When you turn around and find yourself lost Somehow wandered too far outward or too far inward to places dark and tangled having roamed so far out or been stuck, curled up, frightened in one of the many corners of the world. When things have turned sour and you find yourself in toxic space and all this is somehow seeping into you suffocating you and then someone who you know a lot, or may be just a little opens a window and this allows air and light in reaching and filling all the spaces you thought were lost for good calling you back to yourself telling you terrible jokes so you remember these eyes can roll as well as cry and this belly which felt like it had been scooped out could also be overcome with laughter, so much that it aches. And you hear the scrape of chairs upon the floor as one is pulled out for you, at the long table where you find yourself in the good company of gathered lost souls who were found again somehow. And within you remember too that your heart is still there, not because it aches, but this time, because you were called back.
Chances are, if you are an adult, then you are many things now that you did not have to be as a kid.
Perhaps you got to be whatever you dreamed about becoming when you were growing up. The pilot, the farmer, the nurse, the hairdresser, the explorer, the writer, the teacher, the inventor.
Perhaps too you have found joy in sisterhood, being an adult son or daughter, as a parent yourself.
Perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to find something in life that you are good at, that brings you joy and this too has gifted you with a circle of friends and achievements.
There are times though, just like when you were a kid, when no one cares much about these things. Don’t get me wrong – they care about you. They love you – the way an infant is loved just by being in the world. The way a 4 year old in a twirly dress is already a dancer. The way a 6 year old with a set of paints over the table (and floor), is already an artist, and the kid with scrawled notes of ideas is a writer. The way a 12 year old daydreamer, experimenter, risk-taker is already a scientist. The way a stick of rock from the beach can be wrapped in shiny paper and made into hundreds of brightly coloured patterns, screaming ‘pick me’, ‘love me’, ‘choose me’ but what really matters is where you are when you eat this rock, and who is next to you on the sand as you taste it. What really counts is when things break, seeing what is written at the centre? What is in the very core of us when all the outer layers are stripped back?
This is one of the reasons why I especially love old friends. The ones who loved me before. Before exam results, before courses and training, before first jobs and tenth jobs. Before career changes and promotions, before redundancies and retirement. Before moving from jobs we love for the sake of our kids, or to take care of elderly relatives. Before the responsibilities and professional facades. Before our interests and passions became gloatable. Because as kids we did them anyway whether someone was watching or not, without having to track it and post it in order to validate ourselves.
When we just did it. Who we are when we are not…
Who are we when we can no longer…
In Mo Willams series of Elephant and Piggie books there is a scene where one asks the other
‘what is pretending?’
‘pretending is when you go out and act like something you are not’
‘wow, and you can just do that? you can just go out and act like something you are not?’
‘sure. everyone pretends.’
‘even grown up people?’
‘all the time’.
At the hospital bed I often ask what is most important to a person. The dialogue almost never gets round to thier career. They almost never tell me. It’s almost never what’s most important. Often times, it has gone now anyway. Who they are, as is, with fewer abilities than ever. Who are they now? What is left which is of utmost value? What remains is who they truly are.
It has been said ‘I am’ is a complete sentence.
There is not much truer than this.
I recall a way back when my son had heard about a certain US President and he asked ‘what’s so bad about him?’ I explained, ‘well you know those values you’ve been learning about in school like kindness, respect, care for the earth, honesty?’ ‘Yes’ he says. ‘Well he doesn’t have any of those’ I replied. Because you can see values like this, they are self evident and pervade everywhere and are not choosy about where they are distributed. They are not achieved through study or exams or by being particularly clever or gifted or rich. You cannot create a portfolio as such because they are only evidenced in lives touched by them. And this can only be done day by day. There is no five year plan for kindness. You can only be kind now, or not. In which case we may have to call upon that other more elusive value of forgiveness, for one another, and for ourselves. This will get us through. Values are our make-up of being, the way of living. Whatever is left when it is only living we can do. What was there right at the start, all that innate, innocent goodness. What will be left at the end.
In the end.
Where our treasure is.
Right at our core.
Where our heart is.
They gave me a nod bundles of flailing bright catching me off guard from my head clouded from hours of kissing sorrows cheek someone planted these bundles of light on the verge unaware of their distant cousins on hillsides of white clean air these ones are witness to the trundling lorries commuters, travellers ministers to the heavy hearts that drive by comfort comes in the absolute certainty that these heads of joy will be here again year on year springing up to kiss our cheeks
One year ago I called on my courage and put out a blog post for the first time. In days since I’ve noted little phrases or moments of curiosity in amongst mundane day to day living. All the while these curiosities and intrigues simmer and percolate within me, until at some unplanned hour the words form themselves, tumbling and emerging in patterns and rhythms. Poet Wendell Berry writes in one of his works ‘make a poem that does not disturb the silence from which it came’. This is quite the benchmark to live and write by. At times I wish I could dedicate more time to nurturing words as they form. But mostly, as I look back with all things considered, I’m glad I got to write at all, no matter if the words came out imperfect. This seems appropriate really, because this year came out imperfect as well. Life does that. Life comes out imperfect too.
these words come out imperfect this life does too i edit what i can what is left will have to do i wish i could repeat things go over, start anew but these words come out imperfect this life does too i imagine the finished product all glossy and ready to review but these words come out imperfect this life does too these words are muddled and mispronounced i sometimes miss a few these words come out imperfect this life does too this life is more than highlights a life ordinary, but true these words come out imperfect this life does too
Valentines day 2021
a 6 year old sits at his small wooden table
plucks out a felt tip pen
What does his hand choose to draw this day?
He scribbles what his heart tells him to,
what love would be.
Love would be a 2 metre climbing frame,
a 2 metre climbing frame
so he can play at a safe distance
at the park
with his friends.
What matters is not the distance
but the park
and his friends
and thier playful hearts.
Its been a long year for us all,
its been a longer year for our small ones,
one sixth of his whole life in fact.
That's too much time,
not enough climbing frames.
Too much, 'stay still, quiet now, calm down, keep away'
and not enough, 'go, run, shout, be free, play'
The year that did its best to steal the play away,
except it is kids we are dealing with,
and they will find a way.
It is time to re-wild the hearts of our small ones,
the tiny hearts which have broken,
and it has gone unspoken.
They have not the words to frame their loss
rather a deep sense that all has not been right with the world.
It has become clear to them that
their parents are great at being parents,
but they are really not great
substitutes for their half-pint-sized friends.
Turns out adults are not as funny as they like to think
Kids know this now.
Kids seek one another.
they have been hiding for too long.
They are coming...ready or not.
It is time to bring back the sticky, sweaty hands
poking out from miniature high viz jackets.
The walking bus of endless meaningless chatter,
that means so much in the end.
Time to bring back tag playing, secret keeping, joke telling nonsense,
which is all that is needed to make sense of the world.
It is time to dangle upside down on the swing,
fall off the slide,
and get grazed knees,
reclaim the playground,
re-wild our young ones,
to be free.
Back along I lived among the fields. In that first lockdown when we all of a sudden felt obliged to take a walk a day whether we wanted to or not. Those days were spring days. But also troubled days and so I found myself taking something to the fields. I came to internally name these as a ‘one field problem’, ‘two field problem’, ‘three field problem’. How many fields it took to absorb some of my pain. The gritty earth, the trampled grass, the ignorant flowers that bore the weight of my soul for me.
Somehow the left and right repetition of it, the deep breath cleansing of it, the physical sun on my face, wind in my hair, mud on my shoes, heart pumping rigour of it, shifted things around. The problems not solved exactly, my mind often raced around and around. But it raced slower than normal because it also had to navigate the stile and my ears could not help but hear what the birds had to say about things, singing as they do doggedly at the start and close of every day.
Just now I live a bit farther from a field and it is winter. The dull winter time too when we have endured January but there are weeks to go before spring will start to sing. And I awake with my problems, a new set has been added in, rendering my soul void but my head spinning. I am tired to the bone and am inclined to remain in the warmth of my bed which has held my exhaustion, is familiar with my tears. But my pillow has absorbed so many anxious thoughts at 3am it is saturated and will not comfort me.
And my kids are up, one twirling round singing with lightness and daftness, the other delivering me their poem, a gift to me in my sadness. He has called it ‘Snow’.
Out the window snow covers the ground completely. I notice also that the sun has found her way in the sky today.
I remember the three fields.
I pull on boots, leave my phone at home and head out. I walk and walk and keep on walking to that ever moving horizon until things in me start to shift, until the racing slows, until I stop a moment and see. See the winter that slows all the seasons, see the snow that covers all that grows, the trees that stand still and patient, wrapped under layers of white cold.
I find my soul in this cold climate.
Turns out my son knew this already. For his 8-year-old, misspelt, scrawled, folded up, poem to me this morning reads;
The nice place is home, The warmth of the bed. The wonderful snow. The snow is white and calm, kind and beautiful. Take care, because the snow will guide you, to where you belong, your heart. LFR 2021
I hold in my heart the women I have known, my dear friends, my colleagues I’ve worked with, those I’ve learnt alongside. I call to mind my mentors who’ve listened and walked along side me. I remember the women I’ve read who’ve spoken exactly what needs to be said. I think of my female idols in culture past and present. I look at all of this in my minds eye and all I can see are curves, beautiful, necessary curves, like the Angel of the North, contoured and absolutely resolute. Like the curved forms created by Gaudi (my token male here) to draw with lines soft and still have them stand strong.
A song then, to the women I have known…
To the women who were objected to
because they were too soft,
and cared too much.
To the same women who were told
they were too fierce
and too strong.
Soft and strong in all the wrong places,
like some grotesque part lion, part lamb,
so they could not decide which kind of cage would suit you best,
even though they could not bear to look at you in any case,
even if they would not see you.
To the women who have refused
to nip and tuck who they are,
who have ceased trying and rightly failing
to contort themselves into very specific shapes.
To the women who have kept their whole selves,
not left pieces behind in their wake,
but gathered up instead, insults and all.
To the women who have put two fingers up
to the many things they could change so slightly,
told these voices to jog on.
Refused to succumb to something so unlike them,
Refused to change the orientation of their heart,
Refused to re-train their mind to think in ways more conventional.
Refused to cover up their face and body to be deemed more acceptable.
Refused to pretend,
and so find themselves always at home.
Always with a bottom line to stand on.
A fidelity to a way of being.
The way of soft and strong.
The year came in like a rolling tide, in pounding waves that would not subside. So much so we could not fight it or hold it back. All we could actually do in the end was to take the surest and firmest position and stand resolutely in the sinking sand beneath our feet, letting the waves pummel us over and over. Sometimes being swept under by a waves’ full force, tumbling, holding our breath until we resurfaced again, finding air and re-taking our stand.
The dawning realisation there is no boat coming to take us to a distant shore. Beyond the shore is not where we live out our lives. Our times are here in the frothing, crashing tumult of it all.
But we are not alone, we are battered for sure, but not alone. Looking down the shoreline we notice distant dots, also swaying, also bending, also enduring, but still standing. As fierce as the waves which roll in behind them.
The losses came thick and fast, death by a thousand tiny cuts. Or if by not this, then by the relentless sorrow manifest in the lives of our friends. Life-changing accidents. Sudden death leaving families reeling in its wake. IVF again. Cancer again. Addiction again. The odds stacking up against us seared as we are by separation Losses, almost such that they defined us completely. Save, in the end they did not They could not. For silently, out of a banished corner crawls kindness, on her knees inching forward into the light and in her shadow, holding tightly onto her hand for safety emerges a tiny but fierce creature we recognise as Hope.
This Christmas time it may be, that this simple thing, may be someone else’s, missing, everything. The early morning The torn wrapping The late lunch Grandma’s hunch The warm home One another Food to share Walks together For some None is there No gifts of care Food alone A silent home So let the potatoes burn and gravy be lumpy Let eyes roll but hearts be happy Those divine hands that forged the earth are now Tiny fingers round a thumb This simple thing that was to become the earths, missing, everything. Let our eyes see, ears hear, hearts be open To the tiny moment, a gift from heaven For our simple thing, may be someone else’s, missing, everything.
by Kate Fox Robinson
I am not a fan of the penultimate. It is my least favourite time, the moment when you are about to cross a threshold but haven’t done so yet. The feeling of being about to step onto a rickety bridge between two cliffs, trying not to look down. Occupying the space between solid ground, except you are not so sure about the ground you are making your way towards, because nothing over there is part of your familiar yet.
It is so annoying that thresholds matter, because it means we come upon them over and over. It would be much more comfortable if one stage of life simply blended seamlessly into another, like a long meandering transition.
Instead thresholds feel more staccato, stuffed as there are with endings and beginnings, lines drawn in the sand. Frontiers that only emerge as you begin to approach them. The realisation that the miracle is found, not in the hoped for distance, but by the side of the road as you bend over with the exhaustion of being unknown and not yet loved.
The miracle is there with you stooped over taking in gulps of air, and is there with you lifting your head so your eyes fall upon the lit bush. And in that lit bush you notice yourself as if for the first time, catching up with who you have become since the last time you stood at a threshold. Somehow in that tender moment you remember all the thresholds you have passed through to bring you to this one. You are reminded how, in the end, everything returns, and you read the words by poet David Whyte in his book Pilgrim, and he says exactly what your soul longs to say;
‘to have risked yourself for something that seemed to stand both inside you and far beyond you, that called you back to the only road in the end you could follow…in your rags of love…a prayer for safe arrival…what you wanted had already happened long ago and in the dwelling place you lived before you began and every step had carried the heart and mind and promise that first set you off and drew you on...that you were more marvellous in your simple wish to find a way, than the gilded roofs of any destination you could reach’.
Wow! – ‘you are more marvellous in your simple wish to find a way, than the gilded roofs of any destination you could reach’
May you, marvellous one, find a way, across the threshold that you face, with the assurance of the hand that has always been at your back, where you will find yourself again known, again understood, again loved.