Island Blog – A body and a spirit

A body that has lived is a beautiful thing, not necessarily to behold, but it is beautiful nonetheless. Once, when it might have been beautiful to behold, I hid my own, never believing I could bare much of it to the world, or, to my small world of people. Even among my much younger (and fitter) sisters, I was cautious, making sure I had a dressing gown coveration when departing the shared bathroom or the shared bedroom. I was never shy, not that, but I had to be fully clothed to allow the ‘not shy’ in me to fly out into a room. I could do legs and loved mini skirts of the Mary Quant/ Carnaby Street era, but watched others bare cleavages and bellies and just knew I was way out of their league.

It didn’t matter, long term, much as nothing of vanity matters, long term. Eventually we get to realise that it is who we are to others that does last, that matters and sticks. Beautiful bare skin is nothing, after all, if the owner is a pain in the aspidistra, flaky, selfish, insincere. Now, to the body perfect. This body survives endless knocks and bumps, asks and denials, flak and cruelty and yet it works with a spirit to rise into another day, and another. And, the spirit is thankful it does and is ready at every point to help. Two parts of a whole, like an apple.

This body has adapted to endless demands, birthed children, kept itself awake throughout extreme exhaustion and still kept going. How did you do that? I ask, my spirit asks, because I could not have done this alone.

Well, says the body, you wanted me to and that is enough for me. I obey your command.

But what about the many times I didn’t care for you as you deserve?

I managed. I knew you loved me really. You were just distracted.

Yeah…..for decades. How is that ok?

It is as it is. Still is btw.

Even now, even now that I see the papery skin on my gnarled twiggy fingers? Even as I see you sink downwards? Even as you sometimes find it tricky to get out of bed without a grunt, or to lift from a chair, or when you are extremely cautious on hillsides? Even then?

Even then. We work together.

But when I am afraid of falling, of sickness, of living too long, of dying, are you?

No, I am always alert. I may obey your commands but I am way ahead of you when it comes to getting older, or more papery, more gnarled, more afraid of hillsides.

I think that reassures me. I think.

Listen, we have worked together for 68 years. Do you really think I am leaving now? Just look at what you have achieved, just look. You moved like a dancer through the demands and rejections, through the depressions and joys of an extraordinarily adventurous life. You held and nurtured five wonderful children. You lifted them into the world and set them free. You cried a lot. You doubted even more than a lot. And yet you, ditzy brain, crazy reckless dreamer, free spirit, risk taker, mistake maker, you stuck with me too. You didn’t, as I sometimes thought you might, head off the rails and into the wasteland. You are still here with me.

So I am. How wonderful, old body. Thank you.

You, my best friend, are so very welcome.

Shall we continue?

Island Blog – Grief, Music and Cooking

I miss him. It’s like I am forgetting the last ten years of caring and remembering the before times, the good times. I wake at 2 am, cold, and turn to borrow his warmth. It really shakes me at first until I remember where his body now lies, in the frozen ground. I feel the warmth of his hand in mine, that I Am Safe Now feeling. I never slept well, unlike him but he always woke enough to calm whatever storm was going on inside me. I miss him. I wish I had told him he was my everything but I did not. The way we changed, the children who came and whose needs became our modus operandi and our division bell, the way life upped and downed us, all stopped my mouth. Why didn’t I say it? I just don’t know. My deep need for independence was of such importance to me that I forgot to remember the basics. Ah, regrets! All I can do now is to talk to him as I move alone through my days. I am thankful for the rise of good memories even as they do not come without guilt and regret. This is grieving.

Downstairs I flip on the radio. The Living Years by Mike and the Mechanics. A tad cruel. I think back on Mike, Angie and their two sons in our big kitchen at Tapselteerie. We are sharing tea and cake and Mike is telling my kids, whose eyes are on stalks before this celebrity visitor, that he had never had a guitar lesson in his life, that he taught himself in his bedroom. It is just what they needed to hear. it doesn’t matter how you develop your passion, he says, just as long as you do develop it. Remember that. When I look at my five children now, as adults, passionate about their work and with barely a qualification between them, I know they took Mike’s words to heart.

I empty the fridge drawers of veg. Onion, garlic, butternut squash, sun-dried tomatoes, apple, ginger, lime, red pepper, leek and kalamata olives. Add honey, balsamic vinegar, tinned tomatoes, white wine, herbs and seasoning. It simmers now on the range and will last me days. I always cook for a platoon. Old habits die hard. I make a flavoured olive oil (extra virgin) mix and pour it into one of those sealable jars. I soak more sun-dried tomatoes for a little, chop them and add them to the oil mix, for later, for lunch perhaps, in a tortilla wrap, not that I have ever worked out how to fold those damn things effectively. I always need a shower after a tortilla wrap. The music plays on.

Poppy dog comes downstairs. She doesn’t mind that it is still night time for most people; she just works with my wakefulness and if I am up then it must be breakfast time. I boot her out into minus 2 degrees for a quick pee and prepare her food. Dried kibble topped with raw carrot slices and a few bits of chopped chicken to draw her in. Kibble, after all, is a bit dull on its own. I order a small extending lead for our daily walks for she is going deaf and no longer hears my callback should we meet another dog. Although she is all bark and no bite, or all fur coat and no nickers, it can alarm folk, the noise and the rush of her. I think of how it is these days without tourists and of how all that will change when they return to walk around Tapselteerie, to lose themselves inside her wild beauty. We islanders have enjoyed a year now of peaceful bliss even as we need visitors and their cash. One side of the coin and the other. It thinks me.

Ten years of caring and I am glad it is over. 49 years of marriage and I miss him. How tricky it is to find perspective in those two opposing thoughts. How fine it will be when I do. When he was declining, I became practical and cool. I stayed that way right up to his dying. Perhaps I became what was necessary and productive for the times but now, as I begin to soften, I have regrets. Can anyone hold balance when facing the appalling horrors of dementia? Perhaps not. One day I will write on this, but not yet. My inner writer tells me there are many miles to go yet. Many miles too, till morning.

Island Blog – Just For Today

I can do anything just for today. I can think what I like, just for today. Today is all I have in truth and tomorrow never comes anyway. Everyone knows that. So how will I inhabit this day? What will I decide to do or think? How remarkable it is that I can choose these, no matter what ‘luck’ does or doesn’t come my way. Inevitably, there will be moments that happy or smile me, and moments that seek to trip me up, to send my frocks a flying. Feeding the birds holds both. I am happy and smiley to feed them even as I absorb a cloudful of rain and feel quite whisked about by the horizontal blasts of a damp wind flipping my hems. Chopping wood smiles me and I like the comforting crack of axe success as the big log splits in two. Lifting the log basket tells me my stomach muscles are in good working order and I am thankful for that.

Radio Two plays me happy encouraging tunes but the news is pretty dire. I choose not to let it bother me. There would be little point in bothering, anyway, as there is diddly squat I or anyone else can do about it. However, there will be an opportunity for me to do something for someone else, to lift their spirits. All around me, faces are doing their best to smile out but I see the worry in their eyes. I don’t know what disappointment they may be dealing with, what despair has taken root in their hearts and minds, but I can offer a welcoming smile. Smiles pass through windows after all, saying a great deal without words. I am looking out as they are looking in and we can share that moment, that distant connection. Just for today I will think of someone to call and then I will dial their number. Even if they don’t answer, I can leave a cheerful message of upliftment.

Just for today I will do 2 things I don’t want to do. One of them might just be hoovering. Or it might not. I know that Henry is lonely in the cupboard under the stairs and it’s dark in there and this knowledge alone might spur me into hoover action. Might. I make no promises. After all, there are other things I don’t want to do such as wiping out a kitchen cupboard or digging up the dahlias for a winter dry out. It’s a bog out there, slimy and heavy and I will need to be quick-quick in order to catch a dryish moment between showers. I could do my exercises, which aren’t mine at all, to be honest. Someone else designed them and mostly I ignore them as much as possible. It seems such a waste of time, stretching and bending and rotating my shoulders, but I hear it’s good for me at my age to keep supple. Or, I could sort out the mound of legal paperwork that comes when someone dies, something I have managed to ignore for quite some time. The thing about doing something I don’t want to do is the feeling of personal success once the task is completed. I will focus on that, turn up the tunes and get the heck on with it.

When my mind strays to the gloomy, I will notice and take action. I have become quite good at noticing and taking action. This is something to do with a refusal to allow misery in. I have let misery in oftentimes during my life and I can tell you, it is a most unwelcome guest. It doesn’t come alone either. Misery brings self-pity, despair and loss of self-control. Well who on this goodly earth wants any of those lurking about inside their head? Not me for sure. Although I cannot control what happens to me, I can always control myself and my attitude. Sometimes I get frustrated when a person refuses to see that no matter what happens to them they can choose their reaction to it. But, I remind myself, I only understood it when I found I was seeing mud instead of stars through the bars of my life, and, besides, all of us learn new truths at different times. It is not for me to preach but only to uplift and encourage.

Just for today I will follow a programme. I will waste no time in moithering. I will be decisive and prompt in whatever I undertake. I will not moan, grumble or show irritation, no matter what goes wrong. I will be happy all the way through the day. I will decide to take time for myself even though this is rather irrelevant nowadays because all time is my own. There are no distractions, no calls to arms, no interruptions beyond the tring-a-ling of my telephone. However, there is much to be said for 30 minutes reflection and rest. I would have killed for 30 minutes reflection and rest not so long ago, after all. If I stop whatever I am doing to spend 30 minutes somewhere peaceful, such as on a wander into the fairy woods, my thinking will change as I stand in marvelment beneath the bows and branches. So much bigger than me. So much older and wiser. So much to say without words. Look at us, they whisper. Aren’t we majestic? Then I will bring that majesty home with me and it will filter through the house, lifting, uplifting, freshening the air. It may take me the afternoon to dry out, but I will have achieved much more than dripping skirts and the onset of trench foot. I will have made myself get up and out and into what is solid and strong, loyal, beautiful and ever-changing, qualities I want for myself.

I know that some folk think that when things go wrong, they are doomed, either momentarily, or forever, and that my way of being, of thinking, is just nonsense. Perhaps it is. Perhaps I am deluded, mad, even. But if I have learned anything of value in my life it is that to focus on what isn’t, what cannot be and what isn’t there, is just plain depressing. Looking instead at today, just today, and deciding that I will see whatever happens as an opportunity and not a stumbling block (poor little me), tells me I have complete control, not over the events but over myself and my attitude. And that feels just fine.

Island Blog – Disappointment Reversed

Suddenly there is change, a huge change, a life change. Some say, mournfully, that Christmas is cancelled but that is a load of tosh. Who can cancel an inevitability, after all? The day will come whether we mourn or celebrate. I have questions here. Are we still breathing? Did we wake up this morning, heavy with disappointment or did we wake, our minds buzzing with ideas for what we can do, whom we can celebrate? Perhaps a bit of both, in truth, but which thinking will win? If we grieve for what cannot be, for the ones we cannot be with, either because of the new ruling or because they are buried six feet down, we make a big mistake, for Christmas will not come again until another year has passed beneath our feet. The benefits of wasting time are nil. We have no time to waste, people, and no right to do it. If we have time, this time, any time, we are custodians of that time, as many have no such luxury. There are sick people, lonely people, abused people, dead people. If we do not find ourselves in any of those categories, we are indeed blest.

I imagine there will a lot of food left over this year. A big turkey or goose or nut roast that sits uneaten and un-shared; treats and gifts still with us, ones we now need to post and ones that will not arrive in time; little faces who won’t see grandparents, aunts and uncles; games that won’t be played; quieter homes. Next year we will talk about this time. Some will say it was the worst year ever, that Christmas was a disaster. Others, those who don’t waste time moaning about what cannot be, will say how thankful they are to have made the best of both the year and the strangely empty Christmas. I know which I will choose. Confusion has surrounded us since March. March! It is the longest time, yet not long enough to confound us, not as it might have done in times of endless war. We have no idea how fortunate we are. This past year is not the worst ever. It is just a year within which a lot happened. Just one year. And during this year, what do we remember of the good and great things that happened? The random acts of kindness, the surprising messages of support and encouragement, the way we learned to zoom or hug virtually, the phone chats, the waves and smiles of passers by, the food left on a doorstep, all happened because of this so called terrible year. Surely such gifts are worth remembering.

If we are fortunate enough to still be here, to be able to eat well, to be free to choose our attitude before the inevitable, then we can still celebrate Christmas, life and those we love. We just need to think, and right now, how we will do that. We have 4 days of 24 hours left to re-design our plans and our attitude. Learning how to be adaptable and versatile is a by product of ‘tough’ times. In easy times, there is little need to employ either. Why would we? When what we expect comes without troubling us much, we just float along like sticks in a river. But when the floods come and the water swirls and twists and lips over the banks, we can get stuck in eddies or stranded on rocks, wet and going nowhere. In our minds there is tremendous power. By choosing not to lie, wet and going nowhere, we can change everybody’s anything. If one person decides to shine their light into a roomful of darkness, then everyone can see. The light may not illuminate all expectations, but it will, once eyes grow accustomed to the brave flicker, allow others to find their own light and before you know, the room becomes quite magical.

And disappointment is reversed, in one single decision to celebrate this wonderful time.

Island Blog – Jiggetty Jig

Home again, home again, etcetera, and I am just getting into the swingle of it here. Agreed, the slap of cold did hit me head on (and foot on for I had omitted to pack stout boots for the chilly ground), but welcomes always warm and they certainly warmed me. Now on the island and with a fire lit for the day I am thankful for having a home at all, let alone such a cosy one.

The furniture within has re-arranged itself, as I suspected it might. When the Old Dragon (me) is gone long enough, himself will make things the way he wants them. In the case of chairs and other well-placed items of comfort, they are all pressed against the walls of the house and looking rather startled. I decided I would not be willing to spend my evenings against a far wall, two miles from the fire, but it took some negotiating and a lot of justifying with just a tiny mention of the fact that I live here too and that I am important, to pull my (somewhat relieved) arm chair back into the mix.

The reason for the changes is to more easily facilitate the wheelchair, the chariot, upon which himself will glide (endlessly) through the rooms. Naturally, a turn or two will be required on this restless pacing, hence the rejection of the startled, and rather upset, sitting room furniture. I lifted two more chairs upstairs to join all the other ‘unnecessary’ furnishings, such as lamps, tables, ornaments, free-standing artwork and so on, apologising as I went and wondering how much more the beleaguered office can hold without crashing down a floor. Everything, you see, has to be ‘safe’ for himself and, besides, I am done with picking up, dusting off and repairing things precious to me as he fells them and continues his glide through the days.

I find it doesn’t bother me so much now, if at all. This house is now a certified safety zone with easy access to pretty much all he needs. So many things that worked before can never work now without an accident and we don’t want one of those. The heart monitor beeps. The fall alarm glows red on the desk reassuring me that those kind voices somewhere in Scotland are one press of the button away. Sometimes himself presses by accident when no accident has occurred and I suddenly hear Lorraine or David asking if everything is ok. I tell them it is, and so sorry, but they are always kind. God’s angels for sure.

From 40 degrees and no plans or to do lists or prayers to keep myself together, compassionate, my eyes off the things that irritate, to the island and Christmas marching ever nearer. I turn up the tunes and wonder where my fairy lights are. As I burrow into the dark cupboard that holds everything else, I smile. Fairy lights found, but they are not going to be the brightest this Christmas because I shall be twinkling too and my batteries never go flat.

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.