She sat there feeling defeated, sipping her coffee whilst listening to Massimo Viazzo’s ‘River Flows in you’. The irony of the title of that piece, she thought, her mind filled with visions of a life that flowed like a river: weightless, spontaneous, vibrant, free. Her spirit, however, laid so arid, almost inert gasping for droplets of hope that would then merge and cause her existence to effortlessly flow into a vast sea of yet unopened doors and passageways she felt inexplicably drawn to. By the age of 20, Esperanza had already travelled to USA, UK, Australia, and most of Europe. What happened to me? she thought. At what point in my life did I begin to regress; did I allow my hopes to be rudely replaced by all my fears?
Tears running down her face, sobbing, unable to hold it all in any longer. Maybe ‘Cry me a river’ would have been more apt, she laughed begrudgingly, maybe the purpose of all these tears is to empty out til there is nothing left. Maybe then and only then, she consoled herself, I will experience an epiphany provoked by the avalanche of the mountain of all my tears drowning out my sorrows, and the impact will be of such magnitude that it will force me to finally metamorphose into the butterfly that laid dormant all these years. Hope by name, Hope by nature. Hope was undeniably all she had left.
The problem was that when hope visited, it never came into Esperanza’s consciousness alone. She always arrived holding a mixed bag of responsibilities, a good conscience, a sense of loyalty and all the other laudable attributes we admire on others but know fully well stop us from living the life we really feel we were born to live. What an impossible mix of emotions she had been dealt. How does one live knowing they are sacrificing their dream for a peaceful conscience, when it is that very dream that helps us push on, take another step, breathe life and positivity into those under our care? How does one ingest a poisoned chalice being fully aware that the very act of salvation is irrevocably and simultaneously mired in condemnation?
The conundrum of whether life is an act of selflessness or selfishness kept her awake at night and riddled with anxiety in the day. Her mind told her one thing but oh how her robust beating heart told her quite another. She knew complete peace and stillness would only come when she breathed her final breath. And yet there was far too much joie de vivre in her to surrender into her fate just yet. This agonising battle of what’s right and what is meant was ironically the fuel that fired her soul; a quest for the hidden treasure she was determined to fulfill til she found an answer; even if it turned out it wasn’t the answer she had hoped for all along. Taking on that unthinkable gamble is what gave meaning and purpose to her life but it was also what was killing her restless spirit one bellicose day at a time.
Another invigorating dawn full of promise and light. Verity had battled a premenstrual migraine for two days now and she resisted going out on the boat with her family and the couple who one day, not too far from now, would take over the business. She often succumbed to her partner’s will. She was no pushover though, but rather she was enamoured with her newly found mental tranquility and no one, not even her partner’s all guns blazing attitude was going to come between her and her hard-won new best companion.
Ten knots of wind may not seem much to a seasoned sailor, but she knew better than to put herself through any experience on the water that flooded back into her consciousness the memories of terror on the Adriatic Sea, especially in front of friends whom she was trying to impress with her dexterity in that vast untameable wilderness. Besides, she had now grown accustomed to guaranteed lush days out on the turquoise waters, bronzed skin, toned tum and legs, a vision in a bikini, wine flowing, the feeling of the water lovingly caressing her skin without expecting a reaction from her; the gentle rocking of the boat as she laid on her side admiring other fit bodies whilst being admired. She was the queen of her castle on the waves; she had now learnt to control her presence at sea rather than the sea controlling her, and no one was going to rob her of that place she had earned with sweat, blood and tears, so many tears.
Choosing to stay at home was not easy feat however, as it forced her to face other demons. It had now been two months since she had last sat down to write anything, and this weighed heavily on her mind. She was fully aware that writing, like a muscle, has a memory and the more you do it, the better you get at it, the more seamless the outcome becomes. Verity was loyal to a fault, mainly loyal to her own self. She detested anything that had even the slightest whiff of betrayal or deceitfulness. Her craft was her hidden treasure and like precious stones, no imitation would do. Her gems could only be identified as hers if born out of a purifying fire; a long process of sieving out the impurities until the real beauty of her misunderstood soul emerged for all to see. The long spells of drought in her creativity were for her the honesty she needed to honour and let breathe in order to later on produce anything she deemed worth expressing and more importantly, reading.
Initiating a writing session was for her like opening Pandora’s box or walking into a cave full of mystery and revelation; a cave where one could get lost and be confronted with the scariest of sights or maybe one which let in the sunlight; where one could see themselves reflected on its pools of water and like Narcissus be transfixed by one’s own beauty. Verity had always considered herself to be rather conservative and measured but what most attracted her to the act of writing was its gambling nature; the possibility of coming away from it a richer being or feeling completely robbed of her most guarded secrets. She loved the thrill of it, the unpredictability of it, its edginess; the way it forced her to lose herself in those pages and to explore who she really was in a safe private space away from judgement and expectation.
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.
Her ship had sailed once again. “Lord, why do I keep doing this to myself? When will you give me enough courage?”, she desperately asked out loud. The walls of her house so downcast, so worn with always hearing the same lament echoing through them. Verity stood on that achingly familiar imaginary dock as she sat round the kitchen table, gazing at the intensely alluring horizon with a choking lump on her throat at the crucifying realisation that for the hundredth time she had come in touching distance of embarking on the trip of a lifetime to her promised Shangri-La. Once again, however, she had also boycotted her own free pass to a new life; a new birth; a fresh journey of discovery through which there would be for the very first time in ages, no baggage, no plans or expectations, neither resentment nor unforgiveness, no limits, just a glimmer of hope with every sunset; a nugget of opportunity to soar with every breath taken in aided by the sea breeze. She had once again subconsciously but without fail, aligned every detail of her life in such a way that yes, she would allow herself to play the game of abiding by the fire of longing, like a moth round a flame, but always with the paralyzing certainty that this ‘Odyssey of Freedom’ game she had invented, would, as it always did, come to a sore end, and that she would lose and she would lose big.
She had already resigned herself years ago to be denied a life free of duty and expectation; a life that exponentially gains momentum when not lived just for others, owed to others, shaped by others. She had given up on that a long time ago. What really buried her soul like a ton of granite and wilted it one depth further at a time; what truly permanently anchored her feet, was the painful admission that there was nothing and no one really standing in her way to entering the God-inspired life she felt so inexplicably drawn to. The only thing stopping Verity from living her unique and undeniable truth was simply herself, her paralising fear and inexcusable lack of courage.
Like an addiction, she repeatedly enjoyed embarking on that imaginary trip of the what ifs and the maybes, pushing the boundaries of acceptable possibilities and controlled risks; reaching her ecstasy but always knowing that no matter how far she pushed, how far she ventured out, when the hybrid game of fusing day dreaming and reality came to its end, she would always find herself firmly stood on that dock, defeated, ashamed, frustrated, but at least loved and validated by those whose own illusory Shangri-La depended on Verity never truly taking that final step forward from the punishing dock toward the unequaled promised land of self-discovery and self-fulfillment. A land which she had convinced herself was only destined for the truly great.
‘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.