Misquote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar but seemed appropriate for this post.
March is a weird month for me because over the years lots of stuff has happened in it. To name but a few – it is the anniversary of not just physical deaths of friends and family but also of the loss of dreams, of anniversaries of heartbreak and relationship ends for both my children, which if you’re a parent you will know this hurts your heart too. But it is also the anniversary of when I got my cute little dog, when I met with God in an amazing, never to be dismissed encounter, when my son was born. So the month of March is a bitter sweet month. But then isn’t that life.
Life isn’t all good or all bad. Even in this pandemic I would say each person would be hard pressed to not be able to find a good time, even if it is just something small, but our newspaper headlines would like us not to see things that way. And I’m not saying things haven’t been tough. For me just entering March each year is tough and it was also why I went into panic mode last March rushed to “rescue” my daughter and bring her back to live in my house, was scared that we would run out of food. It wasn’t just the pandemic but the memories heaped upon it. This year I am calmer because I’ve recognised this is what my body does so I do almost remind it to “beware the ides of March”. Then I can work with my panics and my negative feelings and keep my body, mind and emotions not so much in check, because hiding one’s feelings is dangerous to both your physical and mental health. But I make sure I don’t get caught up in flight, fight or freeze and acknowledge the past in all its hues.
I’m not saying it is wrong to remember these events. It is good to have some time set aside to remember those people and dreams that have gone, but I do believe one should also remember the good in them too. I know sometimes that can be hard when the death has been from a long drawn out illness or mental health issue, or if the relationship or dream ended painfully. That does make it hard. But there is a gap for light in everything no matter how horrendous.
I read a few books last year and this about refugees and people in war torn countries. These books aren’t gloomy. They are honest about the hardness of the situation but they also see the light and joy in things. These are not books I come away depressed from but come away having learned something of another culture, another way of life, that I would not encounter in my daily life. The things I read are much harder than what I’ve been through. No matter what are papers say we are blessed to live in the UK. And yes there are things here that need to change, justices that need to be sorted, I’m not saying that. Same as I’m not saying that one shouldn’t grieve for those we’ve lost. What I am saying is that we need to see the blessings in the sadness, see the joy in the sorrow, see the light in the darkness.
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
Normally I would do my end of year review to coincide with Christmas cards I was sending, whether physical or electronic, but this year I have decided to wait until 31st December to post, and am even tempted to wait until midnight just in case. It is not that I am fearful but this has been an “unprecedented” year.
At the time I would normally have done this post I was still laid up with bruised ribs from falling off that horse though was starting to plan what I would write, and I suppose even Different Christmas was a lead up to that. But then just as I was in the planning stages for that my husband got shingles and has been very sore with that. Then on Saturday 19th Dec Wales announced that all was change for Christmas and we were going into lockdown again – though from the volume of traffic I would say that only means that pubs and cafes have now closed. Not sure if I can see much other difference on the roads. It is definitely not back to April’s sparse traffic volume. But then on Sunday my daughter announced that she had tested positive to covid and so, even though she wasn’t coming up here for the holidays it did mean she was going to have to spend it home alone! All this in just a week!
This has been the strangest of years. Even to the point that our cat went from eating biscuits to demanding that we feed her cat meat from a tin. She now has meat twice a day and ignores the biscuits that sit waiting for her to be hungry enough. If it hadn’t been for the local cat rescue places being closed all the tins that had been in the cupboard for the last few years would have gone to them but now she’s eaten them all.
Talking of pets – our crazy rabbit died in the summer, happily of a possible heart attack whilst he was sunbathing before begining yet another digging project. He was buried inside his own warren of tunnels that he had constructed over the four years he had been living here. He is still very missed and the amount of veg peelings in our food recycling bin has increased.
As with everyone 2020 started normally enough, though it was odd for us because my husband chose to stay home for New Year’s instead of going to a youth hostel with old university friends. So actually even the start of the year was different for us with us being together when we woke on 2020. We went away as always for our wedding anniversary at the end of January, which was followed by my husband going off for a week of intensive Welsh learning on the Llyn Peninsular. He managed to get away climbing with friends in Scotland at the start of March, but by the time he went away then things were starting to change and covid was being muttered about. We had two Airbnb guests, both in the medical profession, who went from saying it was nothing to worry about to slowly getting more and more concerned about it, to our guest from Burma having to cut short his stay so he got home before all airports were closed.
I was supposed to go on my regular March writing retreat but felt uneasy about going which was just as well because suddenly things got serious. So instead of being in Gwynedd I went Cardiff to bring my daughter to stay with us when the pubs closed. We bought her some walking boots the day before the country went into full lockdown. We thought we were going to be walking all over North Wales, but then the 5 mile rule was introduced and we finished up doing lots of walks around where we live. We have seen my daughter more this year, probably a good 4 months of the year, than we have since she went off to university about 7 years ago. I picked her up yesterday, now that she is over her coovid isolation time and will spend New Year with us and stay until this lockdown lifts. So even though we have seen so much more of her this year when it comes to everyone else – my son and our mothers and our friends – we’ve seen them less than normal.
My husband changed jobs at the start of lockdown and has now been working for his new company for 8 months and never seen the inside of his office or met any of his colleagues face to face. We are so grateful for our lovely big house and him being able to work upstairs in his own office. But his is the only work going on in the house because, with all the guidelines and restrictions, it is not safe to run our house as an Airbnb rental home for the time being. Read more about that on Humility. And since not having guests coming and going it has changed how I see the house and what it is for. For now I’m not making any decisions how things will look regarding Airbnb and room rentals in 2021, but I do know I see this place much more as a family home now than a business.
We did manage to get away for a flying visit to Somerset to see our mums and a couple of friends at the beginning of August and my son and his fiancee came up to us for a long weekend in mid August. Both times we were blessed with great weather. And we managed 6 days in Northumberland in late September, though because Northumbeland went into tier 3 we were not able to see one friend who had moved there a couple of years ago, and also a friend’s 50th wedding anniversary party was cancelled. But we did manage 6 days of walking, reading, and resting together.
As well as Airbnb all my work has stopped – no more writing groups, no more schools work, no more workshops in the library. All very strange. But I have been doing a lot of my own writing and a few of my blogs from here are being published on Godspacelight.com which is quite exciting. I have also been working with a young illustrator and we have a book called TheLittle Yellow Boat which is with BumbleBee Publishing in the process of being put together and published later in 2021. I will tell more about that once it is out in the big wide world. My plans for 2021 are to work on more short stories and other ideas and of course to blog more. I do not want The Little Yellow Boat to be my only publications. I have also been working towards an MA in Celtic Studies and have loved the modules about the Mabinogion, especailly the Four Branches. I am thinking of doing some stores around the women from the Four Branches.
Every year we do not know what is going to happen, but I think 2021 is probably the one where we have the least idea. Will the vaccine prove effective enough to bring back “normal” life? Will we have enjoyed some of the changes and not want “normal”? For some their business will never be the same again. Many will be bankrupt. For others there plans will be delayed and will be able to move forward a year or two later. But also within that not knowing are things we do have control over. I plan to continue with the Quantum Energy Counselling healing work I’ve been doing. I will work on my own writing and develop a body of work and look at being published. I will meet up with people when I walk with my dog and have great conversations. I will email my friends. And I will carry on reading. All these I have control over. As to whether I’ll start Airbnb rental again or whether I’ll be able to restart writing workshops and schools work, that I have no control over, so will hold lightly. Also I do have control over how I behave towards what is going on around me and I hope I can hold Joy and Hope in the right place and walk as God wants me to through whatever is thrown my way.
It’s that time of year when everyone is talking about “joy”. “Joy to the World”, the “joy of Christmas” and in Advent devotional that I am sticking with for now, Christine says she focuses on joy for this season. I don’t work well in in abstract so I thougth “what does joy look like?” and did a bit of a study. “The joy of the Lord is my strength” it says in the Bible. Practice Co said “joy is like a seed”. But none of that helped so I sat down with my journal and pen and asked myself what joy would look like to me.
Joy is a woman. A tall strong warrior woman with long flowing hair left loose so the wind can blow through it. She stands at the edge of the water allowing the waves to brush over her bare feet. She wears a long white shift but the breeze does not reveal her shape. Joy is not sexual. She faces into the wind, which can turn from gentle and refreshing to a storm in moments, and change back just as fast. She lets the wind play with her hair and waves roll over her feet and ankles. She knows those waves cannot touch her body. Even when the storm comes with its freezing rain, and even hail, she keeps that gentle smile, keeps her composre, keeps her stance. She does not deny that there is a storm, does not deny the cold, the hurt, the unfeelingness. But she remains rooted and strong, standing tall, erect, still only letting the waves roll over her feet and ankles.
Joy is not impervious to the storm or unrealistic that storms, ills, floods and fire come. Yes she stands strong. Joy is anchored. Joy is strength.
For me this picture of joy helped for ground it for me. It also helped me to look at “the joy of the Lord as my strength” in a very different light. It also reminded me of the Full Moon post I wrote about God being above the chaos of our world. But in this one Joy is within the chaos too but standing strong and unaffected by it. Interestingly I, just before writing this, I watch a recommended YouTube video about Laughter yoga, which fits in nicely with the whole idea of joy, laughter, being good for your health but something you can hold on to even if life isn’t going your way. He talks about laughing with your body till your mind gets it. With the QEC therapy that talks about getting it with your heart and body so your mind can catch up. Too often we live in a world where we put our mind first and try to make it happen. But with this idea of laugher yoga, OEC, and walking with the Joy of the Lord, it is much more about it happening in your heart and your body and not so much your mind.
I have just finished reading a really good trilogy, who’s only fault was that each book was 8-900 pages long. So for the last month I suppose I have been hanging out with these characters and so I am missing them today. The trilogy is The Liveship Traders by Robin Hobb. Well worth giving a month to.
There are many bits where the books really spoke to me. One part is where one of the ships talks about attempting to take his own life. (The ships are made of a wood that makes them alive, able to talk, think, have minds of their own, and have memories of those who have lived and died on them – can’t say much more or it would spoil the books). Anyway the woman talking to him says “how could you hate yourself and the world so much to want to take your life?” And he replies that all he wanted to do was to take the pain away. That really helped me to understand why those we loved took their own lives. It was because the pain was too much. There was nothing we could have done to stop that.
But then later in the book one of the main characters is dealing with the pain of having been raped and it is stopping her from giving herself fully to the man she is meant to be with. Her ship says to her “give me the pain. I will not take the memories of what happened but I will take your pain.” She does wrestle with him about this but eventually gives her pain to him, is able to tell her man about the rape and her heart is more open and able to cope.
I believe this is what Jesus asks of us and what I believe I have done without realising it,
to give the pain of what we have walked through to him. It won’t make those memories go. It won’t make us wary in similar situations. It won’t even “cure” our mental health problems. But it will make us be able to look clearly at what we have gone through and say “this is what happened to me.” I think we are often afraid to give that pain to Jesus because we are afraid that he will take our memories and that what happened to us will not be validated. That if we continue to hold the pain of what we have endured – be it rape, abandonment, seeing someone we love taken from us, and many many more things that escape me at this hour of the morning – then we will keep knowing how awful it was. That if we let go of the pain we may forget a loved one who has gone, forget a incident that actually has made us wiser now, will forget all that we have been through. This is NOT true. Jesus does not want to take our memories. In fact earlier in the story it is revealed that the ship did try to take the memories of one of the main characters but this then stopped him from being able to fully give himself to others. He was holding something back and often that was because he did not want to look at the memory because he was holding both the memory and the pain, and the pain totally overrode everything else – including his judgement of situations.
Giving our pain to Jesus is an on-going thing. Often when we remember things the pain will flair up again so we need to give it again. Very often it is not a once and forever thing. If we have lost someone dear to us through an untimely death there will be many times when the memories of them come with searing pain and that is when we pass on that pain.
Jesus died on the cross to take our pain as much as he did anything else. By taking away that pain it gives us resurrection. According to the Anglican and Catholic church calendars we are in that period between Easter and Pentecost and it is a time to reflect on resurrection. I was at a wedding of my dear friend who’s first husband committed suicide and during her talk the vicar said that this was my friend and her new husband’s resurrection time and that it was significant that they were marrying just after Easter. It’s true. She can now give her pain to Jesus, keep her memories of her first husband, but open up into the new life she has said yes to. And yes I weep through writing this because I have my own pain with it too. I can only give my own pain to Jesus again and again. I will still have the memories not only of the times when he was alive and the crazy things we all did together but also the memories of the fateful day and the aftermath of it. But they can be viewed as memories and a constant giving to Jesus of the pain.
“The joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10) is not some fully leaping around
being happy stuff but a joy that settles deep, pervades one’s whole being and, I believe, comes from knowing that you can give your pain to Jesus, walk free from it, and yet still know what happened. It is a full and rich joy of living free from pain but of a life filled with memories which in turn guide and strengthen your future.
Christmas does seem to be the time to focus one’s memories as I was saying in a pre-Christmas post. But how we decide to handle them is the important as they race through our minds. We cannot stop them coming in. A smell, a look, a place we’ve been to and enjoyed, and even that card that does not arrive all can release painful memories. And it does seem as we get old there are more memories that evoke sadness due to either death or that person just no longer being in our lives. So what do we do with all that?
We have a choice on how we handle them. Yes we do. We do not need to let that first initial, what can be gut-wrenching lose take over our day. We can let it go that way and that is our choice. It will be important to acknowledge that pain and loss but we do not have to dwell there. We can choose to remember the good times we had with that person, can choose to enjoy the memory. But we can also choose to let it totally envelope us to the point where we do not see what is good around us.
After what I’ve gone through over the last few years I would not say with certainty that “the dead are gone” even though in the flesh they are. They still haunt us. But also the living are very much with us. If we get too far down the sadness of those who have gone – whether died or just no longer part of our lives as they use to be – they we can so miss those who are with us now. I know of someone over Christmas who was in a place that evoked memories of those past and also those who were really ill. She was with a new partner but could have stayed with those sad memories but she didn’t stay there. She remember with sadness and with fondness, prayed a bit, but then also went back to enjoying her time with her new partner.
Many loses are really hard to get over, especially ones that are untimely and too early – although I do know of someone who said his mother died at 99 and that was a year too soon for him. It could just be that every death or loss always comes too soon. Although violent young deaths do cause so much pain – but that is not to say that we must stay in that place where our grief overwhelms the joy that we have.
There is a verse in the Bible that says “The joy of the Lord is our strength.” During 2012 I found it hard to find how to deal with it. I felt it was saying that I should not acknowledge what had happened but now I think that is wrong. I think it means that if we can look at where we are, the good things we still have around us, can remember with poignant joy those who have gone, then we have the strength to keep going, keep loving, keep being there for those who we love who are still with us,
This year I think I made it through, and enjoyed Christmas, not just because both my children, who are in their twenties, were with me, but because I decided to not let the sadness of the memories overwhelm me but to see what was good around me, to remember those I’ve lost with that poignant joy and to wait on what is to come.