Island Blog – You First My Friend

Lockdown, schmockdown. Time gentlemen, please! It is almost a year since this whole stay home thing began and it feels like it may never end, even as I know it will. Of course winter hasn’t helped in our slow trudge back to what we took for granted so easily before. This time has made us think, stretched our inner resources and taught us new skills. Some of us have become bakers, some painters, some just good with the management of Time which, to be honest, has turned into something we all notice and some of us, minute by minute. To say ‘I am Too Busy’ are words for caseworkers and frontliners but not for most of us. Most of us can spend ages staring out at the rainy dark wondering what on earth we can do to turn this day into something other than a trudge.

I know we must wait. I know not one of us wants yet another lockdown as the restrictions lessen their grip on our days. I know this, but knowing something and living it are two very different things. So how do we continue when we feel fed up with the prison we are all in? One day at a time, that’s how. There is no other way to face this. Many of us, if not most, have hit rock bottom a few times over the past year and for good reason. Not being able to hold and hug, meet and talk, visit and touch are all alien concepts for a human race. No travel, no lift share, no hand holding, no gathering of friends around a table. And, for some, the death of a loved one. It abnormals us, all of us. And yet we must abide and we all know it. However, the damage done by such restraints will show once we re-emerge into the light of ordinary life, it has to for we are not all strong like bull. Some of us, isolated with our fears and doubts, our imaginings and anxieties, will need a hand to walk again. Some of us will have lost confidence around more than two people, two we know well. Strangers may appear even stranger. We may be asking ourselves, Where have they been, what have they touched, who have they met with? The natural reach out for a handshake may be compromised, a hesitation freezing our limbs and stumbling our words. We are going to need help.

Let us who are strong like bull consider all of this. In any mix of people there will be ‘outsiders’, folk who hesitate, who are shy, afraid, unsure and compromised by this long incarceration. Emotionally we may be damaged and damage takes time to heal and then only with help. Let us remind ourselves that odd behaviour may well emerge alongside the damaged ones and let us keep our hearts open. Let us wear our coat of empathy in our rush to the shops or the cinema, theatre, concert. To consider all other human beings is to be truly human. We are, after all, a team. Together is the word for the future, not alone, not any more. It didn’t work after all, now did it, this alone thing? I beat you to the front of the queue might have felt good at first, been reflected in a higher salary or the best parking space, but the elevation of such ‘success’ will never sustain its position, not for long, and it brings no lasting peace, not to the winner, not to the ones left behind. How much more benefit might be felt if I was to turn in grace to another and to say ‘You first my friend.’?

You first my friend.

Island Blog – Day One, Lucky Us

And so it begins. With this day. The only one we can ever be sure of, those of us who awaken into the morning of it. How shall we spend it, I wonder? For those of us of a merry disposition, the options are endless, for no matter our current limitations, we will see each moment unfold as an opportunity to smile. Even if the wood won’t split or the poached eggs slip off the spatula to land with a hot splat on the floor, spreading into a lake of liquid gold quite disproportionate to that of their polite containment in the poaching pan, even then a smile can be lifted to the face of one whose disposition is a merry one. But what of those who cannot find such merriment, at these times or, indeed, at any time? It must mean that life always feels cumbersome at best, vindictive at worst. I am sad for such people because I know that not one of us is born for such a life. Babies do bawl, yes, once the air hits their lungs but who is surprised at that? From that moment they are ready for anything, trusting and malleable and ready to learn whatever they are taught.

In my family, the teaching was not that the world owed us our lives, indeed not. If we wanted something we learned to work towards it and not to whine pleas through wobbling lips. We were taught to ‘get on with it’ should life throw us a curve ball and I am glad of it. This tuition, that sometimes felt cold and dismissive, gave us the chance to look to and then to develop our own aptitudes. When things went horribly wrong, and once the initial shock and panic had calmed a little, we found, and still find, ourselves looking this way and that for a way through, one that would, will, make everything better, if not best, once again. Damage is done and I would not argue with that, but to have a source of what is currently known as a Can Do attitude, is a much sought after blessing. I know this when I encounter souls who have no idea what to do next, and I am often surprised at the way they sink back in acceptance and defeat. I can make no sense of it, until I think it through, reminding myself of the look on their stricken faces, the paralysis in their bodies, the whimper of fear in their voices. They are not unable to find a way through, but simply were never taught how to dig the tunnel or scale the wall. Here is my chance to lend a hand. Here is my chance to offer support and encouragement to someone who did not benefit from the lessons I have learned from childhood. I have no idea of the constraints of their own, nor the joys nor the pains of it and I probably never will, but I can bring to them my merry disposition, my smile of encouragement, my shoulder to lean on.

Now that we are all, like it or not, landed in a new year, we can consider the gifts that we alone can bring to bear on a broken, yet beautiful, world. We can lift our eyes from our own piddling little life and offer ourselves to another in friendship, respect and recognition. No matter what colour, creed or disposition; no matter funds in the bank or a begging bowl; no matter that we live in a home with a view or inside a cardboard box in a shop doorway. What matters is this. We have made a massive balls up of collective living for long enough. We, whoever we are and wherever we lay our hats, are a collective. We may not be able to change the world, may not even believe that whatever efforts we make along that line are going to make one jot of difference, but we would be wrong in that thinking. Think pebble and ripples.

This year will be what we make it. A merry disposition is learnable, at any age. Life is not out to get us and nor does the world owe us a living. We are that Living.

Lucky us.

Island Blog – Repeat Daily

The way I see things when I am tired, stressed or fed up is never how they really are. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. In certain moods or when pressure feels heavy as a truck on my head, I slip into a weird world, one full of victims with me being the biggest. I am at the mercy of whatever comes my way; my seeing becomes slanted, ditto my hearing and my poor underused brain turns into an untethered disco ball. Instead of being inside this body, I am all over the place, running here and there like a headless hen.

And then the next day comes, the next songbird dawn, the new light, and what happened yesterday seems small and insignificant, solvable in a few simple steps. Why I couldn’t see it that way yesterday beyonds me. Yes, I was tired of repeating things, gently; yes I was upset about the rain getting into my post box; yes I was lonely and wondering when life would begin and yes I was pitching for a fight. I guess the nice lady from the Council, just doing her job, is fortunate I didn’t get to speak to her. I have no idea what she called about, beyond a vague and fluffy explanation (and even that word is too long to describe what I did learn). Are we still shielding? Are we allowed to see anyone and would that be from Now or from July 31st, and are we still getting the food deliveries? I know the answer to the last question having just learned it from a friend, but the rest, himself nodding and saying No and Yes and then No again could mean he has signed us up for a pilot mission to Mars. I guess I will find out eventually, if a space suit arrives by carrier.

My point is that, in my strong and right mind, I can see all the mild irritations and the intense enfuryments as just things colliding with my just thoughts and just feelings. I can step back, breathe, observe and quantify, deconstruct and take appropriate action. When in a compromised state of being, it looks and feels as if I am under attack from a mysterious, invisible band of mercenaries, with me in their sights. Of course, it would be impossible, being an ordinary extraordinary human woman, to sustain such a peaceful equilibrium at all times and in all sets of circumstance. life isn’t like that for any of us. Tsunamis will rise and threaten to destroy; rain will seep into post boxes, mushing paper and packaging, days will feel trudgemonkey and food will go off in the humid heat, just before I go to re-heat it for dinner. Life is not plain sailing and we all know that. But, if I can set up an inner programme of self-encouragement, write down uplifting affirmations to stick on walls, seek conversation with friends and read good guide books – if I eat well, exercise, laugh a lot, show kindness, share love and think more often of others that of myself, I will have prepared myself for anything that might come my way on any given day.

Which is what I am doing this day. One day at a time.

Repeat daily.

Island Blog – Waiting, Silence and Engagement

This day I walk into absolute silence. Nothing moves, not a whisper, not a leaf, not a nothing. Under the tree canopy, beech, birch, sycamore, hip-hop, ash and alder, all branches, all leaves are completely still. T’is a rarity on this wind blown island and one to be noticed; one to become engaged in, to stand still beneath the huge silence and to become a part of it.

It is tempting to march on, my thoughts pushing at me like a man might ‘encourage’ me to get a move on. The Hurry Up of life is a part of our being. In order to get this done, I must move quickquick because the next thing is out there tapping its fingers on the table and rolling its eyes, impatiently. Do I always need to buy into this? Well, no, I don’t. Not now, anyway.

Standing under this still canopy, I reflect on those days, when the list was so tightly packed as to be almost impossible to achieve. Is there time between the napkin ironing and the school run, the first school run, for me to walk? Maybe, but only if you go like a dingbat, whatever that is, and avoid any such nonsense as looking out, up or around; no following a woodpecker’s looping flight, no sniffing of a wild rose in the cupped hand of that wee burn because that might take a few minutes being as you will have to lift your skirts, flip a fence and clamber.

These slow days, these days of so-called retirement, lend me time. Time that begs a payback and that payback is engagement. So, I engage. I turn to watch the sea-loch. It is flat as a mirror, burst open only by an otter, hunting. The waters close over almost immediately, as the air does once I push through it, ready, cleansed, new, for the next thing that might interrupt the still. The track is empty, as it mostly is. The stones lay flat or sometimes upskittled by a passing estate vehicle. I notice change. A branch fallen, a new growth spurt on a blackthorn, a higher rise of glorious grasses, a touch of sunlight illuminating a dead branch on an ancient tree.

In these extraordinary times, there is stillness. In fact, there is complete stopness. Where there was a flow of communication, a moving towards each other, we now step back. This day, as giving people delivered food, fish, vegetables and mail to our lockdowndoor they all pulled back as I came forward to receive. That space in between us has become, could become a long term space of fear. It must not be allowed to do that. In many ways it is so simple to go with the rules right now, but when they are lifted, will we lift, also? It thinks me, a lot. Living with Captain Vulnerable, I have many thinks about it, to be honest, and find it quite hard to see my feet on any of the future ground.

No matter. I will wait, as I did beneath the still trees, until something new illuminates my thinking. After all, I have lived through many battles, climbed many mountains, felt the fear and still marched on. And, in the meantime, I will celebrate the care and the giving and the inventiveness of those who have made these extraordinary times their chance to engage in ways they might never have known, had life stayed ordinary.

Island Blog – Unicorns, Bananas and Hope

I wake with a wobble this morning. I suspect I am not the only one. I know there is a big shopping list downstairs in my cosy kitchen, plus a couple of things to post, and, yet, I don’t want to go anywhere near people who still breathe. I make tea and drink it, watching the day rise like Venus from the troubled waves of the night. She looks good. The usual fly-by of geese, loons, swans and garden birds entertain me for a while until I hear the sounds of the seventies overhead. That’s himself getting up. It thinks me of a first drum lesson, all bangs and thumps and with no rhythm to speak of.

Although I am not nosophobic at all, I have a healthy respect for an invisible enemy. Who doesn’t! So, after a ridiculous and chuckly conversation with a girlfriend about what bananas remind us of when baked and floppy, I decide not to shop this morning. We have enough in store and besides I can cook the sole of a gymshoe and make it tasty, or so I tell my grandchildren. I decide to inhabit the day with an attitude of ad hockery which feels rather racy and sounds loaded with opportunities. First, I bleach the door handle after a delivery of unicorn poo. For those who have never encountered a unicorn, never mind its poo, let me explain. These pellets, prettily gathered into the depths of a little hessian pouch, ribbon tied, are, in fact, wildflower seeds. You just push the pellet into the earth, not deep, and wait for your unicorn to grow……should take between 4-6 weeks. I can’t wait. I bake the bananas and cover them in custard. They may taste lovey but, naked, they are far from eyesome. Listening to tunes of the 80s and dancing along a bit, the day moves forward in a beamish sequence of start, middle and finish. Many tasks complete themselves this way and all I do is walk beside them, mindfully, of course. We sort it out together.

Walking, I see the larch green above my head, the little primroses peeking out from sheltered dips, yellow as sunshine. A pair of mallards lift like an eruption from the burn as I startle them into the air, the drake a rainbow of colours. Two otters cavort in the sea-loch, pushing out from the rocks, from the safety of their holt, out in the wide open on a fish hunt. I watch a huge fish jump although it seems too early – maybe not. Horse chestnut leaves look like green fingers against the sky, now a mackle of clouds in shades of grey. I see nobody. For a whole 40 minutes as I walk through woods and along side the rocky shore, I am alone, just me and the little dog. By this time, visiting walkers would be all over this place like a pox, and welcome indeed, but not this year. Maybe not at all this season, for who can say? We are, after all in the incunabula of something we cannot explain nor define and that’s enough to wobble the sturdiest of us.

I light the fire for it is still chilly, even if the sun does shine down his generous warmth. Flowers are pushing through the earth, shrubs throwing blooms and trees beginning to spread their canopy. It’s a time of hope and that is one thing that never runs out. If one person loses it for a while, someone else can bring it back and it doesn’t require physical contact to spread. It just flows between us like a soft breeze and we can safely breathe it in until it fills us up once more. Then we can pass it on to another who needs it.

In 4-6 weeks I hope to have a garden full of unicorns. What larks, Pip!