My heart leaps at the unmistakable sound of your presence in my inbox. I stare at my phone screen in perpetual disappointment as I realise it is just another email about one more Amazon purchase by the kids. I take the dog for a walk and let the gentle chords of my ‘Hot Acoustic’ playlist transport my mind out of my hopeless impatience, but the phone is playing games with my head once again. I hear the little sound, the eagerly awaited sound that enthuses my spirit at the thought of it being you, letting me know that you remember I exist; that you care and fear for the precipice I find myself standing on the edge of; that you are grateful for my words, my thoughts, my prayers at the news of your own precipice; that you are fully conscious of the fact that thousands of miles cannot keep us apart because I now carry you in my heart and you walk with mine.
I place my phone back in my pocket, disheartened, disillusioned at my own naivety for thinking that I would rate that high on your list of priorities; rank that privileged a position in your affections. Did I read your words right or was it wishful thinking? Did our souls supernaturally connect and instantly fuse like timber and flame? Did you sense it too, that familiarity of total strangers as if we had shared a lifetime in a different life?
Words are like missiles that perforate the heart irreparably, beyond recognition. The moment they hit you, everything changes and no matter how one tries to retain the old self, it is not there. The metamorphosis has taken place. It is impossible to pick up where you left off because that person has vanished, gone up in the smoke of impact between two souls that though foreign to each other, have entered a perfect dance of seamless intuition, empathy and telepathy. The harmony is such; the comfort in each other’s presence so undeniable, it proves impossible to let go even when the music stops playing. I hang on for dear life, because I know this encounter is extraordinary, perhaps unique. If I cannot hold on to you, let me at least hold on to the memory of you; to your spirit which is more present within me than the words you wrote to me.
I am struggling to get on with my daily grind because I am addicted to that dance; that harmonious exchange of non-judgemental, undiluted goodness and understanding. It is so rare to find a person today with enough humility that all they see is the good in you; they only see the intention, never the mistake. There is such purity, such integrity in a heart like that, hardly seen these dark days of social media frenzy and perpetual witch-hunts. Is it possible to trust someone you barely know more fully than someone you have known most of your life? What is there in that dimension we do not see that can feel so much more real than the things and the people we can hear, see and touch? Is it an illusion of the needy mind or a golden snippet of what we are capable of when we believe there is more to life than this?
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.
The morning after is always an interesting one. It feels like Christmas morning when I was child. You get up full of adrenaline and excitement at the prospect of finding something wonderful and unexpected to remind you that you are loved and understood; you jump off the bed with just one urgent thought in mind: What’s under the tree? Yes, I admit it. What others think about me is of vital importance to me; what others think about me as a writer, that is. As with any craft and its master, I live to discover how my writing is received and interpreted by others; how it makes them feel; what emotions stirs within and thought processes it triggers, and consequently what changes in attitude or behaviour it brings about, if any. Does my writing act as a mirror to others inciting identification and change, or as the mirror they run a mile from, because the honesty it echoes is too raw, too vivid to handle?
The only Christmas present I long to find under my tree is simply a parcel. It does not matter to me whether that parcel contains coal, the rejection or criticism of my thoughts, my writing style or gold dust and precious jewels in the form of adulation and praise. It is the symbolic act of placing a parcel under my tree that fills my soul with a sense of purpose and achievement. It confirms for me that I am exactly where I am supposed to be and that, is like manna in the desert in a world where with every news piece, the sense of our sacred, untouchable habitats spiraling out of control is becoming more and more undeniable; and our souls subsequently dying by slow drought, the one and only verifiable experts’ prognosis.
A parcel under my tree tells me irrefutably that another human soul made the conscious effort, the choice, which today is no insignificant feat seeing as everyone has something to say, to visit my blog, click on the link and open the door to my life, to my soul, to the secrets hidden in the depths and the crevices of my innermost being, bubbling up incessantly at the epicentre of my soul.
That beautifully humble, empathetic, understated parcel under my tree whose gift within I am still unaware of, is for me the gift itself. I don’t need to know or care much for what’s inside. The parcel itself is the best of gifts a writer could ever hope for; it’s a moment of magical, supernatural ignition between, more often than not, two strangers whose souls have connected in an invisible dimension, even though they are ignorant of each other’s past, present and future. The fusion between the two minds is of such magnitude at that prolonged instant when the words were written by one and soon after read by the other, that it forces the two human beings like two stars thousands of miles apart in outer space, to make a meteoric journey in order to acknowledge, reach out to each other. They cannot see each other and yet at that very moment of contact, despite the emotional distance of two lives so apart, they clearly see, hear and understand what lies deep beneath their facades.
These rare moments of human love being unconditionally, freely exchanged are beautiful, extraordinary things, in a day and age of tribalism and so much hatred for anything that falls outside the perimeters of what makes up our own identity. It is bordering the supernatural in today’s existence to encounter those elusive moments of inexplicable connection, empathy and in essence exchanges of human love, where there is no need to establish who is right or wrong, who knows more than the other, who is better than the other. They are simply put instants of unconditional, divinely inspired love which act as the miraculous cure to the wounds of a very sick world.
Yesterday, I wrote an extract of what one day could turn into a novel. Every now and then I like to test the waters, feel the temperature, and see who is out there, if anyone. My comfort zone in terms of writing is philosophical reflections, personal ramblings. My writing does not get the exposure that I would like. I am not digitally competent, and so this humble blog is at present my only creative outlet competing with millions of voices out there which like mine, are desperate to be heard or at least seen.
I have attempted writing a brief chapter of an imaginary work of fiction before, but the response or lack of it is always equally devastating. Whilst my reflective posts get on occasion considerable notice within my small circle of influence, the fictional attempts painfully bounce back in my creative echo chamber. And what is most painful to the soul than finding a present under the tree that tells one that the giver put no thought or consideration when choosing it; that they gave us the gift out of a sense of obligation or in return for a gift we gave them? What’s more painful than a meaningless, thoughtless gift? Well, the most gut-wrenchingly aching moment, so much more than finding the wrong gift under the tree, is for me the total absence of parcels under that tree.
No parcels equates indifference and indifference is to the writer like the invisible virus that gains ground and devours the creative soul of joy and hope one ephemeral day at a time.
I am genuinely intrigued as to why so many identify me as a writer and give me such wonderful feedback with regards to what I write on my reflective posts, and yet even though it is that same soul and spirit that is behind the fictional pieces; even though it is that same human being with whom they had an extraordinary connection, a sense of oneness, no moment of magical fusion, of mutual recognition and acceptance takes place as a result of my fictional pieces. It baffles me.
I would gladly receive at this stage a parcel that contains a gift I don’t like. A bad gift is better than no gift. It shows at least that your creation caused some kind of reaction. The silence, however, I cannot process or comprehend. I am still the same writing voice. It is still the same spirit behind the reflective and the fictional posts, so if I am the same, everything points to the fact that at least some of those magical moments of connection that trigger a new parcel being left under my tree were disingenuous, forced, or simply given with ulterior motive. It is at that moment that I come face to face with the stark realisation that perhaps the absence of parcels under my tree is in the long run better for me as a writer.
I am all about authenticity. Anything and anyone that falls outside of that realm is like a thorn in my flesh, like a stone in my sandals that slows me down on the all important quest of getting to the place where I get to find out who I am and what I am here for. Like a prophet who has heard God’s voice and has been given a promise that will surely come to pass, I blindly and unwaveringly trust and believe that the day will come when the most cherished of gifts will be left under my tree, because it will be the one gift that has been exclusively designed to delight me, to encourage me, to let me know that the giver not only saw me through my writing but saw also the promise of everything I am destined to be and capable of becoming and overcoming.
‘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.