Sunday, 20 July 2014

just passing through

In the week leading up to moving house, I bought a tent.  And in the first week in our new home, I set it up in our back garden.  There were loads of things to do--organize the kitchen, the bedrooms, the home education space, the toys, the clothes--but I wanted to make sure my tent was in order and that I knew how to put it up quickly. Just in case.

Just in case a zombie invasion? Just in case peak oil?  

Well, no, I like the idea of a portable home. Plain and simple. 

And I like the idea of traveling lightly even more.  The lighter my load, the more I pass on, the more feasibly it is for me to take a step somewhere else. So I am playing this silent game with myself--how much can I pass on--knowing that as its only player, I am making room for some just in case moment, whether it be a public family event or a more quite inner revelation. 

This game encourages me to think about home and houses and how my children will never experience home in the same way I do (my father continues to live in my childhood home).  To them it can't be about the structure and space because we have never lived any where for longer than 5 years.  

But now I have my tent.  It is not exactly ideal, I don't call it home, and I don't know how often we might use it, but the idea of it encourages me to be easy on myself: it is okay that home is more of an emotional landscape for our family than a physical one.  

This tent invites me to consider what I value and what I would take along, just in case.

Children's author, Julia Donaldson, writes in her Jack and the Flum Flum Tree about a Granny who gives her grandson Jack a patchwork sack for his seemingly dangerous adventure. In the sack are ordinary things: chewing gum, tent pegs, balloons.  He comes to need each item to complete his journey and return home safely to his Gran.  His resourcefulness I admire.
What ordinary things do we need?  My mind instantly goes for all the practical things: knife, bowl, warm blanket, shelter, food.  But what I forget is what is really inside that patchwork sack  (made by Gran): time, love, creativity, trust, sense of purpose and meaning.  

I used to think that life is about finding home, but today as I started making a patchwork sack for my daughter and started dreaming about making one for myself, I realize that life is about creating home wherever you are and for however long you there.  It can be about colours, about qualities, about ideals and about dreams.  It can be about space and about emotions.

The real gift of that patchwork sack is its creativity.  And the real gift of that tent I bought is that it has given me a new understanding.  Roger Deakin writes in Wildwood:  "There's more truth about a camp because that is the position we are in.  The house represents what we are ourselves would like to be on earth: permanent, here for eternity.  But a camp represents the true reality of things: we're just passing through."

Saturday, 3 May 2014

the hidden side of perfection

The photographer's eye and landscape fascinate me.  Capturing a subtle movement or moment using light and time calls us into the present moment, here and now, while taking us to the hidden place just below the surface.

This week when I was admiring my friend's photograph of a young woman's face, slightly veiled, I thought, "perfect, perfect beauty."

I stopped for a moment to think about this word perfect and all that is means in our culture, especially as it relates to the body.  There is no perfect body.  We know this even though modern media does everything to present a perfect body to us.  Today's standards of what is the perfect body is always subjective and keeps us from finding that hidden side of perfection.

I saw in this young woman's face a beauty perfectly human.  A photographer's gift can be to present human beauty to us while revealing what it is means to be perfectly human: that being human means we carry the marks of our struggles as well as the signs of hope--written on our bodies. Wrinkles speak of aging and wisdom. Youthfulness carries hope. Cultural dress speaks of a location as well as hinting at personal experiences.  All these marks matter because they mean we are living a perfectly human life.

It is sad that today we are only given one side, one view of beauty, and that we accept it. We are missing the opportunity to grasp a humanly perfection that holds sacred beauty.

That's why I love this photograph. It reminds me that I am perfectly human just like you. And it reminds me that art has the power to reflect our experiences so that we can see the human condition in a richer, more full form.

There are many shades of perfection that go unnoticed, but we need each shade to help us find true beauty.

Halim Ina's photograph of a young woman in Lebanon was posted on his Facebook page, 29th of April, 2014.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

what is the weather like there?

In my family, we talk about the weather.  Thankfully we talk about others things too, but the weather always pops up in our conversations.  When I lived in Cairo and my parents were in the States, they would always ask me, "what is the weather like there?"  When it became easier for them to use the internet to track my weather, they could tell me my current temperature.  The weather in Cairo rarely changed and when you live in a hot place, it is best to not know how hot it really is!  I always thought this point of our conversation was sort of silly and meaningless and I tried to avoid it.  I wanted to talk about deeper things, topics that mattered, not the weather.

But then this week when my son went sailing on the west coast of Scotland, and I started charting his weather, checking the forecast, tracking the shipping news, looking at the details of the wind's direction,  I realized why my parents were always wanting to ask about the weather:  it is how we stay connected.  

It might seem silly to say that knowing what the weather is like where my child is holds a certain meaning to me, but it does.  I don't know half of the things he will experience or contemplate or see or hear or discuss, but somehow if I know the backdrop (the weather) to the stage of his life, then maybe, just maybe I will feel more connected to him and he won't seem so far away. Maybe if I know about the sunshine or rain or wind or clouds, I might understand his landscape, and then I might have a better chance of knowing him more fully. 

I am no longer embarrassed to say I sound like my parents. 

So, what is the weather like there?

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

a game of catch

My toddler runs to me over and over again. I catch her whole body, and I wrap my arms around her, hold her, and then let her go. She runs away from me and then she returns. I catch and I catch and I catch.

This fun game always leads to giggles. I love her giggles, her pure joy at being caught over and over again. Her job is to run to me, trust me, and laugh.  My job is to catch her.

I know that someday this game of catch will transform from a physical game to a more mental and emotional one. She will dream. She will write. She will have her own thoughts, she will have achievements and disappointments, and I will continue to catch her. 

I play this more advanced game with her older teenage brother.  He no longer runs to me with his body, and instead runs to me with ideas and thoughts.  I still catch him and secretly long for those days when he would run excitedly to me with his whole being.

I am happy to play this game of catch over and over again with my children no matter what their age or their style, but lately I am aware of how it has become a game of letting go.

I catch and then I let go.

Yesterday I dropped my son off for a week's trip with a group of teenagers.  This will be the longest time he has ever been away from us--the longest physical gap in our game of catch. I was okay about saying goodbye because rationally I want him to have his own experiences, but emotionally it feels strange that I now stand on the peripheral of his own catching game.  He doesn't always need me to catch him.

Just before I left the boat, he came to me, hugged me, and we let go.  Our catching game has equally become a game of letting go, but for a single moment, in his arms, he caught me.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Spring lines lead to Spring circles

                   "The power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round."
                                                                                                                         Hekada Sapa 
                                                                                                        Northern American Sioux

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

crowned with soil

One month ago I planted some seeds I found in my mother's house after she died last Spring.  All month I have waited and waited to see if they would burst through the soil.  I check every morning and every night for signs of green. Nothing.  When I had just about given up, I found this pumpkin seed, crowned with soil, reaching for the sun.  I can't believe the power of that seed! So green, so beautiful, doing exactly what it is supposed to be doing--pushing, growing, reaching, bringing forth new life.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

wearing black

Most of my clothes are black.  Although I have been described as a melancholic person who loves to dive deeply into emotions, including the emotions of others, I do not wear black because it is my favorite color nor do I wear it to represent my fascination with death. I wear it because it makes me look thinner.

But recently I have been longing to wear black to signal to others that I am still grieving the loss of my mother.  I get it now why some cultures wear black as an outward sign to say, "This person is grieving, certain topics are off limits. Be sensitive, be aware, be patient, even if she seems grumpy, show her some grace." Oh how I wish we could wear a color that would universally signal the state of one's inner landscape.
We live in a culture that pushes death far under the door.  We don't like to think about it. We don't like to talk about it. We want to pretend that it won't happen to us, but death is real and all of us at some point have to deal with its waves of grief: shock, anger, sadness.

I don't find death as hard to deal with as learning to say goodbye is. It's funny, I thought I had said goodbye to my mother, and yet, even a year out from my her death, I am still learning to say goodbye as I move through the natural cycle of the year with birthdays, holidays, and Spring's arrival. Maybe grief really is just learning to say goodbye. And perhaps wearing black for now helps remind me that I am still practicing, still learning how to say goodbye to all that was once good about my mother's life.

Maybe next year I might wear blue.