All posts by Bevatgreencliff

Reason To Be

It is six weeks almost (really? Only that long?!), since we found out that Mum’s time in this world was drawing to an end. I wrote about those very first days in Companions at Journey’s end. It helps – to write about it and to talk about it.  It’s easy to feel isolated – alone in all of this. We read on a website (I had typed “what to do when someone is dying” into a browser – because I really, really want to know what to do) that feeling as if you exist in some sort of bubble, as if life is now passing you by, as if you may not be able to concentrate on anything else, as if this, this waiting for death, is all that matters – all of that is normal. The relief we all felt was wonderful. We are so afraid of getting it wrong, Of making mistakes that will somehow ‘spoil’ what is left of our mum’s life.

Some of our questions are obvious, but seem frightening to vocalize. “Who do we ring first if she dies at night?”; “What happens to her body after she dies?”; “How do we arrange a funeral?” We hesitate about asking these questions out loud at first. And how much do we talk to mum about these things? Sometimes she seems clear and keen to discuss things life her personal effects and her funeral; her financial affairs and contacting people to say goodbye to. Other times, it is as though she is in denial about everything. She can hardly walk to the commode in the bedroom, yet demands that a stair lift be fitted so can come downstairs. She feels she is going stir-crazy in her bedroom. We doubt she will actually use it. Most of the day she is simply too exhausted to do anything. Having a drink wipes her out. Yet when someone visits, she rallies, drawing strength from some reserve deep within herself. She is delighted particularly when the little ones come – Oscar, Isabella, Jessica. She loves to watch them hunt in her drawers for the chocolate she has always hidden especially for them. She’s always loved babies and toddlers and they have always responded well to her. Last week, my sister and daughter felt the tears pressing on their eyes as they watched her press a coin into the hand of Cooper, the latest addition. A tradition she has upheld with every baby who is put in her arms.

She doesn’t rally much for us now. We have to accept that exhaustion is normal; fighting spirit is rare. She can’t sleep through the night; her legs and feet throb. She can’t lie down; he lungs feel as if they are being swamped with thick fluid. She feels totally listless and her interest in anything is diminishing daily. Sleep is her best friend, but eludes her too much to refresh her sufficiently.

Professionals are being marvellous. The community nurses bring dressings, pressure relief aids and their competency, which we grasp at. She gives them a hard time, refusing their offers of painkillers (fear of constipation!) and raised foot-stools (makes her legs hurt more). They try but they cannot please her. Carers are wonderful, giving us some respite and bringing another kind face into the mix. Allowing our inter-reactions with her to not always be about bodily functions. Allowing us to take a walk or go to the shop. They even wash pots and empty bins as they brightly chatter. We are becoming very fond of them.

The GP patiently explains what to expect; holds our hands as she tells us how to report the death when it happens; talks with us of practical things and puts her arms around us when we weep. Her compassion makes us cry more, but reassures us we are not alone and that we are cared about. All the time we know we are ‘in-waiting’, that this may last days, weeks, possibly months – the time is the one thing unknown.

As I walked to the shops a few days ago, with a list of things she wanted – prunes, jellies, tissues – and instructions to pay the papers out of  “that money, not the money you draw out” – I remember thinking that this was now my ‘reason-to-be’. Not that I was a vocational shopper, but that being ‘daughter-to-my-dying-mum’ was my reason right now. It has taken centre stage in my life, as it has in my sisters’. It is what we do right now, as I described before, we are ‘companions-at-journey’s-end’. Other things happen and life goes on; other people call on our time; jobs need to be done, but “this” is the “thing” that occupies most of our waking hours, interrupts our sleep, takes up much of thinking space and prevents us from making too many long-term plans. This is just how it is. And worse, if we feel even the slightest resentment about any of that, we hear an inner voice chastising us for being mean. Sharing with each other though, we have come to understand the normality of our thoughts and our questions.  We are not mean; just human and we’re feeling our way along a tricky path.

There is something of purpose in it; this ‘reason-to-be’. We are needed, we are treasured, we are occupied purposefully and mostly, there is nowhere else we want to be. This consuming of all of our time is what we give up willingly. It has focused us on how precious life is and how much we should revel in it. How it is only in relationships with each other that we truly come alive. We give and receive from one another and become more human in the exchange.

So, as I watch Isabella and Jessica rise up and down on the electric bed, laughing joyously and see mum smiling on at them, I remember my Gran and the huge love she had. That smile replicated on my mother’s face; that delight felt in my own heart; that beauty seen in my daughter watching them too and that laughter lighting up the room from my granddaughters. And I love that each of us pass something of ourselves, down through the generations, as we pass through this life, that will live on and light up other lives once we have passed on. More of what gives us reason to be.

 

Companions at Journey’s End

A few weeks ago my Mum turned yellow – seriously yellow! She actually  looked as if she was auditioning for the Simpsons.

“Mum, you’re yellow,” I told her, trying hard not to sound too alarmed. “Oh I know, your sister keeps saying that. I can’t see it myself and I don’t feel ill.”

We persuaded her eventually- not easily – to go to the GP.  I dreaded what my sister would tell me when she ‘phoned me that night. I could be wrong, I thought. Surely a damaged heart valve is enough to be living with at 88? She couldn’t possibly have any liver damage, could she? It might be some kind of weird Hepatitis that they could deal with quickly.

I was kidding myself. I knew there were no other explanations. Urgent scan booked, two days later, on a Friday, she reluctantly (because she had a whole diary of commitments that day!) climbed into my sister’s car and they made the journey to Stepping Hill hospital. My sister drove home alone. Mum was too dehydrated for a scan; they admitted her and set up an IV drip to pump fluids into her.  She was irritated by the whole inconvenience. There were flowers to sort for church; linens to wash for Communion; hyacinths to be lifted out of dark places.

The CT scan was booked for the following Monday. Luckily, I could be there. I didn’t want to be there. Well, I was happy to be with her, but I knew, with a sickening ache in my stomach what it would reveal. I arrived at 11am and at midday she was wheeled down to Radiography and I walked alongside her. I’d be doing a lot of that in the coming days. Walking by my mum.

She wasn’t happy about the scan. “It’s the noise I’m worried about.”

“Good job you’re deaf then!” I joked. I expected her to be frightened as we waited; she was more bothered about wetting herself, being saturated with fluids and with bursting bladder. I watched through the open door as a Radiographer patiently explained what would happen. She had a professional, calm air about her that probably reassured Mum, but which brought home to me that I was now on ‘the other side’.

I was in the NHS for over 30 years; a nurse for most of that time, I also spent many years working with parents and families. I was the one doing the reassuring; patiently explaining; demonstrating compassion. Now I watched as Mum embraced the patient role; lay on a trolley and was fed through a ‘Polo-mint’, as they termed it for her amusement. I did not enjoy being a patient’s relative; I felt powerless and uncomfortable. I wanted to be ‘in-the-know’ and doing the reassuring.

Then began the waiting game. We would have the results by 7pm and my sister would be with me then. Our other 2 sisters and brother waiting in their homes for news. My eldest daughter and niece arrived at 6pm. Sammy, the eldest daughter, is good to have around on these occasions. She’s funny and loud; she helped us to forget that we were waiting for terrible news; news that wouldn’t be new; that would actually confirm what we actually already knew, but perhaps couldn’t accurately name.

He was a young man; no more than 30 – younger than my youngest. Dressed in green scrubs (so glad for those; they made him into someone who surely knew what he was talking about), he came and sat on her bed, next to me, opposite my sister and close to Mum, so that we would all hear him as he spoke. Ali and I held our breath. Mum looked totally relaxed and gave him a dazzling smile (she is so good at dazzling smiles!) as he began to explain what was going on inside her.

“There’s no real good news to share, I’m afraid. It seems there’s some mischief afoot in your tummy.” It was a good way to start. Mum grasped it, I could tell, but kept on smiling. “It looks to be a sizable tumour and we’re pretty sure it’s cancerous. It’s choking off your bile ducts and messing up the area round your gall bladder and pancreas.” A lot of Mischief afoot then.

He quietly answered our questions. He drew pictures to show what was going on. Worst of all, in his gentlest tone, he explained that there was nothing that could be done. The tumour was nasty, was large, would not respond to chemotherapy and could not be surgically removed. That’s when your blood runs a little bit icy cold; when you hear there’s no hope. That what lies ahead is painful and miserable. But they could make her more comfortable

“Are you saying there is only palliative care is all that can be offered?” He wanted to give us more than that. “We’re not quite there yet. We’re going to look at inserting stents into the ducts so that we can drain off the bilirubin – that’s what’s making her yellow.”

“Are you in any pain at the moment?” he asked Mum.

“Only in my legs. It’s all this fluid you’re putting in me.” Professionals want us to be grateful that they’re trying to help, but my Mum saw this intervention as nothing but a nuisance.

“I’m sorry it’s all bad news” he says. He sounds embarrassed; as though he feels he’s failed her. Ali and I are fighting back tears and Mum just says, “Well, what will be, will be.” He leaves us and we all sit there stunned for a minute. Mum is the first to spring into life. We are given a list of people who need to know – and later there’ll be a list of jobs that need to be done. She has a focus now; she knows ‘what’s what’ and somehow, despite the awfulness of the diagnosis, she is galvanized into action.  It is she who comforts us by giving us tasks to fill our time. Presents have to be bought; messages have to be conveyed.

And so we enter a period of madness; of conversations where people are shocked and saddened. Of busy-ness; where we work through the lists we have been given. Of questions and uncertainty; where  we struggle to find the right professional to give us accurate information. One day things seems clear – the next it appears no-one seems to know what’s going on. We hear nothing; there is nothing to tell us then suddenly she is whisked off to Wythenshawe at the crack of dawn for stents to be inserted. One day it is essential she has IV fluids; the next, when she tells them she won’t have her other arm made a mess of (her right one had a clot and became severely bruised and very sore) it apparently is no longer important. Then she has an infection, but it’s okay, she won’t need to be in a side-room as ‘it won’t be good for her mood’; the same evening, she goes to the loo and finds her bed and belongings moved to a side-room. We are exhausted with driving to this hospital, finding parking places, and with trying to find out facts about our own mother.

Most of the nurses are wonderful; some are not. There is the night nurse who refuses to let her get into bed at the side she finds easiest. Who tells her off (telling an 88-yr-old lady off! What?!) for needing to have her legs lifted into bed. ‘How do you manage at home? That’s not what we’re here for’. I wish I had met this nurse. I would have lifted her legs for her!

Then there is the day we can’t take any more. Mum is becoming depressed. She hates that she has to use a walking frame; that she needs a pressure cushion; that she cannot manage all her toilet needs and finds it difficult to wash. An alpha-female, used to being in control, she has been independent all her life. Now, daily, all that is being taken from her. She wants to be at home. And we’re told she perhaps as no more than a few months left with us. Her bilirubin levels are still staggeringly high. Her legs are swollen so much her joints can scarcely bend. She can’t sleep and she hates the food.

We decide to demand answers. What is the point of her being here if nothing more can be done? I ask, in my best voice, ready to stand up to professional defensiveness, if we can talk to someone about our mother’s care because we’re concerned. We are ready for battle but are instead disarmed by kindness and compassion from a Nurse Practitioner. I love this nurse. Plans are put into place with great haste and the very next day she is discharged into my sister Ali’s care (she lives with her).

What happens after discharge is another story – one I may tell another day. But a commode is installed; a special bed is delivered; carers are appointed; rotas for us are established; stair-lifts are installed; a funeral is talking of; application for lasting attorney is registered; the house and our lives are turned upside down. All this and more – as we all prepare to accompany our Mum on the last leg of her journey. As we make ourselves ready to let her go. As we watch her shrink, become frailer and wait for the inevitable pain to hit her in waves.

We have shed so many tears, but we’ve had to dry them for now as there is much to do. We have so little time with her, we can’t be wasting those precious moments sobbing. In the coming weeks, we are told, she will become less able and more bedridden as her muscles waste and the cancer invades other parts of her body (it has already found its way to some glands and into her right lung). Her heart is already compromised with Atrial Fibrillation and is working very hard to fight this invader; but it won’t win, we know that.

Mum has a deep faith.  She is not afraid of Death for she knows it was defeated on the Cross. She is, however, wary of dying. She knows it has to be done but she wishes it could be missed out and that she could just go straight to the Father.

And she does not want to leave us. We can’t bear the thought of her not being here. I think now, as I write this, that months from now, I will read this and she won’t be here. I won’t see her again in this world. I carry around the weight of the sadness of that with me always.

But tonight I have laid down the sadness for a little while. I have girded something within myself; something of her that birthed me and made me strong enough to face a tough world with a smile on my face. And I give thanks that I have the honour of being one of her companions as she makes this last stage of her journey. And I pray for strength to carry her, along with my sisters and brother, on that day when she can no longer carry herself. And for the fortitude to be able to let her go when the time comes.

My Face has Lived and Loved

There are these times, and as we reach middle-age they probably occur more and more frequently, when we start to accept that we won’t always have those “moments of glad grace”.[1] Sometimes, a glance in the mirror tells us the awful truth, that we’d really like to ignore for at least a few more years, of lines ever-deepening; skin ever-drying; eyes less-sparkling. There it is before us – we are becoming old. We can apply all the moisturizer we like (and believe me there are times when I have furiously coaxed my face into accepting half a pot in the vain attempt to flatten a few wrinkles!) but we this is one march of progress we have no control over.

This is my face and I love it!

The funny thing is, and I do wish I could have known this years ago, there does come a point when the horror, having moved through despair into acceptance, suddenly turns into an embracing of all that is happening. This is weird – I bet anyone under 58 will refuse to believe it! – but I actually don’t mind this aging process. In fact, you know what? I’m rather getting to enjoy it!

For years, I raged against aging; fought it, tried to tame it – then it was as if I gave up on it, despaired of it, lay down and just let it roll over me. Then I woke up one day, and said, “okay, you win! Have your way.” At that moment of letting go I felt myself laugh and I held out my arms to hug my own body (including the arms with the bingo wings, the flabby thighs, the wrinkled neck and the creased up face) and I declared that this was mine! I am what I have become because I lived and loved. These lines are statements of all the times I have laughed and cried and they are reminders of all my companions on this crazy journey we call life. I’ve loved it and I still love it.

There is so much more to see and do and hear and rejoice in, but now, the pressure to be something I am not has left me. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are times when the old insecurities creep back to niggle away and tell me ‘That doesn’t suit you’ and ask in that familiar sarcastic tone, ‘Are you really going out like that?’ What has changed is that they no longer have a grip on me; I’m not afraid to look them in the eye and assert, with a defiant tilt of my head ‘It may well not suit me, but I’m feeling good anyway, and yes, I am jolly well going out like this and you can just do one!’

I’ve been so hard on myself for so many years, it’s really a massive relief to get to this stage. Women are so very tough on themselves and on each other, aren’t they? As if we have something of a ‘duty’ to look good. And who is that determines what looking good’ actually means, anyway? Our different cultures foist these images on us, through all the different media available, and that’s reinforced in how we look at each other, speak of one another and talk about ourselves. I hear it all the time. “She’s out on a bit of weight, hasn’t she?” or even “She used to be so slim” or, my real pet hate, “She’s let herself go” How dare we let the side down by stuffing our faces with food and becoming so fat that our arms jiggle when we applaud and our thighs wobble when we run? What a terrible crime we’ve committed!

There has been many a boy who “loved [my] beauty with love false or true” and I let it matter too much. To the point where it defined who I was. There was this boy once, Michael was his name, with bright blue eyes and curly black hair and I thought he was gorgeous and my fourteen-year-old self thrilled to be chosen to be the one he snogged (sorry, very old-fashioned word!!) at a party at a friends’ house. (Do you remember those parties, where the parents, usually-unsuspecting, went and your friend invited half the year group round, we all drank something called ‘Party Seven’ and Babychams, got tiddly and some of the lucky ones paired off and the lights were turned down and we found a corner somewhere to do all that snogging and groping – never quite going ‘all-the-way-because-we’re-not easy-are-we?) So there I was, lying in his arms, feeling very chuffed when, he looked down at me and announced, “You’re really quite good-looking…(he peers at me)….from the neck down”

What?!!! You see, I should have cut and run at that point. Or possibly even smacked him. I didn’t. I swallowed the lie. I ate it and became it. I heard so many other ‘lies’ that reinforced it and my whole identity somehow became wrapped up in that “unattractive” rubbish. We have to teach our grandchildren (hopefully our children are already more resilient) to bounce away from all of that. To laugh and run and never mind.

I know someone who “loved the pilgrim Soul in [me]” – always has and always will and knows well “the sorrows of [my] changing face”. He’s the One I call Lord and he made me, in fact he “knitted me together in my mother’s womb”[2]. So many years have I fretted away though, while not fully understanding this truth. That my ‘pilgrim Soul’ is actually what really matters. I am loved because he made me; not because of what I am and what I look like. I don’t have to remain in this place, I can travel to where I’m called to be and I am held by One who also put the stars in place and made the sun to shine.

My face is changing; it shows the sorrows I’ve had, but it also declares the joys I’ve experienced and there far are more of those. It is the face of me though and I’ve lived with this changing face for a little over sixty years now, we’ve grown accustomed to each other, me and my changing face. I rejoice that, hopefully, we’ll be continuing to add lines to it in abundance for many more years to come. And if that isn’t to be, if I am called home sooner, I revel in the understanding that this face won’t be travelling with me into Eternity!

[1] “When You Are Old” W B Yeats

[2] Psalm 139:13

Reflecting on Loughrigg

Views make the climb worthwhile

At the risk of sounding super-spiritual, there really is something soul-uplifting about walking on the fells and hills. I love that feeling of pushing myself to the point of being uncomfortable; of having to really exert myself to get up the slopes; to have to struggle to reach the top. I like the thought of it all the evening before; something akin to fear, but not dread, more like excitement. ‘Will I make it? Am I going to make a fool of myself’ – it’s always there, that little bit of doubt. That whiny inner voice that tries to convince you that you can’t possibly do it – and the assertive voice that states firmly, ‘oh yes, I can! Why not me?’

The joy of reaching the top!

I like the packing of the rucksack – loading in my butties and my flapjack; maps, GPS thingy, apple, water, waterproofs, woollies, hat, Buff(believe me, there is such a thing!!); mat to sit on, banana, gaiters, spare socks, compass….the list seems endless, and the pushing down of ‘stuff’, the rearranging of it all – it’s all part of the excitement of preparation. I love waking up early, stoking up with a big breakfast, the chatter with friends as we wait to go, (‘Do we put waterproofs in rucksack or wear them for now? Do I need my middle layer on? Have I put sunscreen on’)  then nipping back inside for a last quick ‘widdle’ and then the setting off.  There we go! That’s us – off for the day to conquer a small mountain!

Coffee on the shores of Grasmere

So we set off from Rydal Hall that sunny morning in early May, led by Peter and Ann, an accomplished and experienced couple, with the gentlest of natures, lots of patience and a tangible love for walking. I picked their walk as much for them as for the fell we’d be climbing. They advised using sticks – well, Lou and I always use them anyway, if there’s any chance of a climb. We both have shot knees and, especially on the descent, feel the agony. I actually swear by them after doing the Oxfam Trail-Trek 3 years ago. They do take so much pressure off the legs and knees, and using your arms gives you a more rounded workout.

We’ve got to get up there!

The walk we did is around 8.5 miles, walking along the Coffin route as far as White Moss, then crossing the road to walk along the river linking Rydal with Grasmere, through Deerbolt Woods and along the beach of Grasmere. A gentle start, watching dogs splashing in the waters, chasing balls and generally reveling in the morning sunshine. The good weather had brought a few young families out and it was pleasant having mid-morning coffee and flapjack on the lake shore.

Coffee-time!

Pressing on, we started to climb, gently at first, but gradually becoming steeper and the heart starts pumping, as we look back on views of the lake below. It’s worth the exertion always to be able to capture that view.

Maggie takes a breather

The walk then continues to traverse above Grasmere and Rydal to Loughrigg Terrace, where we meet the turn-off to the steep ascent path up the Fell. Bracing ourselves, we proceed and for me, every step I take I’m defeating all the voices that have proclaimed what I can’t do and I’m boldly stepping into what I can and love doing. I’m nearly 60 and I’m bagging a Wainwright! It’s steep and it’s rough and the path is eroded in parts, and sometimes I’m on my hands and knees pulling myself up, but, after taking a few stops to catch my breath and take a photo (always a great excuse to have a breather!) I finally make it! I’m at the summit, 340m (about 1,300ft) above sea-level. We’re delighted, Lou and I, every climb is another shout to the wind, of “we can do it!”

Not our most glamorous selfie!

We don’t care much what we look like and that’s just as well, as we’re never really at our most glamorous on these occasions. We’re just happy to be alive and high up.

The joy of reaching the top!

Of course, after the exhilaration of climbing up, there’s the business of having to get down! So, we’re off again, on the descent, poles bearing the strain of the steepness. Then there’s those moments of looking back and seeing where we’ve been. We did that!

We actually climbed that hill. Lunch in the sunshine, when we’ve descended a couple of hundred feet feels well-deserved and most enjoyable. Fruit cake tastes amazing on a hill!

 

 

 

 

 

pennies in a tree stump
Back down by the river
home via the bridge
Wisteria
Wild garlic in grounds of Rydal

 

 

 

 

Sisters do Silver How!

Lucille on Silver How, with Grasmere and Rydal behind
Lucille on Silver How, with Grasmere and Rydal behind

My sister, Lou, started walking with me in 2012, when my hubby hurt his back and couldn’t come with me on a Walking Weekend to Keswick. (I go every year with a group from my previous church, All Saints in Marple). She’s 2 years younger than me, but back then had done very little walking and I was fitter – but only because I was training for an Oxfam Trailtrekker event. She came with me and did the Easy walk, but said it nearly killed her! Nevertheless, she wasn’t put off and caught the bug. By the following year, just walking an hour every day, she had raised her game and we could longer and tougher walks together.

This year, the weekend was based at Rydal Hall, in the Lake District. I love the place. We went up early on the Friday, before meeting up with the rest of the group and walked together up Silver How, one of the smaller hills at 325m above Grasmere. It was just over 3 miles, but it’s pretty steep at the top and the paths are rough. It can be done in a couple of hours, depending on your fitness and ability, but the views are just stunning, so it’s worth taking your time and enjoying looking out to the Langdales, Bowfell, Helm Crag, Steel Fell, Heron Pike and Fairfield if you can spot them. We had the best sort of weather for our walk – sunny with clear skies, but cool we weren’t hot and flustered as we walked.

Passing Alan Bank, which was Wordsworth’s temporary home and is now owned by the National Trust, we started off on a narrow lane, climbing quickly up what seemed like a dry river bed before emerging on to the open fellside. It was hard not to keep stopping and looking back – so beautiful with the green of early foliage so bright.

Looking down from climb up Silver How
Looking down from climb up Silver How
Looking back down to Grasmere
Looking back down to Grasmere

We then passed a deep gill on the right where there were masses of juniper bushes – they look like gorse at first. I bet in the late summer the scent of gin is fabulous!

Views as we climb Silver How
Juniper bushes in the Gill

The climb is pretty strenuous all the way and paths are narrow and stony – at one point we forded a river, which was dry on the day, but I should think is tricky after rains. On the other side of it, after a steep climb up a rocky hillside, the path widens goes across a plateau where the top of Silver How can be clearly seen. The last section is quite steep and very rubbly, with cairns marking the way. It’s fabulous when you reach the summit though – even though it was “blowing a hooley” when we got up there. We managed to keep our feet for the obligatory snap though – of course!

The Walking Reader on top of Silver How, Lake District

The Walking Reader on top of Silver How, Lake District

 

Lucille on Silver How, with Grasmere and Rydal behind
Lucille on Silver How, with Grasmere and Rydal behind

The views are so worth the aching legs! Coming down is, at times, hard going as it’s really steep and stony, but some of the way is made slightly easier with engineered steps – although these can become very tedious at times. As you can see, Lou was elated to be almost at the bottom of the slope! On the whole, a really great walk made all the more special due to the great weather and being in the company of my little sister!

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Reading Doesn’t Need To Be ‘Classic’ To Be Useful

I really hope I don’t give the impression that I only read books that are termed ‘classics’ or that I am snobby about any genre. True, there are books I’ve read that make my toes curl, as the writing, in my opinion of course, feels so dreadful. However, I have learned that in the world of reading, the saying ‘horses for courses’ most definitely applies. What I find to be awful, might appeal to others. I have good friends, whose opinion I respect, recommend books to me and which I found  to be boring, or confusing, or I simply couldn’t ‘get along with’. There are also  times when I recommend a book I enjoyed to someone who later tells me they hated it! There was a time when I would be aghast that a friend could possibly hold a different view to mine about a book, but I guess I’ve matured enough to accept that we can differ – it need not divide us though.

All reading is useful. A bold statement, I know, but I do believe it is. Even the terrible reads I have mentioned have been helpful in leading me to discern more clearly what sort of reading I am most likely to enjoy in the future. No human being has time to read everything that’s ever been written; we need ways to learn how to filter. Whatever we read adds to the refining of that filtering system. Sometimes this might mean we filter out books that we may well have liked, ‘if only we’d known’, but we simply have to have ways of cutting that pile of ‘books-still-to-read’ down to a manageable size.

The MOST useful reads though are those that make us think, no matter what genre they are described as. They might stop us in our tracks (thinking tracks, that is) and lead us to reflect on what is being said, or to make an association with some other experience we’ve had, or connect us with other thoughts we’ve had. We may not even be clear how the association is made, or why a word or phrase halts out thinking, or sends us down a new thought-track. It doesn’t really matter why or how it happens – it’s just brilliant when it does. Even better is when that thought won’t let you go; when you put the book down and it still has hold of you. You find yourself at a party, perhaps, or on a bus, or out on a walk, and there you are, thinking those thoughts that sprang to life in your reading and they’re with you now, changing the way you look at others or how you see the world. And you find yourself asking questions, saying words, telling stories, thinking more thoughts – that were never in your head before. And that’s so exciting. That’s learning. That’s useful.

What has been the most ‘useful’ book you’ve read recently?

“A heavenlier world than this?”

garden 2017Joy struck me again today – right in the heart – as I turned into our drive and walked towards the house. My sloping garden welcomed me with splashes of colour and reached towards me with an embrace of loveliness. How could I fail to smile at the sight of scarlet and bright yellow primroses? Or delight in the tightly clenched buds of the President Eisenhower rhododendron beginning to release their gorgeous magenta flowers? Newly placed rocks too sheltering the azaleas pleased me – they looked so ….. right, so absolutely right.

Then on the steps leading to the side garden, the white hydrangeas in pots and the newly planted lilac violas there – all just with nothing to do but give pleasure. I stand on the drive smiling at it all and then enjoy it all over again later from the kitchen window. There’s even another moment later, while having lunch, that I think, “I must go and look at the garden.” I can’t get enough of it!

hydrangeas 2017There are those days when I’m perhaps ill or tired or just plain fed up (not so many, I hasten to add!) and I know that simply looking out at the garden will lift my spirits. Last week, I was with a friend dealing with a very challenging situation. It was a painful one and it drained something from me. “I feel the need to go and buy bedding plants”, I said to him as we parted. Later, preparing the spot where they would go, positioning them carefully, patting them into place, watering them and then standing back to enjoy them, it was as though I was being replenished from what I had poured out. In every little face of those violas, I saw a smile that cheered me and spurred me forwards. Nature has the gift of restoration.

garden 3 2017So yesterday, as I prepared for my reading group, perhaps that’s what led me to choose some chapters from “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The story of a rather unlovely (and unloved) little girl, Mary; raised in India by Ayahs, as her parents found her sickly and unattractive, and brought to England by her uncle when the community is wiped out by Cholera. She is a strange little thing, with no social skills, little interest in anything at all, but is somehow stirred by thoughts of a garden.

“She could not help thinking about the garden which no one had been into for ten years. She wondered what it would look like and whether there were any flowers still alive in it.”

garden 2017It will be this secret garden that eventually helps to restore her, but for me, yesterday, it reinforced the thought that there is a deep connection between us folk and gardens. Perhaps it’s to do with having been placed in a Garden at Creation? God wanted us to simply enjoy and care for that place. We ended up messing that up, but for millions, tending to gardens, labouring in them, watching them grow and looking at the fruits of that hard work are what sustains and nourishes them. I love the connection that little Mary grows to have with the old, gnarled and grumpy gardener, as he too, sensing the draw of the garden for the child, reaches out to her, in his own, plain-speaking way:

We’re neither of us good lookin’ an’ we’re both of us as sour as we look. We’ve got the same nasty tempers, both of us, I’ll warrant.”

It’s the first step for the girl at developing self-awareness and it all begins in a garden – a place where she will find solace and healing eventually.

It wasn’t therefore hard, given all these thoughts, to choose the poem “In the Fields” by Charlotte Mew, to read with the group.

Lord when I look at lovely things which pass,

Under old trees the shadow of young leaves

Dancing to please the wind along the grass,

Or the gold stillness of the August sun on the August sheaves;

Can I believe there is a heavenlier world than this?

And if there is

Will the heart of any everlasting thing

Bring me these dreams that take my breath away?

They come at evening with the home-flying rooks and the scent

of hay,

Over the fields. They come in spring.

There’s the thought I have! “Can I believe there is a heavenlier world than this?” Yes, that’s it, I guess, because within me, I believe there is that God-placed yearning for ‘something more’, which I know I will share in- when all things come to pass. Until then, we seek out the beautiful things that grow and dance “to please the wind along the grass”. Our gardens, our parks, woodlands, hillsides, forests, seascapes – all these places of loveliness, where flowers, trees, shrubs grow and dance in breezes, show us glimpses of what it will be like. They are tantalizing promises of better things to come and meantime, in the here and now, they do more than cheer, they lift our hearts and souls to a place of delightful, energising joy.

Pass me my spade and my wellies!!

The Old Man Who Shouted

old-man-cryingShe found a seat at the top of the ramp leading up from the beach, looking out to sea and across the bay back across the three miles of sands they’d just walked. Slipping Bodie’s lead through the arm of the bench, she stretched her legs, lifted her face to the warm sunshine and smiled. Phil was seeing Filey now in all its full late-summer glory and he’d remember it like this and not wet, windy and cold as it had been for the last three days. So he couldn’t go on about the ‘grim, grotty Northern seaside’ as he was wont to do.

“You’re looking very smug, missy”, he said, returning with ice-creams.

“Just enjoying the sun. Bodie, don’t get any ideas, mate!”

“How can you resist those eyes?” he laughed and tousled the spaniel’s long ears.

“Quite easily when it’s stuff that’s bad for him”.

“See the fat lady over there?”

“Phil!” she reprimanded him, “that isn’t kind”.

“Whatever. Anyway, she’s feeding that bloody poodle chips, for heaven’s sake! It can hardly waddle along as it is”.

“People treat their dogs like kids. It’s not fair on them”. She sat up to enjoy the cornet better. Somehow, just like fish and chips, these things tasted better eaten in the open air by the sea.

“Have you noticed how some people get to look their dogs?” He mused, as he licked away.

“I don’t have long ears, do I?”

“Not you. Although you both like your belly tickled’ he winked at her, “But take the fat woman and her fat poodle. They both have similar hairstyles. The shaggy mop look. And that guy”, he nodded over at a young man with tattoos holding the chain lead of a Boxer dog, “see the facial features?”

Laughing, she had to agree. “Oh and how about him? The little old fellow with the Jack Russell?”

“Exactly! Both small, wiry with spindly legs and the grumpiest of faces”

“I think they’re both just hot.” She felt mean now for drawing attention to him. He was clearly exhausted; leaning on the railings while the little dog drank thirstily. She’d seen him yesterday, this tiny ancient, when she’d walked here in the pouring rain. He’d been huddled into his coat, the same one he was wearing today. Why, when it was so warm? He’d come down the hill, past the glen, the old terrier trundling alongside him, and had stood in the same place, at the far end of the walkway, looking out to sea, gripping the railings. Maybe it was his daily constitutional? He looked so weary and, not so much grumpy, as Phil had said, but addled (she loved that word!), as if he had lots on his mind and couldn’t clear it. Maybe he stood here in this spot every day to try and blow the clutter that crowded his thinking space away and out to sea?

“Yummy, eh? Don’t tell your mother” Phil had finished his ice-cream and was feeding the end of the cone to Bodie, while she’d been distractedly musing. He grinned and gave her that ‘What am I doing so wrong?’ expression that he did so well. Shaking her head, she brushed crumbs from her shorts and stood to stretch. Bodie was on his feet, ready to go and as she turned to her dog, she heard the old man shout out,

“You can’t take dogs on that side of the beach!”

A young man, twenty-something, blond, good-looking, with naked, bronzed upper torso, was about to walk down the ramp at the other end of the walkway from where they were sitting, with his black Labrador. He halted for a second and looked back at the old man.

“Says who?” he demanded, in a mocking tone.

The man pointed at the notice ‘Dogs must not be exercised on this part of the beach’. “You can walk on that side of the beach” and he pointed to the bay, where they had walked from the holiday village.

“Huh! I’ll walk where I damned well like!”  he fired back, laughed, swore again and proceeded to stride down the ramp.

There were a few people who heard the exchange, of course, it being a warm Sunday in late September. There were tuts of disapproval but no-one made a move to stop him or say more. Except for the little old man. He sprang into action, finding a sprightliness that Sarah couldn’t quite believe, let go of his own dog, and ran after the fellow, catching him and tapping him on the shoulder (which actually took some reaching up on his part, given that the younger guy was around six foot and the older barely five).

“I said, you can’t walk your dog here! It’s prohibited!”

Sarah found herself taking a sharp intake of breath and stepping forward.

“And I said I’ll walk where I like. Now piss off, you old tosser!” and he shook the older man off him and walked off down the ramp laughing to himself. “Silly old sod” He called back when he’d reached the beach and laughed again.

“Don’t you dare laugh at me! Do you hear me? I say! Don’t you laugh at me!”

Sarah was afraid the old man would give chase and she realised that she was still holding her breath, but instead he stayed at the top of the ramp, glaring down as the young fellow strode out, in all his vigorous vitality, laughing as he went. His dog now off the lead and frolicking happily on the forbidden part of the beach. The families down there were packing up their deck-chairs, wind-screens and blankets and, apart from a few who glanced disapprovingly at that rule-breaker, no-one took much notice of him and his dog. Their nonchalance seemed to enrage the old man still more.

“Stop that blighter! Stop him! Wretched devil! I tell you, he’s a demon. A devil, I say!” he roared.

“Oh Lord” muttered Phil, “come on, let’s get out of here. Nutters out in force today”.

Sarah didn’t move. She went on watching the old man who continued to shout down the beach. The couples at the tables stopped eating their burgers and chips, laughing with each other, at him. Children ran up to where he was, giggling and pointing, nudging each other The little dog sat faithfully by the railings, not at all disturbed by this odd behaviour, as if he had seen it all before. Still the man went on shouting; much the same things, in that strange, old-fashioned language:

“Come back, you terrible demon! You should be whipped! Whipped, I tell you. Wretch! Devil!”

Sarah could just about see the black Labrador, jumping around in the incoming waves, but the young man was almost out of sight. He hadn’t looked back once. For him, the whole hilarious episode was done with. So trivial he probably wouldn’t even mention it to his friends. Still the old man went on shouting.

“Swine! Devil! Come back here! How dare you laugh at me! I tell you, how dare you!”

Quite a crowd had gathered on the walkway now. The laughter had faded and most were simply watching. Phil had hold of Bodie’s lead, seeing as how it looked as if Sarah wasn’t going to untie him, and was urging her to go.

“I can’t just leave him”

“Sarah, for crying out loud! You don’t even know him! I hate this sort of thing. Come on, please”

The old man’s face was crimson and tears were coursing down his cheeks.

“He’s crying” Sarah pulled her arm away from Phil.

“It’s nothing to do with us. There’s nothing we can do”

The old man had stopped shouting now. He fell down on to his knees and was sobbing. Really sobbing. Great big sobs that shook his body. Head in his hands. No one in the small crowd was laughing any more, but neither did anyone move.

“‘There’s a fellow crying in Martin Place. No one can stop him’” She whispered the words and turned and repeated them to Phil, looking at him, longing him to understand.

“What?” he was mystified and aghast that she wouldn’t just come with him.

“A poem. Les Murray, I think. No one could stop him crying. But it wasn’t like this.” She turned back and looked at the old man.  “I can’t do nothing. He could be…someone’s” Without looking at Phil again, she gives him the lead “Hold on to Bodie.”

She pushes through those staring at the old man, watching as his dignity lay in tatters on the concrete around him. Kneeling by him, she gently touches his sleeve. She smells that musty odour; of clothes that’ve been soaked and then dried out too slowly in airless conditions. But they’re good clothes; he’ll have been a smart man once, she thinks. She hasn’t thought what to say or do, she acts on her instincts, what feels right.

Putting her mouth close to his ear, she murmurs, “Come on, now. There’s nothing more to do.”

He turns his tear-streaked face to her; eyes glazed and uncomprehending.

“We need to go now” Her right arm around his shoulders now

She touches his face with her free hand; strokes his cheek; realises then, she too, is crying, but quietly, softly. He peers into her face, beginning to focus now, as his sobs subside. He lifts his hand and his thumb traces a tear from her cheek to her chin. He has snot on his upper lip. They look at each other, saying nothing. She tries a smile. Then a woman touches her shoulder, as she kneels there on the concrete beside the old man, and gives her a handkerchief. It’s a man’s, blue-striped, fresh and pressed. Sarah looks at it and feels she may cry more, but she takes it, wipes his face and gives it to him and he blows his nose noisily, crumples it in a ball and wipes his eyes. A man has appeared on his other side and he takes his arm, helping him into a standing position. Sarah has her arm linked through his and she and the other man lead him to a bench.  Another woman (from the café perhaps? She’s wearing an apron anyway) appears and places a cup of tea on the wooden table in front of him. He takes it, drinks it greedily. A boy brings his dog to him and smilingly holds out the lead. The old man pours some of his tea into the saucer, bends to his dog, strokes him and gives him the tea, which is lapped up.

The crowd has more or less dispersed. The warmth of a full day’s sunshine can still be felt, but the shadows are lengthening as people drift away, back to campsites or to pack up their cars. The shutters on the café are closed and young girls are clearing away rubbish and collecting up cups. Sarah stands, places a hand on the old man’s shoulder; he squeezes it, looks up and nods. She bends to the dog, ruffles its fur and walks down the ramp to where Phil is waiting on the beach. Her own dog greets her as if she has been away for months, as dogs always do and there is no recriminations or questions, just that joy at seeing his mistress return. They walk back along the sands to the holiday village and there are no words. Later, they will pack their bags and she will drive them home. They will chat about all sorts of things on the journey but not the things that really matter. But she will know, as he must surely know now, that they will go their separate ways from this point, because, even though he appreciates that the sun does shine in the North, this, whatever this was, just will not do.

 

Desperately Seeking Wellingtons

child-in-welliesThere’s always a story tucked away behind those little Ads you see in magazines or newspapers, and, more commonly nowadays, on social media pages. Here’s my story based on one I saw recently:

“Can you help? Looking for child’s size 9 in these wellingtons (see photo). Daughter has grown out of her size 7’s and really want to replace them for her”

 

She was still sitting on the window-ledge. Watching the road. Two hours it had been now. Julia waved up to her from the garden, smiling, but knowing she looked falsely cheerful. Emily wasn’t fooled. She didn’t even lift her hand; just stared back at her; thumb firmly in mouth.

Back inside she checked her phone again – no text, no voicemail.

“Bloody hell”

“You shouldn’t say that. It’s swearing”

There was something about being told off by her 10-year-old that always made her blush.

“I know that. Sorry. I’m cross, but you’re right, I shouldn’t swear”

She hadn’t seen him at the table (and why was he eating cornflakes at 11am anyway?) He’d been in his room on the wretched X-box when she last checked.

“Are you hungry? You had bacon for breakfast, didn’t you?” A cooked breakfast for all of them this morning: a rare treat, thinking they’d need the ‘fuel’ for the long journey down to Rugby.

“Just fancied them. I wanted a glass of milk, but it actually tastes nicer in a dish with something crunchy” and he filled his mouth again, clearly relishing his mini-feast. Matt didn’t look at all upset. He seemed to be able to cope with these disappointments better than Emily. James was notorious for being late and they’d both grown used to that, but he hadn’t even turned up at all for the last three arranged weekends. Of course, there was always a good reason, according to James.

“I’ll text him again”

“No point. Anyway, I’m going round to Sam’s in a minute.”

“Why did you arrange to go to Sam’s when you knew your dad was picking you up?”

“Or not!” he dropped his bowl in the sink. She hadn’t the heart to make a fuss about soggy cereal that would be floating in the dishwater. He was out the door anyway.

He was back a few minutes later. Placing a hand on her shoulder as she composed yet another text to James.

“Em was crying you know. I’m not bothered, but he shouldn’t let her down. She’s only little”

She grabbed his hand. Such wisdom! Underneath his calm façade though, she thought he probably did mind.

“You’re a lovely big brother”

“I didn’t do anything. I helped her find her wellies though”

“Matt! They’re too small!”

“Well she really likes them, Mum.  She stopped crying anyway”

“Has she got them on now?”

“Yep” He was gone again before she could say more.

“Be back at 5 please! No later”

Her phone buzzed and she swore again as she read the text. Good thing Matt had rushed off.

 

Upstairs, in the doorway of Emily’s room, she watched her as she clutched the little orange rucksack they had packed together last night, ready for what should have been a Saturday night sleep-over at Daddy and Claire’s. Seeing that sad, little face now, she’d happily have punched him but, putting that thought aside, she braced herself to relay the message. There was never a good way to share the bad news, but there was a way to not make it any worse than it already was.

“Hey sweetie”, she knew it was lame, starting with that, but surely your child had to know she was still treasured, that mummy still felt the same; that hadn’t changed.

“Daddy just sent me a text” Emily’s face turned to her. Oh God, don’t show me that hope in your eyes, baby!

“He is so, so sorry, but he can’t come and get you today. Claire has been very poorly in the night”. Bogging poorly, my foot! Claire just wasn’t doing pregnancy very well. In fact, Claire was making a humongous fuss about every aspect of this pregnancy and James was being let off his lead even less than he had been since they’d married two years ago.

He hadn’t left her for Claire, or for anyone else, and in fact he’d been single again for well over a year when he met Claire. No, there had not been anyone else involved for either of them; just a growing realization that they’d fallen out of love. She would look at him and wonder who he was. How did we get here? It was mutual and he’d moved out a week after Emily’s first birthday. Sad, but in a way it was all so much easier doing the parent stuff on her own. James could do all the fooling around, the funny voices, running about in a park, teaching them to climb trees with great panache and flair. It was the up-in-the-night business, the not-being-able-to-reason-with-them stuff and the endless round of washing, cleaning, feeding, fetching and carrying that he found wearing. They’d never tied the knot themselves, her knowing always deep down that he really wasn’t the commitment type. The kids had been her idea to be fair and she’d always accepted they wouldn’t tie him to her. Weird that now he was married to a woman ten years older than him, who’d been so desperate for a baby that they’d paid for three rounds of IVF. He’d proudly shown them all the scan pictures the last time he’d collected the children. (Three months ago!) Oh the irony of it!

“Has the baby come?”

“No, no, he’s still in her tummy. It’s just, well, sometimes when you’re having a baby it can make you feel not very well”.

“Well, can’t daddy take her to hospital and then come and get us?”

Julia could see the tears threatening to spill. She scooped Emily up into a hug.

“It doesn’t work like that. Daddy needs to stay with her”. I have to move this conversation on, she was thinking, because I can feel myself getting angry again. “Em, these wellies. They don’t fit any more. Didn’t we talk about this? They’re going to hurt your feet.”

“Daddy’s going to buy me some more. Just like these” She pulled at them fiercely, with the little handles, especially made for little hands to pull up over little feet.

“Yes, he did say that, but he can’t. The people don’t make them anymore. He did try”. Bother! This was not a good diversion subject!

True, he had tried. Well, when she’d told him three months ago that Emily had grown out of them he’d had a think about where he’d got them. That was as good as trying hard really, for James.

“A street market in Leamington Spa. One of these fancy ones. They’re designer, you know”

They were lovely. Deep purple, with a repeating pattern of three stripes of pink, green and a gorgeous sparkly gold. What child wouldn’t be delighted? Not much caused as much joy as splashing in deep puddles with your crazy, beloved daddy in beautiful wellington boots that you could even pull on yourself and that he, prince of all fathers, had bought specially for her. Trouble was, it was a make she had never come across and couldn’t find anywhere in Manchester. After tramping around some of the independent shoe shops she’d turned to social media. Surely someone, somewhere would have a pair in the next size up? Please!! If she could just prolong this wellie-joy for a few more months….

Later, over tea, Emily was smearing chocolate spread over her potato waffles. (There are times when the option of an argument about sweet and savoury mix and healthy eating is not worth having!) While she watched her, feeling a mixture of disgust in herself for allowing this concoction and awe that it could help the healing process, she listened as Matt told them about Sam’s brother falling in the canal that afternoon.

“He didn’t even cry, even though he was full of slime and gunk all over! He just started wiping it all off with some leaves and he was laughing about it”

Julia was horrified. “He’s only six! Where was their dad when he fell in?”

“Honestly mum, he hasn’t got eyes in the back of his head” Now where had she heard that before? “He was on the boat. They fished him out with the pole really quickly”.

Sam and Dominic’s parents were narrow boat enthusiasts and their house had its own mooring. It was a great adventure for the boys learning how to steer the boat, help with the locks and generally get messy.

I shouldn’t make a big deal, she thought. David and Jess know what they’re doing and he would have had a life-jacket on.

“I want to come on the boat please”.

Matt looked at Emily “Your face is covered in chocolate. That is really gross, Em. You can come tomorrow if you like. Seeing as how we’re not going to dad’s now”

“Don’t tell her that, Matt. She won’t be allowed”

“No, it’s okay really. David and Jess said she can.”

And it was okay, Jess reassured her later when they spoke. She’d love to have a girl along for company and Dominic would enjoy having someone nearer to his own age. They intended to sail down to Whaley Bridge and back, probably a three-hour round trip. Emily would be quite safe; she’d have her own life-jacket and she was sure she’d love it.

 

Four o’clock the next day, Julia thought the text might be from Matt, updating her when they expected David to drop them off. She’d spoken to them both at lunchtime and clearly Emily was having a wonderful time.

“Dom’s so funny, mummy. He really makes me laugh. He can make Rollo do loads of tricks.” Rollo being the family spaniel. No mention of daddy and the missed weekend. Julia was relieved and thanked God for boats, giddy boys and clever dogs.

The text was from James though. Puzzled, she read it. “Need to be in Liverpool in morning. Staying over. Will stop by to see kids about 7” Maybe her reply yesterday had got to him. “Sorry you can’t make it. Matt cool but Em in tears – yet again:(  Don’t fret though. Can’t be helped” Okay, so she was actually trowelling on the guilt and she’d promised herself never to do that, but sometimes, well he deserved it. You can’t mess about with the hopes and expectations of a five-year old and not expect some backlash.

Matt and Em arrived back just as James was parking his car.

“Daddy!” Her little legs carried her across the gravel drive at full speed into his arms. She was soon up in the air and laughing. I guess it’s all forgiven now, Julia was thinking. He’s got off with it again,

“Look what I’ve got for you” James proudly held up a bag to show his daughter as he placed her down. She opened it and pulled out a dazzling pair of pink wellingtons; sparkly and bright, with stripes of gold and silver. They even more wondrous than the purple ones. Julia smiled wryly and waited for the inevitable squeals of joy. Except … they didn’t happen.

Emily sighed deeply. Her face was very serious as she spoke. “Daddy, these are lovely, but I have some real wellingtons now.” She lifted her foot to show off the dark green, mud-encrusted pair she was wearing.

James looked confused and not a little disconcerted. His adoring daughter was turning down a gift from him? “Real ones?”

“These were Dominic’s” Ah, Julia thought, the ‘very funny Dom’. Sorry, James, you’ve rather been upstaged, old bean! “And his mummy says you need tough boots on the boat so you don’t slip so easy. Sparkly ones are a bit impractical, she says”

Good job, Jess, you and I could be great friends, Julia thought. James stood and watched as his daughter ran back to their host’s car to say her goodbyes. More giggling was heard as ‘funny Dom’ said something to her and Julia couldn’t help but feel sorry for her ex as Emily’s attention was fixed on her new hero. She skipped up the drive in her muddy wellies and it looked as if she had quite forgotten her dad was there for a moment. Then she stopped, turned and gave him her most dazzling smile.

“Come on, daddy. Come and see my new reading book. Can daddy stay and do my bath, mum?” He meekly follows her inside, embarrassedly still clutching the sparkly wellies, happy to settle for these carelessly thrown crumbs, having learned that even five-year-olds can sometimes get themselves better offers.

(©) Beverley Jepson-Playle 12.09.2016

Yearning for Cheerleaders

I could do with some encouraging words right now. For a whole variety of reasons, my writing has almost ground to a halt in the past twelve months. What happens to turn something that brought so much joy, that seemed so easy to do, turn into something you almost fear doing, or at best, use every possible excuse not to do? I’m wondering if, in my case, it’s fear of failure.

I am my own worst enemy.  I don’t need anyone else to offer me criticism. I have perfected the art of doing it for myself, thank you very much. The problem being that my criticism is often rather irrational. Voices in my own head drown out others in the ‘real world’ with cries of “There’s no point, you know, it’s never going to get you anywhere”; “You’re too old to try something new”; “Who’s interested in what you’ve got to say?” Of course, sitting at the computer, hearing these words, when there is important stuff to do like walking the dog, washing, gardening, shopping or even (I must be desperate to escape!) ironing! – it’s easy to take them on and walk away. Just today, I tell myself – then the day become several, then a week, a month and suddenly a year is slipping by. And they do go by faster as you get older, don’t let anyone tell you differently! Time speeds up with age.

I was checked by an invoice for the annual payment on my website. Should I continue with this futile enterprise? Then, I hear another voice of my own – one that has been listening to words of truth. Words from the Big Book, words from the Father:

I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me

(Philippians 4:13, NKJV)

You see, I’m not alone and I don’t need to battle on in my own strength. I have my ‘great encourager’ by my side always and he is my source of strength; I don’t have resources of my own, they come from him. I’m still not sure why it took so long for me to tune into that voice and those words, which I know so well, but I’m glad I did. So here I am – back at the computer. Heeding also the helpful words of husband John, “Just go and write”

“But what if I can’t?”

“Then pray”

Oh yes, of course! Silly me! I forgot I could do that. Sarcastic jest apart, and don’t let him know this, but he is right. Talking things over with Jesus is so very necessary. He does understand what it’s like to be in a quandary and knows we often feel useless.

On the way to my study I pick up a book I’ve read over the summer. By Anita Shreve, “A Wedding in December”. Flicking through the pages I read this:

Melissa looked away. There would always be, Bridget knew, a fierce loyalty to the mother that Bridget would not interfere with. A quality one could only admire……..”How are you feeling?” the girl asked.

Bridget thought a minute. She took a sip of coffee. She decided to tell Melissa the truth, unedited.

She worried about the tentacles of the star shape, she told the girl. She had a 50 percent chance of a recurrence, the correct term for the cancer’s return. If it did return, it would show up in the bones or the brain or the liver. She hoped to make it until Matt was Melissa’s age. This was the bargain she had more or less made with God: let Matt get to twenty, and  then you can do whatever you want with me. One could never really use the word “cure. One had to think of oneself as “a work in progress”

All this she told Melissa, who seemed startled at times by some of the revelations, but who appeared to take it in with some concern. She was, Bridget thought, the perfect person in whom to confide. A woman who might want the information but who would remain essentially detached.

“That answer you gave last night at dinner,” Bridget said, “about the Arab men on the plane. I thought it was the best at the table”

Melissa tilted her head. She would know, Bridget thought, that Bridget meant what she said, that she was not pandering, that a woman who had confessed being afraid of a recurrence in the bones might be expected to tell the truth.

We all of us need people in our lives who will speak the truth, but do so kindly and we need those who will listen to our stories, our pains our fears, who show concern but don’t flinch away from what we share, be it irrational or totally credible.Facebook-20150916-024821

We need people to speak words of encouragement to us and to cheer us on. Like our wonderful husbands did for us when we took on 100k across the Yorkshire Dales! For our part, we should desire to be people who use words to edify others. There are enough  in the world  already who will use words to destroy confidence and bring others down, let’s use ours to show grace and and bring joy.

 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)

Now, where was I up to with that book?

(©) Beverley Jepson-Playle 02/09/2016