Island Blog – There’s something about ‘dead.’

When someone dies you might think, well, that’s that, he or she is gone. I’ll be fine. I am sensible, practical la la la. However, I am discovering that this is not the truth at all. Yes, the person is dead and gone and I am not fine at all, or wasn’t fine at all for a long while. However, something comes alive from that death and it grows and thrives in so many unexpected ways. Beyond the initial shock come a swingle of emotions and they can last for as long as they last. Anger, despair, denial, acceptance, to name but a few and each one of these can burst into life within a single day leaving us exhausted, confused, beaten up. It isn’t possible for anyone outside of bereavement to fully understand, let alone feel these emotions. All they can do is to stay quiet, give no advice at all and to simply walk beside us as we explode into the sky or melt into a cold and dirty puddle on the ground.

But this ‘alive’ thing. What do I mean? I think the best way to describe myself is through imagery. Imagine, if you will, a desolate landscape, one that didn’t appear politely and over time but more as the result of a nuclear explosion. One moment I looked out on trees, flowers, seasons, skychange. I sat by running water, heard its song, watched birds fly overhead, geese migrating, sun rise and sunset. I was complacent in this, expecting my world to look this way every time I chose to look out of my window. I knew, even from behind closed curtains, the promise of a morning. Rain, wind, soft warm air, still waters or the spit and roar of wildflow over rocks. Then in just a single moment, all is desolation, all is grey and empty. I see no green, no landscape, no lift of hill nor fall of valley. The ground is flat and without character, without balance.

Over time I come to accept this new view from my windows. Each day is the same as the one before and here flickers the first flame of ‘alive’. I can see the little spark, watch that spark grow into warming fire. I reach my hands to it. There isn’t much warmth to be honest, but it is the first lift of orange I have seen in this grey nothing and I am keen to fan it into something more. Although the outside shows me same old, inside something is keen to live and I recognise it as the human spirit. I feel a lift in my heart even though all that I ever knew is gone now, and forever. But I am still here and the me in me has no intention of turning grey and flat, it seems. I rise and dress in colours. I decide to cook something delicious. I turn up the tunes and jig a bit around the kitchen. Each time I begin something I can feel the inner flames lift as a new breeze tickles them higher. Each time I begin something I am adding kindling to the fire. I am tending myself. I am saying that, even though the outside of me may stay grey and flat for some time to come, I am the fire of my future and the more I tend the alive in me, the more I realise that this need for living warmth came directly from a death. When the dead one wasn’t dead, I was as complacent as one expecting to see the same world outside my windows as I did yesterday, and all my complacent yesterdays. I took it all for granted without a question in my mouth. Now I have a zillion questions all flying out into the empty rooms like trapped birds. I open the window to set them free. One by one, they fly and as they do, as I busy myself with being alive, I glance out. There is colour, I see it, Look, over there! And there, and there. The grey is beginning to live again. As am I. Although the landscape will never look as it once did, I know now that this blank canvas is aching for me to get out there with my paint and my colours. I have no idea where to begin but that doesn’t matter anymore. If ‘dead’ is going to have any significant impact on me then let it be this inner, cleansing, warming fire of Very Much Alive.

Island Blog – Dancer

This lovely day I am aswirl with thinks and memories and some very deep hurt. Bereavement, however much of a relief it might be, does not adhere to a timeline. Recently I have gone through the however many stages of grief backwards, flip side up, out of order or all before lunch. I make the mistake of berating myself for this chaos but only until I literally wash my hands of any control. This chaos is not birthed from me. This chaos just snuck in and is currently picking away at wounds and digging the black hole even deeper than seems possible. I had no idea there was so much space inside for black hole-ness, one I cannot navigate nor have a conversation with because any questions I send its way just echo back to my ears in triplicate minus an answer. All I can do it seems is to trudge through the hours of light and the longer hours of dark until this chaos gets tired of chaoting and moves on to bother someone else. If, I tell myself, this process actually looked like one I could understand, I might be then able to formulate an algorithm, one that would guide me step by step up and away from the turmoil. But I can grasp a hold of nothing. All is smoke, mist, cloud wisp and yet so heavy and solid around me. I cannot run from it, nor hide. I change my thoughts but my mind is colluding with the chaos so quickly does it shift back to the black. I get the Amy Winehouse song now because I feel it, just like she did. It takes huge and determined focus to remain in the positive when I am not having to pretend to the Out There, a role I can play with ease. A song, a phrase, a catch of light, a lift of birds, among my beloved trees, all can shunt me back to a memory that cuts like the sharpest of knives. I remember, I remember, I remember. I remember that song, that disco tune, Chain Reaction, the one you always played for me when the dance floor was empty and it was up to me to bring the kids off the walls. You grinned and watched me taking over the whole floor, spinning, moving, electric, fiery, wild. Many years ago, yes, but it comes back so clear, that smile from the stage and my smile back.

I suspect this dark time is a good thing and I don’t fight it. I sit with it, walk with it, let it flow through me, no fight, no fight. It is exhausting, upsetting, deeply painful and my mascara is invariably decorating my chin, but when I remember saying to my counsellor about 4 years ago whilst in the thick of caring for a man who still looked like my husband (sort of) but who was not that man, that all I wanted was to cry real tears, so taught and fraught and caught up was I in controlling my whole self, I realise I have achieved my goal. And there is a feral beauty in that for it has been a deep longing for many decades.

I smile as I realise how drawn I am these days to running water, a waterfall, a trickle, rain, a slow tidal dance as if my eyes are glued; it takes something loud to snatch my attention away. Walking this sunshine afternoon, I found my favourite tree. Looks about 100 foot tall, its topknot fingering the clouds, a softwood, strong and with the girth of half a country. I remember it holds water after rain until the water pools in a holdcup where two great limbs conjoin. Then, all of a sudden, the level raised to meniscus as it hits the air, it begins a spill and a walker by is soaked. I stood beneath the massive giant and looked up. Drops from way up there landed on my mouth, nose, eyes, head and shoulders. Ha!! I chuckled. You minx! I moved back a little only to be pelted once again from another branch. Game on! I said and for a few moments, a few playful moments, I and the giant made each other laugh out loud as he stood still and I danced, just me, alone on the floor moving to the song of the singer and the rhythm of the rain.

Island Blog – The Gift of Days

Sometimes we can see days as days, as days, as daze. Like numbers, like names of the week, like a length of hours and minutes and even seconds, although most of us don’t notice the seconds unless we have a Fitbit thingy or are timing a boiled egg. But we know days. I can ask someone How is, or was your day? They can answer many ways but the one that gets me is this one. Bad Day. I find myself confounded. I stand still on my feets but the upper half of me is fizzing like a firework. I have a zillion questions inside my mouth – there is barely room for my teeth. But, I keep quiet, initially. I say to myself, I know the place this person is in. I have been depressed enough to consider leaving this life by my own hand, and not just once. What I want to do is to bring in the sun for them but I know that if their whole day really was a bad one and I go and explode my can of coke-cheer all over them, all I will achieve is a sticky mess. However, if I feel the bridge between us is open to walkers, I might take a few steps. I might smile and ask, All of it? And, every time the body pulls back, a smile rises and they admit, after consideration, Well No, Not All of it, but if today was a gift, then this one was socks. (quote) We laugh and the air brightens around us, and I am always glad I stepped onto that bridge at such times.

We can all take a hit, often a random one and feel sad and unfizzy. That feeling, if allowed to fester, will morph into more of the same. However, telling ourselves to stop thinking that way, to focus on what we are thankful for, may not prove a strong enough combative and, besides, that advice is plain irritating. I think at such times that it is important, and nourishing, to sit with the ‘flat’ and to allow it to pass. It does take courage to do that, to adopt a willingness to accept that this feeling I am feeling is just a feeling, and no more. Sometimes, if the feeling is recurring, I will investigate. Why does this come to me at all, never mind oftentimes? I don’t ask anyone else. Just my own heart because as we all know, our own heart will never lie to us and will always give us the best advice whereas others, however true and loving will give an opinion. Not helpful.

I wake, as you already know, full of beans. I adore the dawning of a new gift-day. I am not sick, not dead. Therefore I am beansed up just because of the aforesaid. Childlike, I yank back the curtains to reveal a blowsy wildflower garden, already chirping with every little bird you can name. They await me, and when I do appear, heavy laden with various foodstuffs, they stay around me. I know to walk slowly and to softly warn them I am coming around the miniature maple fronds so as not to startle. Later I will wander up to see grandchildren and to hear about yesterday’s birthday party, that huge green-iced cake covered in horses and sporting candles as tall as Hobbits. Walking in the afternoon around the coastline, through the woods and across the expanses of wild grass, I will sing my thankfulness in nonsense words to a made-up melody. I have no idea what I am singing but the nonsense words come and in my mind I hold the warmth of my thankfulness, an image of all that I am thankful for. It is often quite a squash once I mindfully count up each tiny second of a thing. 360 seconds for each hour. That’s a load of thankings.

I believe in mind self-control. I do not believe any of us are victims of circumstance, no matter what that circumstance may be. If I am in a poorly lit, slow-moving, dank swamp of a place, only I can get me out. Oh yes, I can ask for help, in fact that’s essential for an uplift from a swamp, for someone else to recognise my struggle, but it is I who must decide I will not stay here any longer. Someone might say ‘I hate my job’. I say Look into changing. ‘I am miserable in my relationship’. I say Look into changing. ‘I am frustrated, bored, unfulfilled and broke’. You know what I say to that. Bit by bit, step by step (and it may take a long time to turn around) I know, as you do, that every day is precious and that I am important and valuable and that the gift of days can be snatched away at any moment. Knowing all these knowings, I have no alternative but to live to my fullest. And right now I can take the first step into my own future. Walking out, noticing, seeing and pausing to see more. Out is the key. Home I know, its walls and confines and the keeping in of it. That door, in hands reach, will lead to the Out of it. Sometimes Out is terrifying. But Out is the answer to too much In. And the In will cripple given half a chance because when we are fixated on the self, all we do is circle old beliefs, thoughts and memories. Just going for a walk can bring in something new, enough to shift the thinking plates, to make space for light to come in. I know it because whenever I find my knickers in a twist, I need to walk out, call someone to find our how they are, drive somewhere, anything that unstales the air.

‘Each day is a gift. Don’t send this one back unopened.’

Island Blog – Three Keys in My Hand

I have one, no, two meetings this week. One on Tuesday, a zoom with a writer friend, and one on Wednesday with my counsellor. In my opinion, many of us need to find someone just a bit more above things than we are. I have always found that a hand reaching down is a huge help, despite the initial shame I felt at asking for it. And there’s a thing. As this lockdown keeps us stuck/imprisoned/safe, there are many who are finding it super tough, whose mental stability is being seriously challenged. I get it. As one who has always been mentally turmoiled to a degree, and who sees that last week was Mental Health Week (as if one week would ever be enough) I am more than happy that the world is getting it, or, at least, the slowmovingrulemakers are thinking wider, perhaps. In my life I have met many who could flower but cannot flower within the confines of stigmatism and of what is socially acceptable. Hence the hidden pain. And the most destructive judge of all lives within. We are all flawed, broken to varying degrees, doing out very best to fit in without sticking out in ways that might draw attention to our faults.

Looking out upon the natural world is key, but we must also look within. As I have been a student of self-improvement for decades, I have absorbed a million positive phrases and still found myself not quite at home with myself, no matter how bright the epiphany. However, I am finally beginning to understand that time holds the second key and time requires my patience, my faith in the strength of a human spirit and my trust that the goodly gods are working for me, and not against me. When the world demands something I do not want or cannot give, I need this trust. If we were all meant to be the same we would be mere automatons. We are far from that, thank goodness. Although we are currently required to live as such, it will pass eventually. Confined to home, required to wash our hands a hundred times a day, separated from loved ones, stuck in the wrong country and so on, we have this time to reflect on who we are and on the life we want for ourselves once we are freed from the chains that bind. Think on that.

I watch the young birds fly through my little garden, feathers awry, all ruffly spot and unsure of where to land. New life learning old ways. For them, survival is the teacher. They cannot suddenly square up to a cat or challenge the dive of a sparrow hawk without almost certainly turning into lunch. But we can. If we consider our predators, our demons, our self-doubts and our fears to be in control of our lives, then they will be. Noticing every thought and questioning it is key number three. Even if I am uncertain of my path, my voice, the strength, or lack of it, of my own human spirit, if I decide to turn this thing around, to turn myself around, then wonderful things begin to happen. I don’t need to run from my doubts and fears, my thoughts and worries, I just need to about face and question. Do I really think this or is this thought thinking me? Then, if it isn’t useful, I say cheerio. I don’t need you. Every time I do this, I empower my true self. I am not controlled by my thoughts. I control them, and in this uncertain life when a single day can throw a tidal wave over my carefully constructed sandcastle, my thoughts are the only thing I can control.

I know what it is like to be in the darkness of depression. I know how overwhelming life can be. I also know how to rebuild my spirit and I am thankful for all my guides over the years. Not everyone finds their way. Some souls are lost. Most of our illnesses come from inner stress, manifesting in the physical body, sometimes destroying it. This time of reflection is a gift to us all, not only to make new ways to live for ourselves by taking a long hard look at our core values, our life choices, our work and our families, but to look and to see others who may need our clear and open friendship. Those, whom we might have dismissed before as misery guts or gloomy or bad tempered. Nobody wants to live like that. Nobody. But everybody needs somebody to lift them at some point in their lives.

There are less of us still breathing in the world today. This virus is greedy and it isn’t done with us yet. Let us make sure that the ones who will emerge back into the light of ‘normality’ even more broken, even more damaged and even more fearful of their futures, do not have to walk alone.

Island Blog – Lock Down Light

Well you can’t do that. Lock down light. Light will seep under a doorway as you sit in the dark, catch you in a flash of lightning, astonish you as you meet it in someone’s eyes. Light will out. And we love it. The thrill of light can turn a dark moment/person/situation/problem into a new possibility and, even if we can’t explain ourselves at that time, or after that encounter, our sub conscious minds will surely find a way. The only way to lock down light is by putting it into a dark and sealed box. Then it is no longer light, but darkness, and so it seems to me that we are the ones who decide on the existence of light.

We use the word ‘light’ in so many ways. Things are illuminated by something, or someone, else. We throw light on something…..in the light of this new understanding, this reflection, this memory…. We choose to stand in the light; we find light in a dark time; we share our light with another who keeps crashing into things; we accept light as a gift when we ourselves are fumbling about looking for a metaphorical candle. Light is us and we are light.

In this lockdown time, light is being shone on all aspects of our individual lives, those of others, and on the whole world. Although the problems #the dark of our lives were always there, we could ignore them, to a degree. We could move over them, overcome ourselves as we acknowledged they were here to stay. In short, we fabric-ed them into our normality, accepting them with varying levels of grace and grit. But not now. Now, it’s if someone with a Big Pen is highlighting those things and we are being forced to look at them, all yellow and luminous in a sea of black text.

This is a good thing. This chance to change is on offer, free of charge. Only in a crisis do we humans stop to pay attention. All those years of accepting this, or doing that the way I did is up for questioning, and we cannot avoid it. Nor must we. There are small businesses going down, people losing homes, work, lives, family. This is a light throw on our whole existence and however uncomfortable it is, however painful, it will show us a new way and will keep us safe in the end. Those who, right now, think the world is ending will discover it has no intention of abdicating the throne. New opportunities will arise for all those goodly folk who feel they are permanently broken. As long as they remember the light, and, when they forget, someone will bring it to them.

I am not one of those unfortunate people and my heart aches for them all. It must be terrifying. But, having lived as long as I have, I know the feeling well and it passes. It passes because we humans are strong, resilient, resourceful creatures with marvellous brains. We are Light. We can think. We can reason. We can flip our whole life if we decide to. Many have. Many have changed everything and, in doing so, become light for the rest of us.

The light of the lockdown will not be contained inside a box and turned into darkness. It is showing, instead, how much we want to give, how enterprising we are, how strongly linked we are to the muscle of survival, and not just with plans to survive, but to thrive once more, shining out new light into a new order.

Island Blog – Turn a Feather

People are living. The lucky ones. Watching from the ridge, balancing afoot the cat sharp rocks, teetering, our heads in the sky, bodies somewhere in between, and, in our breath, a question. Will I, will we come out of this alive or not?

We are one, now, we people of the world. We have un-countried ourselves as we face down a terrifyingly powerful enemy. And the heroes keep rising like the sea-eagle I just watched playing with gravity as it slid through the wide blue sky, master of it. We are showing out true colours and making rainbows for each other. It is good.

When the day avoids me I remind myself of this. However isolation goes for those of us isolated, there are people who find that fear defines them. Otherwise strong and confident, this invisible monster lurking in every action, every move, confounds them. It is not good, but it is understandable. It is one thing to face down a big swashbuckling opponent who stands square and loud and inches away, and quite another to face down a ghost. Much is at stake and most of the much is me. And you.

We cannot enjoy a commensal meal, perhaps for months and certainly not on Mother’s Day, not if the mother in question is a bit past her sell by date. We older mums must stay doggo, take up our handiwork and make gallons of nourishing soup for the freezer, in preparation for whatever is to come. Our mums and grannies did it for years during the wars, but they didn’t have to isolate and this is the hard part.

So we must look up and out. We must listen to the sounds of Spring wherever and whenever we can. We can write letters, send emails, make calls to bring cheer to someone else. There may be a hole in the universe right now, a big black one into which many of us are falling and will fall yet, but above us is a huge sky full of weather and birds, painted with daylight and the soft black velvet of night. Those of us who can muster belief must spread that belief to those who are cast adrift from the joy of Life. We must scatter laughter like wildflower seeds, seeds that will sprout under the warming sun, no matter what comes.

This morning a sparrow hawk took one of my visiting doves. I didn’t see it but I saw the resulting scatteration of feathers around the bird table or caught in the branches of a potentilla hedge. It looked awful and I was so sad. I watched the other dove wander endlessly around the garden in search of its mate and felt even sadder. Destruction standing alone, I thought, freezing the moment, and my heart. However, as I watched, a sparrow fluttered down to grab a feather, soft as down. Other small birds followed suit until nothing was left. They had taken the destruction and turned it into hope, a soft lining for a nestful of new life.

If Nature can turn things around so beautifully, then so can we.

Island Blog – Light Remembered

There are two kinds of light, said James Thurber. The glow that illumines and the glare that obscures.

It thinks me. I believe there are as many kinds of light as anyone wants to acknowledge. For instance, through the hail and sleet and snow as it traverses the sky, tipping the hills and turning the mountain tops into sugar buns, there is the white light of ice, the distance dark sheets of hail looking like treacle poured from the heavens. There is the flash of sunlight on a hill road as a steadfast patch of ice refuses to melt, a glimpse of car headlights as some brave driver rises over a summit, temporarily highlighting a fall of snow, to fold over on a slippery descent. The sealoch lifts into light only to drop back into darkness as the clouds conjoin, part and join again at the punch of a volatile wind. Sunlight turns the bare maple into a Christmas tree, each stem bedecked with tiny drops of water, rainbow tears. Spider webs look like intricate works of art, the cold spider a dark huddle of hope. I haven’t seen a single fly yet, and nor, I guess, has she. The garden is late despite the daffodils doing their best to pretend Spring is on her way, their stalks disappearing into the white slush.

Then there is the light in someone’s eyes, You see it and it tells you something. That’s what eyes do, often belying the words let loose from the same page. Recognition, rejection, admiration, hope, belief, affection, remorse, desire, delight. All clear in someone’s eyes and infectious too, catching, almost physical. If someone is sad, I see it first. Their eyes tell me. If they are exuberant and excited about life I see that too and both will change me. We respond to light, if we take the time to notice it, to watch it. Wherever that light comes from it is wired into our very souls to answer back. Sometimes our own dark can blow out the sun, like a match, but it is dangerous to keep blowing and foolish too. Our beautiful earth is awash with light. The light of recognition, the light of hope, the endless variables of light in nature. The eyes of a startled deer hidden in the scrub as we walk quietly by; the yearning look of a child who really wants us to pick them up; reflections of bare branches moving over the surface of an ordinary puddle, a magical sky painting; the light of an epiphany, a new understanding, gifted, often, by someone else who can see light where I saw only darkness, the way that new understanding, that re-jigging of what I thought was fixed in place for always, sends light through my whole being and suddenly, I see.

As the snow and hail moves on out to sea, I watch it. It changes as it meets the salt-laden air, changes colour, changes shape, softens and demurs. Ha! I tell it. The sea will always win. Didn’t you know that? A walker goes by with a little dog. The dog looks at me through the window. For a moment, just a moment, our eyes lock. I don’t know this dog and this dog doesn’t know me but we share a glimpse of light.

That’s what we can do for each other. Shine out light, receive it gratefully, store it deep within so that we can gift it on, pay it forward. Someone is walking in the dark. Light them up and when it is your turn to feel like a huddled cold creature, accept light from someone else. It’s how the world keeps turning. We all have dark times but the light will always shine, from somewhere, through someone. And all we have to do is remember that.

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.