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The oasis needs rain too

So tired of being the oasis to all people. They take, they take, they take, so relentlessly consumed with their own wanting.  They suck the life out of me one day at a time. Selfish and unaware that the oasis slowly fades and dies too, if the rain does not come to replenish its springs, its foliage, its magic shadows. I am the mirage in the distance that is so appealing. You quench your thirst for a time; the time when you gasped for refreshment, the time when you grieved, the time when you felt unloved and unappreciated; the time when you despised yourself and needed me to remind you of your exquisite reflection.

And yet, no one cares for the oasis, because no one can truly discern or comprehend such beauty, such miraculous splendour in the midst of a barren desert. They find such unfathomable magnetic force intimidating, imposing, sobering but impossibly attractive. They use it and abuse it, because they find its bewitching secrets laborious, and so it is just easier to only scratch its surface, drink the water and gorge over its beauty than it is to dwell deeper and question where the oasis’ radiance emanates from; to figure out what such a unique, valuable presence needs itself in order to retain the freshness and vibrancy that sustains everything within it and around it.

It is human nature to desire the most unattainable of things and yet never strive to do anything in our power to preserve such unique, splendorous life source. And yet, I am tired of justifying human nature, for I am human too but take no one for granted, no one. My calling is to lift others out of their struggle; to enthuse them with life when it is ebbing away from them. Are the givers condemned to blaze like meteors and then be buried in the depths of oblivion? What is the point of their awe-inspiring ephemeral presence if they are instantly forgotten or replaced with the next best attraction?

I am tired of being the butterfly whose dazzling colours men gasp over and wish to penetrate. Why didn’t they care to be around me whilst I was wrestling in my cocoon? Why couldn’t they come alongside me in the midst of the struggle that got me to my quivering flight today? Well, I tell you what makes this butterfly so exquisite and bewitching. Her colours, despite your self-inflicted blindness, are not vanity or the guise she chooses to allure you into admiring her. Her colours are hard won in the battle of humility and self-sacrifice. A silent battle within that only she knows about; a raging fire of unthinkable disappointment followed by self-assertion and endless self-love. The intensity, the depth of her unique colours stem from the furnace endured in her cage.

And now, she is finally free, and she shines; she glows for all to see.

The oasis needs rain too but no one cares to give it. Life is so much more effortless in the sunshine of satisfying our own needs and wants.

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Herd Emancipation

It is excruciatingly painful to try and feel inspired to write these days. People tell me I am a positive person, but most do not realise that although I am instinctively so, the negative voice in my head never lets up. For every positive thought that my brain labours to produce, the hooded claw bounces it back with a double whammy of negativity, smashing any hope of gaining ground; of turning a mediocre day into a day fully lived.

The truth is COVID-19 has revealed for many of us an uncomfortable truth: what are we without a purpose? Who are we if not clogs in the economy machine? What is the point of us if not to keep producing, to keep consuming insatiably? Nothing seems to make sense unless we are rushed off our feet working, striving, competing, gaining, comparing ourselves to the next person. On the one hand, COVID-19 is giving us enough time to ponder on the fact that many of us are not truly sure of who we are when you take away our social circles, our jobs, our sustenance, our communities, our freedoms. The hours go slowly and uncomfortably as we have too much time to think and realise that maybe half our life has already been wasted busying ourselves with busyness but not really living, not really being, not really participating in the miracle that our life and life all around us is. On the other hand, we agonize as news of thousands of deaths is hitting us daily; we struggle to comprehend the gargantuan effort it takes for so many to simply keep on living, prospering, growing and yet, the strife, the battle can be snatched out of our hands unexpectedly with one swift final breath, in one achingly solitary instant. What was it all for? Did we really live or was it life itself that went in and through us?

This last year has also acted as a filtering process which has set apart those who like to swim with the current and those who have enough discernment and courage to think for themselves and act accordingly. As a result, so has increased the number of people who appoint themselves as judge and jury; often individuals who lack the initiative, the bravery, and the curiosity to stand up and challenge the status quo. Instead, they sit in judgement of those who do, because it is easier to detract the attention from their own ignorance, cowardice and fear and focus it instead on those who break from the herd and follow their own path at all cost. Much has been discussed about ‘Herd Immunity’. Perhaps the real point of contention here should be ‘Herd Emancipation’.

A few years back my family and I were holidaying in St. Vincent, the Caribbean. A huge storm hit our beach resort which was located in a valley by a river leading to the sea. As the sea surged, the riverbanks overflowed and within a short period of time our resort was almost completely flooded. The resort management instructed everyone to head to the emergency meeting point which happened to be one of the restaurants on the edge of the resort right by the beach, not that much higher up than the rest of the resort. At that point, I suggested to my husband that the sensible thing to do was to go higher up. We discussed it as a family and in that instant, we knew our lives were at risk and keeping with the ‘herd’, obeying instruction was not an option for us.

We sought higher ground and managed to climb various floors within the concrete block of flats where the resort staff lived. From the balcony of the flat where one of the members of staff lived who kindly let us in, we watched in shock and horror as rain continued to pour, the river began to burst its banks, and the beach was rapidly being taken over by the sea. Hours later, a member of the management team came looking for us as we were the only residents of the resort unaccounted for. They took us down to the restaurant and we had a very mixed welcome.  Some showed joy and relief when they saw us. They were kind and found us chairs and a blanket to sleep on. Not surprisingly, in stark contrast there were those who frowned and gave us hateful looks for daring to challenge authority and act based on our own judgement. We were being punished for having the audacity to think for ourselves. And so goes the human race.

Whilst we regret enormously having caused concern and worry to those who came looking for us, we will never regret having made that decision in such extreme life-threatening circumstances. As morning came, we saw the devastation caused by the storm and learnt that people had died that night right there in our resort. The restaurant where everyone was gathered was ok, but it could have been very different. They were just incredibly lucky. They could have all been swept away so easily, had the surge been any greater or the storm lasted longer.

That night I went to sleep with a clear conscience. As a parent I took the decision to challenge authority and follow my own judgement and gut instinct to protect myself and my family. If anyone wants to judge us for doing that, it is on them, not me. I would do exactly the same now with hindsight, if a similar situation ever presents itself again. I will do what I have to do to protect myself and those entrusted to me as best as I know how, even if that means breaking from the herd, going against ‘the rules’.

This global pandemic is also pushing people to their limits in more ways than one and it is revealing people’s true character or lack of. Will you be the person that sits in judgement of others’ choices and right to choose or will you be the individual who extends a blanket and tells you they are so glad that you are still alive? I know whom I would rather be and whom I would rather have by my side.

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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.

Comfortable being afraid

‘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.