Quick update

Alive and well, my dears.

Lots of knitting, a little embroidery and a weekend of meditation at the local Buddhist Centre have conspired to keep us apart.

Here is some of my stitchery to prove it is no lie. The cultivation of a mind of love defies my camera however, so please take my word for it.

Firstly I attended a beginner’s embroidery course in Kendal and produced this. I used to embroider as a child but have not picked up a needle since, so this was fun.

Dandelion embroidery

The stitched dandelion

I also finished the jumper I wrote about the other day – the Drops Garn pattern. I am quite pleased with it and intend to present it to Offspring in Question over Easter weekend.

11099730_10153269633013804_1777913377_nMy other activity (besides meditation) was the scattering of mother’s ashes at Scarborough. She now resides on a flowery hillside overlooking the sea and the castle. I think she will enjoy it.

How have you been?

Namaste

Circle of life

Time to update regular readers on EBL family affairs.

You may recall from earlier posts this month that my mother was not doing too well. Unfortunately she died on 17 December. The chest infection was not a chest infection at all; it was simply lung disease and stress and old age. It was life fading and slipping away. It was, in the raw, the circle of life.

Sigoth, two Offspringses and I were with her for her last hours and watched her through to her last breath on earth. She was not really conscious. We held her hand and smoothed her forehead and moistened her lips. Then we said goodbye.

She believed in life after death and probably reincarnation. Her beliefs were different from mine. Possibly she was right and somewhere a squalling infant is her new home. I’m pretty sure, from a Buddhist perspective, she will make it back as a human. She did little harm overall and meant none at all. She was a nice person.

If that sounds like faint praise I suppose it’s because her ups and downs, her achievements and failures, her light and her darkness are not really for public consumption. Her generation did not live its life publicly, as people do now. Family is family. The rest can mind their own business.

What I felt during those last hours was love around me. I have been humbled by the way people have mourned her loss. Carers at the residential home and nurses on the ward were tearful and genuinely sad at her passing; they had known her only for a few months, or even days. She touched their lives in positive ways, which is a great achievement. Her friends have shared their memories with me, as have my friends, some of whom have known her almost as long as I have.  Universally they remember her as kindly and welcoming and caring. There are worse legacies.

First Christmas

This picture is of her and me around my first Christmas. I apologise for the gratuitous nudity. Obviously in those days colour had not yet been invented although later it transpired the tub was pink, as am I although a slightly different shade.

To life, my dears, and what we make of it, and all we leave behind!

Namaste.

Yule greetings

My dears, the season of mid-winter is upon us (in the Northern hemisphere at least) and so my heart turns to blessings and for the new year. You may celebrate it on 1st January or on 22 December, whichever you prefer. You can go the full Wicca if you like, and remind me that new year was on 1st November. It takes all sorts, and thank goodness for it.

This year Sigoth and I will be celebrating more pagan roots by burning a traditional yule log at mid-winter before welcoming the Offspringses back for Christmas festivities. We’ll have any celebration going at the dark of the year.

So it’s time for the Wassail Cup, my dears. The traditional Wassail is derived from the Old English phrase “wes hal” meaning “be you hale/well.” It’s like “farewell”; they tended to say it as a goodbye.

With that in mind I wondered if you might care for a little traditional reading, taken from the Anglo-Saxon Bible? It turns out that Luke vs 1-20, the traditional Christmas story, sounds rather lovely in the old tongue, and I discovered I could mangle it onto a recording for sharing with you.

I apologise now to scholars for my terrible pronunciation. Let’s call it dialect, shall we? Yes, let’s.

So now for a little journey back in time to a 10th century church in the English countryside, and a well-known story.

Happy New Year  to you all. Peace on earth and goodwill to all beings.

Namaste

Cold Logic in the Cold War

It felt like it was time to write a post about peace, there being so little of that precious commodity available, and it being such a Good Thing generally. Sometimes it feels like Peace is the Giant Panda of Life, vanishingly rare, arguably impractical, but nevertheless illogically desirable to keep around.

What particularly sparked me off though was a reminder that it has been a while since the Cold War fizzled out, and that being so, the paranoia and constant gnawing worry of living under the shadow of the Bomb is now a fading memory. Perhaps, I mused, it is something we should remind ourselves about once in a while and try to explain to the young folk who have not experienced it. This is based on the premise that those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, so bear with me and prepare to be reminded or educated.

Growing up in the Sixties and Seventies had its perks, certainly. The music was exciting, there were real astronauts walking on the Moon, and a sense of excitement in the air. There were downsides too, and the testosterone-fuelled face-off across the Iron Curtain was a major issue. This was not because I was incredibly politically aware; I was a child, and my parents were not interested in politics themselves, so I only learned about such things through watching the Man from Uncle on television and seeing posters for the latest James Bond film in the cinema.

It wasn’t something you talked about particularly. It was just there, all the time, at the back of your mind, like what to get for tea, or how long it was until the weekend. It wasn’t even a thing, any more than air or water or the bus being late.

As the Seventies drew to a close and I inched towards the precipice of adulthood it became obvious that things were awry and the world seemed to be edging towards its own brink. This post is about how much it preyed on our teenage minds. This is how it felt.

We had been told that the other side of the Iron Curtain was full of bad guys. People got shot trying to escape, and their deaths peppered the news every now and then as a kind of constant background noise. Just about the time I read 1984 and started to be a little more independent of the official line, the Ayatollah Khomeini lead the overthrow of the Shah of Persia, and took control of Iran. I didn’t understand the background and had barely heard of Iran before then – O-Level geography tended to focus on learning which country exported the most timber and how ox-bow lakes were formed. After that I gave geography up as a bad job and still struggle to work out the difference between the Solway Firth and the Solent.

However, his installation seemed to cause a hysterical fluster in the media and political circles and it looked like the Nuclear Option was suddenly on the table. For real.

We had read about Armageddon and we didn’t fancy it but we were powerless to stop the button being pushed. However, we were not deterred. We were resourceful and modern young people. A few of us had recently passed driving tests and a couple of us even had access to dodgy old cars. So we laid our plans.

This is where the age gap may show. Those of you in my generation will probably nod at what we intended and understand our reasoning, even if you don’t agree with it. My children and younger folks tend to just look bemused or even slightly appalled when I talk about it.

We set up routes and a telephone tree. We agreed pick up points. Cars were to be kept fuelled up for a drive of about 20-25 miles. When the four minute warning was given, we would rendezvous at the agreed locations and drive like hell into the centre of London.

We weren’t going to sign up for a cause.

We weren’t going to protest.

We were aiming to be at the centre of the bomb fallout, because none of us wanted to survive a nuclear war. We hadn’t seen The War Game because the BBC banned it (despite having commissioned it in the first place) until 1985. Nevertheless we had read about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and seen pictures.

We intended to die as quickly as possible.

And that, my dears, is what at least one group of teenagers in the late 1970s planned to do in the event of the button being pressed.

War and the means for war mess with your brain. Let’s call it out, shall we?

Namaste.

 

L is for Little Lights

Ocean of light

Occasionally I post about life as a British Quaker under the structure of the Quaker Alphabet Project 2014. I haven’t done so for a while and am in danger of falling behind schedule, so here is a post for the L of it.

There is a perception often quoted, not unreasonably as it turns out, that Quakers are a bit on the mature side. It’s true we have “Young Friends” who are pretty active. However, they remain sadly outnumbered by the Silver Horde, at least in my neck of the woods, and in keeping with many other religious congregations in this country. There was great excitement the other month when a bona fide young person of the teenage persuasion applied for membership of the Society. It was like getting a letter from Elvis c/o the Loch Ness Monster and delivered by a leprechaun riding a rainbow. What I mean to say is, it was a bit unusual and slightly thrilling.

Some years ago I was fortunate to be a member of a relatively large Quaker community with three (count them!) age groups for under-16s. It was not the usual experience of Quaker groups up and down the length of the land. Since moving Up North I am now a member of a small and chronologically-well-endowed group. Yet we do not despair at our reducing horizons because we now have two young people among us – a male toddler and a female school person. They bring their parents along about once a month and keep company with various members of the meeting who enjoy playing with toys and drawing pictures and singing songs while the parents snooze in the main meeting room. It’s an act of kindness really.

The best bit of all is when they join everyone for the last fifteen minutes of the meeting for worship. In Britain, Quakers usually hold silent meetings for worship (not having “programmed” services like, say, Anglican churches, with sermons and singing and standing up and sitting down all and repeating words out loud). The people present sit quietly, apart from the Rumbling of the Stomachs, and wait for ministry to find them. Most people think it is a bit odd, but nevertheless the end result is a usually a quiet room filled with slightly sleepy people who have been sitting for 45 minutes and are beginning to feel it.

Enter our Youngest and Brightest! We hear them clattering along the passageway, with their retainers encouraging them to be quiet by making lots of loud shushing noises. The children usually are making no real noise at all, but never mind. The door swings open and in comes the first child, beaming from ear to ear to see all the old folks grinning at him, and often reaching out hands to welcome him inside. Then his sister, a little more self-aware and so slightly shyer, comes in behind him, composed and clutching some treasured picture to share with us. It may go straight on the table in the middle so we all crane to see it, or she may wait until Notices are read out at the end and then wave it at us. Meanwhile her brother sings to himself or stumbles around from one arthritic knee to the next, smiling up at the faces and dribbling a little. Sometimes we dribble back. It depends on the medication.

Quakers are very fond of using the imagery of the Light Within or Inner Light to talk about their relationship with God. Nowadays we don’t generally describe ourselves as Jesus’ little sunbeams, just talk about Light in a more general, non-denominational way. Early Friends in the 17th century were more direct in their writings about God and Jesus, but still the imagery of Light was fundamental to much of their thinking.

I was under great temptations sometimes, and my inward sufferings were heavy; but I could find none to open my condition to but the Lord alone, unto whom I cried night and day. And I went back into Nottinghamshire, and there the Lord shewed me that the natures of those things which were hurtful without, were within in the hearts and minds of wicked men… And I cried to the Lord, saying, ‘Why should I be thus, seeing I was never addicted to commit those evils?’ And the Lord answered that it was needful I should have a sense of all conditions, how else should I speak to all conditions; and in this I saw the infinite love of God. I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. And in that also I saw the infinite love of God; and I had great openings.

George Fox, Journal, 1647

But when our children join us in meeting for worship they bring that infinite light and love with them and in abundance. It is a gift to us and one for which we are humbky thankful.

Namaste

Letting go

My dears, this is a sequel to my post about my mother’s move to the care home. She’s doing well, by the way, and much perkier than before. She did have a small stroke due to the pressure, but has since been doing splendidly, although I am not sure she is quite aware of who I am all the time.

Since her departure, and in between other trips to various parts of the country, I have been trying to do paperwork related to her new status. It’s actually pretty much the same as if she had died, while she is in fact living happily just down the road.

So – I have been battling in no particular order with British Telecom, the electoral register, Social Services financial assessments, the hairdresser, the Department for Works and Pensions, the Lifeline provider, GPs and pharmacies, her friend in London, domiciliary care, carer’s support, the library and the chiropodist. I was also advised to set up a funeral plan for her, as she didn’t have one. In a couple of weeks I will be meeting a terribly earnest woman to talk about options for caskets.

This weekend I have been trying to clear out the annexe where she lived, deciding what to keep, what to bin and what to send to the charity shop. Most of it has gone into boxes labelled “charity shop.”

A few years ago my mother asked me what I would do with her beloved belongings when she died, and I told her the charity shops would receive most if not all of it. She was appalled.

“But they were gifts!” she wailed.

“Not to me,” I said.

“From my friends…”

“Not my friends.”

“They mean so much to me…”

“I don’t know who gave them to you, when or why. They don’t mean anything to me. They might as well go to someone who will enjoy them because I think they are awful.”

I was skirting around my true feelings of course and may possibly not have said all that out loud. I probably did though. I don’t lie to my mother.

She tried to persuade me to keep them and I stoutly refused. Too much dusting for one thing, and too much searing pain in the eyeballs for another. I am not fond of those kinds of objects.

So here I am, putting things in boxes and reminding myself that she won’t be coming home. You don’t get better from dementia. She really won’t wake up tomorrow and remember who she is. It’s not Dallas.

We took four large bin bags of clothes and shoes to the charity shop yesterday. My mother loved her clothes and shoes. I reckon there’s another two or three bags to go, and that’s not counting the generously packed suitcase I took to the home, nor the pile of laundry that I will take to the home tomorrow to add to it.

I didn’t know how I would take this clearing out. I thought I would get upset. I thought I would get overwhelmed. I didn’t. I am tired, but it’s quite hard work and we have been at it all day.

I feel I’m in a kind of limbo. I can’t mourn for her because she is happily ensconced in front of a television less than three miles away. I don’t feel guilty, amazingly enough, because it’s easier to do it now than it would be after she died. I just don’t really feel anything about it at all, except weariness.

So that’s all good. I mean, there is no wailing or gnashing of teeth. There is no trauma, just a gentle drifting and waiting for the end to come. Each time the phone rings I am nervous, in case its The Call, but otherwise peaceful.

I am thankful she is well cared for and the staff seem kind and patient. She is so happy there it is clearly a success, and that is not a poor way to go.

I worried about what could go wrong, but this time it didn’t.

May you be as lucky as we have been, and find peace through difficult times.

Namaste.

 

 

Into Darkness

solar-eclipse

There has been a fair share of darkness around just lately: Rara’s troubles, endless parades of suffering in the news, and seemingly difficulties for many many people at every turn. For EBL there are also a few hard decisions to be made and actions to be taken, and generally the gloom of a British spring matches my internal mood like a carefully chosen designer accessory.

I try to see past it. I try not to allow anger, sadness, pettiness, cynicism and depression get their collective hooves in my door and take their toll. I try to let it go, and then berate myself for my heartlessness.

“What good,” I admonish the demon on my shoulder, “will my crying about it do?”

I act where I can, hold dear ones in my heart, accept that at this time and in this place even I, EBL, have limitations. Obviously once I am Ruler of the World then things will change. Uppances will arrive with vigour. Hens will indeed roost once more in their hereditary establishments. Desserts of a legally balanced variety will be served with gusto. Indeed, everyone will be equipped with a sickle and sent out to reap whatever they have sown. Sadly, until then we wait.

It also occurred to me, either as febrile self-justification or perhaps a sliver of wisdom, that there cannot be light without darkness.

While I mused thus over an early morning beverage, Sigoth read me a joke. I decided then and there that, along with wishing all people peace and joy, I would also wish them a GSOH (good sense of humour). When we can laugh at our petty foibles and pointless posturings, then we can focus on what is important and how we can make practical and achievable changes. And then, my dears, we triumph. The light returns.

So to help me in my new resolve, I want to share with you the joke Sigoth read to me. It’s a Golden Oldie, but I commend it to you as a starter for ten. Brace yourselves.

An optimist thinks the glass is half full.

A pessimist thinks it is half empty.

But an engineer knows that the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

Whether you are in light or darkness, I wish you joy and peace and laughter.

Namaste.