7 am. Monday. South-east England.
From the window of an inbound aeroplane, they look like moving
lines changing texture every second. Demarcating hedges, rail tracks, rivers
and roads run around in graceful undulating curves. These lines pass between patches
of all forty shades of green. And some dry brown ones and watery blue ones. A
silver set of solar panels glitters like a massive diamond. Imperfect squares
and rectangles are juxtaposed like patches on an applique quilt. Thickets in
rough triangular shapes fit neatly into corners. Multitudes to houses sit
snugly like school kids in tidy rows. Each house, home to multitudes of
The City is poised at the start line. London, in a state of
fresh awareness. The sun is shining. Commuters are rumbling, making their way
to the nearest train station, bus-stop, car or bike. Multi-coloured bicycles
and black motorcyclists wriggle about in clusters. The air is cool. The smoke is
gathering. It hasn’t formed a blanket yet. A hum in the background holds at a
fixed, non-descript pitch. Jarring sirens of police and ambulances intercept at
regular intervals. The stirrings of people, shaking the City. Millions of
people in organised chaos, moving over and under the ground.
I draw the curtains aside, to a dream morning for a bike ride. Gentle breeze and soft sun. I glug the smoothie I prepared last night. Pull on my cycling gear. My body wanting to jump on to the bike this second. Put my stuff into the pannier bag that I should have bought ages ago. Remember to wear my helmet before the gloves. Remember to lock the house. Switch on the lights on the bike. Put on my yellow high-vis jacket. Say a silent prayer. And take off. Gear up. 1-1. 1-2. 1-3. 2-3. 2-6. 3-3 … The down-slope after the first right turn brings the morning air face to face with me and I am flying. Levitating. Floating blissfully to work. Lost in the rhythm of my breath going in and out. Feeling my legs going round and round in meditative circles. All my senses awakened. In this second, I am free. And so lucky to be alive!
Stones and bones;
Snow and frost;
Seeds and beans and polliwogs,
Paths and twigs, assorted kisses,
We all know who Mamma misses.
The helplessness of being alive,
the dark bright pity of being human,
groping in corners and
opening your arms to light.
All of it part of navigating
They would not know
When I was gone,
Just as they could not know sometimes
How heavily I had hovered in a particular room.
I became manifest in whatever way they wanted me to.
There had been a woman haunted.
All of it, the story of my life and death,
Was hers if she chose to tell it,
Even to one person at a time.
I would like to tell you that
It is beautiful here.
That I am and you will one day be,
But this heaven is not about safety,
Just as in its graciousness, it isn’t
About gritty reality.
We have fun.
The dead truly talk to us,
That in the air between the living
Spirits bob and weave and
Laugh with us.
They are the oxygen we breathe.
So there are cakes and pillows and colors galore.
Underneath this obvious patchwork quilt
Are places like a quite room
Where you can go
and hold someone’s hand and
Not have to say anything.
Give no story
Make no claim.
Where you can live at the edge of your skin
For as long as you wish.
This wide wide heaven
Is about the soft down of new leaves,
Wild roller coaster rides and escaped marbles
That fall and then hang
Then take you somewhere you could never have imagined
In your small-heaven dreams.
-Inspired by The Lovely Bones. Author, Alice Sebold.
-Dedicated to all those innocent people who died traumatically in London yesterday and to their loved ones.
Homeless people are amongst the most vulnerable in our society. The average age of death of a homeless person is 47 years for men and just 43 for women, as compared to 77 for the general female population.
Drugs and alcohol abuse account for just over a third of all deaths. Homeless people are over 9 times more likely to die by suicide than the general population. Other common causes of death are traffic accidents, infections,falls and violence against them.
Walking around London it is clear that despite significant investment in the NHS and improvements in homelessness services they are not getting the help they need to address their health issues.
Walking around Trafalgar Square, one can’t miss the majestic Georgian church, St Martin-in-the-fields . It is a hospitable, vibrant, open and inclusive, forward thinking community with worship at its heart. The Revd. Dr Sam Wells is full of grace and wisdom. He always speaks to my heart. I look forward to hearing him at the special service being held there on Saturday, the 4th of March for families bereaved by suicide.
This poem by Sir Andrew Motion is a part of an Arts project run by the Church and is inscribed on the balustrade encircling the lightwell in the open space near the church:
Your stepping inwards from the air to earth
Winds round itself to meet the open sky
So vanishing becomes a second birth.
Fare well. Return. Fare well. Return again.
Here home and elsewhere share one mystery.
Here love and conscience sing the same refrain.
Here time leaps up. And strikes eternity.
Crisis research from 2011:
Sir Andrew Motion:
Simba Muzira, son of Sara Muzira.
Exhibition of Art, Long Gallery, Maudsley Hospital. London.
Simba Muzira. Doing it again.
Spray paint. Street art. Bold statements. Clear expressions. Innocent eyes. Pure soul.
Courage. Suffering. Passion.
Pigeons telling him not to wear his shoes. Pigeons everywhere! No words!
A mother’s tribute to her talented son who died at 32 after living with mental illness for a few years, in and out of the hospital. Her accounts of doing things in his best interest which turned out otherwise. Her heartbreak at having to live away from him when he was too ill to be at home. Her sense of an utter waste of a young life full of promise. Her guilt. Again and again. Her love. Immeasurable.
I salute you. Sara and Simba Muzira.
Zombified, after 10 hours of intense work, I walk to the station. Someone stops me and tells me something about a special offer of a makeover, a photo shoot or something like that for any day within the next 6 months. I can’t fully comprehend it. It’s not the kind of thing I would normally sign up for but I am too tired to think and it sounds like fun.
A few days later I mention it to Si. He’s not at all sure about it. He wants to know more. I can’t give him any more details as I actually don’t know exactly what I have signed up to and partially paid for. We mark the date in our diaries, he much more reluctantly than me. Then a business trip comes up and it has to be postponed. The same thing happens again. Then I loose the vouchers. They say, that’s enough. It’s off. Thank God! A few days later, a call to say they have thought about it and they would like us to come for it anyway.
Today’s the day. Si and I find ourselves frantically sorting through clothes and shoes while gobbling down tea and toast this morning. We load up the car and rush into town only to find major road closures to make space for a Charity 10K run. A long diversion later we get there 40 minutes late but to our dismay they can slot us in an hour later. That hour is well spent in a cozy café nearby having jasmine tea and Halloumi salad, recovering from the long, slow drive through the narrow streets of London.
Warm welcome. Comfy furniture. Brightly lit. Spacious. Chilled out. Chatty, friendly people. Creative calm space. A few changes of clothes. A lot of laughs. Sharing travel stories. Smiles. Hugs. Cups of tea. Reflectors. Flashes. The shh-shh of the shutter. Strangely decorated rooms. Fancy backdrops. Luxurious sofas. Complements. Fun. Si loved it. Phew!
Trying out something new together. Highly recommended.
The hospital where we went when he was ill is just down the road from where we live. It is 18 minutes by bus, 10 minutes but car on a quiet day. The Emergency department is on the left. The Mental hospital is on the right. There is a visitor’s car park in front of the Mental hospital. That is where we parked the car. That is where we waited for a couple of hours to be seen by a psychiatrist. That is where I had to make my own way that day because Saagar refused to have me in the car with him and his father. That is where he should have been when he was severely ill a few weeks later. That is where he could have been saved.
That is where I went this afternoon to watch a play called ‘Hearing Things’, a play co-produced by patients and professionals, based on insights derived from 6 weeks of workshops involving actors and people with a mental illness, offering both an opportunity for expression, transformation and co-creation. Through a cast of 3, we met people of different races and age groups. It was about challenging assumptions. It was about the empathy and personalities of patients. It was about ‘the system’ and the dynamics within it, mental well being of health care providers and role-reversal. It was about giving people a chance.
“I am off now to be mad and I don’t have to be sectioned for it”, remarked one of the participants as drama gave him the freedom to be who he is, without fear of judgment. It was about the possibility of being ‘re-assembled’. It was powerful and moving. It did not mince words. I spoke loud and clear. It was accessible, funny, clever and heart-breaking.
One young person describes his experience of drama:
“…after you do the drama you get this feeling…it feels as if whatever was bothering you went away and you feel light and can do whatever you want around you, it makes the day simpler and you can concentrate on your activities, it makes you feel better, like at the end of the day when you come home from work tired and you want to put your feet up, you don’t feel guilty relaxing as you have done a hard days work. I wanted to understand the person and put myself in their shoes. At the end of it I felt good. 150% happy!”
It was about creating a new paradigm of relating to people suffering with mental illness. It was all heart.
Left the massive, fire-walled monster of a building, feeling as tired as a rag. Stood on the covered walkway looking at vertical lines of water heavily following gravity, falling like a velvet curtain, making the darkness darker. Couldn’t gather enough courage to step into it. No rush. No one waiting at home. Cold hands in pockets, frozen tips of noses and ear-lobes. Cool, moisture-laden air flooding the balloon-bags in the chest and leaving with a tiny bit of fatigue. Even though the jungle is concrete, it offers some respite.
While I stand at the edge of this temperate downpour, tiny deflected reflected droplets find my face and keep me awake. The noisy business of clanking rain adds to the drama.
Over the next few minutes the drops become grainy. Splat! They shatter on flat surfaces of windscreens and pavements, leaving a little residue, a trace of things to come.
The noise suddenly vanishes, as if the conductor of an orchestra has indicated a pause. The air changes form. Little white flakes completely defy gravity and dance gracefully in all directions, seemingly weightless. The darkness lifts into soundless brilliance. Streetlights exaggerate these elegant movements. I bounce onto the road and walk under this light white flurry. My feet land on softness. The whiteness starts to make little homes on hedges, fences and chimneys. I am transported into a world of lightness and joy.
For a few moments, all is right with the world.