Monday, 21 December 2009

Solstice reflections

It's the solstice where, being a twilight/night girl, I mourn the return to lengthening days - though I won't mind them until it's still light at 7.30-8pm, which just feels so wrong.

But it's also a marker of the dark night of the soul, one that I've been going through for a while now. Not always depressive, though sometimes so, but lit by what Julia Kristeva would refer to as 'the black sun', a 'dark luminosity' - something deeper, something more, than what the author of the book I'm reading, Thomas Moore, would call 'naive sunshine'.

Whilst in this land lit by the black sun - a land with which I have a deep affinity, one that offers me the kind of light by which I prefer to navigate - I 'm realising that whilst I've travelled it, I'm not sure I really KNOW it. I'm not sure I've explored it, though I know the landmarks I've passed on my way through to somewhere else.

It's a land that I love, but I fear I don't know it as well as I thought I did. This time, I'm going to wrap myself in this land of half-light and numinosity and learn it, know it by heart as I know those places I consider home. This is my home too, perhaps the one that is most real.

I'm loving my re-read of Thomas Moore's "Dark Nights of the Soul" - I didn't quite speed through it the first time, but I loved the language so much and kept thinking 'Yes!' so often, that I don't think I absorbed it properly. This time I'm relaxing into it, musing, allowing it to sink into my bones.

There will be several posts on Moore's book, I think, reflecting on different parts of this Land of the Black Sun.

Today? One of my biggest struggles: religion, spirituality, inner intuition vs. my outer experience/sense and my struggle to bring the two together, to be able to follow my heart, yet walk with fellow pilgrims on the way. It's a struggle that can bring out the absolute worst in me in a way only my family can.

Which suggests, perhaps, that it is a seminal struggle and one that can and will be immensely fruitful. I'm less certain that being somewhere comfortable would be quite as good for my spiritual health.

More and more, I find I'm missing the darkness in God and religion. It's...too bright, glittering, blinding - God is all good and God is all love - but if God is THE Creator, the one from whom all other things emanate, then darkness must be a part of who God is. As must Lucifer's pride, Kali's destruction, suffering, hate, anger, vengeance - all those things we find in ourselves as images, reflections, of the Creator.

I love Holy Week, especially the Vigil, but hate Easter morning. I love the Midnight mass approaching this Thursday night/Friday morning, but shy away from Christmas morning. I'm not sure why. In the light, it's too much: the glare eliminates texture, subtlety, nuance. It never feels quite right.

Even when people talk about Jesus saving them, pulling them out of darkness, I wonder - what if that's not Jesus' purpose? What if he's simply meant to be with you whilst you explore your land of the Black Sun, not rescue you from it? Love isn't about rescue from places we find uncomfortable. Love is about being present, offering strength and holding the space whilst we discover the gifts our personal land of the Black Sun has to offer.

And maybe God's love isn't so facile as so much religious imagery makes it - there is hard compassion in failing a student when passing them would only set them up for disaster later or in a wolf mother killing her mortally wounded pup (from Pinkola-Estes); there is true love in telling someone that they are losing their integrity; there is true intimacy in the dark moments of grief and pain shared.

Do you genuinely believe that someone who constantly tells you how utterly amazing you are and how perfect you are really *loves* you? How can they? They can't see YOU - you're not perfect, no one is. And honestly, we're not working towards perfection. We're working towards wholeness - which is what God is. Whole. It's so much more than perfect. Only someone who knows you in your darkness, someone who can sit with you in it, who can both say, "You're amazing," "You can be a REAL bitch, you know that? You were out of order," and who can hold you through the darkest nights of your soul can truly claim to love you.

But we so often believe that love is a mirror reflecting and affirming us. Agreement isn't love; it's just agreement. Fulsome praise is just fulsome praise. Fawning is just fawning - and the latter two have more to do with self-interest than love. And so often, that's what we want our God - Jesus, Allah, whoever - to give us. We make God in our image, not the other way around.

Moore's thoughts on religion during a dark night begins to articulate my struggle, my feelings:

Religion, too, often avoids the dark by hiding behind platitiudes and false assurances. NOthing is more irrelevant than feeble religious piousness in the face of stark, life-threatening darkness. Religion tends to sentimentalize the light and demonize the darkness. If you turn to spirituality to find only a positive and wholesome attitude, you are using spirituality to avoid life's dark beauty. Religion easily becomes a defense and avoidance. Of course, this is not the purpose of religion, and the religious traditions of the world, full of beautifully stated wisdom, are your best source of guidance in the dark. But there is real religion and there is the empty shell of religion. Know the difference. Your life is at stake.
--Moore, Thomas. Dark Nights of the Soul: a guide to finding your way through life's ordeals. London: Piatkus, 2004, p. 15

It is indeed. Moore goes on to say that "Flight from the dark infantilizes your spirituality, because dark nights of the soul are meant to initiate you into spiritual adulthood...[t]he spiritual life is both deep and transcendent." (p. 15)

Flight from the dark, in the end, puts your life at stake - because you never grow up, and parts of you in potential, meant to come to full growth, shrivel and die.

That's why I'm not just travelling through this time, or hoping for a divine hand to reach down and pull me out.

I'm hoping for divine presence, and occasionally, through the people who can hold me in my darkness, I'm sure I feel the brush of a wing against my cheek. Thank you for meeting me here; it means more than you'll ever know.

I know there are those who would will my emergence back into bright sunshine, believing it best, and I love you for it. But not just yet - I need to explore this part of my home. Be with me if you can - but if not, that's ok too.

Just remember that I'm not here because I want to die...

...but because I want to live.

Monday, 14 December 2009

A Catholic male on female beauty

I got involved in a discussion with the friend of a friend on said friend's plank, oops, I mean wall.

He sent me a message about something I had written, admired my profile pic and asked if it were my tattoo. When I responded I chose it b/c I'm not photogenic and no one should have to suffer a picture of me, he responded:

Thought that would make you laugh! But as for photogenic, that is in the eye of the beholder. I would have turned down Miss World for my wife, and true feminine beauty comes from within, whilst the physique or face may not be classically beautifull the whole face can light up when someone smiles, or they may have such wonderful colourful eyes, or even on older faces the lines set into the face or the silver hair can be elegant or have a warmth. God made us in his image and everyone is beautiful to him.

After having spent far too much time in circles that view women as 3rd class citizens - having to fight to prove myself as good as any man; suffering perpetual mockery; having to deal with men who struggle with my not being 'safe' (married or asexual) - this was balm to the weary soul.

And he's a heterosexual Catholic male. Who likes women. Genuinely likes us. I could weep. His wife is a lucky woman.

Where's the 'Permission to clone humans' bill? I'm ringing my MP to vote 'aye'.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Ordinary moments, gifts and my grown-up Christmas list

Do you remember me
I sat upon your knee
I wrote to you with childhood fantasies

Well I'm all grown-up now
And still need help somehow
I'm not a child
But my heart still can dream

As a Muslim girl, I never sat upon Santa's knee, but I did childhood fantasies with the best of them. I wrote my angels for the things I thought I wanted: straight As, something nice to wear, the latest must-have. I poured my heart out in the letters that ended up in my father's chest of drawers - with lists that probably equalled many a Christmas list sent to the North Pole. I was desperate as any child on Christmas day for those things to arrive.

Growing up, my world was one where my parents judged people by their position and what they owned; whilst that tendency didn't manifest in me in exactly the same way, it was there: friendships were measured by whether someone remembered to give me a present; if they knew what to give me; how much thought they had given it.

So, as ashamed as I am to admit it, those shiny packages mattered.

As children we believed
The grandest sight to see
Was something lovely
Wrapped beneath our tree

It took years for me to realise that what I really wanted was the freedom to wear that skirt, the freedom to read something other than school books (one of the best pressies I ever got was a LotR set from Larisa and Nicole), the freedom to really be a member of my generation.

Well heaven surely knows
That packages and bows
Can never heal a hurting human soul

And that what I wanted that present to do was reassure me that I was cared for; that I was loved.

Over time, dinners, laughter, glasses of wine at midnight, discussions about the afterlife being a pool room in which you gather with your soul family, became far more precious than a physical gift. Memories, history woven together, time together on the pilgrimage of our lives became a far more potent measure of love and friendship than packages.

I'll always remember a piece by Stephanie Gilliam in the Washington Post on ordinary days: about her walking into the house, calling up to her son, the dog greeting her. And how it struck her in that moment that when the catastrophic happens, when we are in the depths of grief, we don't want to feel rapturous, we just want to feel NORMAL. That we come to realise the real gifts are the ordinary days - the normal interactions with those we know and love, the changes of season, and so on - miss them and you miss your life.

That's what I'd say to the cleric friend of mine who said he didn't get how couples stood the boring parts of marriage (read: ordinary days) - those ordinary days are the building of a joint history through love that isn't always inferno bright, and they are just as, if not more, true than the big moments of a proposal or wedding. They're the days that bring you to the other big moments like the birth of a child or a special anniversary. They're the bricks of the house you build with love. Just like the little touches say far more about the love between a couple than tonsil hockey does.

And the ordinary moments of my friendships are the same - the real heartbeat of our relationships.

Now don't get me wrong - I still love packages and cards, and even more, I love giving them. Yes, I still love bath stuff, etc. I'll never be an ascetic; the sensual will always be one of my pleasures. As will books. But this year, I'm really looking forward to the present of a friend's artwork and poem that I know is coming my way.

Oh, and let's not forget the pleasure of the cards that land on the doormat, with scrawls about how friends are, pictures, design choices that reflect the friend's personality.

This past Friday, I came home, poked my head in the lounge to say "Hi" to Greg, and my eye fell on the post. My heart - and I - smiled as I saw "The infamous Miss Irim Sarwar" on the envelope and the American postmark. My grin grew wider as I turned the envelope over to the side that had, to quote Hyphen, "been attacked with markers."

My laughter mixed with tears as I opened the envelope and first pulled out a drawing of four faeries with blue accents, signed by the artist in a heart: "Love, Lily". Next, I pulled out a drawing of two faeries (one in a flower, one flying) on a sunny day, signed "Love, Ellie". Finally, a water colour, by an up and coming young artist, simply signed "Bazzy".

Greg looked at me curiously, so I handed him each drawing as I pulled it out, almost as if I were a proud aunt. And finally - the card, with pics of all four wee ones, Brad and Hyphen. The message from Hyphen on the back made me well up even more.

That card and those drawings will never see the inside of a recycling bin. My dusty drawers, most certainly, but I'll always have them. As I will the card from Vanya, drawn by her stepdaughter, wishing me a Happy Kristmas.

Simple, but utterly, utterly perfect.

So what do I really want for Christmas? You. An evening or a coffee with you to build more of those moments. (Aside from the above-mentioned gift and the keychain with a picture of Hyphen's Adeline with her WTF expression) Time on IM, time via email exchange or Skype, just *you*. More giggles, tears, and heart-to-hearts - our unique blend of soul-time that weaves another thread into our tapestry.

I want more moments like recent ones: Hazel's 2.9 yr old, Daniel, saying, "Daddy, I love Irim!" on a night that he couldn't possibly have known was one that I needed it most; a 5 week old baby perfectly curled against my shoulder, settling into sleep; a heart-to-heart with Dani on Friday; being able to lean against Dom today.

Those are my greatest, dearest gifts - you - all of you. I love you.

But if you want to know what the other things on my list are, well, here you go:

So here's my lifelong wish
My grown-up Christmas list
Not for myself
But for a world in need

No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
Everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end
This is my grown-up Christmas list

Chanukkah sameach, Happy Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa and a blessed end to the noughties (damn, I loved saying that!) and start to the teens for all of us.

Every one.

Saturday, 5 December 2009


At 13.45 on Thursday, 3 December 2009, I paused in the cool, dark entryway to the house of those who once ran the Inquisition; the place I'd once worked cataloguing books old and new. A place of sanctuary from the hustle and bustle only feet away. A home away from home, and the home of some of those clerics dear to me who will be filling the sanctuary at my funeral one day.

But today wasn't about the Church, or religion, or anything to do with the clergy.

This moment was about coming home to myself.

I opened my rucksack and took out the box I knew I was going to buy the moment I walked into Boots. The plastic crinkled as I ripped it off, and I stroked the familiar, almost velvety box I hadn't owned in well over a year, before opening it and pulling out the bottle that fit perfectly into my hand.

I opened it, sprayed some on my wrist and at the base of my throat, then put the bottle away.

I rubbed my wrists together and inhaled deeply, revelling in the sharp, citrusy top notes that would soon fade into the warm, woody, spicy, rich heart notes that I identify as my signature. A scent I love even 10 hours later when only the base notes of vanilla and musk are left. And suddenly, for the first time in a long time, I was back.

Which? Calvin Klein Obsession. A classic, oriental amber scent (ironically, the same family as my mother's Estee Lauder Ciara, which I hated). For those who are interested, here's the composition:

Top notes: green, mandarin orange, peach, basil, bergamot and lemon.

Heart notes: spices, coriander, sandalwood, orange blossom, jasmine, oakmoss, cedar and rose.

Base notes: amber, musk, civet, vanilla, vetiver and incense.

In 2004, I decided I wanted a signature scent. I knew that mostly citrus would make me smell like a cat's litter box; I'm not floral by nature; I love rich, oriental scents - sandalwood was an absolute must in anything I was looking for; in fact, I wanted it as a base note, which was why I nixed Obsession when I was hunting online.

In the end, I knew I had to just go to Boots and Debenhams and run down the list. Hugo Boss Deep Red was going to be a top choice, till I realised that it reminded me of strawberry jam, with the sandalwood base note nowhere to be seen.

But I kept coming back to Obsession, which I loved when I spritzed it in the air. Finally, I gave in and sprayed it on my wrist. As the top notes faded, I fell in love with the perfect marriage of scent and skin.

On 11 September 2004, it became my scent, the one that at least one man will remember me by. I was never without a bottle until 2007, when suddenly, I just stopped buying it. I stopped wearing lippy to work too.

As a perceptive practitioner put it so well all those weeks ago, "What is someone like you doing here?" Then answered her own question: "Hiding."

The abandonment of lippy and a scent that is thoroughly me would seem to confirm that - both make me noticed and remembered; to stop using one, let alone both, is an unequivocal "Please don't look at me."

No longer. Look at me. I'm real. You, be real. And if you're one of my pack, you can bet I'll be keeping YOU real.

Look out, world, I'm back with an obsession.

For life.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Night spirit

Got this quiz result from a facebook quiz, and for once, I think it's absolutely perfect:

Irim took the quiz "What Kind of Spirit Are You?" and got the result ► Night Spirit

You are the elusive Night Spirit. Your season is Winter, when the stars are bright and frost crystallizes the fallen leaves. You are introspective, deep-thinking, and mysterious. Everyone is intrigued and a little intimidated by you because you have an aura of otherworldliness. You work in extremes, sometime happy, other times sad, but always creative and philosophical. You are more concerned with the unseen, mystical, and metaphysical than the real world. Night Spirits have a tendency to get lost in themselves and must be careful not to forget reality, but their imagination is limitless.


Sunday, 8 November 2009

On synchronicity and finding answers

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, when the World and Time themselves hang in the balance, a wind rises in the mountains of mist...What was, and what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow. --Robert Jordan

As anyone who has known me for any length of time knows, I'm a Jungian, and so synchronicity is an important part of my conceptual framework. For a working definition:

"Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events that are causally unrelated occurring together in a meaningful manner."

So, for example, a priest, my boss at work and a good friend talking about Darth Vader (sans prompting from me, of course) might qualify as a synchronicity, though I'd probably shake my head and laugh rather than cogitate on the Dark One's (not you Richard, m'dear) presence in my conversations.

However, I've been noticing them a lot more since my friend Jenna had me start keeping a synchronicity journal.

In contrast to Darth Vader, a conversation with a friend where we both discovered that we had details for Dignitas, a discussion about a news item re: suicide b/c of the fear of physical deterioration, and completely randomly turning over to a 'Without a Trace' episode about - you guessed it, assisted suicide - make up a trio that makes me sit up and notice.

That, to me, is a synchronicity - for some reason, I look for sets of 3. More often than not, they hold important keys for me. I just need to find the doors.

Yesterday, I wondered if I'd found the first 2 parts of another synchronicity. A book that crossed my desk for cataloguing had a passage discussing judo and doing the unexpected. The author used the example of being a woman and facing down a rugby international. If she pushed, he'd push back harder, and he'd win. But *what if she pulled him towards her, using his momentum, and then moved her foot to the side*? Who hit the ground then?

I sat up and paid attention.

On its own, it would have been thought-provoking enough. But later, as I popped into Borders before going off to meet Br Martin at 7 for dinner, I couldn't resist picking up the latest volume from the "Wheel of Time" series by Robert Jordan, an old favourite that I left when it hit Book 4 with no end in sight. Wonderful depth of characterisation, a complete universe, but I couldn't continue ad infinitum.

I thought I'd look in the glossary to see if my suspicion about my favourite character, Moiraine Damodred, was true. Could it be that she hadn't died falling through the ter'angreal with Lanfear, a Forsaken?

What I read made me smile. It seemed likely that after an interminable absence, Moiraine might yet be back. Even better was a copy of her letter to another character I had yet to read; it reminded me of another reason I loved the series - the language of a time and place long gone; the language of magic and prophecy.

Then one line sent that familiar tingle along my spine - that tingle that tells me, 'This is for you':

A final point. Remember what you know about the game of Snakes and Foxes. Remember, and heed.

It is time, and I must do what must be done.

Snakes and foxes...could I remember? I didn't, so I flipped through the glossary, hoping against hope it would be there.

Snakes and Foxes is a children's game that cannot be won without breaking the rules.

Doing the unexpected. Pulling instead of pushing. Breaking the rules.

And sometimes, that means going with the momentum rather than against it. Sometimes, being a rebel is falling into an expected role and obeying the rules, when what you really need to do is break them.

Hmmm. I think I should be on the lookout for the third piece.

And as for the door that key is going to fit, I don't know yet. But I look forward to the search.

In the meantime, I will remember.

Remember, and heed.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Remember, remember the 4th of November...

...not gunpowder, treason and plot.

A friend's suicide. A landmark anniversary.

Even now, some years are better than others - last year, I was so excited and emotional about the impending American election - it's not often I get up to go to the 7.30am mass - that whilst I remembered Lou's anniversary, it wasn't so hard. Other years have brought an emptiness or a gentle grief. Some years, it feels like the day she died. Last year was easy enough that I thought I might actually be past the worst of it.

How wrong I was. This year, I started crying on Halloween night and didn't stop till I fell asleep. The last couple of days have been better, but I even cried at the end of the All Souls' mass - and as much as that mass takes me to the depths that I love and moves me to sorrow touched with hope - I don't cry in public.

Last year may have been the easiest, but this year has been the worst since the year she died. And because 11 November is tied into her anniversary, I expect I've got at least a week to go.


It all began Thursday, in an Alexander Technique lesson with Sumi.

"You know, breathing IS an option, even over here," came the supportive, yet somewhat tart, comment as Sumi checked my head, neck, shoulders and back, before giving me a sharp look and saying, "You hold yourself very tightly, don't you? You really need to let go."

"Busted," I thought.

Then, on Saturday, I walked into Unique Creations when I saw a friend with one of the kids she babysits, making a plate for the parental anniversary. I admired the design, then my eyes fell on the date. I felt like I'd been hit.

"Oh, is THAT their anniversary? 4 November?" I semi-squeaked.

I gasped, realising suddenly that it had been a day of happiness and normalcy, as well as one of incredible pain. And that was the start.

In her book, "My grandfather's blessings", Rachel Remen posits that when we experience a sudden shock, we hold our breath, just as we do when plunged into cold water, and we need to breathe again to move forward and release the energy of the event and attendant emotions.

I believe that, and I think that most of us have some areas in our lives where we are holding our breath: a death, a breakup, a loss that we perceive to be catastrophic. We may be moving on in others, but until we breathe in all areas of our lives, we'll leave some part of us behind, or it will die of asphyxiation.

That gasp was my first breath in the part of my heart that had been Lou's since that 4 November.

She was working at the Child Protection Line; I was working the Crisis Hotline. Four hour shifts they may be, but they're intense hours - you discuss the tough calls, deal with some of the most difficult issues. Small talk isn't an option. Friendships become intense pretty quickly in an environment like that. Lou and I were no exception.

Lou was the first older woman I could pour my heart out to - my doubts, my fears, my 'I don't WANT to be a doctor; it's what my parents want,' 'I'm not sure I want to do this.' She was one of the first women to listen; the first woman whose love didn't waver when I didn't want to do what she wanted me to do. Well, there wasn't anything she wanted me to do, except be me. She trusted in my ability, she had faith in me. It was an immense gift, the first such I'd received.

She often stayed beyond her hours, as she had grown children and was on her own - she had done the whole of the three day Columbus Day Weekend because no one else showed up. Last time I saw her, her back was to me as she cut out patterns. I didn't want to bother her since she was busy, so I didn't give her my usual hug. It was the last chance I ever had.

The next time I heard her name, the word suicide was part of the sentence - and I held my breath. That part of my heart froze in that moment.

A month later, after a biochem exam, I could hear her Carolina drawl in my head: "You did really well, hon, I'm so proud of you." I shrugged it off, but I got an 88% on that exam, one of the highest grades in the class.

She, who had loved me for who I was, would never, ever have wanted me to freeze in that moment for an instant longer than the announcement.

So why?

Growing up in a family where emotions were held in contempt - by the time I got home after the shift I'd heard about Lou's death, I was so normal, my parents didn't notice - would be the easy answer. But things are never that simple.

I loved her, but I was so angry I couldn't go to her Maryland memorial service before she was buried in NC. I never forgave myself for that. But I was angrier at myself. FFS, I worked at a CRISIS HOTLINE. I dealt with suicidal people almost every goddamned shift. HOW DID I MISS IT IN MY FRIEND?

And so, I could never breathe; I could never let it thaw. I could never forget the intensity of that pain; never be that blind again. I had to be there for everyone whose loved one committed suicide; for everyone who was suicidal or self-harmed; I had to keep getting better. No one else
in my circle was committing suicide on my watch. NO. ONE. One of the demons that would drive me - still does, more often than it should - was born. And when it was too painful for me to bear alone, I made him drive others - no one was good enough, no one did enough for anyone else, nothing.

What I forgot was that if you can't let go of what you're carrying, you can never receive or hold anything else.

When I gasped Saturday, I couldn't hold my breath any longer - I kept breathing...and started crying as what was frozen thawed and started hurting like f***. I had an inkling of how bad Saturday night was going to be, having been that deep before. Deep breath. When the only way out is through, you just batten down the hatches and go. Each day since has been a bit easier, with All Souls' mass offering the space to breathe and grieve, allowing me to drop the mask I had worn at work. Today is 8.45-7 - I'm not looking forward to it. C'est la vie - I've been through much worse. I'll live.

With every breath, I'm letting go a little bit more.

But I'm afraid. I'm afraid I'll forget her; forget how deeply it hurt; I'll forget how to be with those in that much pain; I'll no longer WANT to be with people in that much pain; I'll lose my edge, my vocation, something.

The truth is, that's just not true - I'll never forget how much that hurt and I'll never want to stop easing that pain for others. I just won't have that intensity of pain right under the surface. I won't drive myself and others to impossible lengths - as one of my friends said, "Do you believe that no one will kill themselves if you're around?" If I'm honest, I think some part of me thought the answer was 'Yes.' Without that pain, that impossible drive, I'm more able to be there, more able to help - more flexible and agile in my responses. I'll have a greater variety of responses too if I'm not so driven by my pain. Pain tends to blind us.

And my arms will be empty and open to hold something new. It's what Rachel Remen might call an endbeginning. And the thought of standing there with empty arms, not holding anything, is terrifying. But I need to stand there in faith and trust - because beginnings always come.

I will get there one day - but I can't force it and I can't predict how it will come. I need to breathe through it, find my way by the light in the darkness - sometimes alone, sometimes with others by my side.

But for right now, let's just say it hurts like hell. Coming out of numbness into feeling always does.

And I like to think that somewhere, Lou is looking down at me, saying, in that North Carolina drawl, "You did really well, hon. I'm so proud of you."

Thanks, hon. Me too - and I'll see you on the other side. Till then, miss you, love you.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Reflections on an autumn night

It's 20.48 on the Thursday night before the final class of my first year. I should be home, but when Rob texted me earlier this week and asked me to babysit, how could I say no? One needs one's baby fix, after all.

Well, I've had some of Rob's amazing vegetarian Moroccan stew with couscous, Ell and Rob have left for Brown's, and Master Golden Curls is fast asleep in his cot.

The only thing missing is Bentley the Cat standing on the chair behind me, rubbing his face against mine and purring. However, after far too many times waking Master Golden Curls up, he has been locked downstairs. *Sigh* Well, one can't have it all.

Having brought the baby monitor upstairs, I am in Rob's office using his Mac (you're forgiven, chuck - I'm finding switching from app to app and working within apps far more cumbersome than on an IBM), having told him I needed to work tonight, which is true. My case studies are all written, they just need tweaking; I need to look up references for some of my assertions (no internal referencing apparently, go figure); I need to type out my hypnosis screeds; I need to sort out my practice log.

But an autumn night has fallen, every morning the leaves get more beautiful and the light more ethereal, and I haven't written for fun in sooooooo long...

The moon is about a third full, waxing. The stars are out. There's a nip in the air and it is truly dark. And I might get a baby cuddle out of it.


It has been quite the week for discussing night and darkness of all sorts. I've simply melted into it, revelled in it, loving the season in which - as the pagan prayer goes - the Dark Mother teaches us to dance.

Even the snake dream in my morning status could have a meaning relating to death - it is said that those dying often dream of snakes, since they are a symbol of healing and transition. And to be honest, there is a part of me that believes the Buddhist axiom "We die not because we are ill, but because we are whole. Illness may be the method of our dying, but it is not the cause." I know that may generate a lot of anger, and I'm sorry. But it did make me think when I heard it, and it resonated with something deep inside.

When I looked up 'snake symbolism dreams' and saw that possibility, I simply nodded thoughtfully and wondered 'What if? What if that's what it means? How do I feel about that?'

And the answer is "Absolutely at peace with that - though hopefully with time to say goodbye and remind those I love just how much and how fiercely they ARE loved."

How else do I feel? Curious. Eager to see those taken too early and too long gone. And perhaps the sense of a burden falling from one's shoulders.

Rachel Remen, in her wonderful book, "My Grandfather's Blessings", tells the story of a woman at a retreat who said that she never, even when she was young, understood why people fought so hard to live, why they wanted to prolong life. It may sound like she was suicidal, but she wasn't. She felt the suffering of the world so keenly, she felt like her heart was always broken, and she couldn't understand why someone would stay when they didn't have to.

I get that. Totally, totally get that.

It doesn't make me suicidal, and it doesn't make me less aware of just how amazing and wonderful it is to be in a body - the pleasure of silk against skin; of nuzzling a baby's newborn head; of being naked with your beloved; of the autumn smell of woodsmoke and the summer smell of roses; of endless dinners and laughter with friends; of the starry sky; of being snuggled up under a duvet watching snow fall to the ground; of the sharp taste of a just green enough mango; of so much more. Life is wonderful.

But I completely understand her bewilderment. And blessed Lady, I totally understand and share her weariness. There are times when I don't want to carry this anymore.

But paradoxically, that feeling is what gives me the awareness of just how precious life is and the infinite value given it by its finite nature. Though I wouldn't necessarily prolong mine, except for those I loved, such as a husband and children, I do understand why so many fight so hard to hold on to it.

On a lighter note, I also want to check out if Anni and I got it right on the afterlife - a series of rooms with pool tables, where you gather with your group to chat about your last life and plan your next one. As people pass, you'll hear a cheery, 'Come on down, mate, you joining us this time?' or 'No, no, no, I dated him THREE times, I am SO done, keep walking, keep walking...'

As I was walking to catch the bus home after dinner with a friend a few weeks ago, beneath a gorgeous, starry, autumn night, I presented him with the afterlife pool hall scenario, and said that I really wanted to know what we had said over our last game of pool just before this life began. I magnanimously allowed that he had probably kicked my ass, at which point he magnanimously replied that he was crap at pool.

Hmmm. I want to know those conversations, have them. Know and see so much more than I do now, instead of catching just a hint at the edge of my line of vision. To borrow a beautiful metaphor, I'm tired of standing on the wrong side of the tapestry, looking at the loose threads. I want to walk around and see the pattern.

Ag, Master Golden Curls is grizzling and I do believe that I must away - and I need a kitty cuddle, so I think I'll go nuzzle Bentley.

*Grins ruefully*

Yeah, thinking of those little joys - a baby cuddle and a kitty cuddle - I expect I'll be holding on to this life for dear life. My pool table friends already playing will just have to wait.

Oh and as for you, Mr Crap-at-pool, true or not, that next game's mine.

But I wouldn't worry about it *just* yet.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The picture

Sometimes, we recognise the big moments in our lives since the universe hangs a big neon sign over them - falling in love, baptism, weddings, finding out we're critically ill.

Other times, we don't recognise the big moments until they're long past -"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." (R. Frost)

Then, there are the little moments, the little questions that you know are big moments.

My cousin had been scanning in uncle's photos before they faded and asked if I wanted one of baby me with my parents.

I knew my answer mattered in more ways than I could understand at that moment, maybe even for months or years. And I knew the answer was yes. It had to be yes, and not just for me. Easy to say, because I really wanted that photo.

I admit to refreshing my email very regularly until it arrived two hours later - and I found it very fitting that it arrived on the birthday of Our Lady, whom I've always seen as a mother, and a day of new beginnings - as Fr Robert pointed out in his sermon.

At 16.35 my time, this arrived in my inbox:

I tried to do my usual photo reading - looking for dynamics, for clues to what was going to happen later, why things are the way they are. I think I can see a number of things in that one snapshot, but because I'm so close to it, I can't be certain.

But somehow, that matters less than the feelings that took me by surprise: that little girl that I desperately tried to forget and put behind me? When I looked at that picture, I found that I loved her fiercely; that I would do anything to keep her safe.

And the young couple? I was taken aback by the mixture of sadness and protectiveness I felt for them. I wanted to go into the photo and talk to them, to tell them that if they let go a little bit, let the little one be who she needed to be, not an extension of them, not a measure of their success or failure, they'd keep her. That she was bright enough to do well at school without them breathing down her neck and with them allowing her to do extracurricular activities. That she didn't need to be a doctor or mathematician or a scientist to be successful. That they could let her be with her friends, with others, without fearing that she loved them less.

I wanted to remind them of what Kahlil Gibran said about children:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let our bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

I would say to them, "She is with you, but she does not belong to you. Seek not to make her like yourself, for her soul belongs to tomorrow - be stable, be a compass - point North, but only to allow her to take her own direction from it. Above all, just *love* her."

But I can't do that, any more than I can go hug that little girl and tell her it's going to be ok.

If I could say something to them right now? I'd have to borrow words again, but this time from Don Henley:

The more I know, the less I understand
All the things I thought I knew, I'm learning again -
I've been trying to get down
To the heart of the matter
But my will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think its about forgiveness
Even if, even if you don't love me anymore

Yes, little one. It's going to be just fine.

I promise.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Body balance

Well, I can still move. It's a start.

I've been thinking of going back to the gym since my last swimming session last year. I have to admit to being more of a splasher than a lap swimmer, and I definitely need a snorkel (not as in get out of the gutter, you're standing on my snorkel) because I prefer to swim underwater. I need to get back into it because I'm a total water baby.

Well, also because I'm detagging pictures at a rate unknown to man because I absolutely HATE myself in them and because I try not to look at my reflection below my cleavage - which I admit to being very fond of and which tends to be the big obstacle to any weight loss programme I consider - I never want to stop being a Bravissimo girl.

Haven't swum yet, plan on that this week, but signed up for a gym class - Body Balance - a mix of tai chi, yoga and Pilates. So this afternoon, Andrew came with me to pick out some tackies, tracksuit bottoms and a t-shirt. What a star.

I was being reasonably chirpy - after all, how hard could it be compared to Boxercise and Body Pump, right?

Oh, f*** me, how wrong I was.

The stretches, no problem - for some reason, I've remained fairly flexible and despite my ballet training being all of two years when I was 6 and 7, I still stretch, point my toes and place my arms reasonably well, and could take the harder options on all of those. Balance, more of a problem - must practise standing on one leg more often, that tree position is a bitch. Abs - not too bad. Upper body strength - let's not go there.

What I did find most interesting about the class was the command, "Follow your breath," and the meditation afterwards.

I breathe? What?

That tends to be one thing I forget about - I was reminded of it a month or so ago when I went to hug a friend when I was really upset and thought, "Wow, he's breathing really deeply." Then I realised he was breathing normally. I was holding mine.

Following my breath made all the difference.

I live in my soul first, my head second, and my body is a somewhat distant third. I tend to come back into it when I'm eating fabulous food, holding a newborn, snuggling in a blanket or a huge jumper, touching a lover. But for the most part, it moves me where I need to go.

I - and most people raised in the Western world, I think - have this problem. We forget what our bodies tell us, and not just about our physical health - my solar plexus tells me when a decision is wrong or when I'm being lied to; my heart tells me when it really hurts; I choke up when I grieve.

Following my breathing brings me back to all that and to an awareness of what an AMAZING creation my body really is - as a marvel of engineering and as a house for this particular soul. It reminds me to give thanks for it.

The meditation afterwards was not only an excuse to semi-collapse, but was also a source of great amusement, as I'd just hypnotised a friend earlier and used very similar words in a progressive muscle relaxation. Turnabout is fair play, lol.

Oof, my core muscles are feeling it now, and from the way my legs and shoulders are feeling, I suspect the rest of me will be feeling it tomorrow.

So what to do?

Go back Tuesday evening for more, of course.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

A helping hand

Just past the main Summertown shops, and just before the medical centres and Marston Ferry Road, is a small parade of shops that include an internet cafe, a bridal boutique and a corner shop.

I first walked into that corner shop years ago - to pick up a Pepsi or chocolate on my way in to person the Lodge at the O on a Saturday. I remember the woman behind the counter - mid 50s, face lined with care, shalwar qamiz. She smiled at me - one, I'm ashamed to admit, I didn't return, because I've grown up hating people who assume we're going to get on because we look alike. You're South Asian, I'm South Asian. BFD.

But I thought of her long after I left, even as I turned into the Oratory forecourt. Something about the...weariness, the sense of dreams and hope lost in a dreary existence, but the real warmth and kindness that had survived. Something that kept her smiling at someone who reminded her of home when she was thousands of miles away.

So I kept going back - not often, but if I needed to grab something on my way down - e.g., a Pepsi, chocolate or (most often) a synthetic blueberry muffin for breakfast - that's where I'll go - the supermarket chains don't need my business. She, who works from 7.30-9 with her husband, does.

And so, over time, I started smiling back and asking her how she was. "Fine, just another day" she'd say, in her accent that reminded me so much of baking summer days, the smell of freshly pressed shalwars and goat cooking in the kitchen, the dust of Bahawalpur, Sahiwal and Lahore on my feet. Slowly, but surely, she'd ask questions - about me, where my family was from, work, would even occasionally tell me I looked tired.

She looks so like my dhadhi's colourful neighbours in Sahiwal, how could I not unbend and respond?

She would light up when I came in wearing shalwar qamiz (or qamiz jeans) - in fact, on Easter morning, she was totally in love with my red and gold kurta, which I felt made me look like a tent that could have held a harem for an Arabian monarch and required me slapping a sign across my ass reading: "Caution: wide load".

About 10 days ago, I came in for my usual, and handed her a £10 note for a £1 transaction, which meant that I got a £5 note and 4 £1 coins - yes, slightly unwieldy for a second, but nothing I haven't done a thousand times before.

She placed her hand underneath mine in a gesture repeated by countless mothers everywhere when a three year old hand is struggling to hold currency too big for it.

I looked down to see that her hand was smaller than mine.

But it was the meaning of the gesture that made me choke up - the "I've got you, it's ok if you can't handle it alone." My own mother would have let me drop those coins out of my tiny three-year-old hand and then yelled at me for being clumsy. My entire childhood felt like it was about these things I was supposed to know how to do, but was never taught how - then got yelled at for being clumsy, stupid, a deliberate bane to my parents' existence.

Yes, that support was decades too late. But that it came from someone who could have been my mother mattered. A lot.

And of course, it got me thinking about one of my favourite body parts - hands.

I am in awe of hands. Hands do so much more than we ever think about: punctuate, comfort, bless, hold, express affection, communicate far more than our words ever will, love in ways naughty and nice, nourish, pull people away from danger, and so much more - in addition to the standard picking up, putting away, carrying, giving, receiving, opening, closing, making things, catching us when we fall, covering our mouths when we yawn - we begin using them the moment we're born and don't stop until the moment we die.

And yes, they can abuse.

Hands - with opposable thumbs getting a special mention - rock. No engineer could create such a marvel.

God, I love watching them - petite hands; large hands; long, elegant hands; square, practical hands and everything in between. Old hands with so many stories to tell; baby hands with stories yet to be created.


I love watching hands DO things - cook, make furniture, sew, knit, pick up a child, play an instrument, handle a camera, gesture - anything, though, perhaps, most shamefully, light up. I know I should tell my male friends to quit smoking, or offer them hypnotherapy to quit smoking, but I'm so entranced by watching their hands (and, as noted before, their expressions) as they light up, I hesitate, telling myself they'd get annoyed by my nagging.

So secretly, in guilty pleasure, I watch out of the corner of my eye.

Every so often, I even stop, amazed, by what my own hands are doing. Weirdly, because my parents kept telling me I was clumsy - I keep thinking of my hands as those of an 8-year-old, when I remember watching my parents DO things that I thought, "I'll never be able to do that - ever." My mother cooking, my father doing his tie (that one still needs practice - I can undo them well enough...), my mother using a blood pressure cuff, either one fixing something - anything I considered 'adult'. Suddenly, I'll find myself in the middle of making hamburgers the way my mother used to, or holding a child easily, or doing something reasonably skilled and stop and stare at my adult hands like they belong to a complete stranger. Then offer up gratitude for having them.

Hands are about rites of passage too, in so many ways. Mine came earlier than it should, because my father took beta blockers for years and lost strength more quickly than he should. One day, more years ago than I care to count, I was over at their new house. My father was struggling to open a jar, and I said, in a voice far too reminiscent of his, "Here, give it to me."

He did. I promptly opened it and handed it back to him. He wasn't even 60 then, but we both understood what it meant.

Hands do so much - is it any wonder then, that the tale of the maiden who loses her hands, leaves the kingdom with her babe and watches them grow back is a tale of initiation? Or that a woman who is beyond tired dreams of herself with her arms crossed at the wrists in front of her, with bloody stumps where her hands should be, in a classic pose of "I give up"?

I think not.

I love hands, but what I love most about them is that they heal us and eachother in ways far deeper than words ever could.

And so, to quote a favourite song:

"Reach out for her healing hands (2x)
There's a light where the darkness ends -
Touch me now and let me see again
Rock me now in your gentle healing hands."

I wonder...

...if I stay in the Catholic Church - and particularly in a *conservative* church - to take out w***ers like Mitch Bond (quote below) one at a time.

God knows, there isn't much else, other than a few good friends, keeping me in it at the moment. Far too often, I look up at the pulpit or the sanctuary, feeling utterly detached from the proceedings, and think what a friend once thought about the 39 Articles, "I don't believe a word of this."

But for now, those friends are worth staying for, and I'm not going to beat myself up about it.

Every so often, though, I wonder if there's more to it.

This morning, I noticed that a friend had joined the Cardinal Pell Appreciation Society. I know I shouldn't have gone there - Jack Butler will kindly point this out to me in his oh-so-tactful (appropriately) Antipodean manner - but it was car crash material. I HAD to see just how fulsome and lacy the picture was (very) and I had to see just how offensive the members were (even more so, judging from the wall).

Now we come to how I came to label someone I have never met (and never plan to) a wanker. Unfortunately, his comment was the most recent on the wall:

"HIV is the result of sin, since all corruptability on the part of nature is a result of mankind's fall from grace, Q.E.D. sin. It is neither backward. medieval, primitive, immoral, unscientific, unchristian, nor completely reprehensible to believe that the corruption of matter is the result of original sin."

I read no further.

Unfuckingbelievable. If that utter filth came out of someone's mouth in a sermon, I'd get out of my seat, walk UP to the pulpit and strangle the SOB from behind. Or shove him down the steps headfirst. I trust I don't need to go into why and the countless number of people who have caught HIV through NO FAULT OF THEIR OWN. It's an odd feeling to hate a Catholic as much as I hate a Bible-Belter or the Taliban.

Well, Mitch, I'm sure Cardinal Pell is PROUD to have a fan such as you. Darn proud of your orthodox faith.

I'm far less sure about Jesus. I think you and your ilk might make him consider taking up his cross to beat you over the head with it. When you say horrific, damaging stuff like that, 70x7 doesn't apply.

The irony, of course, is that the vast majority of men in that group are probably practising unsafe gay sex because they're incapable of admitting their homosexuality and are 'just falling into bed with men, oops, didn't mean for that to happen' and are at a much higher risk for HIV infection and passing it on than most of the rest of the population.

I wonder if I stay so someone is in those places - and shamefully, I can hear that line coming out of the mouth of almost anyone who sits in the Social Club on Sunday at 12.30, in their braying attempt at RP - to say to people like Mitch, "How dare you." To say, "What a load of crap." To walk out of sermons. To make people uncomfortable.

And to pray that every single person like Mitch has to face what he so casually, so easily condemns: for him, that he finds himself face to face with someone he cares for who has HIV; perhaps through volunteering, comes across an HIV positive baby or child. For the 'abortion is martyrdom' crowd, that someone they love has to face that decision. For the 'euthanasia is always wrong crowd' - yeah, you guessed it. That they have to face the decision to remove life support or be really close to someone who does, and suffer with them.

Because for those who have hearts that closed, only catastrophic, life-changing suffering is going to crack them wide open.

WHAT am I doing here, amongst people who can believe...THAT? I feel sick just re-reading what he has written and replaying in my head what I've heard in church and from the institution over the years.

More than one of my friends has noted my penchant for balance: I've chosen a church whose unspoken values are diametrically opposed to my own. Whilst orthodoxy is the overlay for most of those who attend the higher masses, it's really about people seeking approval, both from the institution and the secular world, thus lying about who they are and being what's expected of them. There's a sense of people *grasping* for something, an acquisitiveness, indicative of desperation to fill a void no one wants to face.

So why stay? I'm picturing Jack B. across the table from me, ready with the hard questions - so I'll answer him.

Mate, I can't give you a straight answer - I can't say it's this or that. I can tell you that there are people in the Church (and in the church, or I'd have left it years ago) that I love fiercely - people who are my pack, my karass - and I have always been a relationship person. I'll stay in hard places for my peops. I know, I know, it's not doing them any good if it's driving me crazy, but maybe it's about knocking my corners off too.

But having written this - and I think you'll appreciate this, J - I wonder if it's about being a thorn in the side, about being the one who can say, "What a load of crap," who can be angry, who can act out and say what no one else will in that place. No, I won't always do it well, it won't change the institution, and it won't change most of the people -they're still going to be avoiding who they are, thinking that being sweet to the priests and vicious to the laity is the way forward - but maybe I'm still there for a reason I can't yet fathom.

What I - and you - need to trust is that I'll know when to go. I woke up one morning knowing when it was time to leave home and I woke up one morning knowing my last relationship (which you nursed me through, with the occasional smack across the head, for which I am forever grateful) was over.

One day, I'll wake up knowing it's time to leave the church and the Church, because the vast majority aren't my people and I'm beginning to realise more and more, that's not my God. It's coming, I know. It's just not now.

Until then, I'll walk the labyrinth and trust that when I reach the centre, it'll all make sense.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Why I walked out of yesterday's sermon

Yesterday, not 5 minutes into a sermon, I got up, exited my pew, and walked out the back door of the church. In my 12 years at this church, despite the many sermons that have made me want to backhand a cleric or ask them "WTF? If you hold the laity in such contempt, why the f*** did you decide to become a priest and not a lawyer or politician," yesterday was only the second time I have stood up and walked out.

Most people who go to the 11am mass that have interacted with me, clerical and lay, would have thought I found that easy; that for me, it was a throwaway gesture.

I did not and it never is. To walk out when someone is speaking is a way of saying, "I can no longer listen to you: there is now no room for communication, no room for discussion; I will no longer engage." It closes the door in a relationship, something that I am loathe to do, especially as an INFJ. It can, of course, be worked through and healed, but there are no two ways about it: to walk out on someone as they speak, to shut them out, is to perform a deliberate injury to a relationship. Even if you are going to attempt to heal it, even if you're betting on the relationship coming out stronger, that is NEVER an act undertaken lightly.

The priest who gave yesterday's sermon is one I hold in the greatest respect - one of the truly rare high liturgy priests who feels his religion, really believes in liturgy as a vehicle to God (rather than an end in itself & a disguise for avarice/need to dress up and feel important, which is what drives too many high liturgists) - whose mass you can feel. He is a man whose integrity I would never question, someone I like and trust immensely, despite the fact that our similar underlying values have driven us in opposite directions: him to almost extreme orthodoxy and rigidity; me to flexibility and what my friend John would refer to as 'liberality' - a generosity in application of principles rather than rules.

His sermons lean towards the overwhelmingly catechetical; they are always a densely packed lesson in what the Church teaches. Though I often disagree and find them a bit heavy, I have great sympathy and understanding for what he's trying to do: offer a firm foundation for the faith, one he feels isn't given the laity in this day and age. Here, his rigidity becomes an asset: for a foundation needs to be rigid, whilst the structure built on it must be flexible.

But. Yes, but. Sometimes, I wonder if he remembers that he is building that foundation with people, not bricks - and that people are vulnerable, their lives infinitely complex, and you can't handle them in the same way, that they need to be handled with care.

So. Yesterday's sermon. He began by noting that Pope Pius XII linked the infallible declaration of the Assumption to the horror of the Nazi concentration camps not a decade earlier, and that it was a deliberate link.

"Offensive," I thought. "But not YOUR fault, Padre. Where ARE you going with this?"

He moved on to how in the Garden of Eden, all was light, no shadows, no death, etc. etc.

I'm an unshakeable believer in the Life/Death/Rebirth cycle; Shiva and Kali together as Creator and Destroyer, that light and dark are inseparable. I'm always deeply uncomfortable with those who need to believe in a fall from a perfect beginning, a deathless world of all light and no change. I always wonder why they need to deny darkness and death, seeing light and eternal life as the ideal. I'm not sure changelessness is ideal; God created a dynamic, evolving universe - surely that says something about the nature of the Creator?

Then, on to how Adam and Eve had been given the gift of integrity in body and soul, that body and soul would come to God as a single unit.

"Ah, the origin of the Assumption. Ok."

Then he went on to speak about how, since death was not natural and was a consequence of the fall...

"There is no such thing as dignity in death. Or [and this was spat out with no little contempt and considerable venom] *dignitas*."

I inhaled sharply. For those of you who don't know the reference, Dignitas is a Swiss assisted-dying group. []

"[Since death isn't natural/wasn't part of God's plan] Therefore, taking one's own life or assisting someone in taking their own life is always wrong."

I couldn't listen to another word.

I stood up, stepped out of my pew, and walked out. Fortunately, my friend's daughter was out there, playing with her pencil in the big pot of dirt outside the front door, helping me to calm down before I re-entered church after the sermon and faced the celebrant over the gifts.

Many of you will wonder why. After all, it is orthodox Catholic teaching; the orthodox teaching of most religions, in fact. Isn't one of the commandments, "Thou shalt not kill?"

Indeed. But that teaching can be offered with compassion. To state it so baldly, so forcefully, indicates an utter lack of compassion and awareness of the complexities of the issues surrounding euthanasia and suicide - a lack that doesn't exist in this pastor, but may well now be perceived to.

I once quoted what a friend suggested a truly traditional priest would say about suicide and mortal sin: "Grave matter? Yes. Full knowledge? I doubt it. Full consent? In that state of mind, no. Not a mortal sin."
THAT is teaching with compassion.

Had he so much as prefaced it with, "I understand how painful, complex and difficult these situations are - however..." I would have stayed. All it needed was an acknowledgment of the pain people face in these situations and that euthanasia has become a problem because we, as a society, are so desperate to live that we have forgotten how to let go when it is time and die. I have been both suicidal and the friend of someone who has committed suicide; it was of Lou I was thinking as I walked down that side aisle to the back.

Did he KNOW what the people in the congregation were going through? What he was saying to them - to the relatives and friends of those who in despair or in desiring not to be a burden through terminal illness, took their own lives? To those who might be struggling with someone who WANTS to die because they are so ill and in so much pain? How, after a statement so judgmental, can they even come and talk to him about what they're going through? What wounds did he unwittingly tear open? What fears did he implant: "OMG, my friend/child/parent/relati
ve committed suicide - from what he's saying, they're in hell."

Who, of those sitting there, will now believe his 'I'm so sorry,' when they tell him that a loved one has committed suicide? Won't they think, "Oh, he's judging them and/or us?" What about the classic clerical statement that someone has 'made a good death' (Lady, I HATE that phrase)? If there is no dignity in death, how can you make a good one? Who will trust him enough come to him over issues surrounding a terminally ill relative begging to be allowed to die?

The sad thing is, they could have done, because he is a good pastor. But now, because of yesterday's sermon, they may never know that.

As a good friend and astute cleric noted, "When you speak from the pulpit, it HAS to be absolute. You DON'T know what the people in the congregation have been through. Sensitive things like this are best dealt with in confession, one-to-one..."

Often, preachers would do best to remember that what is said cannot be unsaid, and that you don't know what pain, what grief, what darkness are hidden amongst those sitting in front of you. That doesn't mean you have to give a bland sermon or one that soft-pedals, but it does mean that you need to be aware of how what you're about to say is going to affect those you're preaching to - and that the authority you carry can make what's a throwaway comment to you feel like a freight train to an earnest, struggling Catholic in the pews. And it may mean that uncertain Catholic who might have approached one of you asking for help instead walks out of the forecourt, speaking to no one, suffering even more than they were when they first walked in.

And that would count as a sheep lost.

Am I sorry I walked? No. I couldn't have listened to any more, and I hoped that my act, if noticed, would make him think about what he was saying and what it sounded like. I also wanted to stand up for anyone who wanted to make the statement I was making but couldn't speak for themselves - for every friend and loved one of a suicide victim; for those struggling with the issue of 'just a little more morphine and...'; for those being begged by their dying loved ones to let them go...for those wondering if it's the right thing.

In walking, I stood by my integrity. In speaking, he kept his.

One day, I hope we'll be able to talk about it.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Dark men in dreams...

"There is a strong physical aspect to having a dream of the dark man...We could say the dream-maker has dispensed with subtle messages to the dreamer and now sends images which shake the neurological and autonomic nervous system of the dreamer, thereby communicating the urgency of the matter.
"The antagonist(s)of the dark dream are usually, in women's own words, 'terrorists, rapists, thugs..." There are several levels to the interpretation of such a dream , depending on the life circumstances and interior dramas surrounding the dreamer." -Clarissa Pinkola-Estes, "Women who run with the wolves"

Ok, I've been having uneasy dreams, but the last REAL dark man dream set I remember is from a long while ago. One involving a police officer who was a serial killer; one involving a 'pillar of the church' who (in the dream) was a wife-beater; one involving a head of a Catholic girls' school who drugged the girls to make them do what he wanted. The theme for me in those dreams was that I KNEW where to look, that I could see what was going on within institutions that people usually trust, but that no one would listen - but that *I* needed to pay attention and know the truth for what it was.

This afternoon's was much more primitive and much closer to the dream prototype.

I was walking at night, in the area of Silver Spring I grew up in, White Oak. I was walking along New Hampshire Ave, talking to my friend Ari on my mobile. It was late twilight, heading towards full darkness. I was aware, but relaxed, and as I passed White Oak Jr High, I saw a man sitting under a street light, eating his dinner. He was clearly a body builder - or to quote Fr X on the kind of man I'm supposed to fancy, "Tall, dark, butch and brutal."

[WTF? I don't find that attractive and, even more importantly, I'm FAR too aware of what a man like that would be capable of doing to me and I'd never, EVER relax.]

Our eyes met; the hate that flashed across his face was palpable. I could see his muscles tense. I ran.

Suddenly, it was much darker and I was much further along New Hampshire Ave, near the White Oak shopping centre - weirdly, I'd dialled 999 (UK emergency) rather than 911, said what I needed to say and kept the phone on so they could find me via GPS. It was odd - I was terrified, running hard, but there was a calm river as well - I thought "Irim, put your hair up so he doesn't have anything to grab." "Cross the road (all SIX lanes) and buy yourself some time."

I made it back to the house I grew up in, up the stairs and into the bathroom, backing into far wall against the window. There was nowhere to go as his hand reached for my throat - when suddenly, the master bedroom door opened, and there were two female SWAT team members with their guns trained on him - "Let her go," said the one closest to me, as she grabbed him, cuffed him and took him down the steps.

The other officer came over to me and asked me if I was ok, what had happened, and so on. I told her that whilst I felt shaken (I did), I was ok, and that I was going to ring a good male friend (someone I know IRL), because I needed to be ok with being around men and being touched by them, and I'd be ok.

As if THAT wasn't enough, the dream that followed entailed my sitting in the lounge and having a GIANT spider climb on my back from behind the sofa - I could feel the end of each one of the 8 legs in my back and screaming at Mark (Anna's boyfriend - we were waiting for her to arrive) to get it the FUCK OFF ME (I'd trapped it between my back and the sofa). As he approached to try to grab it by a leg, it leapt off and completely disappeared behind the sofa.

Dark man - and arachnid - dreams indeed.

Pinkola-Estes says that dark man dreams tend to be about initiation - from the young woman to through old age, as there is always another initiation into a different way of knowing and being. And this felt like that.

In the first dream, I did EVERYTHING I could whilst I was running - I knew where he was, I put my hair up, I did what I could as I could. And that's very different from the ones where I feel helpless - where I know and no one is listening, or where I'm passive.

And so, nightmare it may have been, but I'm with Clarissa on this:

"Dreams are portales, entrances, preparations and practices for the next step in a woman's consciousness, the next day in her individuation process. So, a woman might have a dream of the predator when her psychic circumstances are too quiescent or complacent... But also a dream like this affirms that the woman's life needs to change, that the woman dreamer has gotten caught in some hiatus or ennui as regards a difficult choice, that she is reluctant to take the next step, to go the next distance, that she is shying away from wresting her own power away from the predator, that she is not used to being/acting/striving at full bore, in all-out capacity."

Yeah, things are a bit slow, and I've gotten a bit lazy. And I DO hesitate about taking the next step and leaving the devil I know.

So I guess it's time for me - and anyone else having dark man dreams - throw heart and soul into the next step - not in knowing, but in faith.

And at full tilt, heart and soul, even if they look like windmills - because even that has a purpose on the journey.

Friday, 31 July 2009


...IM really is the way to go. I have friends who hate IM with a passion - those who will groan the moment an IM window pops up and pretend they haven't seen it. I totally hear that - sometimes playing around on the computer in your room is the ONLY time you get to be on your own, you don't want to have to talk to someone else; you just want the downtime.

But I love it. I love the combination of writing and real-time communication - it allows me the medium in which I am most articulate, especially when I'm upset and instant gratification. It also means that misunderstandings that explode via email can be corrected within minutes rather than days.

I also love the stream of consciousness, the way you can begin in London but end up in Perth, Australia, figuratively speaking. You can also layer conversations - with one friend, there are often three conversations happening simultaneously - one as you'd expect, one in square brackets [] and one in curly brackets {}. Fabulous.

But I think my favourite moments are those where the conversation becomes real - whether you're honestly saying to eachother, "Hey, look, we need to sort this out,"; laughing hysterically b/c you're being yourself, wickedly planning...oops, I can't say anymore; or when you're opening up and being vulnerable - and a friend just virtually wraps you up in their affection for you and reminds you, in the midst of everything that seems to be coming at you from all directions, that they think - no matter how crabby you get, despite your high-maintenance moments, your prickliness in certain situations, your need to organise everyone from your friends down to the nearest duck, whatever - that they think you're the bee's knees, whilst saying, "Hey, babe, take a hard look." That to them, it's about who you are, not what you do.

My last entry was, to some extent, about friends who get it wrong - well now, let me take the time to say that more than 90% of the time, mine get it RIGHT. And over the last few weeks, some of you have gotten it SO right - those who have simply said, I'm sorry it's a crap time; those who PM, IM and weigh in on 'Irim is going to kill someone/go crazy or postal/quit/become a permanently bitter and twisted human being' statuses; the one of you that popped up on IM last night and made me laugh so hard I thought I was going to die; the one who just knows to come up and say, "Are you ok? Are you sure?" and who, when I said I needed to see you, was there in no time to just let me fall apart in a way that almost no one sees, able to hold the space calmly, solidly and easily, not freaking out or trying to fill it, just letting me cry. Thank you all. Love you.

But today, it was Anna who popped up when one more thing cropped up, something that necessitated me leaving work in North Oxford to go to work in Iffley and back again. When she asked what was up, I just spilled and, with her permission, I reprint her virtual wisdom, which was, as usual, expressed as a huge hug with a gentle smack round the head.

look at what you have just told me

people who need an ear

there are 3 things there you cannot sort out

do I stay at church or go

brother, friends


your course work isthe most important thing for now

with my brother, it's just knowing that family ties are over
that even he doesn't want to be in touch.

instead of writing it on here write it on paper and burn it and let it go, you have done all you can do without changing yourself into what they want you to be


be nice to you Irim

I did good, didn't I?

you did
and you have been true to yourself
I think you are amazing

you are a strong beautiful woman who has the strength to stand against her entire culture to be who she is meant to be
family is blood and love, and is nothing without the love,
blood ties are very over rated xxx

Thank you. HUGE HUG
Do you mind if I quote you on that?

yeah thats fine by me lol just so long as you credit me withthe profound wisdom lol

Thursday, 30 July 2009


I'm tired of being accommodating.

I don't mind having flexible boundaries, not at all. I think there needs to be some give.

But I'm tired of being the one to make things 'all better' in a relationship, the first one to move towards some kind of resolution; the social secretary; the one who bites her tongue making allowances for others' moods; the one whose particular tendencies are first wanted, then excoriated when they no longer suit.

Do I set myself up? Yes. Do I get irritable? Yes. Can I be blunt? Guilty as charged. Do I love problem solving a little too much? Erm...ok, yeah. Can I be a bossyboots? HELL, yes. Do I make mistakes/errors in judgment? All. the. damn. time.

But is my heart in the right place? Pretty much.

People judge me all the time. I judge them; turnabout is fair play. It's not a problem if you don't know me; I don't really give a f*** that C or E from church think I look pissed off when I'm there. I generally am when I'm with OX2 'rah rah' types who kiss up to priests and treat everyone else like crap.

But if you KNOW me and make judgments without taking into account my personality, strengths, weaknesses, what you know is going on - if you don't make the allowances I generally make for you; if you treat me as some generic psychological specimen in a vacuum - problem. And it's even worse if you speak to me as if I were someone you don't know. I only do that when I'm coldly angry to the point of doing something irrevocable. Even then, I usually manage something friendly, unless I feel betrayed.

Taking personality and context into account when applying principles is the only way to make an approximation of someone's motives. Even then, you need to get around to asking them eventually.

But back to accommodation. Why do I do it? Because people are important. Far more important than things will ever be. If I'm measuring things up, people will always come in light-years ahead of things, and people are what I will bend over backwards to save. When I'm stressed, if I drop something, fine. If I drop someone, especially someone in crisis, there's no coming back from that. Bottom line.

I think one of the things that has really gotten to me over the last while or so is feeling like a commodity in various relationships: "I want this from you now, but if you fall into it here, it's an unforgiveable sin - God forbid you should be yourself when I don't want you to be"; "Hi, you're the one person who won't get upset, do you mind if I move *you*" (that has to be a pattern for me to get upset); or even those who think, "Irim can wait. She'll be there."

You'd be surprised. I'll bend over backwards for good reasons. But when it becomes a habit, that's something entirely different.

It has always been my feeling that one can unilaterally make a decision that involves something; that is just you and... a book. Or a cooking pot. Whatever.

But the moment that someone else is involved, you lose that right to make the decision on your own.

Of course, if you can't make something, you can't make it. Fine. But have the grace to be the one who takes the initiative to sort something out, so it's clear that you value the friendship, that spending time with this person matters to you. In fact, if they're the one who always sorts it - initiate every so often anyway, so they KNOW you want to be spending time with them and not dental flossing cats instead.

I'm gobsmacked at the number of people who think they can make unilateral decisions that have an impact on other people's lives, schedules, emotions. To quote a good friend, "Dude, WTF?" How dare anyone make a decision that involves another adult (obviously, children are another matter), especially a friend, present it as a fait accompli - and then expect it to be OK? What kind of chutzpah is it that they then get offended because the other person doesn't react in a way that suits them? It's a weird kind of lack of awareness - almost like the person is an object, without feelings, without a life, without their own ideas about the situation.

Now, that's not saying things can't change - they do and they should. But when you're making a decision that involves someone else - TALK TO THEM. Say, "Hey, this is what's going on with me, and I think it might involve you. This is what I've been thinking - what are your thoughts on this?" THAT shows respect, care and awareness of the other person as an individual, as someone you value.

A unilateral decision shows a lack of awareness at best, but more often, it shows a lack of care. (Obviously, there are times when it is appropriate - abuse, breakups, and so on. But hopefully in many of those cases (except abuse - RUN), one has tried to communicate, has tried those bilateral avenues.)

Clearly, a unilateral decision can only be accepted by the person to whom it is presented. But even the most accommodating person files it away with a sense of having not been considered as part of the decision.

Eventually, even the most flexible of boundaries can snap back like a rubber band. That can sting. But unlike rubber bands, they may never flex again for a particular person. Someone who had been a good friend for 13 years wrote a letter that was so awful that to this day, I will only refer to her by a pragmatic relationship - never as a friend. And I will never initiate contact with her again.

I don't believe in giving someone the other cheek to slap. It's just plain stupid to let yourself be abused again.

So yeah, I'm done accommodating. Except in appropriate circumstances and except with people who accommodate me and let me be who I am, warts and all.