Waiting room

September 27, 2017 § 1 Comment

In the school holidays one of my daughter’s friends lost her father to a motorcycle accident. Another friend had two friends die in as many days. Still another friend got news that a young relative had been found dead at the bottom of the stairs to her flat – she’d gone home early complaining she wasn’t feeling well.

And maybe it’s this rash of deaths; maybe it’s part of my own journey through middle age, but I have this increasing sense that we – that I – have to live life with a greater sense of urgency.

I am fairly cautious by nature; risk averse, as financial advisers like to put it. I think things through and I lay my plans: “When X, then Y…” partly because it gives me the illusion of control, I think. Only Y seldom comes, because I never seem to get past the planning stage.

I think we all do this to an extent. “When I retire, I will…” or “When I lose weight, I will…” or “When I find the perfect girl/guy, I will…” or even, “When she or he apologises to me, I will…”

And so, we’re all just stuck in the waiting room – waiting for some mythical future perfect circumstance that will allow us to live our dream, take that risk, mend that fence, launch ourselves off the precipice.

“But I need money,” I hear you protest. And it’s true – you can’t just set off for Madagascar or Mongolia without a plane ticket and all the other travel accoutrements that cost you your hard earned cash. Starting a new business takes money. As does studying. As do a myriad other dreams you may have – and you might not have that money now. I get that.

But dreaming and thinking and strategising don’t cost you anything. Research is the easiest thing in the world in the information age. And if you have money for a daily or even weekly cappuccino, you have more money than most, and you can start there – by making a small sacrifice and popping the money you would have spent in a piggy bank, under your mattress, in a savings account. And then you need to take action.

Because the one thing we all have in common is that we can start. Not when we’ve lost the weight or received the apology, or retired, or found that perfect someone. Today. Right now. Just break down the goal into small steps and take the first one.

Sure, it’s risky. We might get hurt or damaged – or even broken – along the way. We might not even know how we’re going to take the second step. But is that any reason to put off living? Because sometimes you need to take the first step to weigh up your options from a new vantage point. Perhaps there’s a road further ahead that you couldn’t see until you took that step.

And while you go, remember to tell those you love, that you love them. It doesn’t matter if they’re a friend, family, or significant other. Tell them often. Tell them till they’re tired of hearing it. Tell them so often that when you’re gone, they can’t be in any doubt that you loved them. Fiercely.

Forgive, and move on, remembering that forgiveness is for your peace of mind – it’s not about letting the other person off the hook.

Stop waiting for that perfect circumstance. It doesn’t exist. All you have is this moment, right now.

Because life is short, and it can change in an instant. And if we never get out of the waiting room, then all we are left with is regret, which is really the poorest of substitutes for a life.

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The L word

June 7, 2017 § 2 Comments

I remember how I cringed the first time I overheard my one of my teenage daughters and her boyfriend saying “I love you” to each other.

I cringed because I grew up in an era where you didn’t tell a significant other that you loved them until you were sure. Very sure. You had to know that this person was The One before you used the L word. And you could be almost guaranteed that the expression of love would be followed by a proposal.

This idea was so well entrenched that I remember whole story arcs in books and movies where characters agonised about whether or not this was the right time to say, “I love you.” Those three little words weren’t just sprinkled around indiscriminately. The right to say them had to be earned.

In the last year or two, however, I have revised my opinion. Because I don’t know where this idea of holding back came from. Perhaps it’s the fear that the person wouldn’t say it back – or that they would, but only because they felt they should.

And actually, that’s all balderdash. Because the person’s feelings about you are none of your business. How they feel about you shouldn’t change whether or not you love the person – that’s expedience, not love.

Love is a one way street. “I love you” is a straight line of love from my heart to yours. No detours, no hairpin bends, no potholes or speed bumps. Just love, flowing from me to you.

So I think we need to tell people more often that we love them, not less. And I’m not just referring to romantic love – we should be telling everybody! Our family, our friends, the cat, the dog, the hamster – if you love someone, just tell them already, dammit.

And stop feeling uncomfortable about saying it, or having it said to you – what is that about?! I think all of us could do with hearing more often that we are loved; the world in its current state of crisis could certainly do with a whole lot more love.

Because here’s the beautiful thing about love – it’s not depleted by being shared. Give it away, and it grows and overflows.

And why wouldn’t you want a little more of that in your life?

 

PS. I love you guys.

 

 

Ordinary miracles

July 27, 2016 § 1 Comment

The first present I opened on my birthday this year was a pair of purple socks, now known as the Socks of Awesomeness. Soft, thick and super-fleecy on the inside, they have become treasured possessions. “You’re always complaining that your feet are cold,” smiled the giver. “So I thought these might help.”

Every night as I slip my feet into those wearable foot hugs, I smile, because I remember the person who gave them to me, and their thoughtfulness. And I feel lucky and grateful and rich in ways that have nothing to do with money.

We’ve been sold a dream, you see, and it’s a lie. There are teams of people out there intent on manipulating us into buying more stuff, more things, more bling. If we only own this house, drive that car, wear these clothes or look exactly like that, they tell us, we’ll be happy.

But the older I get, the more I realise: that’s not where happiness lives. Happiness lives in the ordinary, everyday things so many of us take for granted.

Happiness lives in puddle-splashing and rain on the roof, in spectacular thunderstorms that threaten to tear the night sky in two. Happiness lives in hot tea on a cold day, in the laughter of children and the soft skin on my dog’s belly. Happiness lives in the smell of cinnamon, and the sound of the ocean, in hugs and whispered endearments, in the perfect lyric of your favourite song. It lives in late night messages from someone who just happened to be thinking about you, in the perfect sun puddle on a winter’s day, in the sound of the birds in the early dawn. It’s in the comfort of your own bed, the feel of grass beneath your bare feet, in sand between your toes. It lives in a blinking dew drop on a perfect rose.

So you can chase after all of those things; the things they say you must have. You can toil with one eye on the future,  concentrating on how happy you’ll be when you finally get there. But to do so is to miss the here and now, the moment-by-moment instances of pure joy that are calling for your attention, and which don’t require you to earn any more or work any harder or be any better.

All they require is for you to be present and observant. To pause for just a moment and notice what’s going on around you. To see that there’s a beauty in the ordinary; there’s magic to be found. It may not be where you thought you’d find it, but it’s magic nevertheless.

There’s a woman under here

June 29, 2016 § 10 Comments

There’s a woman under here, you know. A real, living, breathing, honest-to-God woman.

I know what the outside looks like. Middle-aged spread has changed the shape of me, although heaven knows I’m working on it. Again; still. My hair is peppered with grey. My skin has lost that youthful spring.

But still. There’s a woman under here.

I have so many labels now, I scarcely know how to carry them all. Daughter, mother, sister, friend, aunt, divorcee, writer, author, songwriter, coach, teacher, editor, employer, homeowner… A million times a day I change my mental clothes to be one or more of those.

And still. There’s a woman under here.

She’s mostly invisible. You have to look past the labels and the gently worn body, but she’s there. She still has dreams and desires, and she has a trick or two she could share. But she needs to be coaxed out. Because she’s been around the block a few times, and her heart is a little bruised and battered by life.

She may look strong, and capable and bold. She may smile, and her laugh is ready, but she’s easily hurt. She cries sometimes – in the car, in the bath, in the dark.

There’s a woman under here. A real, living, breathing, honest-to-God woman with fire in her soul.

And all she really wants is to be seen.

 

 

 

The weight on your shoulders

March 30, 2016 § 7 Comments

I was halfway through my teens when I switched into self-sufficiency. I don’t think it was conscious, but if I look back now, I can see where it all began. I can point out the day when I had to start being more independent, more self-reliant, learn to do things for myself.

Self-sufficiency isn’t a bad thing, of course. But like everything, it has its shadow side.

Self-sufficiency is like a backpack you carry around with you. It starts off being manageable, and it’s full of useful stuff. As you go through life, you add more useful stuff to it. Incrementally the weight of that backpack increases, so you don’t really notice how heavy it’s become.

So you keep on filling it up, and you begin to notice that your knees are starting to hurt a little, and your back isn’t happy.But there are mountains to be conquered, so you keep walking, and you keep adding more stuff to your backpack. You squeeze things into the corners. Maybe you even find a way to stack them so that they don’t fall out.

And then the day comes when you can’t lift the backpack anymore. You can’t even get it onto your shoulders while you sit on the bed. Because while you’ve been looking after yourself, you really haven’t been looking after yourself.

Self-sufficiency is not the same as self-care.

Self-sufficiency makes the bed every day, and only allows you to crawl under the covers when you’re falling asleep on your feet. Self-care tucks you into bed when you’re tired with a cup of tea. It draws a hand softly across your forehead, knowing that if you rest, you’ll work smarter, not harder, tomorrow.

Self-sufficiency says ‘yes’ when it should say ‘no’. Self-care knows that ‘no’ is a full sentence. And that if you can’t say ‘no’ without guilt, then your ‘yes’ doesn’t really mean much after all.

Self-sufficiency is proud. Self-care is kind. It knows where the boundaries are, and lovingly enforces them.

Self-care isn’t a backpack at all. It’s not something you carry. Self-care is something you keep in your heart.

It’s small and it’s light, and it’s easily lost, but without it that backpack is impossible to carry.

 

 

 

Lessons from my dogs

May 21, 2015 Comments Off on Lessons from my dogs

I share my home with two insane dogs, a Golden Retriever and a (mostly) Staffie. And since I work from home, I have ample chance to observe them.

Dogs have much to teach us, I think. They live in the moment and need so little to satisfy them – enough food, decent shelter and plenty of love will usually do the trick, although permission to sleep on the bed is always welcomed.

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Here then, are 10 lessons I’ve learned from my dogs.

  1. Defend your territory and the people you love at all times. Loudly and vociferously.
  2. Show your loved ones that you’re pleased to see them – even if you’ve only been apart for five minutes.
  3. When you’re cold, one of the best ways to warm up is a nap on a sunny part of the lawn.
  4. Rules are made to be broken. Seize the day, seize the dirty washing, seize the half-carved chicken off the kitchen counter. Obeying all the rules will seldom get you what you want.
  5. Sometimes you have to get dirty to have fun. In fact, getting dirty is always fun.
  6. If you need to lose weight, simply eating 10% less of the things you love will usually do the trick.
  7. Walks are just adventures in your neighbourhood. They should be taken daily for maximum happiness.
  8. Naps are everything.
  9. If you love someone, kisses are to be lavishly distributed, at any time of day, for any reason at all.
  10. There’s nothing quite as delicious as a loving pair of hands on your body. Revel in it.

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There’s no place like home

February 5, 2015 § 10 Comments

I was recently back in the town where I grew up, visiting my parents, and my younger daughter asked me to show her the house I’d grown up in.

So we took a drive past the house and continued up the long, straight road past my primary school on the right hand side, right next to the Methodist Church where I attended Girl Guides. Then we drove on to my high school, exactly a kilometre from our front gate.

As we cruised through the suburb, I pointed out where the Scary Dog had lived – the one with yellow eyes, the one that terrified five-year-old me as I trudged to school with my brown suitcase, its metal handle digging into my small hands. I showed them the place of my greatest ignominy, where I tumbled off my bicycle as a teenager and landed, legs in the air, in the middle of the road right in front of the school gates. I showed them the verandah outside my Grade 1 classroom – or Sub A as it was called back then. And I showed them the verandah outside the woodwork classrooms, where I hung out in my final year of high school, a lone girl in a garrulous group of boys.

But what I really wanted to do was to go back to my house, to number 28, knock on the door and ask the people who lived there now if I could wander around. I wanted to see if the loquat tree still bore its yellow apricot-like fruits; if the piece of cement next to the pool still bears my hand print and those of my brother, my sister. I wanted to look for my mother’s short, broad footprint next to the bench she built on the side of the house.

I wanted to know if the pine, louvre-doored built-in cupboards that divided my sister’s room and mine were still there – cupboards my father built with the help of a friend, that turned a former single garage into two lovely bedrooms, and which looked as professional as any carpenter’s work.

I wanted to know if the plaster in the passage and the study and the lounge was still knobbly and rough and painted with shiny enamel – all the rage in the ’70s and ’80s. And I wondered if they’d kept the long, wide cement driveway, parts of which I helped my father to throw, mixing the cement with a spade making that satisfying shuck-shuck-shuck noise to ensure it was the right texture. The same driveway where I taught myself to ride my first bicycle, aged nine.

Is my mother’s rose garden still there, the one she tended in a windy climate not suited to rose-growing? Does the wooden fence still enclose the pool? And what about the Wendy House, the one my dad built out of an old packing case and a window from a Mini, and which stood next to the sandpit – a huge tractor tyre he brought home from work. Does any shred of them remain? Does the pear tree still bear fruit that’s inedible unless you stew it for a very long time?

And then I realised that none of those things are likely to be there anymore. Because although it’s my house, it’s not my home anymore. It’s just a geographical marker of my memories, and stepping over the threshold would only bring disappointment. Other people are making new memories in that shell, and nothing inside is likely to live up to what I remember.

So I’ll go back and drive around the neighbourhood again, in all likelihood. I’ll point out where the bearded woman lived around the corner, and I’ll remember the house whose verge grass was so soft and plush that I’d walk that way just to feel it give way beneath my school shoes.

But I won’t ever knock on that door and ask the people who live there if I can have a look around. I’ll just remember, and smile, and keep on driving.

Where Am I?

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