Lawleys and Hendersons – 2 ordinary families till 1968.
Both lost their 9 year old boys around the same time, in the same hospital, under the care of the same parish. One young lad lost to cancer and the other to head injuries from a road traffic accident. The families were strangers once but got to know each other during their time at the hospital. One sent a bunch of flowers to the other and invited them for a cup of tea. They understood and comforted each other in ways no one else could. They shared the same scar. They both knew how it felt, what it meant. Together they started reaching out to more and more bereaved families and over the following years, their compassion enveloped the globe. They became ‘The Compassionate friends”.
They had a gift. They shared it and enabled others to do the same. A priceless gift that I now have. I used that gift this weekend and felt its power and grace. Never thought I would ever say this but I am blessed. Every broken bit of me.
‘The Gift’ by Joe Lawley.
I have a gift.
I did not want this gift, it meant suffering and pain.
The pain came because of love.
A love which had manifested itself in a child.
The child brought its love to me and asked for my love.
Sometimes I did not understand this.
Sometimes I did not appreciate it.
Sometimes I was too busy to listen quietly to this love.
But the love persisted; it was always there.
One day the child died.
But the love remained.
This time the love came in other forms.
This time there were memories; there was sadness and anguish.
And unbeleivable pain.
One day a stranger came and stood with me.
The stranger listened and occasionally spoke.
The stranger said “I understand”, and did.
You see the stranger had also been this way.
We talked and cried together.
The stranger touched me to comfort.
The stranger became my friend as no other had.
My friend said “I am always here”, and was.
One day I lifted my head.
I noticed another grieving, grey and drawn with pain.
I approached and spoke.
I touched and comforted.
I said, “I will walk with you”, and did.
A long time ago, on a Sunday morning at a village fete I saw a beautiful black-clay handmade earthenware pot. I wanted it. He said that we shouldn’t as it might break. We brought it home. A long time ago, it decorated our home for a long time.
He said if something is breakable, there is a real chance it will break, no matter how much we feel it ‘should’ not. Each time we looked at it our hearts warmed like the insides of fur mittens. He said nature had its own laws of demolition. That was a long time ago.
Another day, we brought another sweet fragile thing home. It was delicate as a little bird. It claimed all our love, our time and our sleep. It cooed and cackled and played silly games. It decorated our home for a long time. Each time we looked at it our eyes sparkled like north stars and our hearts overflowed like rivers breaking banks. He said the cement of our love would keep us all intact and together. Forever.
We forgot that this thing was breakable. And we were breakable too. He said even if we moved across continents and oceans everything would be alright. He said even if we had nothing we would be okay. He said nothing would break. That was a long time ago.
Now the black-clay handmade earthenware pot from a long time ago sits in the centre of our living room, on a glass top coffee table, looking pretty. It’s breakable.
They said they’d been having bizarre weather all through last year. The evidence was all around. Fog and mist in the middle of June. Temperatures dipping to low teens – in central Portugal?
Last June was completely different – temperatures of 38 degrees, winds of 80-90 kms/hr and entire hillsides covered in orange and yellow flames, fast expanding in all directions. And again in August and October 2017- covering a total of at least 560,000 hectares, holding at least 2000 people hostage, leaving homes and cars charred, livelihoods ruined, claiming at least 100 lives and leaving many others burnt and traumatised. Leaving villages in deathly silence for months.For a country that makes up just 2 percent of the continent’s landmass, it made up 60 percent of its wildfires. I vaguely remember it being mentioned on BBC.
No one notices a forest until it starts to burn. Thereafter no one can control it. Climate change, Eucalyptus trees grown for commercial use, arsonists, poor management of forests, poor warning systems and a huge exodus of the country’s youth – all added up.
We were in a sweet little village called Tabua on River Alva. The roads were fantastic and traffic the lightest I’ve seen in a very long time. The hillsides were magnificent but covered in black stumps. It must have been a frightening sight when alight. Many locals couldn’t bring themselves to talk about it.
Come spring and tender fresh greenness has started to appear on grey-black, seemingly dead tree trunks. There is regrowth. There is life. The simplicity of existence and people in Portugal makes me question what ‘quality of life’ really means. We returned home with memories, figs, honey, almonds and hope.
One turn of the pedal after another, cycling along happily, cocooned in my own contentment, sliding into a meditative state by the repetitive action of the legs, almost zoned out, I was within a mile of home. The afternoon was warm and a caressing breeze was gracefully nullifying the warmth, making it dream-like. Out of the blue, a loud rude honk shattered my trance and sent a shock up my spine. What was the point? If there isn’t enough space for him/her to overtake me, it’s not my fault. What does he/she think he/she’s going to achieve by making a racket?
There was nowhere for him/her to go. He/she had to follow me. This was the perfect opportunity for me to do something I have never done before but wished I could – show him/her the finger! While keeping my attention on the bike ride, I put my right hand out at right angles and stuck a finger out. Oh! That was my thumb. Saying completely the opposite of what I was trying to say. Cancel. Delete. Try again. Out went my arm again and this time it was a finger but it was the index finger! Wrong again! Take it back. This was turning into a joke. I was obviously incapable of doing the simplest of jobs while cycling. I had to give it another try. Got it right this time. Yay! Success at last although I suppose by now, he/she is thoroughly confused – ‘well done’ followed by ‘one’ or ‘don’t you dare’ followed by ‘ I am annoyed with you’.
A few yards ahead, I stopped by the side of the road, letting him/her pass. On the next road, we were met with an almighty traffic jam. I spotted the silver Saab I had interacted with before. I merrily trundled past him on my bike, with a big smile on my face, humming a little tune to myself. There was plenty space for me. Only if honking could help him now.
(Moral of the story: Practical skills get better with practise. I need practise.)
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
– William Falkner. Requiem for a Nun.
The echoes of past traumas get subconsciously played out by us in our everyday lives. Sigmund Freud called it ‘repetition compulsion’ – an attempt of the unconscious mind to replay the unresolved so that we can ‘get it right’. This mechanism drives its way through generations. Jung also noted that whatever is too difficult to process does not fade away. It gets stored in our unconscious and finds expression in other ways. He says,” When an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate.”
Here’s an example: Jake was 19. He hadn’t slept a full night’s sleep in more than a year. He had developed dark circles around his eyes and a blank stare in them. He looked at least 10 years older. He had been a star student and a great athlete but the insomnia had left him lifeless. This thing had no explanation and none of his doctors or psychologists or naturopaths could figure it out.
It had started with Jake waking up shivering one night at 3.30 am, frightened to death. No amount of woollen clothing warmed him up. Soon, insomnia became a daily ordeal. Despite knowing that his fear was irrational, Jake was helpless and could not relax. The ‘freezing’ feeling associated with the first episode was quite peculiar.
On exploration of Jake’s family history, this story came out: His mum’s brother, Uncle Colin, whom he had never met had frozen to death at the age of 19. He was checking power lines in a storm in the Northwest of Canada. He struggled to hang on but eventually fell face down in a blizzard, lost consciousness and died of hypothermia. The family never spoke his name again.
Now, thirty years later, Jake was unable to slip into sleep at the same age as his Uncle. For Colin, letting go meant death. For Jake, falling asleep must have felt the same. Once Jake could see this link, he was able to free himself of it with the help of healing techniques taught by Dr Mark Wolynn, a neuroscientist with an expertise in breaking inherited family patterns. His book “It didn’t start with you”, describes some of these practical tools.
Scientists are now able to identify bio-markers as evidence of traumas passed down from one generation to the next. Studies on Holocaust survivors and their children have revolutionised the understanding and treatment of PTSD all over the world. Be it fear, guilt, low self-esteem or anxiety, the roots of these issues may reside in the traumas of our parents, grand-parents and even great-grandparents.
It’s not a tranquil lake. It’s a torrential flash flood and it’s fast approaching. It’s coming towards me and I am putting up a big fight but not winning. I am being pushed towards it by the boulder of time. Another turn of the wheel. The approach is a rough zig-zag path with exhausting ups and 3G downs, jagged corners and innumerable pot-holes. It goes thud-thud-thud. My brain hits the hard inside of my skull multiple times as it comes closer and closer. Am I going to hold my breath when it happens? Am I going to be submerged for longer than I can hold on? I don’t know how to swim and my limbs are pathetic. What am I going to do when it hits?
6th May 2018
It’s here – the 24th birthday of a man-child who didn’t reach his 21st. It’s a blessed day. A happy day. But it doesn’t feel that way. A painfully long weekend filled with his absence. A trip to the local park. An ice-lolly. Carrying his djembe around in the sun like a mad woman as if it’s my baby. Baking raspberry, pistachio and chocolate brownies. Holding back tears all day. Being with ‘it is like this’. A visitor. A long evening. A nice meal. An enormous hole. Massive nothingness – a vacuum that my love wants to get into but there is no way in or out. It’s sealed like a submarine. Not a drop of water or a molecule of love can enter or leave. The void sits in the middle of my living room. My life. Starving my love of all expression. Suffocating me.
7th May 2018
It came and went. I lived. But I am not getting anywhere. I want to be someone I am not while accepting everything as it is. How can these two positions be compatible? It’s like being night and day at the same time. Not dusk or dawn – they are too serene. Do I have a realistic hope of ever getting there or am I delusional?
Does unconditional peace exist? Apparently, some folks have experienced it. I have too, for brief snatches of time. To have it as a native state of being – unblemished, pure and vast consciousness. It seems unachievable. But they say it’s possible. May be. Some day…
I love tree-tunnels and I know why. They are proof that in every separation, there is a meeting. A river separates its two shores but also links them. I once heard a story of 2 prisoners in solitary confinement. Their cells were separated by a thick wall. Over time they learnt to talk with one another by a particular pattern of tapping on this wall. The very thing that kept them apart, connected them.
Every year I seem to forget what this time of year looks like. Then I am surprised and delighted by the blossom and the fresh greenness on the trees. Even on a dull day like today, walking, looking and driving through tree-tunnels, channels light into my life. The trunks of these trees stand on either side of the road but the roots intertwine underground and the leaves meet up in the air and dance together. It feels like nature is not just giving me permission but actively encouraging me to enjoy life and look beyond what is visible. I need to give the same permission to myself. This light is mine.
Maybe this apparent separation from my darling Saagar is not at all real. Maybe this chasm is the link between me and my higher self. Maybe the greatest life lessons come to me through this gorge. Maybe this deep cleft of pain has been created for growth to take place. Maybe this fissure has appeared to make more space for love and kindness in our world. Maybe.