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Archive for January, 2011

“Your first swan. Your first day by the sea. Your first walk through a field of spring flowers. The first time you heard and loved Chopin. In sharing your childhood discoveries, I have relived my own.” – Marion C. Garrety

My first children were twin boys who were outgoing, funny, gentle, clever and curious. They loved going on outings when they could take their own time to admire new and amazing things like the way a caterpillar pulls itself along, a snail leaves a silver trail, the number of tiny creatures that can live under one small stone. I loved the way they included each other and me in every little discovery and the joy of every little moment. It took me back to  a time when I was a little girl living in a house with its own creek near a pine forest and surrounded by trees and bush with seemingly endless opportunities for adventure. Being with the boys reminded me of what it felt like when I discovered my first toadstool, bird’s nest or weta. They transported me back to my own childhood. Through reading poetry to a son who loved its rhythm and rhyme, the words and the way they sounded, I rediscovered my own pleasure that I’d lost when “taught” to appreciate poetry in class. My other son’s infinite optimism, cheerfulness and ability to laugh and giggle his way through any situation, good or bad, gave me back the joyfulness of childhood. His need to understand the universe and to ask the questions I’d been unable to articulate as a child reminded me of how mysterious the world had seemed when I was young.

I was lucky to be able to enjoy these experiences all over again nearly seven years later with my daughter who was so similar to her brothers . When the boys were at school I could spend endless hours exploring the world all over again reliving my childhood and that earlier time with the boys. My daughter also experienced the world when I carried her on my back as we all walked through the bush up to Johnson’s hill or toward’s Wilton’s bush. The children’s curiosity about the trees, the ferns, the sounds of the bush took me right back to that time when I had spent so much time exploring.

Much of my daughter’s  experience of the world however, came from sitting on my lap while I sat in a wheelchair. Her favourite book was “Mama Zooms” in which the little girl sits on her mother’s lap as she zooms about in her wheelchair. The favourite bit is when mama zooms down a ramp, everybody’s hair flying in the wind. And that is what we did of course – zoom down every ramp or path life showed us. My daughter and I were forging new ground and it often wasn’t easy for either of us. Perhaps that is why she is so wise. She watched me struggling with my lack of mobility, I watched her struggling with things in her life. We talked about almost everything and, as a child, she knew more about dealing with adversity than many adults.

I am touched that this clever, busy, confident, efficient, beautiful young woman has always had time to include me in her life. I have notes from her and poems, reminding me how special she is.  Once, in a classroom somewhere in Quebec, she watched a friend paint a picture of a butterfly in  a wasteland.  She asked her friend for the painting and she posted it to me along with a note she typed specially. (Do not underestimate the effort involved for a teenager to wrap something carefully then take it to a post office and spend money on postage, when e-mailing a short note is quicker, easier and cheaper!)

“This is a drawing my friend did in our art class. It really reminds me of something you tell me  a lot. I can see it as finding beauty in struggle. The imagery of  a beautiful butterfly amongst the dull scenery, like a rose that grows in manure…”

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Not a month goes by that people don’t stop me in the street and ask to pray for me, lay hands on me, ask God’s help to heal me. I feel as awkward and uncomfortable about it now as I did many years ago. However, I think I’ve finally worked out why I feel this way, and a few days ago when it happened again I smiled and firmly declined the offer and moved on.

In the past I had found it awkward to say no because I hadn’t formulated a reason that satisfied me, I only knew I didn’t want to be prayed over. Yet I believe in the power of prayer. I pray. I know that there are people who pray for me. I don’t necessarily believe that there is a power that will intercede specifically to answer my requests. Maybe this power will, maybe not. One important thing that prayer does is help me sort out what I really want, and what I can do about it. My mother used to say “God helps those who help themselves.” My praying can motivate and inspire myself, give me courage,  strength and some understanding of my journey.

People who approach me in the street have no humility or respect for the power of my own prayer, and the prayer and thoughts of others. I don’t like their arrogance that their intercession will achieve more than others, or their assumption that my prayers have not already been answered. I don’t trust their motives. I suspect that many approach strangers because it feeds their own sense what their spirituality means to them without considering the spiritual beliefs of others. This is offensive. I suspect that it feeds their need for power or affirmation of themselves and does more to nourish their own spirituality and faith than that of the person they’re approaching. In my heart I’ve always known that it’s not right. I think that it’s potentially disempowering and demeaning; it’s disrespectful and arrogant.  And that’s why I say no.

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“By means of an image we are often able to hold on to our lost belongings.” – Colete. The  same day that I read this my son joked that the rooms left empty by adult children were full of photos and ghosts. The synergy of these statements started me thinking how important it has always been to me to have photographs of my family, not just of important occasions but doing everyday things – dressing up, sharing moments, playing, eating, anything really.

It’s not that the house is full of ghosts, but the photos are immensely powerful images that take me right back to moments in time that I can feel and touch. Not only are they wonderful memories but they are images of transformations. It’s not that children are “lost belongings”, but during times of change, or times of boredom, these images can be calming, or they can be uplifting. I can hold in my mind’s eye images that sustain me and enrich who I am. These images are even more powerful because I have taken photos and made collages that hang on the walls. Not only do I have an attachment to the memories of the photos themselves, but also to the time when I made those collages.

Proust had a lot to say about memories too, and the triggers to those memories. Seems the French were on to something.

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“If you go biking in a beautiful day and see a rock on your path, don’t focus on it because if you do you will crash right into it. But if you look at all the beautiful scenery around you will easily change direction and avoid it.”

My daughter sent me this quotation thinking I would like it. I do. Sometimes when we are challenged by an obstacle to our dreams or goals, it can be easy to become obsessed with it and worry so much about it that we forget about everything else. We should enjoy every moment we have.

Not long ago I lost some mobility so that I had to use a walking frame in the mornings and evenings, a bench seat in the shower, a bed rail, and other aids to moving. I could have become despondent, but I kept walking and standing as much as I could and every time I walked I was thankful that I could still walk, no matter how slowly or for how long. And every time I worried about my mobility my daughter would remind me to enjoy still being up and walking. I’m walking much better again, and every time I go for a walk on the waterfront, or walk in the sun, I forget about “what if I can’t walk …” and simply enjoy those moments when I am.

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Since I referred to the lines from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Aurora Leigh” (Book 7)

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware

I have been reading the original poem http://www.online-literature.com/elizabeth-browning/aurora-leigh/7/. (These lines are about two thirds of the way through Book 7). I have often heard EBB dismissed as a romantic poet or writer of love poems. She certainly wrote about love, but she also wrote about social conditions of her time and was a feminist. She was a well-educated woman and her poetry is full of classical references. “Aurora Leigh” is a novel in poem form, and anyone who doubts EBB’s greatness should take a look at it, or at least at the summary of the poem to get a flavour of how contraversial and shocking her writing must have seemed in Victorian England. There are many on-line, this one is no better or worse than others. http://www.novelguide.com/a/discover/pfs_0000_0023_0/pfs_0000_0023_0_00015.html

The topics covered in this epic poem include prostitution, rape, betrayal, social engineering, and the notion of a professional and independent woman, which EBB was.   There are many religious references throughout the poem but I’m not sure they were intended in the way that some christian preachers have taken ownership of, and I find that amusing. References to pagan gods are also used extensively.

Anyway, Elizabeth Barrett Browning is certainly worth reading. She is as at least as great a writer as any of her contemporaries, and I’m only sorry that it’s taken me this long to rediscover her, and to look beyond the quotations and platitudes that are attributed to her.

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“Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes”

– Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Yesterday, when Wellington suddenly was thrown into summer, everything seemed brighter and more vibrant. I left home to walk the short distance to the library, stopping to chat to with neighbours and with strangers who were all out enjoying an unusually calm, sunny day. It’s less than a half a kilometre from home to the library but it was nearly three hours before I arrived back home again. Instead of focussing on the physical therapy involved in walking to the library I enjoyed every aspect of my walk. I loved the feeling of the sun on my bare arms; I admired the gardens that were all looking so beautiful; instead of feeling my usual frustration that I walk slowly and awkwardly I was overjoyed that I could walk at all; I was truly happy chatting with the people I encountered. At different times  strangers walked a short distance with me and I got a real kick out of sharing the day with them.  I felt just plain exhilerated.

When I got home I happened to read those few lines and I was reminded how many pleasures there are to be found in small things, and how much additional pleasure there is to be had in giving thanks and praise to whatever higher being we acknowledge. There’s so much pleasure to be had living in the moment and knowing that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves.

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An Empty Nest

Today my daughter’s “things” were picked up by the removal men and will be trucked up to Auckland some time this week. And so we have another empty room to mark this very significant change in our lives as the last of our kids leaves home. It seems an event worthy of some greater rite of passage than the arrival and departure of a truck. We offered the removal men cans of coke, they chose beer, but that aside it wasn’t much of a way to mark the fact that our family has grown up and we are all in different places in our lives. It’s not as if our daughter’s departure is sudden or unexpected. She has been leaving home since she was seventeen when she spent a year in Quebec, then left home again when she studied in France for six months and lived in an apartment surviving on the smallest possible budget so she could blow it all backpacking through Europe for six months.  The departures of her brothers have also helped prepare us for life after children. So we’ve known what it would be like to have an empty nest, or thought we did.  Yes, we have plans for just the two of us, and yes, we can look forward to our life together, but there is still a big hole in our lives that used to be filled with cooking meals for lots of people, and a myriad of tasks undertaken for others and driven by love and a joy in being needed.

We saw one of our sons and his wife for dinner tonight and it reminded me that our lives are still interconnected and that a family is still a family no matter where we all live.

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