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Cosmic Justice

Here I am on the luminous island of Menorca about to enter into the final straight of my fifty first year, and what a year it has been. Despite the Covid pandemic starting halfway through it and turning all our worlds upside down, shaking all our priorities to the core, and bringing so many of us down to our knees, this past twelve months have been for me one of the best years of my life in so many respects.

Professionally, I have not gained more knowledge or experience, but our business has had its best year yet, which is rather miraculous in itself, bearing in mind there have been months during which businesses we work with were practically closed; work on various building sites slowed right down; huge delays and insufferable uncertainty were the norm rather than the exception, and due to the widespread lock-down measures and fear of contagion and possible death, we all took stock of what was truly important and suddenly empathy and philanthropy took the place of sales figures, competitiveness and profit. Perhaps there is a lesson of cosmic justice and karma in there somewhere. I would like to think so.

Perhaps the lesson to be learnt was for some learnt too late though. My husband is an addict. He is addicted to his work. He gets high on it; cannot live without it and finds his self-worth and identity mainly within it. And yet, as with any drug, there is a lurking, permanent, pounding hooded claw that slowly but surely gets hold of you and will not let go until the very thing we sacrifice so much for quietly leads us to a certain death. Last Christmas we came to our house in Menorca for what we thought would be 10 days. Covid had a very different idea and soon after our arrival, the situation changed and our flight back to UK got cancelled. At that point we decided that seeing as the number of cases in Menorca was miniscule compared to the UK where pandemonium was ensuing, it would be utterly senseless to not ease into what was initially an adverse circumstance and turn it into a blessing. And so, we decided to stay on a few weeks longer. Unfortunately, by the end of January my husband who continued to have his daily fix of insatiably getting new orders and sniffing out potential future ones, suffered a minor stroke that left him completely numb on the right-hand side of his body.

He is now almost fully recovered. He still has some numbness and pins and needles on part of his right-hand side but again, all in all, it was a miraculous miss, for it could have been the end right there and then. I refuse to take away from that experience the pain, the shock and the after shock of such a dramatic episode and instead, I choose to marvel at the abounding providence that somehow saved him from the dark tunnel at the end of which so many claim to be blinded by the light.

On a more personal level, I am truly easing into my older years. I truly am. The nervous energy of my youth that filled me with so much fear and anxiety is turning into acceptance and a laissez-faire attitude. I do not fret so much. I am not consumed by negative thoughts so much. I am learning to accept that I am just another microscopic grain of sand the sun magnanimously shines on one day and the wind heartlessly blows away another. None of it is about me, none of it. Acknowledging that has given me so much spiritual and emotional freedom. I no longer walk with a massive rucksack filled with the whys, how’s and what ifs on my shoulders. If there is a plus to our doomed fate is the fact that each day that goes by and you see the end approaching that much closer, you learn to live with just the essentials and to discard the clutter, the things and people who selfishly fill another rucksack that may drag you down and prevent you from truly living.

Slowly but surely moving forward in the race against time has also thrown a kind of epiphany my way. Whilst the end is certain, we have a say, to a point, in how the journey evolves. Our bodies truly are our temples, and we can, again to a point, control how healthy or how efficiently they work and for how long. Although riddled with body image anxiety for most of my life, I have been extremely lucky to always be thin without any amount of effort. It is just the way I am wired. However, as we all know, being thin does not necessarily mean being healthy. My interactions on twitter have been on the whole a massive source of a confidence boost regarding my appearance, and that alone has motivated me to try and maintain that shape for a few more years yet. When you are young and your body is in its plenitude, we do not need to do much to remain healthy or strong, but once we are on the other side of 40, subtle signs of ageing begin to nudge and wake us up to the fact that although we may have felt invincible at one point, every meteor does eventually fall and burn. That tragic end is what makes the journey across the universe so incredibly meaningful and desperately urgent at the same time. And yet, the only way to draw meaning out of each passing day is to wind ourselves down to a speed that allows us to see it all, hear it all, feel it all, smell it all and taste it all with every fibre of our being. Sadly, not many get to find in their lifetime that elusive magic button that takes them from sixth to first gear or by the time they do, the chance to truly savour the journey has already passed.

I loved running when I was growing up. I was incredibly fast. The boys my age used to get frustrated that I could outrun them, and being so withdrawn because of my body and shyness complexes, that gave me a great advantage and a confidence boost that at least I had something I was better at than most. As the years passed, doing well academically became my number one priority and I put my all into my studies. Sport or any kind of fitness took a very back seat. Suddenly, at 51 all the emotional baggage is beginning to fall off and I feel so much freer and lighter. Freer enough to take up running again, even though I have not done any kind of running for the last 35 years. It is truly lamentable how we put so many limits on ourselves. We get to a point when we stop believing, dreaming, trying. It is incredibly invigorating not so much to be able to run and be in better shape than many women 20 years younger than myself, but to prove to oneself that the sky really is the limit when it comes to overcoming, and that the biggest factor that stops us shining and leaving a blazing trail as we journey through time is simply ourselves.

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A case of vanity or self-love?

When you get to my age you finally learn that whilst certain external agents are necessary, vital at times, to lift us out of anxiety, depression, loss or any other soul-destroying circumstance, in the end the only thing that can rescue us from the darkness is truly ourselves.

If there is one lesson I have tried to teach my kids time and time again is this one, because I know that the biggest battles we fight in our life are always the ones we win within, wrestling with ourselves.

I have fought many of these internal battles over the years. When I was young and easily influenced, I relied on other people’s opinion of me to give me a sense of worth and confidence. As an adult, I learnt that even the closest of friends can one day become enemies and that many people who come into your life dressed as sheep are in fact foe; that there are individuals who come into your life for a season to gain something from you and then move on when they got what they wanted. There are others who also identify themselves as friends and are so for a time, but then just like the wind blows in one direction one moment and then in another the next, they change alliance with the blink of an eye and once again, you get put on the shelf or back in the shadows as they move on to the next fool who cannot see them coming. And then there are the kind of friends who genuinely see the best in you, want the best for you and would drop everything to help you out when you need it. And yet, not even those can save you from yourself.

I have learnt that what I thought was vanity is in many instances self-love. When I was younger, I was judgemental, proud, arrogant. Now I know that we all have our own reasons for behaving the way we do. I am not seeking to justify any particular behaviour. I am simply saying that in the later part of my life I have learnt to respect other people’s space and freedom to do as they please. I guess when I was younger my outlook was limited, full of prejudice and blind spots. Now, at 51 I myself have been driven to tight spots I did not know existed, and I have had to alter my behaviour in order to survive, to move forward; a behaviour that my younger, naïve self would have considered totally inappropriate or undignified perhaps. It’s funny how life teaches us time and time again to never judge a book by its cover, and time and time again we ignore that advice and we fall into judgement and rejection of others based on our own prejudices and narrow-mindedness.

I have learnt that it is not worth giving of myself to those who have no empathy, interest or kindness to open the book of my life and read through the pages of the highs and the lows that have led me to be who I am today, before they pass judgement or give their opinion.

I have learnt that the only opinion I should trust when it comes to who I am and where I am going is my own, because even when given with the best of intentions, others’ counsel or guidance is based on their own convictions and experiences, and so what may suit them, does not necessarily suit me.

I have learnt that whilst friends and family are a really important part of a person’s life, the one constant we need to thrive during our time on earth is self-love. The advice given during the safety briefing on a flight to put on your own life jacket or oxygen mask before helping others is for me one of the essential keys to safe living. Sometimes we can be so caught up in looking after others, trying to help others or gaining direction or seeking validation from others that we forget to listen to what our own judgement and gut instinct is telling us; we forget to extend that lifeline to ourselves and in doing so we spend our life wrestling, perpetuating our predicament of a square peg in a round hole.

Today I am practising self-love or vanity, call it what you will. I don’t really care. It helps me to appreciate who I am and how far I’ve come. It reminds me that I am not who or what others may think of me, but I am the truth I see in the mirror every day, warts and all! I am imperfect, unfinished, scarred, blemished and very flawed, but I am authentic and beat only to my own drum.

Here I am, for a lifetime!

Nobody tells you this, because getting older is not the kind of subject most people find all that interesting or engaging, but I wish somebody had spoken to me about the pluses of ageing, and trust me, there are a few and they are not to be underestimated.

Yes, it is quite depressing to see one’s body becoming less able, less willing, easing off into the undignified deterioration that silently takes place each day and creeps up on you all of a sudden one fine morning when you look in the mirror. Yes, it is also rather demoralising to lose intellectual ability, concentration skills and that eagerness of your youth to absorb all the knowledge at your reach. Gosh, I remember how in my teens I used to be able to memorise entire books of subjects I was not even that much into, like History of Art. My goal was to get the best grades and apart from the sacrifice of endless hours invested, intellectually my learning was seamless, thriving, limitless. Now, my willingness to learn, my thirst for keeping up with the world is just as eager and sharp, but the in-built tools to do so are somewhat rusty and worn out, saturated from so much use in the past; from firing all cylinders as if my ability to make any kind of impact, to matter would expire by the age of 30.

The pain of feeling the younger generation ‘pushing you aside’ to make way for their own discoveries, trends, ethos, and understanding of how to navigate relationships, the economy, professional pursuits and the meaning of life in general, also rubs salt in the wound of the ageing process. Lord knows, for those of us who have children, the older they become, the more redundant we begin to feel both to them and to the world in general. Their confidence, know-how and freshness is enough to make one forget how much we have achieved in our own life and the fact that like them, we were once young too, full of light, hope, energy, influence and limitless possibilities. Like us too, they will one day, if they are lucky to make it, ponder this very same realisation.

I read something on twitter two days ago which really made me sad. A lady, who said was about to become 65, was pleading with her audience to be liked or retweeted in order to, for once in her life, before either dying or developing Alzheimer’s, become noticed or have any kind of impact on a large scale; to somehow be one amongst the millions of grains of sand which successfully makes an indelible impression on the beach before being washed away by the waves.

It made me very sad, because there is that overwhelmingly dominant and influential opinion around that once you reach a certain age, you are good for nothing, you mean nothing, you add nothing, you offer nothing. We are an intelligent species but we can be so shockingly blind too with the elementary stuff. We are all in this together. We all go through the same cycle of life. It is in our own interest to highly value, nurture and treasure the later years of our life, because just like we all have a beginning, we all have an end. And yet, the moment we begin to age, we are the first ones to throw in the towel, to step aside, cower and hide, giving licence to the rest of the world to ignore and trample on us.

Well, I am not going to silently just step aside and let society, governments or ruthless individuals, men and women, treat me like I am done in this world. You come at me with your youth and your arrogance, and I will serve you a huge dose of perspective and a wake up call, because where I am is where you are also going, so you’ll do well to listen to the pilgrims who have traversed before you that very same road you are now on and are convinced is unique and exclusively paved for you and your own gain and enjoyment.

We can see things that you can’t yet see and have solutions for challenges that you have not yet endured. Our foot, unlike yours, is off the accelerator and we have successfully learnt how to marinade in the spices of all that life has to offer; to relish the traits in others that in our youth we foolishly rejected as irrelevant or unattractive. We have learnt to savour the moment; to discard the prejudices and hang-ups that forced us to live life through someone else’s eyes. If you come at me with your naive understanding and fake manufactured self, telling me I ‘aint no longer got it’, I will tell you that no quality is more alluring, more seductive than being comfortable in your skin and loving yourself, all of yourself; your achy body, crinkly skin and scarred soul. It is only when you accept yourself as you are; when you truly know yourself, that your life acquires the ultimate level of authenticity and freedom which is elusive in our youth. It is only then, in the later part of our lives that we ditch the baggage and learn to soar to the heights we were destined for, and trust me, I would never trade the view and full-on sensory and spiritual presence from up here for the shortsightedness, blind spots and restraining presumptions of my youth.