Forty Years of Finger Food

She started out with lovely hands, just like those of her sisters and friends. Then fear came knocking; and cheerful certainties were replaced with doubt. Her heart wavered, and the pulling started. The assaults crept up, vicious and swiping, creating bloody pain. Though her skin crept bravely back again and again, and relentlessly hopeful sinews showed her a better way, fearfully she attacked, each time swearing it was finished and each time returning to stare balefully at the scene of devastation. Her sister wept unseen, for such frantic sorrow and ugliness.

She learned to sit with her hands folded in, the thumbs covered, to hide ridges of crenelated repulsion, spirals witnessing to her despair. And always, hope reached and grew out again, as her father whispered rebukes or blustered about the state of her.

“What you are seeking is stillness,” said a new friend, who knew: Self-expression allowing smiles to remain open; courage to sing a few wrong notes and stay serene; not swoop to self-hatred for her frailties, but, to do as another reminded her gently,

May you love yourself completely, and with great kindness, just as you are now, no matter what happens… offering a meditation which is intended to be repeated, until it is believed. Such generous permissions as these, over time extended hope like a new hand, setting her free and renewed, to explore the reality of forgiveness and fresh release. Thus, true silence began and held, gently and then firmly.

Wisdom, so clear and obvious, finally showed her how to be still, how to wait patiently, and with hope. While waiting, her skin knitted quietly and her hands grew peaceful.

Old Photographs

Cindy had a box of photographs which she kept in a shoe box, in the bottom drawer of her bedroom chest. There was stuff in there from 1967, old grainy black and whites with sepia faces grinning; her unsure mother standing protectively at the edge of groupings, herself looking absurdly young, trying to smile while dandling infant on hip and reprimand overactive eldest child: now she noticed adult uncertainty in clinging hands. Back then, Mum was amazing, and these photos had confirmed it, every time. Good looking, chic, just so talented.

Every year, whenever Cindy got the urge, she would rifle through her collection and discard a few more. There were plenty, but the charm of spindly, out-of-focus gazelles had waned with the passage of her own years into middle age. It was all such a long time ago, and now that Cindy knew more about her parents, real people with thorny dilemmas and deep unhappiness, did she enjoy recalling her memories of the past? Not so much. The truth, she had divined over many years of reading between the lines, was that adulthood, for two young people who had no chances to live together, experiment or decide to change their minds, was fraught with misunderstandings and misdirected zeal. The truth was like sand in our shoes, like midge bites and misapplied makeup. And that truth had been hidden, carefully sanitised and allowed to drop out of sight.

Old photos made Cindy sad. In any case, the black-and-white nostalgia of the past felt so misapplied, it didn’t fit any more. There was no reason to dwell in that sepia-toned unreality, when the present was so full of joy. There was every reason to feel energised, now that her days had opened out to reveal new colours and bright energy. She understood it was healthy to let the past go, and with it, the sad memories that lay buried behind the straight smiles.

Sounding Plausible

It was in her training, the way she had been thought to consider and reason. It was in the daily round of telephone calls and interviews, people asking questions and expecting her to know the answers. It was in her genetics, and in the diplomatic pedantry that her father taught her.

“Father, why are you wearing green wellington boots?” “Well, now, lieveke, that depends on whether you would like to hear the practical reason, the medical reason, the environmental reason, the aesthetic, the pragmatic or the spiritual reason…”

“Just why?”

“Well, you see, my other shoes, the only ones I brought with me are not practical for wandering around garden centres…these boots are also more comfortable, since my toes are aching, and they are waterproof, which is useful on a day like today. I do not want to spoil the leather on my shoes. Also, since I forgot to bring my polishing set, and we are going to Tante Mieke’s funeral, I shall need to keep my shoes clean.” He smiled archly, enjoying the verbal game.

So, it was her habit, when making polite conversation, to attempt answers to most questions. When a guest at her sister’s “House cooling” party asked, “Why is the Earth round?” she answered easily, “Because round is the optimal shape. Leave a bunch of elements suspended in air, and they will naturally pull together in a round shape.”

He nodded agreeably, and then, fixing her with a stare, challenged, “Is that true?” to which the only honest reply was, “I’ve no idea, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?” so that he gave a grudging nod. She was not dishonest, since she would readily admit she was simply playing with ideas; but, ever and always in her professional career, she had made a living out of sounding plausible.

 

 

Beauty at the Beach

“Oh, how lovely!” she sighed, breathing deeply, letting the smells of salt and seaweed soothe her lungs. She stretched out her arms, pale after the winter, and lifted them high as, into the sky she cast her gaze, grateful for the white clouds that scudded overhead. The seagulls screamed as their wings clipped the ocean spray and far over there, interrupting the smudged brown horizon, sandstone hills and cliffs housed nesting colonies of razorbills, gannets, cormorants, puffins, and predatory, snatching, arctic skuas.

From force of habit, she examined the curve of the waves as they came in to crash at the shore, as sinuous as living snakes, as determined as the pulse of a heart. Beneath her feet, where her shoes squelched in the hard, rough sand, the water puddled, forced by her weight to pool in her footprints. And everywhere, beneath the crowded cacophony of birds, waves and wind, there were the musical high-notes of draining sand, pulsing sound from each minute shell and holed-out fragment of rock.

Pulling in her gaze, as she always did after a while gazing, Lizzie bent to examine the shoreline for interesting shells, for shards of colour, for flat spirals of splintering white, or round curled coronets. Here and there her eyes picked out a deeper blue, a flash of bright purple or a slick of purest orange, and automatically, her hand would reach, collect and cradle each find. Soon, she had a collection of about ten specimens, all different shades of pink, yellow, red, brown, orange or blue and purple. Each, she caressed and examined minutely, turning them over in her fingers, brushing out the sand, promising to love and savour them carefully.

Many times, this is what she had done, and she knew, her promises were lies. None of the colour would hold, unless it was trapped in a water-filled glass jar and left to sit on a window sill, ever so slightly in the way, the screwed-down top gathering surface scum. None of that brightness would transport to the ledge in the bathroom, where dust motes would dance, but the collected water would be still. So Lizzie blessed them and let them loose. She threw them high in the air, and watched as each beautiful mote sank beneath the waves.

Soul Food

Deep gold narcissi trumpets

Rhubarb crumble and custard

Soft brown sugar in sharp black coffee

Soft beds and fragrant pillows;

Floating breezes of spring, with bright, sharp colouring

Laughter of pure delight

White clouds in blotted blue soaring;

Blackbird alarms sharp at dusk as cats prowl the gloaming;

That sharp line of pink sunset that sears to the core and leaves

Orange notes, floating on a trumpet of variegated white.

Trimmings of blossomy, lavish yellow

Mellow generosity in wind-blown light.

Praying

When we go into Church and pray, sometimes we seem to make lists. Let us pray for the poor of this parish, let us pray for the Prime Minister, and for ourselves, Lord. We do pray, constantly, for good results, for ease, for great ideas, for hope, love and peace.

While I pray, of course I am hoping to help secure a brighter outcome. So why is it that often I end up feeling a bit heavier than I would like: I’ll pray for you, and you, and him and her and this and that and the next thing…? Lists of prayers can end up resembling a litany of the needy and desperate, which can have the unintended consequence that as we pray, increasingly we focus on hardship, sorrow and suffering. Prayers of intercession can leave us feeling not consoled, moved or enlightened, but miserable, weighed down and more depressed than ever. Do we have to name each desire individually, like a Santa list at Christmas, or worse, like the list of a calculating Scrooge?

Why do we name our particular sufferings, as if that will entitle them to special attention from Heaven? Surely, all suffering is as valid a candidate for soothing as any other? If God is omnipotent and all seeing, maybe we can short circuit the litany of sorrows and simply pray for the whole world. Maybe God can accept a prayer for the whole world, because it offers hopeful thoughts for all those worthy causes that we have not been able to bring to mind or name.

I pray all the time, in all places and for all circumstances. But I am reluctant to believe that we have to name our sorrows separately, or that it helps us to believe we can or should name them apart from each other. Like a less than cheerful missive from an environmental charity, does listing our problems make them better? When I would like to be helpful, it is a great relief to recall that I can cut out the salacious middle man who likes us to submit our lists, and accept that all prayers are heard. We can simply pray for the whole world.

I Had No Idea

Reactions to my book, “Trapped: My Life With Cerebral Palsy” have been overwhelmingly supportive and loving, with thoughtful and generous crits and reviews being posted on Amazon UK, Amazon.com (USA), Goodreads, Facebook and other websites. I am very touched and pleased that my story has already reached so many readers.

Interestingly, a great many people whom I would count as good friends, react surprised, saying, “I had no idea”. They are really astonished that so much can have happened of which they have been unaware, though of course, being introverted, depressed and solitary for so many years, it is unsurprising that, until now, only little fragments of my life and times, my thoughts, have surfaced to reach the light of day.

I counted it an important necessity to maintain peaceful dignity, but often that is a way of staying away from the helping arms that others willingly extend towards us. We do need to show our weaknesses, our frailty, and allow others to understand. I’m sorry that, for so long, I have been unable to share intimacies, or to trust that the reactions of friends and family would be supportive. I regret the missed opportunities to share more fully, because, at the very least, sharing would have helped me to notice that we all have stuff to deal with, we all struggle and suffer together in this melting pot called “Life”. Seeing that more clearly before now, would have given me the courage to make more mistakes, be more outspoken, to take more (small) risks so that I might move more freely and help others more often.

Today is a new day. And these resolutions build up slowly, gently forcing my hand. Thank God for the kindness of friends and strangers, and for the love that you have shown me. Thank you.