An Armful of Grace on Our Table.

File 25-4-17, 4 37 40 pm   On the Saturday before Easter Sunday, Holy Saturday to many, our adult grandson and his lovely partner brought us an armful of long flower stems loaded with giant white lilium buds. I had never seen them such a size before, and even unopened their scent was heady and strong, redolent of the lush tropical foliage that captivated us in North Queensland on holiday. (In fact it was so strong we had to sit the vase on the outside table where we could see it through the kitchen window.) I snipped their ends, set them in water with added sugar to feed them, and put them where we could watch and wait for them to reveal themselves.

In the liturgical year, Holy Saturday is an essential part of the Easter cycle of death and resurrection: it is a quiet time when nothing happens. After the storms of Farewell and Death, there is a nothingness in the air that gradually reveals itself as a sharp still point of loss, of letting go – of hope, of knowing what is happening, of having a clear path forward.  The liturgies are meant to take us deep into what it means to be fully human and live the human experience in completeness. The times of turmoil and pain are not to be dismissed or glossed over, as they too contain treasures if we turn them over softly when we ponder them.

This year (and I know some were shocked) I chose not to go to any of the Easter ceremonies in church. I felt very vulnerable and dreaded going so much that I was quite agitated and fearful, and so I trusted in my own wisdom and decided to stay at home in intentional solitude. I knew that this year we have been living the cycle in all its intensity right here in our place of grace, our homely Cheltenham lives.

Inner turmoil has been a theme as we learn to cope with our new life stage,  building up enough experience of this illness to know when to worry and when to stay cool, when to speak and when to refrain from speaking, how to be hopeful and also deal with loss of how things were. There have been many challenges and realizations that confront and demand attention, and wisdom sometimes seems too hard to find.  It was a matter of trusting that grace would be here to carry us, to give us the way to proceed together.

Jack and Elly’s abundant gift of quiet white closed buds slowly revealed themselves as metaphors for the understanding that we searched for. Gradually, one by one these flowers silently opened out, delighting our hearts and gently instructing us with their perfect beauty. They sat in the heavy clear vase (itself a precious gift from a sister) releasing their perfume and displaying their intricate pollen coated stamens that will initiate the propagation of the next generation. They can only ensure the continuing future of their kind by opening to being totally themselves, flaunting their sexuality and becoming wide open in vulnerability.  Each one did it in its own appointed time, and the work was not completed for fourteen days. For us, that was fourteen days of intense pleasure.

In the classical tradition of still life painting, there is always an intimation of mortality – a piece of fruit that is spoilt or blossom that has fallen and withered. Looking at these exquisite flowers as a work of art, sprung from the Source of life itself, at first I thought that disturbing hint was in the fine speckled colour that brushed the creamy petals, but on observing more closely, I saw that this was the pollen caught on the air and falling, cast to the chance of the elements as to whether it would bear fruit, or even in its decay still add its part to the cycle of regeneration.

By the time the last bud was ready to tentatively open, some of the other flowers had brown soft patches on their petals, one stem had spilt and broken in two and been discarded, and one flower had fallen in a wilt of soft green leaves on the table. Yet the lesson that gladdened my heart and spoke hope to me on a very bleak and teary day, was the unfolding and unfurling of the last flower. It still had its work of bringing beauty to accomplish, and it stood tall and clear in its place just above the others and did it perfectly.

Its face open to the light of the sky, it spoke to me of life still to be lived and love still to be loved – and yes, late beauty still to be flaunted. I stand barefoot and grateful.

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Gladness and Learning to Float.

There were not many dry eyes when we saw George proudly waking his daughter…

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Gladness and Learning to Float.

There has been a lovely wedding in our family. Three beautiful people – a mother, a father and a little son – were married in a park overlooking the sea. It was gentle and joyful, reflecting the nature of this family, and the love they all bring to us. There was a summer storm the night before, and it refreshed the air and the grass, leaving sparkling leaves and soft clouds in its wake.
There were not many dry eyes when big ones Archie and Edie led the way, and George walked Rachel down the slope to Steven waiting in the gazebo that stood at the edge of the beach. It was at the end of chemo #1 for George, after a bumpy few weeks, and the doctors stopped it early so he could be well for the big event. Seeing him proudly walking his daughter was just the outcome that everyone was hoping for – George most of all.
After the champagne and cake, and when a TigerAir drama had been circumvented by extra airline tickets to Bali being purchased (in the hope of later recompense), the three set off for their honeymoon.
Four year old Ben had been a bit afraid of the water and swimming, so we sent him away with a wedding present of a little flotation vest to use in the pool. (This was mainly to reassure a certain grandma that he would be safe in the very attractive but unfenced pool in the accommodation brochure – too many years of OH&S training as a teacher, I suspect.)
You don’t normally send your parents emails from your honeymoon, but when you need updates on your dad’s health, you are allowed some flexibility in the rules.
So email one told us that Ben had learned to float. He has a wonderful way of expressing himself that can show you all sorts of levels of meaning, if you listen to his words and ponder their richness. This time he said to his mum with great satisfaction “Now I am a person who can float.”
I wonder what those words hint at – was he despairing that he ever would be able to float, did he long to be able to, did he watch other kids do it and wonder why he couldn’t be one of them, does he love the feeling of trusting the water, does he feel as if he has graduated into a new ability level in life? The satisfaction with his expanded identity, and his ability to recognise it, gladdened my heart. It calls to mind the three-fold wisdom of our nature: being, consciousness and joy. Or as I have heard it said, the Hindu scriptures express this as existence, knowledge and bliss.
When you want a second update on your dad’s health, why not add a video clip to your email? The clip shows that Ben has already integrated this new ability into his self-concept, and is now demonstrating both his new ‘doggy paddle’ and comparing it to his ‘old-fashioned paddling’ – I presume this refers to his former style that was pretty well a lot of thrashing around in the water.
Well, Ben, for the grown-ups our life lessons have been pretty similar as we learn to cope with the ups and downs, the unpredictability of life with leukaemia, the lessons and skills we need for chemo, for adjustment, for absorbing new knowledge about ourselves and our life stages. Like you we are surrounded and supported by love, and we are moving from thrashing around to some smoother sort of integration.
Once again I won’t speak for George – his journey is not mine, nor is mine his. We are anchored in each other’s love, and for me, this is the grace where I take off my shoes. Sacred time, sacred place.
In fact, this grandma can say that like you, Ben, now I am feeling like a person who can float. Like you, that makes me very happy.

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What you didn’t want to find in your Mum’s wardrobe just before Christmas.

This Advent, a more disturbing gift has lain in wait for us.

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What you didn’t want to find in your Mum’s wardrobe just before Christmas.

As a child, I was one for sneaking into our parents’ bedroom and feeling the mysterious parcels at the bottom of Mum’s wardrobe, in the weeks of Advent. Even when I knew exactly what was in a parcel, the anticipation of opening it brought future joy forward to me. Mum and Dad had a wonderful way of taking the ordinary and making it special by withholding it and thus filling it with mysterious delight.

This Advent, a more disturbing gift has lain in wait for us. We are beginning to feel its shape and size and bit by bit, understand the meaning it brings into our lives together. You certainly wouldn’t call it delight, but it was more relief when we finally had a name for it, this shadowy thing that was hiding just under our conscious knowledge.

We have known for some time (a year or two) that George’s health was ‘not right’. It was a vague feeling, nothing you could exactly put a finger on, something we tried to explain to ourselves as ageing, or unnecessary worrying. Last Christmas he had a serious infection that did not respond to antibiotics, and eventually had to have a bowel resection. His health seemed to pick up for a while after that, but a few months later he was again exhausted much of the day. This is quite uncharacteristic of him, as he is a fit man and an avid gardener.

One day I went down the backyard and noticed that weeds were running through everything and taking over. That told me something really bad was happening. A short time later he got an infection in his thumb and was on the merry-go-round of medical tests grumbling that the doctor was overreacting.

I am sure you are now getting the shape and size of what was hidden but waiting for us. He has now been diagnosed with Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukaemia. As it is at the intermediate stage, he will start chemo in the new year, once the follow-up tests are completed and a program made. If he responds well, this will become the ongoing rhythm of life for us.

It is a tumultuous time, and I don’t want to speak for him, but I do want to say that we are finding it is bringing us together in an intimacy that is redolent of our earliest times together, where we set out the kind of way we wanted to live our lives, what our values and beliefs were, and how we wanted to be together.

Many things in the parcel along with the unsought devastation, fear, concern and forced changes have been real and precious gifts to us: our family with whom we shared the news over takeaway  pizzas and several bottles of red wine, or by phone for those away,  are our lifeline and our comfort. We are so proud of each one of them, and so grateful for all the kindnesses and practical ways they have shown their love for us.

Friends and extended family members are our good fortune too. Mum’s heart is sad, in her love for us wishing we did not have to face this future, but the way she has lived her life is our model of courage and trust.  We have a sense of being loved and sheltered as we rearrange our understandings and perceptions in response to opening the wrapping paper.

There is much life to be lived yet, and we are blessed and held in the deep peace that lies below the stormy waves.

Strangely enough, this is where I take off my shoes and find the common bush afire with God.

 

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George’s garden. December 2016

 

 

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Not Actually Walking The Camino.

I have been debating internally for a while about whether or not to start writing my blog again. I have loved writing it in the past, although it is hard to tell whether it is a useful thing to do …

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Not Actually Walking The Camino.

I have been debating internally for a while about whether or not to start writing my blog again.

I have loved writing it in the past, although it is hard to tell whether it is a useful thing to do given the state of the world, and how small my little patch is in the larger scale of things. All the same I have decided to write again if for no other reason than the sheer pleasure of forming words around my thoughts and experiences.

It was never a decision to stop forever, but rather a reaction of exhaustion and grief in radically changed circumstances.  Adjusting took longer than I thought it would, and so it fell silent.

I have learnt much in the ensuing months, and I guess the new learning will express itself along the way, in my perspectives on life. I don’t intend to deliberately explore it all here – it is a bit raw for that. Suffice it to say, that my husband is well after a long period of recovery from surgery, and my mum has stabilised after her stroke and the events that followed it, and some remarkably skilled interventions since.

Two friends have each walked the Camino in the last two years. I have been envious I will admit, as it was one of the things I hoped to do in my retirement, but my body aged faster than my plans and it was no longer possible. I found myself wanting to live vicariously through their journeys. It was quite a struggle to find out how to turn that around for myself so that it became a growth moment.

The first dear friend brought me back a pair of ear-rings from the end of her walk. One day as I was putting them on, it occurred to me that there are many forms of long roads that we walk alone, even though in company, and some of them are steep and hard but have beautiful times as well. Since then, I wear my Camino ear-rings often, especially on days that might prove to be challenging. They remind me that for the present, this life right here is my Camino.  I don’t always make it with grace and good cheer, and sometimes not even with dignity, but I guess there are few who sail through any Camino unscathed and they all celebrate it in the end.

And so it is in Stroud Street, Cheltenham.

The clacketty bird has come again with the spring and woken me with its exuberant noise, and now it has moved on and the magpies have followed it in a quieter voice. Two babies have been born in another generation of our extended family (both with excellent taste in parents), the pansies have died off and the petunias are in, and I walk the little dog in sunshine rather than in the rain and wind, which in the end I have learned have their own pleasure.

The wheel turns and everything is in its right season whether or not I approve, accept, fight or love it. Time to take off my shoes and see again.

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