwater sprites dance across its surface, lifting into the air before disappearing altogether and the grass yonder is almost white, sparkling crystals, unearthly.

Ice clouds pink in response to the sunrise whilst Ben Mhor rises into the sky, one that promises a clear sunshine day. Later, when the frost has succumbed to the burn of it, I will open the doors and remove a layer or two, to feel the warmth against my bare skin. These are glorious autumn days and I will love them for each of their minutes, knowing they will not last, as nothing ever does.

As each season gives way to the next, I feel a discomfort at first. It seems we go from skin out to skin in or the other way around. A thick cardigan becomes an old friend even if I haven’t given it a second glance for months. I feel the shiver of autumn or the rise of warmth in spring and feel irritated. Suddenly, it seems to me, more clothes or less are required and here was I pulling out the familiar, one that no longer cooperates with the weather. Well damnit! Now I have to think about what to wear, to clad my bones in something pretty (always) but appropriate. I am always resistant to ‘appropriate’ at first. And, then, over the following days, I find a new normal and wonder at my initial resistance to change.

Yesterday I lifted the very dead flowers from his grave. The sun shone bright and there was a friend at my side. I had thought I would feel something but I felt nothing at all. I am not a sentimental woman and he is dead and he is gone and there is nothing of him below the grass but old bones. The sheep scattered as we unlatched the gate and descended the hill, cautious of their slimy green leavings, moving our boots mindfully. It is a good way to move boots wherever it is we may go. It thinks me of life itself and the best way to live it. Traversing the distance between the gate and the grave we chatted of old ones, other ones who lie here, the characters, their quirks and scallywag games, their teasing, their strength of character and we laughed over shared memories.

Change will always come however hard we may try to fend it off. Returning home I make coffee and watch the view. I never tire of it for it is in a perpetual state of change as am I, as are we all. The key is to let go and follow it in mindful boots.

The meaning of words

latte

 

Talking with a friend the other evening, we discussed the meaning of words, how we each see and hear a word differently according to our experience of using a word in context.  Both of us might have liked to take the conversation deeper, but as we were at a celebration, it was never going to happen.  Happy people, all saying hallo, moving around the room, laughing, joking, having fun, sharing words that require no inner Googling.

We are taught in all the good books to accept, that acceptance is half the battle, half of any battle within a relationship, whether in work, school, home or community.  To accept that we are different, not just on the outside, not just in the way we see colours or moods or situations, but deep inside and based on childhood learning, familial teaching, experiences and lifestyle.  How on this good earth can we ever expect that to work?  It presupposes that whatever subject arises between us is never going to land in a soft place, unless, of course, we can accept our differences and just enjoy the chat.  I have a friend who is colour blind.  He sees everything in shades of grey.  I can wax as lyrical as I like about the Autumn colours and he will just chuckle.  I imagine for a moment not being able to describe anything at all in terms of colour.  Well, I can’t imagine that, and yet, he, who has never seen red or green or anything in between is barely phased at all.

That particular example is pretty easy to accept, but there are many others, millions of others where we can potentially butt heads.  I want white walls and you hate white.  White reminds you of hospital waiting rooms.  I attempt to change your mind because white, for me, is cloud, ice cream, frost on winter branches, school socks, Persil.  But I cannot change your experience of white any more than you can change mine.  One of us has to accept.

Or, is that resignation?

My friend at the party did have a moment of two to think deeper whilst I yelled my return hallos into a very noisy room.  He has always been good at that, being a deep thinker and on his feet regardless of noise.  He first thought that resignation sounded like giving in, like a weakness, a washing of hands, but, then he found a different way to understand that word.  Resignation is pro-active, not necessarily reactive.  ‘I resign’ sounds powerful, autonomous, in control of self, of my own mind.  It’s also a very good way to hold onto dignity should I come to the realisation that I am about to be fired.

Back home, I know that I have consciously chosen both those words to explain how I am managing my role as carer.  I accept that I have been gifted a role in this new production.  It isn’t the lead role, nor the one I would have auditioned for, but it is the one assigned to me.  On a minute to minute basis I get to choose how well I play my part.  When I meet bad temper, does it cause me to react like for like?  Yes, sometimes, when I am tired or when I take my childhood understanding of those words, the way they fit together, the way they sound and let them hurt me.  To him, they mean nothing much.  He was just grumpy, that’s all, and once the words are out, five minutes later, he is cheery and chatty and asking me if I slept well.  I was seeing, at that vulnerable moment, colours he never painted. Those words, projected like a fireball, were aimed nowhere in particular and rooted in frustration and fear.  I get that when I am not tired or low or feeling sad.

Then, there is resignation.  I am resigned to the fact that I am here, right now, and for the long haul. Does this make me feel weak?  Am I giving in?

Absolutely not.  In choosing that word I take control, not of the situation, not of him, but of myself.  I resign myself to the fact that this will not get better, nor will it go away.  I resign myself to no end in sight, to more bad temper, more of everything.  And I learn, bit by bit, inch by inch, that if I watch the words carefully, seeing them in my colours and yet understanding that he may well only see in shades of grey, then I can accept that words are just words.  It’s in the interpretation of those words where lies their power.

If I sound like your mother when ticking you off about not picking up your socks, you will scoot straight back to childhood and respond accordingly. You will probably whine and then sulk.  I undoubtedly do sound like a mother, but it will be my own peeking through those words because she is the one who taught me the inflection and tone and colour of a ticking off.  I do it her way without a second’s thought, and, as all mothers around dropped socks sound much the same, I could easily sound like your own.  I try a different tone, a different choice of word assemblage floating towards you on a fluffy cloud, but the message still stands.  ‘Pick up your fricking socks will you!!!!’  And the response doesn’t change.  Nobody responds with a ‘Of course I will, I’m so sorry, it will never happen again’ (aka an adult response) do they?

So, if none of us have really ever grown up at all, then how do we manage to look and sound like adults right up to the point when words blast us back to the playground?  We may be suited up and sensible but if we don’t begin to understand that words mean different things to different people, and then to consciously work on our childhood bungees, learning how to release them, to become the adults we purport to be, then wars really will never end.

If dementia had not come knocking, I would never have travelled this journey of learning, of inner Googling.  It is humbling, oh yes indeed, uncomfortable, yes, angry making and very frustrating at times, but the lessons I am learning tell me that whatever circumstances any of us live in, we can always go deeper, become stronger, wiser, more aware, more compassionate, more ready for fun.

More likely to wear the Unicorn Hat.