Island Blog – I would tell you

This is for you my one and only husband. As you know (I am sure the angels will have reminded you) today is our 49th wedding anniversary. I can barely believe either of us stuck it out for so many years. I see you smile at that. Neither of us had a scooby about such an intensely complex relationship, speaking out the vows with all that enthusiasm and emotion and blissfully unaware that things would change. That we would change, not at the same time, which was always deeply inconvenient, but singularly and fully expectant of the other to adapt immediately, without a cross word spoken. How naive we were, how trusting in our own set of plans, dreams and expectations. We said we would do it different, remember that? We would never alienate each other, never endure long periods of stony silence, never break apart, never run away, and yet we did all those things. And we survived it all. Did our children, I wonder? Do any children? They are so aware of parental strife, of tension within mother, within father, it cannot leave them undamaged. I suspect we are all damaged, bringing into all our relationships the breaks and black holes from our pasts. As much as I look for the ‘perfect’, there is none.

I would tell you these things. Today I walked beneath the rain-heavy boughs and caught the raindrops, the water from heaven. I cupped them in my hand from a delicate larch limb and drank in the rain. I watched the grey above me, saw the light over the Isle of Coll, open as a window into the sky beyond. A beckoning of light. Look, I said to you, can you see? I wonder how it looks from wherever you are now. How I look, a pinprick dodging puddles in my favourite boots. Did I tell you how hard I have looked for a repeat pair? I find them nowhere. I found five orchids beside the track, no idea what sort of orchids but that doesn’t matter to me. Pink and sudden, for they weren’t there just yesterday and to see an orchid is to find myself in some foreign land. The walk today was the short one. I find walking in the rain jacket a cumbersome sort of walk. My frocks are curtailed from their desire to swish and they mutter beneath the waxed waterproof coat thing that weighs a ton and is far from a pleasant covering. As you know, my slim puffa jacket is as ready to absorb the rain as a sponge might be, although I have donned it pre a rainy walk purely out of vanity and respect for the swish of my frocks, returning drenched.

Then I showered and changed. In other times, this would have been in anticipation of an evening out to celebrate. Not this year. I walked barefoot through the garden to pick myself some flowers and you would not believe the rose you planted some years back, the one called Wedding Anniversary, the one that has heretofore only ever produced 4 or 5 buds. This year it is heavy with blooms and I hope you can see them. And I have been remembering past anniversaries, even as I do have to dig my way back before dementia to find the happier ones. I remember you saying, we are going out at 7. I held the excitement all day long, thinking about what I would wear, what we would talk about, where we would go. You were always the best at celebrations, thinking of everything. Even during dementia years, when you could barely eat, let alone drive me somewhere, let alone walk, you could still smile up at me and I would smile back, so much said, so much unsaid.

I want to tell you I am ok. Better than that, I am doing well. I am learning how to let go and how to make myself into a whole me. I am supported, safe and warm. I am also, finally independent. I know you hated that word, fought like mad against it, but it means something different to me. Independence does not mean a person needs nobody. Oh no. We all need somebody or we die of loneliness. What I mean by that word now is that I have confidence in myself, in my choices, my actions. I take full responsibility for everything in my life and I lay no blame, not even on myself. Although there are things I would have done differently given the chance, I am proud of who I am. And I am thankful. Thankful to you for being my broken rock, for protecting me and our children in the only way you knew; for loving and living as you did and you did your best. I can see that now, for all the squawking I did along the way.

I touch your face in a photograph and remember the feel of your skin. I remember your hands, strong, warm. I remember your smile and the ice blue of your eyes, a gift to our daughter.

These are what I would tell you this day, my husband.

Maybe I just did.

Island Blog – A Diamond Day

This day we gather for our son’s wedding to his lady love. Well, some of us gather in person, whilst others zoom in, virtually, to bear witness to promises made and happiness shared. This day will be remembered for many years to come. Impressions will stick, spoken words and tributes will be held inside the human heart; moments will be re-lived over and over again. Even as I write, cars full of excited guests and family members traversing the land are googling directions, tweaking outfits and wondering how they look. There will be laughter inside these cars, anticipation and the odd snap of tension as a tail back tails back. The time they all aim for is 1pm on board MV Emma Jane at Dunstaffnage Marina. The sun has appeared, the sea loch is calm, the air soft and kindly. I did my famous Be-Off-Rain dance yesterday and, despite a few clouds, it looks like I haven’t lost my touch.

We cannot be there in person so we are two who will zoom. I want to hear the words, those vows, readings and speeches in real time. I want to see the well-tweaked outfits, the smiles, hear voices and laughter, see children in their wedding kit, the groom and the bride in immaculate finery, their joy complete for they have fought hard to bring this day into their life. Postponed in its original shape since March (thank you Covid) this new wedding design is smaller but none the less valuable, like a small diamond instead of a big fat garnet. The diamond twinkles more, however small; distinctive and distilled into perfection. You must look at closely at it in order to appreciate the way each tiny face catches sunlight and reflects it back like a gift.

This young pair have found each other when neither were looking. They have weathered storms within and without and held on tight. I am proud of their courage and resilience and in awe of their beauty and strength. This day brings to both of them a dream, a completion, a new beginning. Despite the changes they have had to make in order to bring us all together as witnesses, they are making it happen. They never wanted a big fat wedding anyway. What they value most is family, a few friends and their children.

To James and Emma – on this, their diamond day.

Island Blog 159 On Marriage

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It all starts with a Wedding, that’s what I say.  When I get an invitation to someone’s ‘Marriage’ I have this strong urge to call them up to correct their grammer, or is it grammar……….. because the wedding is the bit when you make impossible vows and completely believe in them, and the marriage is the rest of your life together.  So not the same thing.

These vows are written in stone, or so you think at the time.  They also ask of you more than will ever be asked of you in any other part of your life.  What seemed like an uphill struggle before, when you were free and single, evanesce as you face the stark and solid truth that the old mother-in-law has the upper hand and, what’s more, always will.  Now that I am one myself, I feel very unsure of myself at times, and rightly so.  The old type of mother in law was comfortably certain of her place on the family throne, whereas we unsure ones watched them from the servants gallery and vowed we would never be like them.  Well, mostly we are achieving just that, and, in doing so, in approaching with more tact we are making new mistakes.  It is the way of things.

I don’t remember if I promised to obey or not, but what laughs me a lot, is that it matters one way or the other. The animated discussions I have overheard concerning which words are left out and which put in to a wedding ceremony adds a value that most certainly dilutes in time. I suppose in the olden days, if someone didn’t obey or honour or cherish and it was brought to the Judgement Mound and proclaimed before the Wise Men, and if it was found to be true, due punishment would have been administered, its legacy, shame.  Nowadays, the Judgement Mounds are covered with heather and bluebells, their ancient role all but forgotten.

After the fluffery wuffery of the wedding, and the first halcyon days of playing house, the serious business of life clicks in.  We put away the wedding dress and don the apron.  It’s not a bad, but a good thing, because scrubbing a floor in a wedding dress is asking for trouble. So, we move on into our new days, we two people who have made the biggest decision of our lives.  No maps are handed out.  We will now sail into uncharted waters, learning from each other and working day by day to weave a new cloth from the colours each one brought to the mix, very different colours, different histories, different understanding of light and dark, texture and balance, give and take, up and down.  Who will lead and who will follow?  Who will let go and who will hold on.  Who thinks of solutions and who chews over the disaster?  None of this has really been revealed as yet for neither of us have stood the test, not yet.  Falling in love is a momentary thing.  Staying there, when things begin to annoy and upset, letting them take their place in the weaving of the cloth when all you want to see are the vibrant colours of joy and happiness, is quite another.  The trick is to let that happen without feeling a sense of loss.  The trick is not to imagine this woman is trying to mother me, when she shouts at me for sock-dropping, or that this man is trying to control and contain me, when he challenges the cut of my dress  The trick is, the trick is………

The goodly thing about Goodly Life is that it keeps waking us up each morning with birdsong or Chris Evans or the dooby doo of an alarm clock, or a baby’s wail, or that eerie silence that tells you it snowed overnight.  We keep waking, we keep feeling hungry, needing a walk, a cup of tea, a chat with a friend.  Our brains must plan school mornings, bus time-tables, train schedules and packed lunch boxes.  This is it, this is life and this, shared, keeps us moving through our daily rounds, bumping into each other, working out the best way to do this or not do that, until gradually we weave ourselves into one cloth.

If any of us knew what lay ahead, we might never begin.  How we learn to deal with whatever comes along, is all in the strength of that cloth, the warp and weft of it, the necessary tension, the edging.  When storms prevail and loud black clouds hang overhead all packed with lightning flash and cold wet rain, we can use this cloth for shelter and warmth, but it will only give back what we have woven into it.  The history we make together is not solely of our own pasts, but it is a new thing.  We bring in children, carving their histories out for them, at least, in the very beginning. Each of us is a new creature, with unique quirks and gifts, thoughts and concerns.  Each one of us sees a thing differently, even if we mostly agree on the image it creates in our minds.  However,  there is one thing I have found to be almost universal, and that is the instant and unconditional love a parent feels for their child.  I know life can sour a relationship, but after the angry words are spoken and the protection in place, I still believe this love surpasses all other loves, and it never fails to astonish on first encounter.  I remember it each time a babe was born from me, that however scared I may have been of dangers unknown, I knew I would protect this child’s life with my own, and I still would.

At this end of a verrrrrry long marriage, there is a very colourful cloth around us, five colourful children and their families.  Nobody could say we quietly got on with our lives together, obeying the rules, but, instead, raved against the wrongs, laughed and lived wildly, generously, and mostly in complete chaos.  On this day, we look at each other and we both marvel.  How on earth we managed, against all the odds, to be celebrating 43 years together, even all ‘vowed up’, is a mystery, and not just to us.

What larks!