Just giving

This week had me thinking about gratitude.

Some will know that the loss of a friend, just as this year was unfurling from a festivities-fuelled chrysalis into the full spectacle of life, brought with it a strengthened sense of connection with my friend’s legacy, her son Olly.

Rapidly turning from the boy I would read and feed inordinate amounts of sweets to, into a young man whose grief is
still raw.
Still palpable.
Still uncomprehending.

It was Olly’s wish that there should be a memorial to his mother; a bench at Inner Temple Gardens – a carefully tended patch of green and quiet in the midst of the idiosyncratic little enclave of history where Allie and I took our first steps into the legal profession, the Bar, that brought us into each other’s world.

It was this wish, expressed at a time of tears, that resonated with me.
The loss of the presence of a spirit leading to the longing for a physical reminder.

Giving
Just giving
Justgiving.com in fact
Was the route.

Crowdfunding.
Nothing novel about it, but although I have been involved in fundraising for a big charity before, it involved ball gowns and glamour.
This was different.

The request written.
Posted.
Shared.
Then, I waited.

The willingness of the many
To help
To give
To encourage
Brought warmth to the cold of the
aftermath of pain.

I would look at my page after every notification email arrived.
Generosity came from all quarters;
Those who knew Allie,
Those who didn’t.
Those who chose to write a few words.
Those who stayed silent.
Anonymous and silent.

As I tried to thank all those I could,  I began to think not only of the gratitude of the recipient, when something is given to them, but also of the giving itself and what giving brings.

As ever, language fascinates me; different languages allow for different emotions to attach to an act.
‘Welcome’, the standard English response to being thanked, acknowledges the act of the giver.
The German ‘gerne’ – gladly, willingly, goes a little further perhaps to appreciate how rewarding giving can be.
I’ve always liked the Spanish ‘de nada’ – ‘for nothing’.
The giver releases that which they gave.
It is no longer a part of them.
They have let go.
The thing that was given – an effort, an object, time, emotion, concern, a physical touch – has been passed to another.
In the great cycle that makes all things one.

My target was tripled in days.
And my heart,
swollen in grief,
exhaled with relief.

Unending thanks to all, known and unknown, who gave to make Olly’s wish a reality.

As of this week, Allie’s bench is in its place.
It’s been placed in the west side of the gardens,
where daily it will be kissed good night by the sun on its evening
journey to rest.

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Ketchup

Ketch-up

Remember that scene in Pulp Fiction – where Mia and Vincent are at dinner and she tells him about the pilot she did (Fox Force Five) and the joke she had to tell; ‘Three tomatoes are walking down the street…papa tomato, mama tomato and baby tomato. Baby tomato starts laggin’ behind and papa tomato gets really angry, goes back and squishes him and says ‘catch up!’’….?

It made me laugh and it made me cry.

It’s 3 months today since a close friend has passed.
Allie.
Alison.
3 months  of unexpected flashes of memories.
Little sparklers that burst in my mind when my heart holds a match to them; sharp, cold, white heat.
Here/not here.

Last Christmas.
The last Christmas.
Allie gave me a Christmas present.
A first and last.
We’d always given each other gifts.
Birthdays – yes;
I-saw-this-and-thought-of-you gifts – yes.
Christmas – somehow never.

Now there were two boxes in my hand.
One which I may in time be able to share, the second, a little foodie present made by the Halen Môn, the Welsh salt people.

There was salt – the symbolism of it now painful.
From the never-ending sea.
Ebb and tide.
Salt on the open wound of grief.

And there were bottles of ketchup; black garlic and Bloody Mary.
They have sat in my cupboard since Christmas.
Little glass bottles.
Holding a familiar texture.
Sealing unknown flavour.

Ketchup
Catch up

So often we talk of catching up.
With work
With our friends
With life.

Catch up implies falling behind.
We see falls as failures.
We become conditioned to aspire to be ahead.
To abandon the now for the ideal of the future.

In years of friendship the passing of
time was of little consequence.
Conversation came like the sea
Ebb and tide
Waves
Sometimes of comforting silence.
We’ve watched sunset and
Welcomed sunrise.

Allie loved good food.
Loved my cooking.
‘Tasty’ was an Allie word:
‘This is really tasty Boz’ she would say
(And the only person to call me that)
One of so many words.

So many echoes of kitchen table chats.
The gift of nurturing.

I opened one of those bottles today.
Black garlic seemed apt.
The colour is
Dark.
Sombre.
The flavour is
Deep.
Sweet.
Warming.

In my story, Papa Tomato takes on the guise of Time in Alice through the Looking Glass.

Forever beyond my reach.

Catching my breath and catching up with the here and now of three months on.

Ketchup.

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Insomnia

Waking up from a dream in which I tell my father about things that happened since his passing – it is a hot summer’s day, my father is wearing a white vest.
Old fashioned. He always wore them under his shirts.

In my dream I know while I am speaking with him that he is no longer of this life, but also know that he is present and having left my mother’s house, I turn on my heel and go back to speak to him.
It is important that I speak to him.
We sit in a room that is unfamiliar.
My father at a large desk, and me on an upholstered stool.

My heart is beating fast when I wake.
Torn from my conversation mid-sentence and now tearful.
The knowledge that this conversation will never be concluded brings back a pain that I thought previously subsided.

It is 3am. Again.

3am is the hour of the soul.
I can no longer recall when I first heard that, but there is something about wakefulness at this time that makes it so.

The little light coming into my bedroom emphasises the dark.
We see things in monochrome in the dark.
Unadorned reality.
A multitude of greys and shapes and a layer of soft silence.

The body had been at rest.

Like those first moments after shavasana in yoga.
There are no distractions and no deprivation.
The senses are tuned in to the un-sensed, to the things we have grown to take for granted in sleep and thus block from our perception; the feel of fabric on skin, a little mint in the mouth still from a bedtime ritual, faint lavender on a pillow.

I have lived with it for many years,
and in my mind Insomnia is personified.

She is a frenemy.
The one who comes to check up on you but whose motives, you suspect, are not fuelled by care but thrive on spite.
The one who stirs the ceaseless whirring of brain and mind.
Sometimes bringing a burst of clarity, sometimes blurring vision.

In my flying lessons’ days, I once flew to the Isle of Wight.
We had left Berkshire on a bright morning but shortly after take-off the sky clouded over.
Under the watchful eye of my instructor, and off syllabus, I flew on instruments for a little time.
Thrilling, instinctive.

I think of those moments of insomnia as the instrument flying of the mind; but with no thrills, no assurance that any emotion is to be trusted and no-one to oversee a safe landing.

Over time I have learned to try and deal with it; there are old kundalini mantras that can bring comfort, that tell you that through every block there is a way; that your best is good enough.
There are forms of breath that bring stillness.

Sometimes Insomnia sits quietly – for weeks or months – as Morpheus stakes his claim next to me.
She watches intently with obvious incomprehension; surely wakefulness, a state of consciousness is preferable to the vulnerability of dream-time, she asks silently, strangely almost echoing Hamlet’s quandary.

The darkest hour comes just before day-break, I tell her.
My soul, my mind, my body reunited for another day.

She sighs and on seeing Morpheus has gone too, fades away.

 

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Winds of Change

Saturday thoughts and gratitude for a week of serendipity, many hugs (and many doughnuts!).

Clear blue early spring light this morning and a wind, more insistent than playful, outside my window.

After the stillness brought by last week’s snow, the wind speaks of motion.

It reminds us that even when we are away from it – watching from behind the safety our fortress – glass windows silencing the outside world – it is about change.

Actions don’t always speak louder than words.

Sometimes words are the action.

Words that can set off a train of motion or stop us dead in our tracks.

I was thinking about words, about communication, this week.

In a world of instant imagery, we often accept a picture as being ‘worth a thousand words’ and miss the true meaning of perhaps just a few chosen ones.

In a letter I treasure, sent while still I was still at university, my father gently reminded me that I hadn’t written home for a week or two. 

‘The telephone is a wonderful modern means of communication for the 20th century’ he said, ‘but it doesn’t replace the written word’

Today I am off to see Olly – Allie’s son. 

A thoughtful, perceptive boy with a lively inquiring mind. 

Over the years I have attempted to answer his many questions. 

Today I know there will be more. 

I arrive just before the rain.

Everything’s different but everything’s the same.

I have driven this road dozens of times, but never tire of the view onto the fields. I park the car, as always. 

I walk over to the gate and take a picture, as always.

The ‘always’ will never be the same again.

I know.

And my friend’s absence is palpable at this moment.

The house is subdued, quiet. 

Allie’s desk has been tidied. The coffee table is clear. 

The fireplace is clean and cold.

Some things remain; Olly and I have a movie-going ritual. 

Today is no different. 

For a couple of hours we will lose ourselves in an animated world. 

In the car we talk about music and travel.

Olly wants to hear about my trip to Chile from 2 years ago.

We sing along together to Toto’s ‘Africa’.

‘I want to go to Tanzania and play this song when I’m there’ Olly says.

Later, thanks to the wonderful generosity of so many, Olly, his grandmother and I sit together in his grandmother’s house.

I show them the messages left with the donations we’ve had. 

Messages of love.

The fire is lit and a cat is luxuriating in the warmth.

We talk about the plaque that will be placed on Allie’s memorial bench.

Olly asks that we put Churchill’s words on it ‘If you’re going through hell, keep going’. 

I hold back emotion. 

It encapsulates so much of his mother’s spirit.

In words.

Not many, just enough.

Enough to remember a spirit and her determination.

Enough to remember the unending motion, not just of the wind, but of us.

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January

January, you’ve been brutal.

A teacher of life lessons.

You’ve set assignments.

And with no warning, tested.

The longest month arrived cloaked in heavily draped darkness and days of unreality.

It brought loss and it brought pain. 

The mind recalls past times but has to re-learn to accept that the heart, the heart with all its imperfections, has forgotten. 

The heart stood forlorn. 

The fog began to lift on that cold clear day of goodbye. A purpose emerged and a plan. We often offer of ourselves in the full knowledge that we won’t be called upon; now was the time to step up to plate. 

Lesson one: if you offer, be prepared to give.

The everyday can take its toll. 

Never ending lists and calendar notes and deadlines. 

We wear worn-out as a badge, a validation of our efforts. 

With your fondness for resolutions, January, you gave us 

lesson two: self-care is permitted. 

Necessity is not indulgence.

Nourish body and soul.

Work out, more.

Eat well, more.

Be kind to yourself, more.

You cannot give of yourself if your self is empty.

You gave gifts as well, January;

You brought new connections and connected us to old.

Recognition isn’t always easy, but you spoke of worth and of value.

Of acceptance and of gratitude.

And you gave us lesson three: let those we care for know that we do.

Slowly, you let light return.

And just then, in your final hours, you reminded us that everything will come to pass. 

You wiped the slate and covered our world in silent white.

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Perception

68F1530A-AE45-450F-B383-1B4D45E425E8Sunday gratitude.

When Anaïs Nin, to whom the adage “We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are” is widely attributed, wrote it, she did not take credit for it, but referred to its Talmudic roots, originating from the 3rd Century Rabbi Shemuel ben Nachmani’s words “A man is shown in a dream only what is suggested by his own thoughts…”

It came to mind yesterday, wandering through an exhibition at the Barbican Centre (Modern Couples Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde) and wondering, as any observer of human interaction might, about the dynamics between the artists/couples and the expression of beauty as translated in the eye of the lover. 

Snapshots in time capturing tenderness in photographs, the sensuousness of texture in sculpture, harmony in design collaborations and glimpses of feelings in writings; In an age where love was not hurried, and correspondence allowed an emoji-free flow between lovers.

It made me think about how we evaluate and value others; friends, companions, lovers. 

So often we apply and impose our own interpretation on the expectations of others and in that altered reality see them not as they are, but very much constricting the dream of the possible to being the product of our own thought.

This morning I took a few moments to try and see things ‘as they are’ in the quiet space of Manchester Square Garden. 

I stepped away from the streets – bustling with market-goers – and into the gentle green of the garden.

There are glimpses of spring everywhere; buds on branches, clumps of still-furled daffodils encircling a beautiful old tree, some voluptuously generous blossoms and blooms on camellia bushes. 

Oblivious to all around them and drawing only on the generosity of the soil and abundance of light to sustain them.

The certainty of nature’s renewal gave me a moment to appreciate the sense of acceptance of things as they are regardless of how l [am]…  

On my walk home it became today’s gratitude.

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Every day you play with the light of the universe

‘Every day you play with the light of the universe.’

I first came across this line two years ago on what was a wonderful trip to Pablo Neruda’s home country of Chile, now a temporary home to dear friends, who shared it, and their love with me.

It stayed with me.

Neruda may have written this as the first line to a love poem – a poem that is beautifully expressed, ripe with analogy and charged with emotion – but to me it resonates and reiterates that though the darkest hour is just before the break of dawn, every day is a new day. 

Sometimes this newness is unfamiliar, uncomfortable and unwanted, as we stumble out of slumber and into the reality of routine, chasing dreams away under running water and bittersweet coffee as the first flavour of morning.

Sometimes this newness carries a whisper of joy and reminds us of the choice we hold to play with the light. 

The choice we make to be part of the light. 

The choice to recognise that every day doesn’t have to be weighed down by the monotony of the everyday.

Beautiful in its transitory fragility and full of promise.

Full of the possibility of the 

special.

Every day is a gift. 

A gift within our grasp, within our hearts.

Go. 

Play. 

Every day. 

With the light of the universe.

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