Posted in Uncategorized

Peace, Love and Memories.

I was sitting in a colourful collective flat in Dunoon.   Despite the wailing wind and the rain thundering down like a shower of stones we were all totally focused on our intended goal.    The weather wasn’t going to put six determined women off from their task.  We were going to shake this town out of their slumber with our consciousness awareness event for peace and social justice.   

The sky no longer teased the waters of the Holy Loch.  It had become disgruntled. It ached as it looked down upon the Polaris monstrosity – the American Naval Base.  It was incongruently situated in the heart of beautiful landscape and it reminded every resident of the reality of The Cold War Although Dunoon is a Scottish town it had morphed into a cosmopolitan American town.  It weaved a type of magic which can only be appreciated by a restless eighteen year old girl.    I had grown wary of my conservative roots which choked the life out of me.   In contrast Dunoon lifted me into a new awareness.  Moreover, it was in Dunoon that I tossed away the regimented style of dance that I had trained in and welcomed the new street dances of the Black American sea cadets.       

Our peace group had managed to get together an assortment of musicians and storytellers and we were elated because we had succeeded in getting a guest speaker.   Robert McKenzie, a twenty eight year old Vietnam veteran from Missouri had agreed to give a talk about his experience.    Excitement hung in the air and our hearts bounced with realisation that it had been yet another fruitful gathering.   

Alice pulled out her drum and began with a simple rhythm, and an easy wordless chant. We all began to sing.  The meeting was drifting to closure.  

I had arranged to stay with Alice that night.    Alice was one of my first real life heroines. Of course I had previous heroines before her but I only had got to know them through the pages of a book.  She was so unconventional and stood out from the general populace with her mass of untamed silver grey hair.   She prided herself that she was gatekeeper of stories and she would often tell the stories of Indigenous peoples reminding me that I was a Celt and we also suffered at the hands of exploitation.   Though she appeared fragile Alice had a fierceness which manifested in her being at the forefront of the peace movement.    My jaw dropped in amazement when she told me all about her escapades as a Raging Granny.    It was hard to imagine that Alice who had that look of Red Riding Hood’s grandmother had spent time inside an American Detention Centre for blocking the gateways of nuclear installations.    

Alice stoked the fire as I curled up in her sofa.  She threw off her combat green docs and settled back into an armchair.     I knew our conversation would dance well into the morning. 

I embraced the moment and felt at one with the rain that thudded onto the pavement outside.    Alice gave a long silent yawn and then turned towards me and asked how I got involved with the peace movement. 

I took a slow intake of breath and my mind wandered back to the year famed for the Summer of Love.   I was about nine years old.    Though the sunshine warmed the manicured gardens the shadow of The Cold War cast its frosty presence.    It was also evident in the sombre tones of the BBC News which carried yet another story on Vietnam.   I can remember watching the TV my eyes taking in the sit-in demonstrations and withdrawing my eyes from the scenes of bloodiness.       My questions on Vietnam were always sidestepped and confusion set as I got responses that somehow seemed to make no sense.     

My ears caught the sound of the logs sparking and it broke my concentration.   Alice smiled, from the comfort of her armchair and  gestured for me to carry on.   

One day, I continued I came home from school to find a leaflet detailing what to do when the bomb fell.     My eyes popped.  It was certainly not a blessing to be a nine year old with a good understanding of vocabulary and a good imagination.   I stared in total disbelief as I read the method suggested for surviving a nuclear blast.  It was incredulous that anyone could possibly think that anyone could survive a near hit with a nuclear bomb blast by constructing a shelter using a door and aluminium foil.    My eyes widened with every word I read, it suggested that each household should take a door off its hinges and store it safely.  When the alarm sounded someone should fetch the door and angle it from the wall to the floor and cover the top of it with aluminium foil.  I imagined my father shouting to my mother – “hurry get the aluminium foil we have four minutes”.   Somehow I couldn’t quite see my family building a shelter without panic or us getting in the way of each other. I placed the leaflet back on the dining room table.    However, as it is the way of nine years I carried on with my life of climbing trees, getting into scrapes, reading and my continual quest for fairies but somehow the image of aluminium covered door as a means to survive nuclear attack  stayed with me.

“Would you like a fresh cup of tea” Alice interjected.    “Regular or do you want to try one of my herbal teas”

I picked up my cup and shuffled towards the dining table.   “Thank you, I’d love a regular tea” I responded.

“I don’t think folk believed that such a shelter would save them” Alice laughed.  “Perhaps, a form of disbelief. Maybe we just need to feel that we can do something even if it seems pointless.”   Alice poured the brown steamy liquid into my cup and made my way back to the sofa.   

”I remember the Cuban missile crisis well.  Alice continued.   Yes there was panic but equally a sense of resigned helplessness.  I firmly believe that the hippy movement stemmed from the backdrop of the stress of waiting for a bomb to drop. Fortunately I am still alive to tell the tale.”   I empathised with that sense of helplessness when daily life casts a deathly shadow over one.    I nodded in affirmation and then I recalled the time when the cracked silence of fear came upon me.

In a drab clinical classroom a few weeks after I found the leaflet I was awakened by the continual shrill of an alarm.    I was in my usual mind wandering state but the loud peels of the alarm caused me to jump to my feet.   A sense of joy came upon me as I reckoned that the school was having  a fire drill.   I was always pleased when there was a fire drill as it was a good opportunity to escape from the monotony of class .  However, soon my joy quelled as I became aware that we were going down to the basement.   This was no fire drill.   Fear gripped me as I thought the inevitable had happened, a missile was on its way either to the Holy Loch or the British Nuclear Base at Loch Long and it was my misfortune to live between both of them.     To this day the scene of walking down those stairs is firmly etched in my mind.    In spite of the overarching panic there was a fractured silence within my whole being.     I could not speak; I could not cry; I could not scream, I could do nothing but take one step after another down to that basement.    When it was announced that it was only a drill, there was no sense of relief.  I stood ashen faced and silent.   Fragments of blurred faces each and every one of them moving quietly back up those stairs back into the classroom.     I have never since felt a silence like it.  

Alice rose and wrapped her arms around me.   

“I suppose it has never left me and that’s why I joined”.   I said.

 I picked up my tea and slowly sip, it has gone tepid.   I am reminded about the millions of children who for them war is an actual part of their narrative, day in and day out.  

Alice went back to Michigan two days after or successful peace awareness concert and I never saw her again.   I am grateful that for but a brief season our paths crossed.   Alice inspired me and she tossed me visionary ropes of an alternative way and it was always her hope that I would catch them and run with them.   

At 9.20 am on the morning of 15th April I strolled past Bandon Books and caught sight of the headline about our current situation between the U.S.A and North Korea.  

That silence that I experienced nearly fifty years ago in that classroom hits me again.   It causes me to wonder whether there something inherent in the human condition that causes us to tear ourselves apart through conflict.

Lines may span my face but I can rejoice in a life which has given me opportunities to critical think and of course has allowed me to garner endless stories. I was hoping that the remainder of my time here on Earth would be spent writing stories.    Maybe I will have to once again catch those visionary ropes and swing out of peace activism retirement and signpost to others that there are better ways.  In that we need not enslave ourselves in the webs of illusory abundance which really only creates wealth for the few.      As I scan the shopping centre,   I ponder on whether there will be a new movement that will rise to the challenge or whether we will carry on with our consumer endeavours

 

  

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Moving On.

As the wheel of the year turns towards Easter there is movement within my spirit of moving on.  I desire to step out onto a new path and wave goodbye to my current destination.   Sorrow had visited me but now I have left that dark labyrinth of pain and I am ready to sojourn forward.    

Please be assured that I am not running away but walking towards fruitfulness of a brighter future.   Perhaps, it is the way of the story teller in that we capture deeply those places where the heart is torn.   Sorrow is indeed excruciating and we can only wait on time to heal.  I know it is a time such as this when I am impacted by story.   It is in that desolate place where I alone struggle to make sense of the hurt and it is there that I find story.  

That sense of betrayal slices the soul and it is never more so than when it is tangled up in the confused state of miscommunication.      I have always been shadowed by that stark feeling of being different.  Maybe that is why I am comforted by story, after all stories are ways that we make sense of our circumstances and to clarify the confusion of insecurities and existence.   Stories are the very essence of who we are.  

During the last six months I no longer felt rooted in place.  A place I have called home for several years now.  The sun no longer greeted me as I strolled by the river.   The river is silent now.   Of course, I tried to resolve things but unfortunately I only made things worse.  Words failed to clarify matters.   Perhaps I was trying too hard.   I tried to salvage the friendships but nothing is more painful than being with people who no longer have anything in common.      

Memories of our good times are etched in my mind and I wondered what had happened for me to be so estranged.  Some times in the wee small hours of the night, that time when thoughts bounce mischievously I considered if resentment was at the root.  After all, wasn’t I always sharing posts of me present at some event while they were locked into their family schedules.  The thought that there may be mind games at play irked me as I pondered on my own strategies.    However, in the brightness of a new morning those thoughts evaporated into the busyness of the day.    

Tiredness  was a constant companion.  I was dragged down by my emotional state  through trying to maintain the continual saga of pursuing a solution.   Eventually, one afternoon during a meeting I had arranged to resolve things realisation hit that there was nothing really to resolve.     I had failed to see that it was me who had changed and no longer wanted to be part of the group.  Digital Arts, The Innovation Academy and the pursuit of my desire to be a storyteller had transformed me into someone who felt able to own my authentic self.    For years I had been following a pathway that was simply not me.   In essence, I was walking a worn path with old shoes.   

Moving to new pastures is not as simple as many would like to make it out.   I suppose there is a form of rejection in the action of moving away.   However, that was never my intention; I merely wanted to explore an alternate way that was more suited to my personality.  Moreover, I desire different conversations, ones which will stimulate and challenge me.    I am solo and my family has grown into well rounded adults so I have the freedom to experiment.  

Although there was a sense of closure I still felt raw.    I understood the situation but yet  painful tremors shook my body.    I found it difficult to let go even though I concluded that there was no ill-intention at play.  

One Wednesday evening I walked into church for a Lenten Service and during it I asked God to help me let go of my  crippling feelings.   I took a short intake of breath, prayed and in that moment in the presence of God and my absence of ego I felt my shoulders soften.    I had taken the first step of release.

Upon reflection I became aware that I was sabotaging my spirit  by not taking the new opportunities that were beginning to come my way.    My eyes opened to the fact that I had essentially betrayed me. I had denied who I was as a woman because I wanted to be accepted.  As I have said it can be difficult when you feel different and it is part of the human condition to crave acceptance. But here is the rub how can one embrace the beauty of meaningful friendship when the personal persona is inauthentic.    How can one be whole walking a path that causes them to stumble into that terrible state of feeling left out.    To my shame I have to say I have been playing a role rather than simply being myself. 

I have essentially made peace with myself and with my former colleagues.   I sincerely hope that there can be acceptance of the fact that it is not a rejection of any individual.  I hope that our connection is not totally severed. However, I have come to the conclusion that all the words have been said and it is time for us all to mutually move on.     

Now I have made the decision that it is time to stop harboring the past, it is time to focus on my dream of being a storyteller. .  Towards this end my sights are firmly set on my next destination – the Society of Storyteller’s Gathering in Plymouth which takes place in May.   

Until the next blog.   Peace, love and stories.     

 

Posted in Reflection

If We Conspire To Remain

We drank tea but conversation collided clumsily between us.  Fear made its discomfort apparent and perhaps I was trying too hard to bring a rhythmic flow to our chat.   After all Marcia had been a friend for a considerable time and I had always valued her friendship.    With a knot in my heart I eventually made my excuses to leave and as I raced home sadness overwhelmed me.   Despite my best undertakings to hold on to the friendship, change had occurred and now distance lay between us.

Upon reflection, I would have to lay the cause of this distance firmly with me.   I am the one who has changed.    I suppose as well as igniting confidence storytelling has allowed me to be the essential essence of who I am.    In essence it is as though I have come home.

As a daughter to parents who had great aspirations for me to become a solicitor or an accountant I had somehow danced to the tune of their disapproval.   My love of story and drawing was seen as a frivolous endeavour.   I was a tomboy who loved climbed trees but I was also the girl who liked black nail polish.     Furthermore, my schooling was also co-conspirator in trying to shape me into taking the appropriate codes acceptable for my middle class community.    Hence, an excellent student was one who excelled in Science, Mathematics and Sports, all subjects which did not grab me.  Thus, I was deemed the problem; the one that needed fixed.

When I look back it seems to me that a great deal of time was spent in the endless pursuit of trying to fill my mind with knowledge but little time allowed for the exploration of who I actually was as a person.  It has to be said that at the core lay rejection.   Rejection of me as an individual and of  me and my love of words and images.     In essence what they were saying I wasn’t good enough.    Maybe, if they had looked through a difference lens they would have grasped that I had a love of drawing, words and colour.

Of course, I became an expert in a different type of art; the art of resistance.    Soon I became adept at portraying an air of indifference  as I weaved my way through the negative remarks.  However, I was imploding in the inside and as a consequence I was propelled into making some drastic choices.    I gave up drawing and I also gave up dance and ended up in relationships which could only be described as chaotic and toxic.

Eventually, I became weary and realised that my words were tumbling on ears that were closed.  Even in silence we are acting out our narrative.    Soon conversation ceased and interaction was enacted out in all manner of non-verbal form and curt words which could only be likened to a weapon of combat.   They may not physically injure but nonetheless wound.    Maybe it is simply easier when we cannot solve conflict that distance is inevitable.    As a result I soon felt invisible and at an early age I left home and found myself in the bustling hub of Carnaby Street.

Somehow through the process of storytelling; I as the teller of tales have undergone healing.   A friend of mine who happens to be a very wise woman told me that stories are medicine.  Somehow my love for story has rekindled my true identity.  I am at one with my own narrative.    No longer do I manoeuvre to the tugging of others’ strings, trying to prove myself and apologising for who I am.  Much to my surprise I didn’t set out to purposely make this change by my own merits, it just happened.

It was after my meeting with Marcia that I became aware that this change affected how Marcia and I interacted.   Though it was a good friendship in many ways it wasn’t a friendship of equals.    It operated on the premise that Marcia had taken on the role of the one who could fix me.    Thus taking on this role had somewhat shaped Marcia’s identity and now since I have come into my own a seismic shift in the friendship has occurred.

Now my friendship with Marcia is different.  I still see her on an occasional basis.  I am delighted that she has new friends and I suppose that in the actual action of stepping aside it has allowed both of us to explore new pathways.   Change can be scary but if we conspire to remain there can be no growth.

And with regard to my past …  … the story continues.

 

Posted in Tale

Tom

 

If we conspire to remain within safe boundaries there is often limited growth. Thus we can restrict ourselves to people who are very like ourselves. Our friends may have a different job title but upon closer inspection there is often the realisation that they are really so much like us. Perhaps there is a comfort in this, after all we like friends who are on the same wavelength,  it makes things easier in a world which can seem complex.

However, the easy road is not one that is particular familiar to me. The path I have trudged along has often been strewn with boulders. That is as it is, something which I cannot change. Upon reflection I question whether I would have  been happier rambling on another route.  I just don’t know, besides it is a futile quest as I cannot go back.

One of my first memories is of a young boy called Tom.  In retrospect I believe that my friendship with him propelled me to embrace difference.  It challenged me to the realisation that not everyone had the same background or culture as I was socialised into.

Tom enrolled in my year six class mid way through term.  My eyes caught his gaze and I intuitively sensed that  we would be friends. From my perspective Tom was loyal and had a good sense of fun.   He had a love of nature.

However,  I lived in a small parochial, middle class town. A town that prided itself on its good manners and courtesies. Windows sparkled and were framed with stiff white lace. Clothes were assembled from socks to sweaters neatly on the washing lines. There was a special day for bedding.  It was considered bad taste to eat ‘on the go’ and to raise your voice in the street.    Hence, etiquette, was the order of the day.   Tom’s shirt always had a missing button or a slight tear.  His garden was never regimentally manicured.    I was oblivious to his lifestyle but unfortunately the townsfolk were not.  I liked him and that was all that mattered to me.  Thus I ignored the nasty comments from vinegar tongues.

Tom and I would go for adventures with my dog Candy in tow. We would climb trees, make dens and I would point out where the fairies lived. I even tried my hand at fishing. That was a pointless endeavour in that we never caught anything.    Possibly because we could never stay quiet  long enough.

Soon it became evident that I was the main point of discussion or rather my parents were.   At this point I have to state that my friendship with Tom was never encouraged by them either.   They disliked him with a vengeance and so began the process of indoctrination  that I was bringing ill repute on to the family’s good reputation.  I could never understand why. Tom had never encouraged me to do anything that was illegal or malicious.

I resisted as much as a ten year old could but came to the conclusion that it would be better if Tom and I met away from hostile eyes of the community. So I would pack a small lunch bag and head up towards the wooded area at the edge of the town. I continued to do that for the duration of that summer.   Tom and I would unpack our lunch and we would share our sandwiches.   Tom’s mother used to make wonderful spreads that could not be bought in our local supermarket.     I listened intently when he spoke about his love of trains.   One day my ten year old curiosity got the better of me and I asked him how many brothers and sisters he had.    Silence darted in the air and then he turned and whispered that he did not have any because he was a love child.    I slumped down on to an old fallen tree trunk, slightly envious that he had a room to himself and no annoying brothers to contend with.     Then the thought struck me my cousin Wilma was also an only child so by my reckoning that meant she was a love child too.    Strange, how neither my Uncle or Aunt mentioned this.   But then I reasoned adults were a funny lot.

The wind began to get more prominent as the sun dimmed to a cooler shade of yellow.    I threw on my jacket and made my way to Sandy Woods.   We only had a few days until we would be facing the tyrannical regime of lines and rows.   I tried to race towards the woods but my intentions were thwarted by  Candy who was behaving particularly badly;  perhaps she knew that my very essence was going to be sliced by heartache.

I got to the fallen alder which was our meeting point and glanced towards the piles of leaves tinged with hints of auburn brown.   The wind whirled and howled around me.  I wrapped myself within its swirls and it whispered to me in its own innate way.  Tom had gone.

My last year at primary school was difficult. For some reason I had purposefully withdrawn from my classmates. I wasn’t interested that Scholl’s sandals were fashionable. I loved my sandshoes. I could not dance in the wind with sandals. However, my feet were now silent. I missed Tom.   My heart ached from the strong thuds of grief.  I couldn’t figure out why Tom left without saying goodbye.   Soon my questions waned to the point of implosion and as I learned that silencing was commonplace in this town.

The word that weaved Tom’s narrative was ‘different’     Ah, he is just different, my father would emphasise.  My ten year old self wished I could take that word and erase it from the dictionary.

Of course life goes on and soon I learned to live without his f   Our paths have never since crossed something which I am totally grateful for. Why spoil a memory with the fractured cracks of reality.

My friendship with Tom was certainly special and when I look back on my childhood there is a warmth which I garner from my memories with him.

Peace, love and stories.

 

 

Posted in Reflection

Hitting A Brick Wall

The brick wall is not what is expected in the Christian narrative. There is that expectation that life after Christ heralds in a life of blessing and financial security.  Hence, there is no such place as that deep ravine where one feels trapped under boulders of despair and nothingness;  that sorrowful place where God seems silent.   How could it be, you are his child.

A testimony is but story and like any story it has conflict.    I could hint at the violences, of body, mind and soul , the agoraphobia, my serial relationships, the homelessness, but that is not the story I want to share. And forgive me if I skip over my time as a hippy, an anti-nuke and community activist, because that is mere biography. I want to expound on why I am a Christian in a season of scarcity of blessing.

The last three years have been tough as I stumbled head-first into the potholes that came across my path.   My head throbbed as I fruitlessly tried to knock that wall down.   Devoured by the ravenous jaws of recession I was caught in the web of unemployment.   The lack of money is indeed an issue but it was the endless days of having nothing worthwhile to do. I suppose it is that lack of meaning and purpose that is vital for the human condition.   But I am a Christian, God will provide, those words echoed in my very essence, but soon the words became silent and without words, there are no stories.

There is a loss of credibility with unemployment and I started to feel marginalised. After all we live in a neo-liberal society where the status of a person is often defined by the work they do. It is a system of winners and losers: I was a loser. I was unemployed and I was thrust into the embers of hopelessness.   My previous masters had evolved into nothing but a worthless piece of paper.       God, I lamented – where are you?   I tip-toed into church, blending into the shadows.   It was easier that way.   I listened to stories of how God had blessed others.   Of course I was happy for them, but I often felt the sting of a salty tear stab my cheek, the colour fading from pink to white.   I longed to know why God was passing me over.   I waited for that word from the preacher’s mouth, that nugget of wisdom that would change my life. I waited in vain. It did not come.

A blunt knife often offers the most pain, thoughtless words are like that.   They may be sugar coated in well-meaning but nevertheless they slice the soul of one whose confidence is familiar with that proverbial brick wall.     I yearned for someone to ask me to do something, so I could have purpose and to erase the wounds of worthlessness.   Unfortunately that never happened.

Had God truly abandoned me.   Didn’t he tell me he had wonderful plans for me.   Was I destined to stay in a whirlpool of existence drowning in the repeated patterns of my ranting and groaning.

In that dark place the mist eventually began to slowly evaporate and there was that realisation that there is a beauty in the place of sorrow.   It is a beauty that is seductive but can only be appreciated when everything is stripped away and Jesus unravels the tangled knots of despair, frustration, confusion and past pain.   Navigating through that dark place requires honest dialogue between you and God. And in that place of rawness I began to become authentic with myself and I discovered a deepening of faith.     It is a profoundly poignant place of the absence of ego and the presence of God.

We live in a world in which there is so much endless chatter telling us how to be that often we are distracted by the cacophony of voices that blast our minds.     In that dark valley, there were two voices, God’s and my own.       I began to see how my biography had defined me. Hence, I was the woman who had constructed myself as survivor/victim and in the process I had filtered out the real me. In other words the pain of past experiences was defining me.

So is this really a testimony of no happy ever after.   A sorrowful tale of no hallelujahs which will loiter in the pending file, never to be heard.     Last September I went back to University College Cork.   Challenging though the masters was, it was the right course for me.     I rekindled my creativity which had been elbowed out due to the need to survive. If I had not been unemployed I would never have got on this course.

Faith is about relationship.   It is not what we do or what we don’t do and it is neither what we have or do not have.     It is neo-liberalism that tells us that our worth comes from what we do,   how much we own or how we look.       It doesn’t matter if we are silent or we like to dance in church.   It is about relationship, in essence our own authentic relationship with Christ.   In that dark place I began to realise that I had deceived myself and how could I expect others to know me if I knew not myself.   I had been living a lie: abuse and homelessness constructs what I call survival identity.  Thus, it distorts the lens of how you view your place within the world.

Conflict weaves through every story but my biography is more than those difficult times.   The open highway of my life took me towards the joy of sitting in a tipi with friends: singing, talking and drumming.   Oh! the stories I could tell working in a retreat centre in Cork connecting with fellow pilgrims. From busking in Sidmouth to having coffee in Dublin with inspirational friends who had a passion for justice.     In essence, there has been diamond moments too.

I cannot say I have secured work. That is now the next stage of my journey. However, I have re-adjusted my lens, it is no longer cloudy and chipped.   I found diamonds when I was avalanched under those heavy boulders of frustration and despair.   My diamonds are my stories and my stories are now birthing into life.    And the proverbial brick wall!     Like the Wall at Jericho, brick by brick it’s tumbling down.

So until next time.   Peace, Love and Stories.

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