SIZE MATTERS: THE BENEFITS OF BEING SMALL

Our Milky Way

Our Milky Way

A real dark night sky is a tonic for the soul. That’s why in the weeks following a diagnosis that I was growing cancerous tumours, feeling overwhelmed with it all, like an Indiana Jones-sized rolling rock of grief and fear was heading my way,  I stepped outside onto the front porch. Luckily, the sky was clear and when I looked up I heard the Milky Way calling out to me for falling into. I was bewitched by the white splashes along it’s twining body. I felt into the space within these mind-blowing cosmic stains, appearing so because they indicate numbers of stars so dense I cannot fathom the universe except in the most basic of ways. I wanted nothing more than to dive on in and  swim far enough through the sparkling infinity, so that I would be sure to reach the farthest place, the point of pregnant expansion from which I would retract like a catapult in reverse straight back to the core – the spot where I stood. I would fly back to the womb of my own rebirth. For a blessed moment, I confronted my own mortality and was not afraid to do so. I stood in a black hole filled with peace. Loved, loving. Happy. I felt for a fraction of a moment the freedom of understanding my own insignificance. And then it was gone.

Living is hard. Really hard.  I do want to mention here that I am not claiming hardships that compare with the lives of those born into poverty. Those who are more likely to experience physical suffering, discrimination, disenfranchisement, injustice and displacement. That’s hard living. Then there’s the rest of us, more or less enjoying lands of milk and honey those in poverty dream about. The poverty stricken must think us delirious with happiness. Yet we find a Milky Way of reasons not to be. Our ‘hard’ living is generally a result of a lack of appreciation for the things and opportunities we do have and an unfortunate craving for what we don’t. We can’t handle the excess all around as it wreaks havoc within us anymore than those in poverty can manifest what they need from without to sustain them within. What is within us is mirrored by what is outside.  A perfect imbalance. It’s all hard, but different.

Sitting in our ‘first world’ lives we believe our lives to be BIG. The dramas and dreams which emanate from our egos are so large and loud. There is logic in that. The will to live is pretty much hardwired – all things are driven by the blueprint for survival, growth and reproduction. But with the expectation – or at the very least, hope – of great things from our experience of life comes wave upon wave of dissatisfaction and disappointment as we judge at  every moment every detail of our progression in the cause of survival, growth and reproduction. Those whose suffering is starvation, sickness and early death – every day, without reprieve, do they have the luxury of thoughts other than those concerned with survival?  When I learned of my sickness, my tumultuous thought processes screamed to a halt. The myriad of  inner voices grew quiet – desire, envy and dissatisfaction stopped lending their unhelpful demands and judgements and I heard my still, small voice.  It spoke to me of the basics. What did I need to survive? It helped me make decisions about my treatment, it helped me speak to my children, mother, brothers, friends. It helped me look at what dying might be like. I discovered that I love myself and I love living – especially when death threatens – but also that it’s ok when my time is up. That moment on my front porch has led me through dark times.

And so I share that moment with you because it was possibly one of the best moments of my life – like falling in love and seeing my babies for the first time. Because it reminded me that what I think doesn’t really matter but is everything and all I have. It also reminds me that even in my darkest times, my life is privileged. To have such a positive vision of my difficult experience is something I feel very fortunate to have. I have stopped and thought for about 30 seconds for beautiful experiences of this world that I treasure. I realise I could fill a universe with them.

Swimming among innumerable stars to the ends of the universe and back showed me the blessing of being small. Infinitesimally small. Insignificant and hidden. It was a moment of true freedom.

Emojis for the Modern Mother

An emoji paints 1000 words

An emoji paints 1000 words

If there was an emoji for ‘feeling slightly suicidal’ which could indicate in all of it’s tiny wonder a tongue in the cheek just to lessen the blow, I would use it. A lot. Do I want to reveal how, on a beautiful blue sky day (the first in about 3 weeks), a blank page of staying at home-ness, sharing holiday fun with 3 of my boy children, I am feeling the ever present prickle of little tears behind my caffeine enhanced lids? Yes, I do want to reveal.

I have visited cheery Facebook pages with heaps of activities to fill the two weeks of Spring break. Lambs to visit, walks to be had, trams to ride. Been there, done that, my children are too old. Old hat Activity weary 9 year olds and a positively Done Too Many Times Activity wary 11 year old do not an easy holiday make. Family visits out of town and high times with the cuzzies would cut it, but most of our cousins live in the UK and the Kiwi family are all city bound and short on age appropriate players. Even the begged for soccer programme failed to deliver, the promised age specific training not getting off to the best start when the 11 year old found himself paired off with the 6 year olds. He was the only one of his age.

So I scoured a website of Holiday activities. Let’s just pick 3 activities my kids would enjoy.

Go Karting – (starts from) $65/day (10am-2pm)

Drama – (starts from $75/day (9am-3pm)

Survival Skills – $130/day (9am-3pm) 

That’s 3 days taken care of. For three children. That’s $810 plus food and drink, plus travel to venues up to an hour away, which means that basically my day would be taken out by the sheer traveling time. That’s not much change from $1000 for three days keeping the smalls happy. Three days. $1000. I know I’ve said it lots. Hence the emoji.

The other thing that this unpalatable exercise does is bring out the sense of failure. The red hot judgement with which I gaze upon myself. Where did I miss the career opportunity that would have led to my being able to sign the cheques without a second glance and make my children happy. Oh what I would give right now for that smug feeling of achievement, the joy I would get from the high fives my children would give me as they marched out of the house on the way to their own success in a world where telling your offspring to ‘learn to appreciate boredom – let your mind unwind’ is a communist conspiracy.

I blame myself. But it’s hard to live with the weight of the decisions that led to this. Let’s see if I can take solace in numbers. I have already spent a total of 11 and a half years planning, executing and financing holiday time for my five children and I  have a total of 5 and a quarter years of holiday time left before graduation from school is completed. Er, emoji, where are you?  At a time in my life when what I crave is a silent retreat and to finally succeed in earning a crust of self-esteem, this is giving me the shakes, the heeby-geebies and too much cortisol racing around my eco-system. It’s not a holiday programme I need, it’s a survival programme.

Right after this I am going to take a cushion and sit on my deck in the sunshine. I shall drink another coffee even though I’ve had my quota. I shall close my eyes and expose my winter skin to the glorious dangerous UV rays and rebel for a full ten minutes. I shall listen to the spring birds and feel the caprices of the spring wind. I shall do nothing and try not to let the prickles turn into tears, but if they do I shall lick their lovely saltiness from my cheeks (well maybe my lips, my tongue isn’t freakishly long) and let it go.

PS Snapshot for 5 minutes of the 16 and a quarter holiday years: One child is making sherbet, another just complemented me on my scones and is kicking a soccer ball  and the other is sitting in the sunshine stroking the cat. The tears may fall. 🙂

PONIES AND FISH. FISH-PONIES. A (short) TALE FOR THE WETTEST 1st DAY OF SPRING EVER!

            Hello, FishPony!

There is a fish. He doesn’t have a name because he is a fish. He is a particular type of fish and looks exactly like all the other fish with his particularity. He is smaller than some yet larger than others. Size is the only thing that differentiates him, apart from gender. He is a male fish and as such this is the only other thing that differentiates him from all the other fish of his particularity that look like him but are, in fact her-fish. He spends his life behaving like a fish living in the sea. Feeding, moving in a shoal from location to location, procreating and trying not to get eaten by different types of bigger fish. This should be the end of a very boring story. But I will push through and you will stay with me to see where this is going.

First I will tell you about when I was 6. From this age I was obsessed with writing a book. I would staple together folded paper into a book lookalike and crayon a picture on the front cover. It was always a picture of a horse, behind it a classic 5-bar gate and behind that the field where it lived – and behind that a house where the little girl in the story (usually a blonde version of me) lived. I enjoyed the process thus far. Then I would turn the front cover to the blank first page and begin to write in my neatest writing (which was never neat enough). 

‘Once upon a time….’ The story was always the same and involved the pony’s little girl coming out of her house, walking across the field and riding the pony out of the gate away from their home and off on adventure. There the story stopped. There was no adventure past the gate, the field and the house. There was no conspiratorial conversation between the girl and her much loved pony, there were no other characters met along the way, though I think maybe once the little girl had an argument with her mother before riding the pony out of the gate. I remember that as I was writing these stories I was filled with a sense of longing, with both eyes firmly fixed on a horizon I couldn’t see. The desire to fill the distance between where I was and said horizon became the one lasting outcome to every story. A lusty dollop of desire sprinkled with disappointment, unfulfilment, failure. I would put away the story to nowhere, hoping that next time I looked at it, there would be a shining tale of excitement and beauty upon its pages but sadly, sooner rather than later, I would sneak back hoping I didn’t notice and scrumple it up to bury it in the bin where I wouldn’t find it. I gave myself up to the world of ‘The Faraway Tree’, a place of the real imagination of the redoubtable Enid Blyton who I later discovered with shock was a rather horrid, cruel woman. 

I was, by the way, the world’s worst horsewoman. I had a fat, wicked Welsh Mountain cross Arab midget of a pony. By the time I was done with her I practically rode her like a trike, my feet pretty much touching the ground on either side of her huge girth. She was as difficult to command to ride away from the food source in her paddock as she was to stop from charging at breakneck speed on the return journey. She terrified and bullied me. She thwarted my innocent girlish dream of the beautiful bond of love between pony and proud owner, the one that I read about it many books. ‘Green grass of Wyoming’. Bullshit. ‘My friend Flicka’. Bollocks. 

The crushing experience of our one and only Gymkhana is it’s own story for another wettest day EVER.

Pushing through – the sea is a metaphor for the unfathomable, murky and ceaselessly swirling environment of my brain. The fish is the story that I held for just a moment before it slipped out of my fingers and when I looked for it in the ocean of my brain I always picked another one indistinguishable from the first  and – oh there it goes – it slipped away again. Repeat.

Forging ahead – even if I had managed to hold on to it I would not have seen the adventure in the life of a fish among fish in a never ceasing ocean. I was too young to dive in and swim with it to find out what adventures were to be had in the depths. And anyway, I was looking on dry land –  at ponies – and too proud to tell of my real adventures with my real pony, which were all humiliating and cause for humour. I was too young to appreciate this and too proud to laugh at myself. 

And now? Now I know that if you want to write a story, you just have to keep starting. Keep going. Follow your own footsteps. It’s not the horizon that is important, it’s what’s beneath your feet. Failure, disappointment and unfulfillment are the lakes, mountains and valleys of stories. I can write that medium sized particular fish a rip-snorter of a tale – and nobody, not ANYBODY would talk like Ellen de Generes. Because when you inhabit an ocean, who’s gonna hear you talking? And I will never, EVER try to write a story about a pony. Unless it’s a magical sea pony that falls in love with a particular fish. Everything is stacked against them as they battle barriers of discrimination, evil stepmothers and jealous rivals…….

 

A SHOVEL FULL

Shovel with Daisies

Shovel with Daisies

There was once a woman, three wise men and a fool. They lived in a kingdom by the sea, under the sky and near the forest. But that doesn’t matter.

One day the woman woke up in her bed and couldn’t arise. Feeling afraid and a little strange, she placed her hand where her heart should be and couldn’t feel it beating. Now she was very afraid – and quite confused because she wondered how she was still alive. She could not stop crying!

The first wise man was called. He came with his bag of important, shiny thingamejigs, and his quiet assistant who stumbled apologetically behind him. Behind the quiet assistant skipped the fool with a shovel over his shoulder, humming a pointless tune and smiling at the daisies.The first wise man stroked his long beard (all wise men have long beards) and muttered “hmmmm”.

He reached for his one of his shiny thingamejigs and proceeded to place it on the woman’s body, over where her heart should be. She looked at him. He did not meet her gaze but muttered “hmmmm” again.

He turned to his quiet assistant and said out very loud “Tell the woman she must stand on her head for twenty minutes at the dawn, at midday and at the dusk. This will cure her of what ails her.” The quiet assistant did as he was told. The wise man swept out of the room followed by the quiet assistant, stumbling. The woman watched them go and turned her face to the wall, crying silently. The fool tiptoed over to the woman and patted her on the head. He left a daisy on the pillow by the wall.

The woman did as she was told. She hurt her neck quite badly and gave herself a powerful headache.

The next morning the woman awoke and tried to arise out of bed. Again she found she could not do it. She put her hand over where her heart should be and still could feel no beat. Instead, she felt a small lump. It was quite hard. It didn’t move when she pressed it. Her tears flowed like a river over her hand, over the lump.

The second wise man was called. He arrived with his bag of powders and herbs, accompanied by his proud assistant and the smiling fool whose cartwheel crashed into the door jambe because he was carrying a shovel over his shoulder. The fool rubbed his leg and sat watching the sunbeam move across the floor.

The second wise man harrumphed a bit and stood with one hand underneath his chin and the other on his cocked hip. He took some powders and herbs out of his bag. Turning to the proud assistant he pontificated very loudly, “Tell her to take a teaspoon of the powders dissolved in the water taken from wilting the herbs over a low heat – once at the dawn, at midday and at the dusk.” The proud assistant pompously announced the woman’s treatment.

The second wise man and his proud assistant both swept out of the room. The woman turned her pale face back to the wall and clutched the sheets around her for warmth, sobbing with little control. The fool left his shovel by the door, tiptoed over to her and sat down on a little stool by the bed. He hummed a pointless tune very quietly and stroked her hair before leaving a fresh daisy on the pillow by the wall.

The woman did as she was told. She spent the next night vomiting and was overcome by violent chills.

On the next morning, she awoke late and couldn’t turn her face from the wall. With her hand, she felt for the lump where her heart should be and instead of a lump, there was now a hole. There was no pain, just a space where her heart should have been. She was all out of tears and had no breath left for sighing.

The third wise man with his bag of books and his mean assistant were called for – and the fool came behind them, hopping and spinning round occasionally, as he expertly balanced the shovel in his outstretched hand.

The third wise man muttered and frowned and scratched his head. He reached for his bag and took out a book. He opened it and pored at it with his long bony finger (all wise men have long, bony fingers) and growled a few expletives (in a wise way of course).

“Woman, you must say these words everyday for a week three times at the dawn, at midday and at the dusk. Furthermore, you must face the eastern window at the dawn, turn around on the spot at midday and face the western window at the dusk. You must summon great joy and determination as you recite these words and you must do all this with a blind faith that the outcome will be the one you need because these are the true and correct words to say. If any questions arise, you will forward them to me and I, or other wise men trained by me will answer them”.

The mean assistant went over to the woman and poked her with his finger. “Did you get that, woman?” he demanded to know. Still looking at the wall, she nodded slowly. “Right then” he said and strode out of the room following the third wise man.

The fool stayed with the woman all that week. She lay in bed facing the wall and he covered her pillow with fresh daisies every day. He stroked her hair and sang the pointless tune until she became familiar with it and started to rock gently to its rhythm. He sat beside her as she told him in a whisper that she could not perform the instructions of the third wise man because she could not even get out of bed, or summon the voice or the will to say the words in the way he had recommended. So he read the words to her and together they put together some questions, which they attached to a copy of the text and sent it to the third wise man. That done, they turned their attention to pulling the text apart until the world it created became no more than a collection of letters, randomly assembled so that they told of another world with new possibilities of interpretation. When they had done this once, they rearranged the letters again, and again – and again, each time creating a different world resplendant with new meaning.

The next day, which was the 6th day, they received a reply.

Woman,

‘It is good that you understand some of the text. The bits that you question you do not understand. I have rearranged the words for you so that they they actually say THIS instead.’ And the text had become a different and new arrangement of the previous version of the text, just as the woman and the fool had been able to accomplish themselves by rearranging the letters on the page. ‘But most importantly, you must understand that my version of the words is now the correct one. You must simply believe in these words. You must have faith and trust because they are the right words because I say they are the right words.

Sincerely

The third wise man

Ps are you reciting them as and when I prescribed?’

That night the fool hugged her in the silence of the twinkling stars, and in the drumming of the rain, and in the wail of the wind.

On the 7th day, the woman, who was now sitting up in bed warming herself in the sunshine and eating soup made by the fool, the woman with warmth in her cheeks, despite having a space where her heart should have been, the woman said to the fool “Do you believe the words can make us happy?”

“Good question” said the fool and told her a Yo Mumma joke. She laughed, despite its lack of political correctness.

The woman continued. “The words that the third wise man gave to me are sometimes too hard to understand.” She went on. “They confuse me and they make me feel afraid because I do not understand. Some of them I can’t believe because they tell of things of which I have no experience. Now he has confused me even further because he swore by the validity of the first version of the text he gave me. Now he has changed it but the message is still that I just have to trust and have faith in what the words tell me.”

“Ahurb’dy hurb’dy” chortled the fool.

The week came to the start of the next week and the third wise man and his mean assistant returned to receive thanks from the cured woman. The mean assistant approached ahead of his master. The fool stood in the doorway.

“Fool, you are in my way. Get out of it!” The mean assistant shoved him in the chest. The fool sprang back a large pace at his punch but returned back to the doorway with an alacrity that surprised both the wise man and his mean assistant. The mean assistant took out the fool’s leg from underneath him but the fool managed to execute a perfect backflip in the air and landed not one inch from where he had stood before. Enraged, the mean assistant fell upon the fool with blows, kicks and bites. The fool became a blur with the mean assistant so that you could not tell where one finished and the other ended. A cloud of dust engulfed the two men.

The third wise man and the woman cried out for the fool to spare the mean assistant. It was all happening so quickly, and the roars of the mean assistant suddenly turned to strange high pitched squeals. As the dust began to clear, it became apparent that the mean assistant was laughing and that he was laughing because the fool was tickling him in all the tickliest tickle spots that a human body possesses. Nobody seemed to notice that in place of the pieces of paper with the words written upon them were soft flakes floating down like pieces of ash from a blazing fire that crumbled into atoms when trod upon or brushed away.

“Stop! Stop it, stop! Please!” The mean assistant panted. The fool released the assistant and went to pour him a glass of water. The third wise man stepped forward to help the gasping assistant take the drink and ushered him away, chuckling also and patting his back.

The woman meanwhile was on her feet, out of bed holding her hand over where her heart should be. She turned her face to the fool, mouth agape with surprise, eyes shining with tears.

“There is no lump, there is no space, there’s a beat!” She said.

“There always was, you fool,” said the fool swinging his shovel to the floor and trying to heap great spadefuls of the soft grey ash, which crumbled to atoms as he tried to remove it. “You just didn’t believe it. You don’t need the special exercises, the herbs or the words. You just need to listen to your beating heart and keep shoveling, every day. Your shovel can be full of daisies or it can be full of dust, it’s up to you.”

The woman looked down into her hand as a  penny dropped into the centre of her palm. She turned to look at her pillow, which was covered in daisies . “Oh and go get a job….” She heard the fool say. She swung round with a big smile to thank the fool, but he was gone.

The door swung gently on its hinges and a shiny shovel leant against the frame, with the evening sun glinting on its bright, shiny surface, in a most bedazzling way.

CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS FOR MY MUM

Cuckoo (Common Formerly European) Onekind

Cuckoo (Common Formerly European) Onekind

Day  9 post 1st stage reconstructive surgery. Mum flew in from the UK two nights ago on flight SQ281 to stay for a month. I pride myself on keeping the house not too shabbily, but she hadn’t been here 12 hours and she was already getting stuck in, half way down a toilet, giving it ‘a really good clean’. She turns 81 in 5 and a half weeks and is darting round my house cleaning, fetching, carrying, while I sit like a Cuckoo in her nest, squawking for service.

Fact: Cuckoos stroke of genius is that they lay their eggs in other bird’s nests. ‘Studies were made of 90 Great Reed Warbler nests in central Hungary. Of the nests targeted by cuckoos, 64% contained one cuckoo egg, 23% had two, 10% had three and 3% had four Common Cuckoo eggs. 66% accepted the egg(s); 12% ejected them; 20% abandoned the nests entirely; 2% buried the eggs. 28% of the cuckoo eggs were described as “almost perfect” in their mimesis of the host eggs, and the warblers rejected “poorly mimetic” cuckoo eggs more often.’ Thanks Wikepedia.

I am a terrible patient. I don’t like being dependent, which is a combination of control freakery and genuine concern for my carer and I hate following instructions which involve telling me I can’t do things. I’m not supposed to lift anything heavier than a full mug or drive and this renders me helpless, useless and stir crazy! My bigger half is having to cope with a woman rapidly declining into the thing she’s not supposed to become for another 30 years – and his M-I-L is here. For a month.

It’s not until you can’t exercise your ways that you realise how much set in them you have become. As a child I remember watching mum bake, iron and sew. I can remember her operating an ancient washing machine that had an accompanying wringer. She once lost the tiny diamond from her engagement ring into the swirling vortex of water and clothes, only to find it sitting on one of the 2cm slats of the drain at the bottom after it was emptied.  She would come home from shift work as a midwife, change into short shorts and gumboots and gallop off on her fabulous legs to the kitchen garden behind the stone wall. I learnt to bake by inhaling the studied concentration on her face while she measured, sieved, mixed or, kneaded – whether what was in the bowl became coffee and walnut cake or wholemeal bread, I got the techniques down pat. I know that many of my ways about the kitchen have the flavour of my mum about them.

And not just the kitchen. Sometimes I catch myself having a ‘Diana moment’ and, depending on the nature of the moment and whether it has been witnessed by the other one who knows, I will shriek or laugh. But over the next 3 and a half weeks I will have many Diana moments – firsthand, no mirror. She hasn’t been to stay for 8 years since I had 2 boy babies at the same time. She woke 3 time a night with me for 21 nights to help with feeding. She made 210 cups of tea and buttered 240 pieces of toast. She has spent 1000’s of dollars on me. We live 18325.35kms apart and let’s be honest, it’s possible that you can count the days we will spend in each others company on the toes and fingers of my 5 sons. That is a difficult thought to entertain. So I will stuff back the graceless teenager trying to take over my behaviour and be grateful for my mum. I will let her do her thing and accept the benefit which I would be so foolish to squander.

Thank you, mum for your crazy decision, made within 18 hours after talking to me when I came out of hospital. Thank you for spending 926 of your precious British Pensioner Pounds on Flight SQ281 and defying gravity to be here.

You have never ejected or abandoned me and you haven’t had to bury me yet.  I know I am not a bad egg and that you are 1 impressive old bird.

A LOVE AFFAIR WITH SYDNEY

Opera House auditions for Star Wars Set

Opera House auditions for Star Wars Set

Sydney town, you had me this time. It was our second date. I haven’t fallen like this for a city since Paris –  Not Barcelona, not New York, not Melbourne. There were those three years spent with Edinburgh and I shan’t lie about that. That was first independent love. This is like a re-awakening of that first time when I felt seduced by the visceral constitution of a city, where I hit the ground running and wanted to disappear immediately into the labyrinth pattern of streets, to follow the of histories laid out in the layers of stone upon stone; to blend and merge with the smell of the air. Sydney town, famous for its beaches, its nightlife and its modern Ozzy confidence. The harbour bridge that stretches like the back of a Stegosaurus  joining the north and the south. The Opera House, with the creamy gold scales of a dragon just landed and happy to lie at the bottom of town. Two crazed parrots stealing sugar packet from my saucer and ripping it apart in a desperate frenzy for a sugar high. Dining out, the mode du jour would seem to be tapas – done so well. Exquisite blends of tastes and the best pork belly EVER in the well aired Victorian Room,  teaming with tiny dapper men and even tinier lady fashionistas, as if the city types want to dispel the image of brawny surfies and Amazon blondes. The blokes headed out to a King’s Cross pub to watch the rugby and my ladies took me on a whirlwind tiki tour of the northern inner city suburbs. We fetched up at a point looking out at the harbour bridge, with Luna Park to the left, looking like a tiny Constructa Straws creation, ferries floating in and out blinding with fairy lights, the sleeping Opera dragon under his bridge. And then a large, orange moonrise under the bridge just above the far rise of city buildings in the east. Oops.

Planning a Victorious Return

Planning a Victorious Return

It was a perfect trip. There was quite a swell at North Curl Curl as I played ‘Where’s Wally’ from the polenta-like sand, looking for my friend among the black dots, sitting like fleas on the sea. We all laughed and talked of our dreams for ourselves and the world in general because that’s what you do when you feel energised by people of like-minds, spurring each other on to achieve our potential as parents, creative spirits and status quo-challengers. It was the first time in a long time that I began to imagine myself living somewhere else, asking what it would take to transfer the family – even for just a few months. It’s easy to get stuck where you are, not that home is a bad place to get stuck, but there is just so much world out there. I had thought that National Geographic and BBC Discovery Channels would satisfy that part of me until our wee birds all fly the coop and the man and I can go a-wandering. But to really engage with a place, you’ve gotta live there for a while. And Sydney really beckoned. Reality is a dull mistress and I will not obey her yet. I will keep dreaming, plan a gig over there, the man already has workshops in place. More long weekends, a week, a month, THAT really is a possibility. Each time we will bring back more creative inspiration and that will infuse our lives here in smaller, lonelier, emptier New Zealand. It wasn’t long before I began to submerge under her dark waters again, we are the yin to Australia’s bright yang. But I’m happy to swap the arrogant daring of the bright and raucous Australian bird life for the more mellifluous and muted sheen of our feathered treasures! And the welcoming waiata at Auckland airport is one classy way to enter the country. Ah, we go away to appreciate coming home again. I just want to experience that exchange more often. Wake up and feel that youthful drive again. It was a perfect trip.

A VALENTINE FOR MY SONS

Image‘Tis Valentine’s Day. It is coloured red-blooded and filled with passion promising, destined to end in sense-saturated overload. An overflow of emotion is poised, as the full moon gestates to fullness on Saturday.  So I pack three children off to school, think of the one at work and the other training for work, drop my 3rd strong black coffee and check out my inbox.

Stretch. Forget the messages, most of them are not really for me anyway. All that is of no consequence, and then a message pops up and I have to call my eldest son and deliver some sad news. Strangely appropriate for Valentine’s day – a death in the family. Love hurts.

The fact is that my reaction to the sad news will be coloured by different processes to that of my son, who I have raised without the burden of a religious belief system. But I ask myself the question, would such a system be helpful to him now?

I examine the evidence. Let’s put it in a storybook.

‘ONCE UPON A TIME, there was a little boy who lived in a happy home, with lots of people, in the light and the dark. One night, he looked up at the stars and asked his mummy –

“Mummy, what are they?” She told him about the stars and planets, the solar system, the universe, about what we think we know and about what we know we don’t know.

He asked her, “How did we come to be here?” She told him about a big bang, expansion, matter, oxygen and water and evolution.

He asked her, “Why are we here?”

She smoothed the hair on his forehead and said, “Nobody really knows, my sweet.” He cuddled his toy rabbit (called Rabbit) and said, “Is that it?”

She said, reluctantly, “Not really. There are many, many things that people here on our planet have thought up from the place in our amazing brains that wants an explanation for WHY and HOW we came to be.

She took a deep breath and began.

“Some people, called Christians, believe that a God made the world in 6 days and had a rest (maybe a beer) on the 7th.  They believe that he made Adam and Eve (in his own image) and they lived in a paradise garden and a talking snake made Eve eat an apple that made her feel sexy and dirty and then as the first Harlot upon whom every evil of the world can then be laid she spoiled Adam and even though God must have made the snake and the apple he punished them by banishing them to a life of pain hardship and struggle. They also believe that a God chose one tribe of people over another to be the most important and to dictate how the rest of the tribes should live and then that a woman got pregnant without having sex and gave birth to a boy who then revived the dead, then died himself and then lived again but in a different place?”

And though her brain was bleeding, she hugged him tightly (and Rabbit) and she continued,

“I don’t really know much about another belief system called Islam but I know that some of these men don’t like to look at women’s hair and bodies. And sometimes faces as well. They do allow the women to show their eyes though because otherwise they would fall over and not be able to do anything useful. But then again, sometimes they have to cover even their eyes too, behind a kind of material two-way mirror. There are just enough holes to see out of but not allow anyone to look in.”

And though her heart was bleeding, she snuggled under the covers with her small son and his even smaller Rabbit and told him,

“I wrestle daily with myself and a Buddhist practice, that ultimately lays all my success and failure back in my lap. So I either feel good about myself or a bit shitty until I get the strength to pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again.”

The little boy laughed at his mummy and said  “Why would you want to fight with yourself?”

And although her throat was bleeding she mustered up a voice. “Good question little man. As everything in life seems to be a fight against something, that belief system I find the most humane.“Is that it, mummy?”

There is a little more, my sweet and then it’s time for sleep.” Lots of people in the past and still some today believe in a pantheon of Nature Gods. They make super-people out of the sky, the sea, the earth and everything on the earth. And even the clouds. That’s what dragons are – and they make good stories don’t they?”

The two snugglers thought separate thoughts for a while.

Mummy said  “I do know that gardening makes me feel better. AND if you can grow it, you can eat it. Yum!

“Like strawberries, mummy.”

“Yes.”

“So that’s it then?”

“You know what, the best thing is that you and all the people who love and have loved you, we all collided at the same time in the same place so that we met and loved each other, for however long. Love connects us all. Sometimes it makes you burst with happiness, sometimes it hurts more than you think you can take. We don’t really understand it. But it’s there in all the stories I just told you. It gets a bit lost in some of those stories, but it is where all those stories are trying to get to.”

The little boy was asleep. She kissed him and Rabbit and slipped away.

THE END

Happy Valentines Day to all my boys, big and small. I will always love you no matter what.

I sip the dregs of my coffee. “That’s really weird. About an hour ago I thought of her and wondered how she was and when…… .”  I ask if he’ll be ok.  “I’ll be sweet” says my eldest son.

“Of course you will.” I say.

Rest in peace, Pam. xx