I have been struggling lately trying to find topics I could write about that I find engaging or inspiring. I have to feel passionate about the subject of my writing or else how can I possibly reach out to anyone reading my words? After all, whilst writing is for me primarily an escape valve for pain, frustrations and hopes, I also write because I have always felt this innate need to connect with other people on a much deeper level; to feel a ‘spiritual’ bond with like-minded individuals whose journey of discovery resonates with mine. Sharing how we truly feel and opening ourselves up to debate and being mighty challenged in our deeply rooted principles is the best way to avoid blind spots or prevent oneself from falling into tunnel vision. Truth and revelation is what I seek, not ego-stroking or adulation.
So this morning I was looking at some quotes and this quote by William Shakespeare really caught my attention. ‘No legacy is so rich as honesty’. A whole life could be summed up in those words. At a first glance, it would seem like a very tempting epitaph that looks impressive, but does not tell us much about a specific person, and yet on close inspection, the implications and consequences of a life lived with honesty with others and specially with ourselves, are infinite and forever transformative.
I often feel purposeless these days. Middle-aged woman whose two children have or are soon flying the nest. A job I fell into by life’s funny twists and turns, which far from fulfills me, but helps realize another person’s dream and in turn allows us to support other people’s dreams who are not as fortunate and privileged as we are. A love for writing that cannot be materialised because in order to do it justice and give it its best chance, I would have to drop everything and live solely for myself, neglecting the needs and hopes of those around me. Some people are able to do that, but as much as I would like to be that ruthless, I simply can’t do it. It is not how I am wired, and what is the point of pursuing the dream, if in doing so your dream becomes a nightmare because you are consumed with the guilt of having trampled upon all you have built up to that point; in doing so you trample upon the dreams and hopes of those who have been entrusted to you? I believe in the power of bringing life into this world, but I also firmly believe that with that miracle comes a huge responsibility that never goes away, should never go away. It blows my mind to think that a part of us lives on forever through those who come after us. If you are a parent, you will know what I am talking about; how there is so much of ourselves in our children that when we die, our soul truly goes on, our spirit lives on in the legacy we have left with every example, lesson, instruction, caution, warning, encouragement, wisdom, every single word we ever uttered to our children, but not just to them, to every other human being we ever came into contact with. Every single action we take or do not take, every word we say or don’t say, affects the outcome of a much bigger reality.
It does make me feel really down at times to think that I spent the first half of my life veering towards a goal, the exploration and perfecting of a passion, a gift, a calling, and the other half neglecting that innermost need and revelation of who I am supposed to be. And yet, a quote like this reminds me that we don’t live alone in this world. Life is not about me, myself and I as much as society, trends and culture today try to convince us that we are. We are inexplicably but undeniably connected to each other, generations past, present and yet to come. Humanity is a mind-boggling concept that can only be comprehended when we see it as an atomic force that only has meaning when seen as the sum of each and every single part, not when we consider each individual and their legacy in isolation. Each person’s legacy is achieved thanks to the example, knowledge and sacrifice of someone else. None of us act alone in this world, not really. We have a debt of gratitude to ‘what’ brought us into being, we have a duty I feel to honour that.
Perhaps my egotistic desire to realise my hopes and dreams was misplaced all along. Perhaps that constant feeling of frustration for hopes deferred is not due to my soul feeling incomplete because I have not reached my purpose, but rather friction in my life continues because I am not willing to accept that indeed the richest legacy I can leave behind is honesty: truly looking within and accepting that despite my dreams of a grandiose materialised potential, be it professionally, as a member of society, a lover, a friend, the simple but painful truth lies in accepting I am just another human being whose significance and value lies simply in passing on to my children the very heavy baton of understanding that we never travel alone, and we therefore, whether we like it or not, have a responsibility not just to ourselves but each other to fulfill our purpose, yes, but never forgetting that the choices we make exponentially condition the choices of others, and that we can afford such choices only because others before us were honest and humble enough to accept that a chain only has unbreakable, limitless power when every link remains deeply interlinked to another.
I can only make sense of humanity as a collective whose parts are of equal value, share equal dignity and potential. It is painful accepting that I am not the protagonist of my own story, but when were truth and honesty that palatable? People often talk about not wanting to have any regrets when they come to the end of their life. Well, I believe every single human being will have some regret at the end, because none of us have it all figured out when we start or even half way through this journey, so inevitably we will come to the end still doubting some of our choices, wishing we made others. Given that premise that we all die with some regrets, I don’t want to look back on my life and only see a Narcissus staring at its own reflection on the water, being so caught up in its own radiance that she misses out on the bigger picture, the bigger purpose and meaning of it all, whatever that is.
My heart is so full tonight! On the one hand it aches with guilt at the thought of so many exceptionally selfless, brave and committed individuals who are giving their all to keep us all alive, fed, and content. I am at home looking after the ones I have been entrusted with. Yes, I will be the first one to complain that it is no easy task to always think of other’s needs before one’s own, but my kindness is being extended to those closest to me whom I love and care so much about. It is quite a different challenge to give your all to complete strangers, specially when circumstances dictate that those close to you will in turn go without. Saving the lives of complete strangers; seeing to their every need whilst being torn away from those whose needs you feel compelled to meet even before they feel the need themselves. Such is a mother’s nurturing instinct and double-edged all-consuming gift.
Yet, even though the guilt tugs at my heart like a yoke round a cow’s neck, I feel my heart is bursting at the moment with the sheer joy of being alive one day at a time. They say we cannot see the light without the darkness; we cannot know good unless there is evil or joy unless there is sadness. Such is the ugliness, the horror, the chaos, the inferno that is burning in most hospitals and nursing homes around the country, I feel like as the fire intensifies, so have my senses been re-tuned and enhanced. The bigger the hooded claw reveals itself to the world, the more uplifted I feel by the supernatural around me. As the darkness around us has grown, so has the light within me.
The colours of the flowers in my garden are so much deeper and pure. Their hypnotic scent impregnates the whole of my being and lifts me into a kind of Eden where there is no pain or hurt, no death or loss, no fear, just hope and exhilaration at the thought of taking in another breath of treasured, infinitely sought-after air.
The birds are evermore present and synchronised, and I am treated to a new symphony of sheer acoustic delight and perfection every evening, as I catch the last rays of the incandescent zenith that proudly stares intently at me throughout the day, jealous, capricious, resenting its isolation; longing to be down here enjoying with me the myriad of inexplicable equations of nature that makes for a heaven and a hell simultaneously coexisting in perfect harmony.
Even the Poplars just the other side of my garden, which always stand so haughty and aloof, have thrown caution to the wind and dare to waltz in my presence, reminding me with their soothing sway that I will once again be at one with the ocean. The ocean, like me, toils tirelessly back and forth under the guise of freedom. And yet, its repetitive motion in the confines of habit reveals a soul that is enslaved and far too entrenched in its own familiar rhythm to ever brave the unknown.
They do say that every cloud has a silver lining. Well, if ever in my lifetime there has been a big, dark, mean, threatening black cloud above us all that needed a silver lining, it is undoubtedly the Corona Virus pandemic.
I know it is a big cliche to point out those silver linings when trying to make the best out of a grim situation, but we would be truly foolish to ignore the blessings of biblical proportion that are being sprinkled all over us right now like gold dust. ‘Blessings???’, I hear you say, ‘Are you completely mad and stupid???’ Indeed, these are unprecedented times of unimaginable suffering, fear and loss affecting each and every one of us to various degrees. It is the very fact that most of us on the planet have been forced to drop everything and be in the moment, that makes this an eerie but unmissable opportunity for us to listen, really listen to what is not being said and see, really see what is unseen.
To me, this whole corona pandemic carries with it a heavy prophetic weight about it. In a sense, it doesn’t matter where it originated from, who or what is to blame. In these situations it does little good to seek blame, to focus our energy on lashing out, on resentment. For me, this is that moment in history when we are all collectively forced to remember, relearn how truly powerless we are in this universe; how we are a microscopic element of an infinitely bigger unfathomable reality. The mighty human being with all its evolution, knowledge and power disintegrates and falters in a split second all brought about by a microscopic cell which can wipe out in the space of days thousands of human beings and bring the whole world to a complete standstill. Our natural (or rather unnatural) order as we know it, turned on its head, just like that. If that doesn’t force you to look beyond the obvious, the immediate; to look at the bigger picture, nothing will. This pandemic has brought about an unprecedented moment of simultaneous collective mindfulness in the modern era; a moment of unprecedented spiritual awareness and reckoning worldwide.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I sense in my innermost being that this moment has been long drawn, and that we have had plenty of warnings that it was coming. I am not referring so much to the Corona crisis itself, but merely to the fact that we have known for a long time now that we are destroying the planet, its resources, its animals and vegetation, the air we breathe, and ultimately ourselves in the process. We had the science, nature and the elements repeatedly sobbing, aching, bleeding, raging, screaming at us simultaneously, showing us they were at breaking point, a point of no return, and yet, despite all of this, humanity for the most part has continued to turn a blind eye and doing ‘business’ as usual. And so, what we couldn’t bring about by ourselves because we are too selfish, too greedy, too blind and proud to accomplish, has now been forced upon us. We did not have the imagination, the courage, the vision to drop everything, take stock and realise that we are living at the 11th hour of human subsistence. This is make or break for the whole of humanity and all the other living systems around us who contribute to our well being and development.
So what are the silver linings or rather gold dust I ‘see’ sprinkled all over us through this existential crisis, this crossroads we have all arrived at simultaneously and which we know not how to navigate?
The air is less polluted! Many rivers are once again transparent, the seas fluid, free from human waste; its creatures leaping with joy as their habitat reverts to what it was designed to be. One can hear the birds chirping, communicating with each other, creating symphonies, when before were muted by the loud sound of plane engines, human endeavors and machinery. Families that have been torn apart are welded as one entity once again; its members previously isolated, driven to loneliness and silenced by the proficiency of technology and the imposition of passing trends, are once again feeling that mighty blood tie and part of an entity that truly matters; that makes sense and gives purpose and a reason for them to be alive today . I see us all having epiphanies; getting back to basics; appreciating joy in the littlest of things; joy in the most rudimentary of activities. Parents truly understanding what it means to be a parent; rediscovering what a blessing, a privilege, a miracle it is to have become one. Husbands and wives acknowledging each other, seeing each other afresh, doing all the things together they were supposed to be doing before all this, all the things that give sense to them being together in the first place. Children being children again, in awe of having the attention and care of their parents 24/7. Teenagers trusting their parents and not the internet, social media or their peers to be their role models or at least their compasses, when it comes to making the big decisions that will affect the rest of their lives.
I see that we have all been forced to look within and as a result beyond ourselves and in turn, are increasingly more concerned about the needs of those around us than all consumed by our own. I see even the proudest of men and women being brought down to their knees when they can but admit that they are beaten, even when to the world they are still keeping it together. Humanity has got too big for its own boots and providentially the natural order of things, karma, God, cosmic justice, call it what you will, has once again knocked on our door, cracked its whip and truly drummed some sense into us through all this imposed inactivity and stillness; it has reminded us of who we are, what we are not and how delicate and incomprehensible is the miraculous force that keeps the balance between life and death, order and chaos, curiosity and pride, humanity and what lies beyond.
‘Comfortable being afraid’ is something I read this morning on https://after-the-rain.org/ and it truly struck a chord deep in my psyche. I can totally relate to that notion! Years ago, a bunch of women including myself who were members of the same church, went on a ‘Ladies Weekend Away’. It was ‘advertised’ as a team-building weekend full of physical and emotional challenges designed to push us beyond our own limitations; to overcome our deepest fears; to build courage and trust. Blinded by years of indoctrination, I swallowed the bait and marched on so proud of myself for putting myself in ‘the line of fire’. I have in my later years grown very afraid of heights, and one of the very first activities we were faced with that weekend was abseiling off a very high bridge above a river. This was it. This was the one: my demon. I let others go first in the hope of watching how they went about leaping over the side of the bridge and beginning their descend. My turn came and even before starting, I was already struggling to breathe; shaking beyond control. Everybody else who had completed the task cheered me on, as did those waiting to have a turn. I put one leg over the side of the bridge, then the other and held on for dear life not daring to look down. The instructor started giving me a pep talk to build me up so I would finally start my descend, but I already knew I was not going to do it.
With every second perched on that bridge ledge came a new wave of suffocating dread. I was utterly paralysed mentally and physically. Couldn’t bring myself to move either way, even though I was already trying to get back on the safe side of the bridge. I burst into tears. I guess it was the huge release I needed to bring me back to myself; I was totally inconsolable once I stepped back into safety. I don’t remember ever crying like that before. Afterwards, I felt dead inside, numb.
As I stood there beaten, ashamed, watching others march on without any fear towards what had been for me a horrific ordeal, I heard one of the ladies ask a question to the vicar’s wife, who happened to have organised this weekend away and had been to this same Activities Centre previously and was therefore well rehearsed in all the activities and confident in her ability to ‘conquer her fears ( didn’t have any)’. I heard this lady ask the vicar’s wife: What happened to Mercedes? Did she do it?, and the vicar’s wife replied with great pride and a shockingly disgusting lack of Christian spirit and empathy: ‘No she didn’t, she chickened out‘.
I don’t know what broke me more int that instant: the realisation that I was always going to have certain fears which I would never overcome, or knowing that so many in the ‘Evangelical Squad’ can be so profoundly clueless as to use an opportunity like this to exalt themselves (not the God they preach to others about), ridicule another person, and further beat them when they are already down.
It took me a while longer to abandon the church system for good, but I know it was in that very instant that I realised the God I believe in was not to be found around those who claim to have all the answers; those who claim to have been called to leadership of any kind; those who proclaim one thing but do quite another. I realised God’s Spirit (and I use that term loosely because I accept that it means very different things to different people) lives within me and it is that voice and that alone I need to heed to and trust.
I also learnt at that very moment a huge lesson about fear. I am not to be ashamed of being scared of doing the things that others can or want to do; ashamed of letting fear stop me from taking on certain new challenges. Who is to say the challenges that are right for you must also be right for me? I do hope, however, that I never lose the ability to be paralysed when tempted to trample down on another human being in their moment of greatest weakness in order to make myself look grandiose to everyone else; to validate my self-perceived greatness. I hope that for every person I encounter in my life who is struggling in any way, I don’t use their weakness as a chance for point-scoring, but rather as an opportunity to lift them up, offer them comfort and a shoulder to lean on; to cry on.
Our biggest fear shouldn’t be not being able to do certain things; to miss certain opportunities; to fail at certain things. Our biggest fear should be becoming so caught up in our own sense of advancement, righteousness and knowledge that we forget we are just human beings not Gods. Is it really courage that makes us overcome our greatest fears or is it pride that makes us think of ourselves higher than we ought to; pride that gives us the determination to beat our own limits, because we cannot bring ourselves to accept that we are after all limited beings?
There is a reason why we experience fear. We are imperfect beings without all the answers. We are lost creatures in the midst of a vast unknown. Being fearless means losing sight of that awareness and dangerously inflating, stroking our egos; it means we forget ourselves and set ourselves above others whom we no longer see as equals but as the rivals we need to beat in order to protect our own and others’ notion of our superiority.
I am very comfortable these days being afraid. It keeps me grounded. It keeps me humble. I take risks and chances like everybody else, and of course sometimes I make mistakes, but I remain rooted in the awareness of my many limitations, and when I do attempt new scary things, I always try not to trample on others in my pursuit for self development, self-fulfillment, self-discovery.
There is always another bed to make, bathroom to clean, email to reply to, shopping to do. Daily life can be so oppressive. Writing the word oppressive just now makes me feel nauseous, embarrassed, ashamed to even own up to these feelings when I am so blessed. The truth is I don’t have a clue what to be oppressed, in the purest sense of the word, feels like. And yet, in my abundant, comfortable life, one can also feel caged and asphyxiated.
Life seems to be an endless thread of ‘must dos and don’ts’. From the moment I wake til the moment I go to bed, all I do is tick off things of my mental list in the hope of feeling purposeful. I guess I have always been an achiever or at least driven and productive. Five years giving my all to a degree, then a masters, then various jobs, a marriage, a home, and most of all my two kids and all the different mighty battles that come when you become a parent and you instinctively become the lioness that will go to lengths you didn’t know you could go to, to protect your cubs. Now they are adults, it’s tough figuring out where one fits in this vast universe, so inertia drives me to continue worrying about all the little petty things and not so petty that keep my world and the world of those who I love spinning. I can’t help but wonder though, is that it? Is that truly my purpose? Being alive today should be simply epic. Is it good enough to reduce a life to the ‘must dos’ and ‘dont’s’? Is it right to just settle for that? Or should I look beyond the here and the now, beyond meeting the needs of those closest to me so that I can get clarity and vision to fulfil my own hopes and needs?
Two weeks ago I was in Prague with my daughter. A very long-overdue mother and daughter trip. It was great fun just being, not thinking; just enjoying the moment, breathing, pondering on times past and dreams deferred; messing about with my first born, now 21 years old, and pretending I was 21 years old again myself; letting go of my alter controlling ego; making a total fool of myself but letting much needed laughter in in the process.
It’s been two weeks since I returned from Prague and those fleeting moments of sheer joy, freedom, contentment and inner peace have long disappeared in my memory. I have been ill with cold/flu/ Corona virus (goody!) symptoms for a week. I have now come through the worst of it, but pretty soon I find myself back on self-preservation mode, keeping my head down, doing the chores, working, cleaning, worrying…..surviving.
This world is so spectacular. Living is such a miracle and here I am, back on the saddle going nowhere. What a bloody waste!
I want my life to be full of colour, every colour, every shade, but I can’t do that if I revert to my cocoon every time the sun does not shine on the unique pigmentation that makes up my being.
Every line, whether edged on a page or on our face, tells a story, so don’t be hasty and sum another human being up by what you see but rather by what you cannot see.
So the UK has finally left the European Union; Brexit day has come and gone and as my sister whatsapped me the other day: ‘The world has not come to an end, has it?’. Easy for her to say, though! She has not spent the last 28 years of her life giving her all to a country that’s not hers, a people with whom she does not share a culture, a history, a ‘DNA’. I am that person who has given the second half of her life to another nation. I don’t do things in halves, so when I say ‘given’ I mean that. I came over to the UK from Spain in the early 90s as an Erasmus student, married a Brit, had two children who now have double nationality; I have studied, served in the community, worked and paid taxes, and continue to do so after almost 30 years. Many don’t seem to get the outrage of so many Europeans like myself who have lived in the UK for more than half a life, and have suddenly become the family member who has overstayed their welcome at the party or rather, discovered they were never considered part of the family in the first place and must now be granted permission for such privilege.
So for those who still don’t get our shock and outrage, let me make it a bit more relatable for you. Just imagine being in a romantic relationship to which you have committed fully and sacrificed everything for, and after 30 years, finding out that in order to be allowed to remain in that relationship, you need to be granted a permit or else you are out, just like that! It is not what you have done. It is not the punishment to a crime you have committed or your partner seeking justice for an offence you’ve caused him/her. It is not because of what you have done, but rather because of who you are. A bit like someone saying to you after 30 years: ‘Thank you for all the years and everything you have given me, but I no longer love or want you, so if you want to remain in our relationship you need to beg me to let you stay. If you do, you can stay but only if you continue providing for me, sacrificing for me and always understanding that our relationship was never based on mutual love and appreciation, but self-gain on my part. It was your foolish mistake to believe otherwise!’.
All that love, all that sacrifice, the commitment, the loyalty, the investment, the faith, all thrown back at you as meaningless, worthless, non-existent. If you have ever been at the receiving end of betrayal or unfaithfulness, you will know the pain, gut-wrenching agony, anxiety and damage that being treated like that causes. It is a wound that never heals. Life as you have always known it, robbed from right under your feet. Your only mistake: to have put your unconditional love and trust, your whole being into a person/country that did not deserve it in the first place.
Let me tell you. I fully respect the reasons behind the majority of people who voted for Brexit. I truly do. I get it. What I don’t get is why all Europeans who have been living and working here for so many years have not been automatically granted settled status without having to go through the undignified process of being treated like an ‘alien’, a persona non grata, a leech; in essence, overnight we have been turned into targets of hate and abuse. Yes, Brexit day has come and gone, but the effects of what this process has done and will do to individuals like myself is only just beginning.
I am worried for the UK. I truly am! When I first came to this country, it was love at first sight. The openness, the cosmopolitan feel of the place, the tolerance, the freedom, the eagerness to learn and benefit from other cultures, the contagious positive forward-looking energy, the hunger for equality, progress, unity amongst akin nations to collaborate and face global problems as a unit rather than alone. In my eyes and in my heart, there was no other country on earth as beautiful inside and out and well put together as the UK. Despite the heartache of leaving all my family behind, my homeland, my culture, everything I knew to that point, I could fathom no other place I would rather live in than the UK.
That has all changed now! If you are a Brit and you are sitting there in judgement of my attitude, please put yourself in my shoes and imagine being at the receiving end of such betrayal. My love has turned sour. Unrequited love has never been an attractive prospect for anyone. I can understand that not everyone you love can or has to love you back, but what I will not put up with is the ‘we will love you and look after you so long as you continue to put money in the pot, to be profitable for us’. I don’t know about you, but when it comes to ‘love’ relationships, I like the ‘not having to pay for it’ kind of love. In essence, for me, being allowed to stay in the UK should have flown naturally and seamlessly after Brexit, after half a life of sacrifice and devotion. When mutual love has a price, it ceases to be love and becomes a business transaction. Thanks but no thanks!