Island Blog – Keep Going

The Sadness has come to visit. I’ve felt it all week long. At first, I berate myself, tell myself that my inner talk needs a thwack on the butt and a strong invitation to leave. But that doesn’t work. I busy myself with small chores, checking them off my check list, as if I was an early wife with no clue what to do next. But the small chores do not fill the aching black hole, nor do they last very long. I am efficient in my tasking skills and they are all completed by 10am. Good lord, now what? I watch my hands as they thread wool onto a needle, my fingers gnarled as old oak limbs but still they know their way. I rise from my sewing chair and walk through to the kitchen. I could cook something but don’t want to; I could change the sheets but I just did that; I could sweep the floor of pepper brown larch needles that come in without invitation and all the Autumn time. I could. I could. But with the Sadness heavy on my shoulders, as if I was carrying boulders in a rucksack, I am bent down, weary of the weight.

So, what to do? I ask this out loud and rather aggressively into a nothing space, empty and somehow consuming. The Sadness says not one word. Okay, I rise, swing around and face the nothing that is definitely Something. What do you say I should do? Standing there, uncomfortable and weighed down, I feel foolish and it’s not because I am talking to nothing. I smell the metal air and notice the lack of geranium fragrance within the sunroom. I swing round to them. Where did you go? I ask the salmon pink blooms, still salmon pink blooming even now. They just look at me and continue blooming. I do not know what to do with this Sadness, I confess. Just keep going, comes to mind and those are wise words indeed. Be thankful for everything. What? I interrupt rudely. Everything? Even the Sadness?

Well, yes, even the Sadness, because if you keep batting it away when it comes, it will just come back again. In fact it will come back again whatever fixing you fix, whatever you do because you are grieving and there is no end to that state of being. Just think, the voice goes on, is there ever a way to rub out a life, to pretend, now that life is gone, you can just forget all shared history? Oh, well, no, maybe not. I sit with a cup of tea and try not to think because thinking is just white noise in my head, no, not white noise, not ambient, but sharp needles of thought, of memories, switched and twitched and foundering on the rocks of my Now, my silent now, my empty now. Metallica sort of thoughts. I shake my head to clear it but that doesn’t clear my heart and as my head comes back to base, the thoughts scurry back in like ants when level re-levels. All week my wee dog has noticed. She follows me everywhere, looking up, those chestnut eyes wide and questioning. Her normal distant behaviour has changed. She comes to bed when I do and watches me from the floor until I flip the light. I can’t explain her intelligence but I am glad of it, nonetheless.

I walk out, me and the watching dog, in between rain showers, a short one today, too tired with all those boulders on my back. Then I shower and change my frocks. Now, this is a weird one. Showering, for me, symbolises change, as does the frock thing. It betters me, sloughing off old skin, old thoughts, old grief, old frocks. I come home to a warm fire and a darkling sky. I watch the garden fade into night and find a new sense of peace. I am accepting the Sadness. Sit down with me, I say. Welcome. I lay down the boulders and they turn to dust. I decide to let it be, whatever it and be means. I don’t need to understand, nor explain. This evening I think. There are those who just watched their loved one die. I look back up the track I have already walked, knowing they are out there right now, at the beginning. And, although I am thankful I am further into the wilderness, I can turn around to see them coming and I can smile and lift some light, saying Keep Going my friend. Keep Going.

Island Blog – Turnaround

I remember dancing as a child. I found most of it easy but the turns were tough. I had to spin my head quicker than my body so as not to fall over. Whip, whip, whip, focus on the point I chose pre spin. It kept my spine straight, my neck erect, no dipping. Dipping meant slipping and slipping meant an ungainly sprawl in the chalk dust. In ordinary life, walking or running, not dancing, a turn can topple unless there is a focal point, one level with my eyes but far ahead, or far behind. A child falling, a call from inside a crowd, a sudden scary alert. Eyes matter in any turn thingy. I wonder about someone who is blind, who cannot eyeball anything but who can still remain steady on fickle pins. It is magic to me.

These days of learning how to live alone require some turning. This lady, unlike others, is for turning. Not back, no, but in that full whipswing of dance. A fleeting look at what lies behind in the past, a millisecond appraisal of what was and what is still there at my back, but with no plan to stay looking at it. Grandmother’s footsteps, her old eyes on any twitch of movement, any sign of life. She will get you, this grandmother, when you from behind her, wobble, and she will be merciless in her judgement. You moved. You are out.

I walk today with a lovely young friend. It is a chance meet, she thinks, but I see her coming and make myself visible, asking to join her, if she wants. She does. We wander through the bowed leaves of the Summer flushtrees, over the scatter rocks of basalt shoreline, both solid and wobbly beneath our feet. She moves like Artemis, I like, well, Grandmother. We talk of this and that, cabbages and kings, of life and…..oh, Covid. We both wonder what the world will talk about without such a highborn deity as a source of idle conversation, for it is just that, an invisible power, a controlling force with the ability to kill at random. Before Covid, it was Weather and, to be honest, at least Covid has something individualistic to offer whereas Weather is the same for all of us, no matter who experiences it.

I am aware, very much so, of something this day. Of being very alone. Funny, that even in a warm and friendly village of warm friendly folk, feeling alone can rise strong as whiplash. It thinks me. Alone, Mrs Sensible tells me, her in her ironed apron (who irons aprons??) and her wisdoms that line up for timed release like clay pigeons, is nothing to fear. Good, I say, because she takes no argument, even though I would love her to ask me a question on my feelings of aloneness. She doesn’t, so I will tell you. It is the prospect of days ahead; the point of those days ahead; the fears, doubts and stultifying freeze of my turnaround. I know I want it, but what does it look like and, btw, is it for me……is it too late……can I still spin….whip whip and focus on the point? What is the point?

I suspect these are understandable questions. I suspect that many in a similar situation to my own will be/are asking them. What would I say to you if we were to meet? I would reassure. I would, even in sublime ignorance of pretty much all of your life, just sit with you and absolutely NOT say that you have a point, when you just told me you don’t. I would absolutely NOT say there is a wonderful future ahead when you just told me you cannot see it. I would NOT say that you need to get out more, connect more, take up a hobby or work on your whipspin. I would NOT.

So what would I say? Maybe nothing much. Maybe I would offer to make tea, pour wine, tell you how pretty you look in that dress, or how I have always thought your eyes sparkle like the sea in sunshine when you laugh, or that I remember that delicious chickpea curry you made last century when we were young and believed that we would take over the world. Yes. That is what I would say. And in meeting you at the place in which you sit/stand/turn or wobble right now, perhaps you will feel less alone, just for now and maybe that ‘just for now’ will follow you back home and you will sense it there as you walk. Perhaps you will pause, eyes on the road ahead and yet intrigued. Perhaps the dancer in you will smile, pause, and whip around for a quick glimpse and maybe that quick glimpse will tell you there is a friend behind you all the way.

And that friend is your own turnaround self.

Island Blog – The Great Sadness

I have no other name for it. Nor can I explain it, although I have tried, many times over the decades of my long life. In the search for meaning, for an explanation, we are forgiven our walks up blind alleys. It is only human to want an answer. As a child I felt it. It would suddenly invade my mind when I was most definitely looking the other way. Suddenly, even in a gathering of family or peers, in what seemed to be a happy moment, it would hit me full whack. At a young age I had no way of understanding it. I just thought that it was because Angela had pink flashing socks and mine were ordinary white, albeit with a Daz sparkle. Or that Mary had a hamster.

Later, as a supposedly intelligent and educated young women it still hit me. At a party, for which I had taken about five hours to dress, and surrounded by friends and music and a short term freedom, or walking down the town on a Saturday morning with money to spend on something ridiculous like shiny hot pants or chain-rattling tough girl boots, the Great Sadness would punch me in the gut and stumble me. it would leave me completely alone in a huge crowd, like a girl on a raft mid Pacific. Sometimes someone would spot the change and ask a kindly question, but I soon lost them as I explained what a weirdo I was. I think they were scared they might catch something dodgy. I find the same now, in the evening of my life. The only people who don’t run for the next bus are intuits, counsellors or very close friends. Friend, actually. She gets me, even if she does also consider me a weirdo.

As a child I was considered strange, difficult, obtuse etc. I could be brilliant, and I was, supreming at music, writing and insight, but the latter threw even the most open-hearted guides. I was too young, too confounded by the Sadness and, thus, too much of a threat to my peers who seemed not to ever think beyond hamsters or pink flashing socks. I felt alienated and had no idea why. This huge thing I still cannot explain shows me much. I have now learned to welcome it and to walk beside it, even if it really hurts. I used to hang it on pegs. Must be this thing, this person, this event, this fear. Not now. As I grow a stronger connection to nature and to the wildness around me, I accept the Great Sadness as an integral part of the whole point of things, of life and not just this one but the millions of lives already lived to the end. I consider myself privileged to have been visited by it from childhood, even if it did cause a tapselteerie; even if it did label me a weirdo; even if my friends’ mothers shook their heads and scuttled their daughters away; even if my own mum looked at me as she might look at ET.

There are times when I cannot lift my mental boots out of the mud. It is not that I am depressed. There are days when I imagine flying off a cliff. I do not plan to. I am just the honoured host for the Great Sadness, one that shows me all the pain in the world. I hear the cries, feel, intensely, the agony of struggle and cruelty, feel the joy and the happiness too. It’s like being in balance. I can hold the pain and the joy inside me at the same time without having to explain or justify a thing. Nor does it fear me. It gives me a real good look into the truth. And that is something most of us avoid. We would rather push it away when it hurts, buy something, plan a holiday, phone a friend, turn on the TV. But to sit with it when it comes in is not for the faint hearted. It is uncomfortable at best, and this visitor stays just as long as they like.

I am still a student. for over 60 years I have run from the Great Sadness, but it won’t go away, no matter what I do. I think when a person is very creative, the Great Sadness comes too. I see it in art and writing and music that gasps me. Oh, I think, there it is. It won’t be explained, nor justified, nor hung on a peg. It makes its choice. The key is to let it in, like a visitor you don’t much want, who has arrived at the most inconvenient time, and who has no plans to leave for a while. It will not be rebuked, nor thrown out. I am only sad I didn’t read the Great Sadness manual aged six.

Might have been just a bit further on by now.

Island Blog 100 – Life, Death and Other Animals

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I did wonder, as Island Blog 100 moved closer, what I would choose to write about – where my fingers would take me, what tale I would give life to. It seemed such a big number and worth due attention.

Then the subject chose itself and not in a way I would have guessed, nor wanted.

But, my dear, I tell myself, in that gentle motherly tone, such is life.

Or death.

One moment Sula is running along beside me, or, more likely, way out front, or miles behind and busy being her completely independent self, and the next, broken in the road.  I wasn’t sure if I would go into that bit, and yet, I cannot, nor will I, hide from the truth of anything.  As a……now, what’s that word they use to describe me in reviews of Island Wife…….?  ah, yes, ‘cosseted’……. young woman, I saw little of the nasty side of life or death, for my parents protected me, protected all of us from things unsightly, the stuff of nightmares.  I would have done the same for my own children, given half a chance and with no access to the blood and guts of hill farming, but that is not how it was for them, and, because I was there too, with eyes open for the looking, I saw it as well.

With hindsight, I am glad they did see it, for the alternative is not the truth, not balanced, not real and it just makes the inevitable, inevitable.  One day, they will see, we all do, and the earlier the circle of life and death and life again is accepted, the better our hearts and minds can deal with it.

The response to pictures and words about Sula on Facebook pages, the messages by card, letter and phone, words of compassion and genuine sadness – all those mouths full of memories spilling into our ears, are helping a great deal.  We don’t know until something crashes into our lives and breaks it, what any of it meant to those we meet on our journey.

This is the Life after the Death.

The first Life bit we take for granted.  However thankful we may be on a daily basis for the gifts we are given, the lovers, friends, partners, children, pets, we don’t spend a lot of time second-guessing their life span.  We just live it out, honestly, realistically, focusing on the little add-ons such as what to put in a child’s pack lunch and whether or not the gym kit is clean for Tuesday.  We can be careless with our goodbye’s and our hallos.  We can be snappy and regret it, but not say so.  We are caught up with concerns over our own footwork on the hamster wheel, and we can miss times we should never miss.  But, we are human.  We are frail.  We get it wrong, we get it right, but mostly we fall somewhere in the middle and we do okay, although it often takes someone else to remind us of that, so filled we are with self-doubt.

I know I looked after her that day, as I always did when the sailor went to sea, you see, and left her in my care.  Yes, at times I moaned about being tied.  Yes, I was raging with her when she climbed out the car window, because it was too hot, or took off in a different direction, costing me time and emptying me of puff;  when she refused to come to my whistle, and sat down in the middle of the road, her favourite place to sit.  Yes I snapped at her when she followed me around the house, up the stairs, down again, into the kitchen, out again, and all because a bluebottle had flown overhead.   One slight buzz and she was off, pushing through any number of garden barricades and out onto the road, where, oddly, she felt quite safe once more and all the drivers passing by had to stop because she would not step aside for any size of vehicle.

Then the inevitable happened.  I knew she was dead immediately and held her, talking softly, even though she could hear nothing by then.  I lifted her through the gate and cleaned up the road and the sun shone and nobody came, no drivers, no walkers as if everyone knew this was our time to be alone.  There was not a mark on her body, not even a graze.  I closed her eyes, and covered her with a sheet, and then I sat for a while looking out across the sea-loch, where the gulls wheeled and cried above a jagged line of spume and kelp, the markers of a new tide bringing new life.