Island Blog – Dot Dot or Dash

Last night we had a thunderstorm. Huge flashes of greenish light illuminated the darkness in my room turning the furniture into eerie monsters. The thunder didn’t bother with clapping. It roared like a god in a filthy temper. And the show went on, and on, and on. I could have been at a rock concert. Sleep gave in and curled up without me and I turned to my book for solace, two books actually, one on meditation, the other on Forgetting Self. Each time the lightning flashed I startled, counted, held my breath as the storm rolled around the Blue Mountains then deafened me with an explosion of thunder so as to make me ask myself what would happen if the sky really did fall down. I don’t remember when it grew calm again but by then it was already light and the day was rising into life.

Sipping strong coffee the storm thinks me. Not just the thunder and the lightning but my part in the performance. I was there. I heard it, saw it, thought about it, tossed and turned inside it, sighed at it and read to distract myself whilst it made its attention seeking journey across my night. I watched the way ordinary becomes extraordinary, the eerie furniture in greenish light, noticed how the flash-shadows menaced my thinking, felt the anticipation, acknowledged my insignificance beneath such life/death power. This its what Life does. That’s what I thought. Life lives on and Life is everything, everyone and everywhere. And I am not everything, nor everyone, nor everywhere. I am a small dot in a vast and endless tapestry of colour and form, shape and design, texture and flow. My world is piddling in this everywhere-ness, just a blip, just a dot and yet I can believe, in my arrogance, that my world is of tantamount importance. More important than yours, for instance, with a more considered layout and healthier stuff in my fridge; my Christmas tree is bigger and better decorated; my children more polite; my floors cleaner, my day more organised, my diary up to date and my appliances all charged.

What foolish nonsense is this! Even writing it down I smirk at such thinking and yet such thinking thinks me at times because in creating a warm wrap of ‘smug’ I feel safe in this everywhere and everyone world. Unless I decide to unthink the thinks. To change them.

I have used my time here in the African bush for much unthinking. With my piddling world many thousands of miles away it has been possible to look back, forward and at each moment and it has been a splendid journey. In ordinary life I/we tend to run through the trivia, listing it, dealing with it, sorting out the bits that don’t fit, dashing through the to-do list in order to arrive. Why is that? Is it because we feel we must get through everything in order to win a prize? Where is this prize anyway? I’ve never won it and that’s for sure. All I achieved was over-tiredness and a mouth full of scratchy nips. Did I seek pity from those I scratchy nipped? When I was too busy ‘Sorry, Thingy, I’m too busy to chat just now, got to dash’, to give of my time (so much more precious than yours by the way) and way too behind on the day’s to-do list to listen to your story down the phone line (I’ll call you back……yeah, right!) did I consider you for one single moment? I don’t think so. Although we say, particularly at Christmas, that we will give more time/of ourself to our family, friends, neighbours and strangers, we mostly unthink that once the gloom of January sets in. We get all emotional about change but once a year. Sounds ridiculous to me. How can anyone change but once a year? I’m changing every day, don’t know about you. I believe that life is change and the whole flipping point of being a dot on the tapestry of Life is to make a difference to the whole. Without the dot that is I, the dot that is you, this line would merge with that line. We dots are important, critical in fact, as long as we think beyond our piddlingness and pay attention to our dotting process. We could be a big dot. We might even be a scatter of dots, depending on how wide our loving arms can reach, on what kindnesses we proffer and how often we proffer them. Inconvenient? Absolutely. Interruptus? Of Coursicus. Infuriating? Oh yes. But, the inside feeling that comes from knowing we showed kindness, respect and affection to whoever disturbed our extremely valuable time will leave a glow inside that no outward success can ever bring.

And that is the Prize.

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.

Island Blog 112 Chrispepsia

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Still on the subject of Love, I find myself in a wee panic as I suddenly realise how close we have come to Christmas.  In the olden days when all my chicks lived under the same roof, it was comparatively simple in that I knew exactly what they wanted and did my best to find it.  Christmas lists were read and laid to one side as they usually contained expensive new toys, noticed in other’s homes or found in television adverts, and quite out of the pocket-question for us.  Now they are grown and gone, parents most of them, and I have no idea what they want.  Even buying for their little ones throws me.  I know them, in that I would indentify them in in a crowd, but what little ones want and like and, most importantly, what their parents will accept or allow leaves me standing quite still and staring out the window, my mind a scummy blank.

Clothes.  They all have a zillion clothes, from chic inter-familial hand-me-downs to outfits bought by a parent who knows that this one can’t wear nylon mix, another goes red in the face above a tight polo neck, yet another adores Peppa Pig, Lightning McQueen or Angry Birds and that’s three different little ones.  And which has just lengthened by a few inches, or grown larger feet?  Toys, from my recent check online at either incredibly expensive six times over or offering total rubbish that needs batteries they don’t even bother to supply.

What I find now, as I have always found, is that strange arisal of guilt inside me.  It is called Chrispepsia, a word sandwich merging Christmas and Dyspepsia.  I want to give…….. no, to show by my gift, that nobody is more important than another. I have never succeeded, not once.  Somebody is always disappointed.

When I buy a gift, I buy what I think they would absolutely adore and am surprised when they don’t adore it at all, never mind absolutely.  Hence, a list.  But there is a part of me that doesn’t want to be given a list, but who wants to surprise.  When I overhear an adult asking a child ‘So what is Santa bringing you this Christmas’, I inwardly tut, especially when the answer is An X Box, or a Mountain Bike.  Don’t they know there is only one Santa and a vast world-full of children?  We surely don’t expect the old chap to set off multiple times because he cannot fit onto his sleigh more than one or two bikes at a time, do we? And how does a mother explain to her child who only got a few trinkets, some nuts and a tangerine in his stocking, that Santa doesn’t have favourites, when one schoolmate  got an X Box and another, a Mountain Bike?

I have said, until the room falls asleep yawning, that Christmas is a time for giving, not getting, but it is clear to me that nobody paid the slightest attention.  So, back to Chrispepsia.  I’m right in the thick of it now and as lost as ever I was.  In the past I have made things, things that undoubtedly fell apart by February, but nobody said.  This year I haven’t made a thing, other than an impact on a lot of readers of Island Wife which doesn’t get me out of Chrispepsia.

There are forward looking folk who will already have wrapped and labelled all their gifts, planned their festive dinner, and may well be considering erecting their Christmas Tree.  These goodly people have a clear head, strong decision-making powers.  They don’t fanny about with the ditherers, whereas I am right in their midst. And, even when I have decided, bought and labelled each gift, I still feel unsure.  On the day, as they begin to open it, I want a big hole to swallow me up.  I don’t think they feel any concerns at all.  It is just me and my Chrispepsia.

I have worked out, after a bunch of hours staring through windows, that I must measure my love in a material gift.  The fact that I give in so many other ways during the year before, and after this great day, disappears like smoke in a westerly gale.  And yet, my chicks and their chicks know how I show my love.  I show it in actions, in written words at times of trouble, in spontaneous acts of random kindness, in patience, understanding, acceptance.  I walk it.  Any distance, any time. And I always always will.

So, you big twit, what’s the problem?  You can just turn up, bring wine and cake, plasters and patience, fun and nonsense, ideas and iodine.  Bring your hands for holding, for easing pain, for cooking supper. Bring your voice to encourage, sing, talk things through; your imagination for games or to develop a conversation;  your skills to help, to share a burden, to celebrate another, to lift spirits.

Ok so I’m the gift for Christmas then?

Yes you are……..we all are…….plus the odd trinket of course.