Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Day 30: GC, Relationship

I was going to title this friendship, but looking back across my entries, it seems obvious that the thread running through them is a broader than that, it is about relationship: with ourselves, with God, with others, with the world around us.

For the chance to BE in relationship, I am grateful. I may refuse it; I may not be fully engaged sometimes; I may stumble my way through it. But when I'm there, being in relationship is the most amazing thing: whether it is with the moment, the ocean, a child, a friend - even someone whom I find difficult.

My feeling has always been that we cannot learn in a vacuum - we only ever learn in relationship: we have to engage with the material, engage with the teacher, engage with those around us. We learn most about ourselves when we are most vulnerable in the intimacy of relationship: deeply in tune with or deeply challenged by: others, ourselves, organisations, long-standing beliefs, our environment.

We can only ever learn if we are intimate, allowing people and things to touch us, to help shape us - smoothing out edges, knocking off corners, breaking through shells, allowing the real us to emerge. This cannot happen if we shut ourselves off from relationship.

Relationship and intimacy can be frightening: one has to be vulnerable and there is no controlling the Other. It's unpredictable, unexpected, can be incredibly painful, always transformational, and if we allow it, often magical.

But although it is deep, intimacy need not always be serious: it encompasses all emotions, and think of how one often knows a couple is close: shared smiles; shared laughter; a gentle tease.

In fact, humour is one of the best ways to connect - to enter intimacy and confirm closeness.

This morning, just such an occasion happened with one of my closest friends, when she mentioned she was off to make tea. I announced that I was considering marrying the plush ferret she gave me for my birthday, Ramachni (named after a beloved mage in Robert Redick's Chathrand Voyage). She completely approved, noting that she would marry her plush black panther, Magick.

I, however, had a problem in that I had fallen in love with this lot, who tap right into my weakness for the emotionally wounded, so I suggested that I would have to be plushly polyandrous, which led to the following discussion at her blog, where she'd posted our discussion:

Of course, what midnightsidhe neglects to mention is that she is the one who set me up with Ramachni! Another reason we are best friends.

*Returns to viewing 'plush animal grooms' website*


Well, I do try to remain modest about my match-making abilities, you see.

Also, you know what this means, don't you? If we're going to be Gonzo's sister-wives and the other primaries in this arrangement are Ramachni and Magick, not to mention all the other plush grooms you may acquire? WE ARE TOTALLY GOING TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD.


Well indeed. Best not to be known as a shadchan; before you know it, you'll be inundated by humans and plushies looking for black market marriages.

Indeed, which means I will have to select my harem carefully. Dr Wood from the Clinic is a must, as is Dolly - that shapeshifting ability could come in handy for our plans of world domination...


midnight_sidhe wrote:
Yes, exactly. It's not a vocation of mine, after all; I am merely a talented amateur.

She'enedra! *gasp* I do hope you weren't intending to select your harem irresponsibly before you realised the full implications of our impending domestic arrangement! One must take care not to be indiscriminate in these matters! Especially with your weakness; you could get sadly taken advantage of. Not all wolves-in-sheep's-clothing are like Dolly.


*Gasps in horror at the near disaster*

Oh, she'enedra! What was I thinking; I was going to marry for plushness and affection, even plushy need, NOT for the world domination plans. Ramachni has set me right on that. I was even considering a plush Tyrannosaurus Rex until Ramachni gently pointed out that short T-Rex arms combined with a massive head were completely useless when it came to world domination. I was crestfallen, but had to acknowledge his point.

What would I do without the two of you - my Gonzo sister-wife and my plush First Mate to keep me focused on the larger goal?


midnight_sidhe wrote:
You would end up with forty-two plush husbands, all of whom were so severely wounded that they would be completely useless in our world domination plans. And you'd spend so much time helping them that you would be too, and this would be a problem, because Gonzo and I are too chaotic neutral to be left in charge and Magick is too prone to getting into complicated affairs with the wives of the wrong cats, and you wouldn't want your poor First Mate left trying to keep the rest of us in line, now would you?

While I agree with Ramachni that T-Rex is not really well-suited to inclusion in your plush-husband stable, may I suggest that there are other respects in which he might be useful? Suppose we need a diversion, say, or just to terrify a group of people. I should think T-Rex would be most useful under such circumstances.

But, you know, I don't think it would be a disaster if some of your mates were chosen for affection and plushy need. No reason to make dynastic sacrifices here; political unions can be problematic.


When someone gets you well enough to have the above conversation, you don't need serious to know it doesn't get much closer - and it has been one of the deepest friendships I've had - one that has pushed me the hardest, held the space in the darkest of times, kept me real and moved me light-years towards becoming my true self.

And that hard, deep work is only possible because we get each other well enough to discuss human-plush polyandry.

She'enedra - thank you is criminally insufficient, but I think you know the rest without my saying it, which speaks to the essence of this essay more eloquently than anything else I can say.

This one's for you.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

GC, Day 29 - Men who adore children

I believe I've spoken before of how fathers who are good with their children make me melt faster than butter in the South Asian summer sun. We idealise the Madonna and child, make place mothers up on a pedestal unless their children aren't what we think they should be, then we demonise them. It is always 'mother' as parent, the father is seen as disposable; fatherhood as an extra. We tend to see men as unnecessary to the raising of a child - whether as a father, uncle, or simply a close family friend, an adult male role model. We're more likely to be suspicious of them, to expect them to harm our children rather than parent them.

How very wrong we are.

I suppose I'm not deeply moved by mothers who are good with their children because we expect that, and because I'm deeply maternal - for me, that's to be expected, so I don't find it remarkable.

But men who adore kids? For whom children are as much of a vocation as they are for me? That makes it really hard to breathe and not cry in public.

It isn't simply because of cultural expectations here - it's because I am very aware that if I had had the chance, I would very much have been a daddy's girl. That has been painfully clear in the way I've worked through issues in my life: I've almost never been without a surrogate father, all of whom have been the most amazing men and instrumental in my healing.

So when I see a dad holding his daughter's giant stuffed duck and walking down the pavement at her 3-year-old pace, holding a serious conversation with her? I slow down and blink away tears, silently blessing him for being the man he is. When I see this father davening with his little girl in his arms (at 3:33)? I'm usually alone, so I do cry. And put the video on repeat a few times. When I hear dads taking their children's claims that the teacher thought they were a superhero/muppet/monster seriously? I could kiss them.

Fathers who are dads, who love their children fiercely and will allow them to unfold into themselves, not who they want their child to be, are absolutely incredible. Those of you who take lone wolflings like me under your paws and raise me through your classes and through your love and friendship, you save lives - and I don't even know how to begin to thank you.

But the men who aren't dads and love children deeply and fiercely; who would fall at the first ditch for a child; for whom there is, as of yet, no 'my children' and 'their children' - but only 'my children'? And for whom you suspect that even when they have children of their own, all children will still be 'my children', because children are their vocation, in the true sense of the word?

There just aren't words.

One of my good friends is just such a man. I remember when I first saw him with a friend's daughter - who clearly adored him - and felt myself choke up. I expected him to be good with children. What I hadn't quite expected was for him to become incandescent and truly step into himself, or that I would see a profound paternal instinct.

Even now, when it is completely expected, it is a joy to see him with children: the mutual adoration, the naturalness, the playfulness always make me smile. I've seen his mask drop as he lifted a little one above his head and watched him drop an adult conversation in a heartbeat to kneel on the pavement to speak to a little one in distress, his attention wholly on her. Every child knows they are utterly safe with him and seeing that, I know the child in me is safe with him as well.

There's the crux of it - with men who adore children, who can truly be with children, that vulnerable part of us is safe too. When we think of holding that vulnerable part in others as 'woman's work' - in the same way we think of parenting or nurturing - we rob men of this vital part of themselves, this ability to love and be loved unconditionally, and force them into hard exoskeletons that limit their growth into the narrow role that society prescribes them. Then we complain that they can't express their emotions/deal with their anger constructively/be responsible/parent children. All this after we start them off with 'boys don't cry' and telling a 5 year old to 'man up' when he's afraid or when he's fallen and hurt himself.

Is it any wonder so many of our young men are in such trouble?

So I give thanks for these men who aren't afraid to love and nurture openly - because we ALL need them to: as our fathers, brothers, friends, mentors, lovers, co-workers, leaders...fellow human beings.

Monday, 28 November 2011

GC, Day 28 - Ocean

We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch - we are going back from whence we came. --John F. Kennedy

As those of you who have kept up with my gratitude challenge know, there have been some pretty intense blog entries recently - so today, I thought I'd keep it simple - ish.

For as long as I can remember, I have been drawn to the sea - I loved our trips to Virginia Beach when I was young and have sought it ever since - though I have ended up as far as it is possible to be from the water on this island.

By the sea - and I am particularly fond of the ocean in winter - I find myself. I find peace, perspective and re-find my rhythm. I feel wrapped in its vastness, renewed in its depth, and a part returning to its whole.

And I am reminded that I am not one to walk cautiously along the shore, travelling by landmark:

I would not creep along the coast but steer out in mid-sea, by guidance of the stars. --George Eliot

Sunday, 27 November 2011

GC, Day 27 - for having been suicidal

Yes, you read that right. I am, years later, grateful for having been so deeply in the darkness that I put my leg over the railing of my 8th floor balcony one cold December night. More than once.

As I stood there, sobbing, lost in the icy hell of isolation, fragmentation and pain born of a difficult year that I thought I would never see the end of, a thought - one that felt like another's voice - went through my head: "What right do you have to take yourself out of anyone else's life? How do you know where you will be in 10 years?" A bit hard, perhaps, but exactly what was needed to end the crisis.

This entry, like several others, was shifted by current events: today, the apparent suicide of Gary Speed. My heart broke as I read the news stories, having a sense of where he must have been to take such a decision and thinking of those left behind in a shock and grief that will have its own unique shards of glass working their way through one's heart at unexpected times for the longest time.

What struck me was the pictures. So many photographers had caught the pain on his face, the sense of being lost, but no one had seen it - and why would one? He was young, talented, successful, respected, famous - he had seemed happy only the afternoon before. And we hide it so very well. No one had the remotest idea how bad I was then, or the odd time since.

So why am I grateful for having been in this place of unremitting darkness, as hostile as the Antarctic winter, with ferocious winds and no shelter in sight?

Because it changed me profoundly. Once one has been to that place, one is never the same again: either one chooses to exit the world above and enter Hades' kingdom, or one turns back from the gates and returns, blinking in the light, transformed - and like Talamir after the loss of his first Companion, Taver, never quite belonging to the world above ever again.

Some of the gifts emerge from that no longer quite belonging above - the ability to see past what is expected: I can look at pictures of supposedly happy events, pictures on which others type 'Great photo! You must be so happy!', and, if it is present, see the sadness, the pain, the anger, the sense of being trapped. It is easier to see what is real, because one knows what so often lies beneath...

...and what lies ahead: death - my own - is no longer frightening, though I'm still terrified of those I love dying. That it will come, I know, and that is absolutely fine. I don't need to resist the knowledge or the process, and that allows me to live a fuller life.

Part of living that life to the full, and one of the greatest gifts, is being able to keep company with others through their Antarctic storms - to trudge with them, to sit through the blizzard, to hold them through it - without fear, because it is a familiar landscape, a home away from home. Someone who has been there can be trusted with that, can hold the space, can be believed when they say that the storm will end, even at the time of its greatest fury.

To be there, to be trusted to sit with another in the time of their greatest darkness, is a privilege beyond words.

To be unafraid to enter the deepest pain fully and freely, without getting lost, knowing that one can make the trek and return, both for oneself and as a witness for others, is the most precious of gifts:

And a woman spoke, saying, "Tell us of Pain."
And he said:
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.
Much of your pain is self-chosen.
It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.
Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquillity:
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen,
And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.

Being able to enter pain fully brings gifts we cannot even begin to imagine - and so that first Antarctic storm that brought such gifts in its wake keeps bringing more through its first gift.

To Gary Speed, Lou de Misa, and so many others who chose to open those gates and walk through them, requiescite in pace and blessed be, and these words of Kahlil Gibran are ours to you:

Sons of my ancient mother, you riders of the tides,
How often have you sailed in my dreams. And now you come in my awakening, which is my deeper dream.
Ready am I to go, and my eagerness with sails full set awaits the wind.
Only another breath will I breathe in this still air, only another loving look cast backward,
Then I shall stand among you, a seafarer among seafarers.

To those who also turned away from the gates - and we always know eachother, don't we, by the look - welcome back, blessed be, and there is much work to be done, and so many to be with. Let us begin.

To those now in their Antarctic storm, feeling alone, unable to see, with the ferocious wind in your face - know that we are here. Even across the world, we reach for you, we sit with you, even if you do not know us or cannot see us. Whatever choice you make, we will witness for you and bless you on your way, walking with you as far as we can.

If you choose to turn your back at the gates and come back, I can tell you this:

We will be here, and the day will dawn - at first the faintest blush on the horizon, and it will emerge differently for each one of you, but the light will come.

That's a promise.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

GC, Day 26 - Stuffed animals at my volunteer placement

One of the more unusual things I am grateful for is the plethora of stuffed animals at the place where I do my volunteer counselling. I'm not easily given to playful, silly behaviour - so anything that gives me a push in that direction is a fabulous thing - especially as I DO have a well-developed imagination. Here is what happened at times I didn't have clients - your captions in comments...

A good friend of mine saw this last one and asked why the MC was in bondage gear, assuming it was a mutual acquaintance. I gave a snappy answer, but didn't have the heart - well, maybe it was the guts, knowing what might follow - to tell him *I* was the one doing the MCing in this tableau.

I'd love to know what someone psychoanalysing me would think...

Friday, 25 November 2011

GC, Day 25 - Those who know

Very rarely, you find a friend who knows what you need before you do. You know, the friend who gives you a present or a chocolate bar at work that's exactly what you need.

Today, I received this gorgeous gift from one of those friends who knows. I'd been toying with buying a journal, so any journal would have been wonderful.

But this - this journal was perfect, though it wasn't one I would have chosen for myself. The friend who gave this to me saw me clearly enough to see what I rarely express: a deeply sensual side; the ornate; a rich explosion of colour; lush tropical flowers. Sheer indulgence. I can completely see myself as the woman with her peacock (which is what we decided it was) losing herself in the sensual joy of the moment.

This is one journal I will be writing in - because it is totally, utterly me...

...though I didn't know that until I saw it.

For those who see the gifts in us that we cannot - or dare not - see in ourselves, and place them in our hands - we give thanks.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

GC, Day 24 - Anne McCaffrey

Again, my planned entry has been put on hold due to a current event - which seems to be the way of things at the moment.

Just in the last few minutes, I have heard of the death of one of the first (still a favourite) fantasy authors I ever read: Anne McCaffrey. And a part of my childhood - well, adolescence - died with her.

I remember the first time I picked up one of her books - The White Dragon, third in her Dragonriders of Pern series. I was in the Middle School library on a Friday, and my eye was caught by a...white dragon. I checked it out and took it home, planning to start it as soon as I'd done my homework.

One of the things that you need to know is that I wasn't allowed to read for pleasure: I was only allowed to read textbooks and books on our summer reading lists. The rationale was that reading for pleasure would 'distract' me from 'real' work, and thus lower my grades. To a child who had loved to read for as long as she can remember, this was torture...

...but a brilliant way of developing resourcefulness: I hid books in drawers under clothes, under my bed, in my bookbag, under my MATTRESS, behind things on closet shelves, under things in desk drawers, in the basement - I cannot even TELL you how many ways I found to hide books or how many I had hidden at once.

The White Dragon was no exception.

Well, except that I couldn't put it down, and nearly got caught with it in my Geography book (sorry, Mr Caussin!) more than once that weekend. I was immediately drawn to Jaxom, accidentally Impressing a runt albino dragon; trying to come into his own through a rocky adolescence; wanting to fight danger on his own; falling critically ill when he is so close to proving himself.

And Ruth. Well. LOVE!!!! And he couldn't just travel where, he could travel WHEN! (This was novelty, as it was before I met Dr Who.) It was the first time I was introduced to an intense telepathic, unconditionally loving bond between two characters, and the fact that one of them was a dragon (a mythical animal I'd sneakily loved for ages) just rocked my world. I was desperate to Impress one.

I was hooked - fascinated by this world which had moved backwards technologically. I vividly imagined my self in Jaxom's world, with F'lar and Lessa; Piemur struggling after his voice broke; Menolly and Sebell; Robinton and Lytol. I picked up all the books in the series I could find and wrapped myself in this world so different from, yet so like, our own; imagined what it would be like to have a bond like the one Riders shared with their dragons; lived their joys and sorrows.

Pern felt like home in a way the world I lived in never had.

And to this day, Brekke's heart-wrenching, soul-ripping cry to F'nor, 'Don't! DON'T LEAVE ME ALONE!' haunts the occasional dream - and if I'm honest, waking moment.

This world, which led me to others I also love dearly - the Deryni and Valdemar - brought me sanctuary and gave me space to begin to explore who I was through the characters I identified most closely with; those I wanted as friends and family; having imaginary chats about my problems with a dragon; allowing their emotions to channel my own.

Though I left when I grew older, Pern has always been in my blood; Robinton's song in my heart.

I think it may be time to return, even as its creator has left us:
Anne McCaffrey, requiescat in pace.

For Pern's creator - and the creator of so many wonderful worlds (I came to the Rowan's world much later) and sanctuary of my adolescence - I give thanks.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

GC, Day 23 - Self-help books

I have a confession to make. I love self-help books. They've taken a beating over the years, and there are some seriously shite ones out there (though they're often worth a laugh) - but there are some godsends (my favourite being Clarissa Pinkola Estes' Women who run with the wolves). Pema Chodron rocks my world, as does Jack Kornfield - which tells you a great deal about my style. I meld well with books that have a spiritual foundation with exercises that I can try. Most recently, Stephen Cope's A seeker's guide to extraordinary living paired with Pema's The places that scare you has facilitated a profound shift that I'll be feeling the effects of for years.

Some people need classes and a lot of sensory input. I need the big picture, time to think and be alone with it and figure out how it works for me. I need to play before I can bring it to a group and move to the next step.

Self-help books are perfect for my way of learning. The deal is that you take what works for you, leave the rest - it may either settle and work for you later, or just not work at all, and that's fine - and keep a sense of humour and perspective. If you start making it a religion, game - and self-help - over.

Thus, I would like to thank Giovanni della Casa for kicking off the Western self-help book with this bit of wisdom:

It is also an unpleasant habit to lift another person's wine or his food to your nose and smell it.


Tuesday, 22 November 2011

GC, Day 22 - Letting go

A few weeks ago, my second cousin in Pakistan told me that my parents would be visiting him for Eid. I'm not sure what made me ask, but I requested that he take some photographs and send them on. It was curiosity, in part, but I think part of me also wanted confirmation that I had made the right decision.

Pics were taken, C popped online yesterday, promising to email the pics. This morning, my smartphone claimed several emails had arrived. I scrolled through, and my heart skipped a beat when I saw the promised one. What would I feel on seeing the pictures? What did they look like? Did they know the pics were being taken for me?

I got into work, waited for Outlook to start up my work account, loaded my personal one and clicked on the first picture.

From left to right: Uncle Zafar (mother's brother who, in an irreverent moment, I thought looked like a South Asian Mennonite), my mother, my father. I haven't spoken to them in 7 years; I haven't seen them in over 10.

I have always read pictures - you can give me one picture from a wedding or an ordination, and I can tell you if the couple or ordinand should have gone there; give me a set, and we'll be talking dynamics very quickly. I drink pictures in; they're the next best thing to real people-watching. It is this habit of mine that makes me so cautious in pictures - I know how easy it is to read people in them if you are not invested in things being a certain way: an event being happy; a pillar of society being good.

But what of these pictures, ones in which I have such emotional investment? I am struck by the deep unhappiness in my mother's eyes, but not surprised - I saw that coming when I was young. I find myself wanting to reassure her, but not touch her or get too close to her. I can't quite trust the rage behind the...'checked out' feeling; the sense that she missed out on happiness, on living, despite having had a materially comfortable life. I ache for her, but I don't think I can be in relationship with her, not yet, perhaps not ever. Not unexpected.

What is more unexpected is my father's uncertainty, the sense of being lost which emanates, never apparent behind his perpetual rage - and the frailty of the man who was always bigger than I was, stronger. He is frozen in his prime to me, in his strength, his 30s and 40s, though I am suddenly flooded with memories of moments of weariness when his head was in his hands. I remember being told of his sisters' deaths by another member of his family, and of his closeness to at least one of them - even now, I am only almost certain there were two, and not one, for he would never speak of a sister.

Suddenly, I realise that he has kept losing the women in his life: his sisters, his wife through a loveless marriage and, by not being able to love her, his daughter. It breaks my heart. But what shocks me is the overwhelming desire to hold my father until he finally cries. And I understand why I've chased the men I've chased - those in whom I see the frightened little boy they protect by assuming a persona of anger and rigid control, with the occasional addiction; men I need to save. I understand why I find male grief unbearable, why it overwhelms me. I couldn't save the first man in my life or ease his pain; maybe easing the pain of all the others will make that feeling of helplessness end. Finally, I can stop chasing, stop trying to save those I cannot.

I want to understand my mother too; want to feel for her as I do my father, but the sense of betrayal is deeper and more complex - and that's okay. It is enough (and a huge step) that I want to speak to her, to reassure her. That is what it needs to be.

So I find that the two people I have spent my life trying to get away from are the two people I find myself wanting to heal. I finally understand that though my experience of them was and is very real, I don't need to hold on to the story of them as irredeemable. They can simply be people who were twisted by anger, in whom there was no room for self-awareness and love, who suffered a very human tragedy they were never able to escape. What they gave me was beyond measure: an ability to be in the darkness, to know that I can overcome anything, a drive to grow beyond the trap they lived, a hunger for freedom for myself and others, to make sure no one in my circle ever feels alone and unloved.

And I am free. Free to love deeply and intensely in the way that I know I can, that I know I need to. Free to parent children without the fear of becoming my parents. Free from believing that I am unloved and unlovable - something my friends have proven to be a lie for years, yet something I never felt until now, because I realise that the way I've reacted to the pictures is the way only a person who loves and can be loved reacts.

There is a spaciousness, a place waiting to be filled where the story and its attendant emotions of anger and pain used to reside - but I don't feel the need to fill it. I light a candle to Our Lady in gratitude and know it is time to be still, to be with this in love.

So I breathe, close my eyes, and move easily into Hoʻoponopono, picturing my parents and repeating, 'I'm sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you...'

...and wait for what dreams may come.

Monday, 21 November 2011

GC, Day 21 - Detachment

Today, a carefully planned, very important meeting for tomorrow completely fell apart. I was surrounded by frustration, anger, tension.

And I wasn't bothered. I was frustrated about certain things, but I felt like the drama was happening at a distance. My usual wont is to absorb all the feelings and then return them in some fashion, get caught up in it, even get off on the adrenaline.

Today - nothing. I did what needed doing, but felt remarkably calm throughout. I rather thought it might be a blessing in disguise. Something similar happened a few weeks ago when a friend's unexpected reaction knocked me for six, but I managed to pause, breathe and react to the person I know and love, not the words of a moment.

Suddenly, I've turned around to find that I'm beginning to act out of stillness. Oh, sure, I still go off on one. Yes, I still say things to catalyse a situation or to shock. But more and more often, I'm finding that instead of going full-tilt into a charged conversation - very much the way one had to deal with my father - I'm pulling back, slowing it down.

And I'm discovering that - contrary to what I'd been afraid of - it doesn't mean that I'm less passionate or less intense.
I'm still loud, expressive, can talk a hind leg off a donkey and gesture a lot - that's not ever going to change. It simply means the energy isn't wasted the way it was when I'd go full tilt - lashing out, into an argument, political discussion, etc. It's channelled. Moving from stillness doesn't mean I'm boring, or lacking vibrancy, colour or passion: it means I'm beginning to use it well.

Apparently, the spiritual practice that I've been doing not-as-well-or-as-regularly-as-I-might has been working more-than-I-deserve.


Sunday, 20 November 2011

GC, Day 20 - Baileys

Baileys, how do I love thee - let me count the ways:

1. Neat, neat, neat. NO ICE. EVER.
2. On cheap vanilla ice cream.
3. In coffee.
4. In a milkshake.
5. As part of an Orgasm.
6. In cocktails.
7. Did I say neat?

I was raised Muslim, so I never expected to drink. After the rum and Coke made by LLM, it was years before I actually tried another drink - Baileys - on the suggestion of a friend - at the Four Provinces Pub on Connecticut Ave: I was hooked after the first sip. For a while, it was all I would drink, then I tried it in cocktails, tried Midori, and moved into wine, but never quite made it to beer - unless it's strawberry.

But the love of that first sip has never faded, and it's still what I reach for when it's time to celebrate, after a tough week or month, on a night out with friends.

So raise your glass if you see God in hidden places,
He's right in front of you...

So raise your glass if you can see the hidden meaning,
it's right in front of you,
we will never be never be anything but proud to tell the story,
v'nahafoch hu

So pour the Baileys, raise your glass - and let's get out there and turn the world upside down.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

GC, Day 19 - IM in all forms

Facebook chat, gchat, Skype, AIM, MSN Messenger: for all these, I am grateful, because I can stay connected.

I've cried, laughed, railed, discussed everything from politics and ethics to setting the world to rights, thanks to each one of these IM programmes. And I've gotten to do it in real time with people I might not otherwise get to talk to, except via email.

Yes, email is nice, but correspondence will never evolve the way a real-time talk will. They are truly special. I can even pretend, if I have a glass of wine, that it's an evening out with a friend across the pond that I haven't seen in years.

Do I not get enough sleep? Quite often. But so worth it to keep the connection that is the lifeblood of friendships.

It's good to talk. Now I just need to set up the webcam...

Friday, 18 November 2011

GC, Day 18 - A free lunch

This week has been one where I am just beyond tired and cranky with humanity, though I've managed to keep up the gratitude challenge, even if I didn't start writing before 2300.

This weekend isn't much better, as I had a supervision today, a 90 minute Management Committee teleconference for my volunteer organisation, and a training day tomorrow (one I'm looking forward to, but it still means the loss of a lazy Saturday).

And to top it all off, next week is Paz's and Gosia's last week. Serious suckage.

Near the end of what had become a very intense group supervision, I felt my phone vibrate in my jacket pocket. It was only a few minutes before the end, so I waited till I walked out, thinking about what I was going to pick up for lunch.

As soon as I opened the message, I felt myself start to smile, and the spiky cynicism that had been at the surface all week start to ease.

It wasn't a message bringing life-changing happy news, or even a cute animal picture.

It was, quite simply, a text from Paz:

Hey I went to Cairo cafe and have looooadddsss left over so if you want it don't buy lunch!! It's moussaka and rice xx

A simple message of nurture and friendship. Clearly, there IS such a thing as a free lunch.

I went straight back to work and...guess what? Despite offering me half her lunch, Paz half-apologised for it being vegetarian.

*Affectionate eyeroll* P-doodle, it was fabulous. Thank you for taking care of me today, and most days.

And ja, I am going to miss you like hell, chick.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

GC, Day 17 - Hands

I have always loved hands - read about that in detail here. (Yes, I know this is a bit of a cheat, but it is true!)

And not least as I watch male friends light up and pull into themselves, revealing a vulnerable side one so rarely sees.

For all hands (and opposable thumbs) do - healing, nurturing, holding, touching a beloved - I give thanks.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

GC, Day 16 - Just in time...

Today, I was sure that I was going to write a very different entry, but a facebook status, posted at 19.45 GMT, changed all that.

Right now, I am simply filled with gratitude that I had the time to say, 'I'm sorry. Thank you. I love you. And I'm here.' It matters not how it is received; whether there is a reply; what that reply may be - it matters simply that she knows.

So easily, it could have been too late.

Thank you.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

GC, Day 15 - Adversity

Yes, you read that right.

Today's adversity was trivial - it was simply a matter of my final case study not arriving on the day that everyone else's did, and not knowing whether I'd passed or not, even as I watched my FB wall fill up with statuses joyfully announcing folks having passed their case studies as I sat at home, seething at the postman, wondering why I hadn't put my work address on the envelope. It was the subject of THREE (HA HA HA, to quote the Count) facebook statuses, one of which went something like this:


And that simple, angst-ridden status brought on a rush of support:

L: Perhaps they are saving the best for last?

P^2: Oxford post is rubbish. FACT x

Irim: Argh!!! *freak freak freak freak* - or we just have a profoundly crap post delivery - I swear, about 1/10th of the post that should get to this house actually DOES. xx

Irim: ‎L - bless you! xx

M: I'm with L on this - it is probably so good they are really really studying it in depth

Irim: I have the best friends in the world, I really do. ♥ you guys. I'm just going through it in my head, thinking, 'GAH!' I SHOULD have had it delivered to work. xx


Irim: Thanks, hon, *HUGS*

PS: anytime hon :)

K: Rubbish post. Kxx

E: It'll be absolutely fine. You know how terribly the post is in Oxford. When I lived in London it would take at least twice as long to send something to Oxford as it did to send something to Bristol or Cambridge. I'm totally sympathetic, though, I got my dissertation back weeks after most of my friends...... They'd lost it!

Irim Sarwar ‎*HUGS*, K & E. Am feeling loads calmer now thanks to my awesome friends :-). xx

That's leaving out Ari, who was my gchat saviour, making me think logically and breathe; and Mazz, my gchat sussie, who just let me go ARRRRRRGH indefinitely.

I have the best friends in the world, I really do.

That quote just sums it up. This was the tiniest of things, yet when I showed I needed support, my friends were there in droves. And trust me, when it gets harder, that safety net gets stronger; when it gets darker, their collective light shines brighter.

I am truly blessed by them, and that is why I give thanks for adversity - because it reminds me, in spades, that I have truly found my family.

Monday, 14 November 2011

GC, Day 14 - Music

What to say? So much, yet there aren't words.

Music has always been the way into my feelings - especially when I didn't know what I was feeling: from Tallis to Victoria to Bach to Evanescence and Twisted Sister, music has been my salvation, my joy and my soul's voice; how I enter and explore my emotional and spiritual depths. With or without lyrics, it is the one place in which I lose - and find - myself.

Crikey, this isn't easy to explain, is it? Ok, I'm a teacher, so let's take a recent example.

Today, my friend, Marie, mentioned a couple of songs that had really moved her, and gave me a napster link that didn't work. So I googled both song titles and youtube. Only one popped up, and I took it as a sign that it was the one I needed to listen to.

I should have known - from the first line, I had to fight back tears as I worked, thinking, 'I'm at work, can't cry; I'm at work, can't cry.'

I grew up in what is probably best described as an emotionally dysfunctional family - by the time I was 4, I felt no attachment to my parents at all - and the feeling was mutual. My dirty little secret has always been this: 'How unlovable must I be that my parents couldn't love me and how horrible must I be that I didn't feel attached to them?'

I always felt that my only purpose was to be an extension of my parents; to be something that propped up their sense of worth, though I couldn't have phrased it that way then. Never was there a sense of being loved no matter what; 'love' - or rather, approval - was doled out sparingly when one got an 'A' or did something else that enhanced the parental image. Everything else was met by scorn or anger, even things beyond our control: my mother was furious with me when I got my period too early for her liking; my father once refused to speak to me for a week for something I didn't do - but he couldn't be bothered to find that out before cutting me off.

No, wait. The best summary of my father is actually the following: when I finally told him his brother had sexually abused me for 4 years, starting when I was 5, his response was, "It's not important; it doesn't matter."

So I grew up in a house never feeling safe in someone's love and protection; never believing there would be anyone there for me when I needed them; believing childhood was hell, marriage and family a trap; never believing that I would be worth anything to anyone simply for who I was rather than what I could do for them.

I've come a long way, baby, believe me.

So I grew into a girl - and then, a woman - who is a remarkable survivor, much like a spore, but didn't know how to revert to seed: I knew how to keep people out and I knew how to pursue love, but not how to be in it or with it. As recently as Sunday, I said to a friend about my being loved (specifically by a man in a romantic relationship), 'I'm not sure I believe in it.' It wasn't what I meant to say, but it was absolutely true.

Loved, adored, for me? Someone caring enough for ME to come after me because they treasure me, love me, want to be with me, care for me, because I'm me?

Are you on CRACK? I don't even believe that of God. I never went to God with things I couldn't handle until I was completely stuck because, of course, God would just yell at you, tell you what a fucking failure you were, and why couldn't you EVER get it right? He gave you free will after all.

And so, when Marie brought me this song, music finally found a way in where nothing else had:

I saw you as a little girl
When you were in this room all alone
And you wanted to be found
But no one came and found you
But this is your time now
This is your day
Cause that little girl inside of you
Is what makes my heart ache

You are my love
You are worth purusing
You are my love
You're worth pusuing

I am finding you right now
Right now I'm finding you in that room
And I am taking you by the hand
And I'm leading you out
Into a new place
Forever that place that kept you in
Forever that place that held you in
Forever that place
Forever that place will be shut off

You are my love
You are worth pursuing
You are my love
You're worth pursuing

And you're not going to have fear anymore
You're not going to fear being alone anymore
You're not going to fear
You're not going to fear
Becuase it's being swallowed up in my love for you
And my passion for you
I'm so taken by you
And I'm going to restore all your years
I'm going to restore every tear
You will know my joy
You will know my smile
And you will know dance
Because I am going to show you off
I am so proud of you
And it's time for you to know it
You're so beautiful to me
You're so beautiful to me

Wait. What?

Something that happened to me made someone's heart ache?

Me? Worth pursuing? You want to find me? To really know me, all of me? Not just what I can do for you or how I can make you feel or...? You're PROUD of me?

You'll always be there? I'm safe? love me?

Okay. Something in the music tells me I can believe you, so I'm willing to give it a try.

Deo gratias.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

GC, Day 13 - Ethereal light


One of the many things I've loved about moving further north - heaven knows I haven't gotten proper winters, with the Gulf Stream - is the ethereal autumn and winter light. Even many an autumn later, my heart sings at the first sign of the mellowing of the light in late August.

At first, in late August, it is just a softening from the sharp yellow of summer to a warmer gold. Then one day in September, I'm walking into work, look down the road, and my breath is taken away by a glow that promises entry into the world of the Sidhe. Oxford has this odd sense of being at the crossroads of many times; I've often felt that if I turned a certain way, I'd find myself back in the 17th century - and the autumn/winter light just enhances that by adding the tantalising prospect of entering another dimension.

I whisper a prayer of gratitude every time I catch that glow, more ethereal as autumn brings us to winter. By mid-October, one could actually be in the land of the Sidhe.

Just one step off the well-travelled path...


Saturday, 12 November 2011

GC, Day 12 - Dreams

I have always dreamt intensely and often - remembering 3 dreams a night is not unusual for me - which has meant many a night has seen me wake up bolt upright from dreams that seemed more real than daytime life. It has meant a lot of time trying to work out what they're trying to tell me.

That might seem like a nightmare to some, but I love it, because it's like stepping into other worlds, sometimes several in a night, and it's like having an extra messenger or an extra classroom - even with dreams like last night's:

In the dream, two teeth on the lower right side of my mouth came out when I pushed my tongue against them. This happened after a fortnight of my teeth not feeling like my own. I was in the midst of pushing at my teeth with my tongue (an old habit) when they both came out.

I panicked and burst into tears. In a panic I tried to put them back and they crumbled into pieces, and I noticed that there was a long contraption that looked like it had been keeping one tooth in its place since childhood, and I pulled it out.

I put my shattered teeth into a ziploc bag, desperate to the point of tears to find a dentist. I kept getting distracted and ended up having to meet people (I was somewhere sunny - blue, blue sky and beautiful ocean - everything was blue, actually) and trying not to smile.

Finally, my friend SK found me an appointment with her NHS dentist and made the appointment for me the next day (she was the receptionist, oddly enough), and I was going to get new teeth - better than the old ones, though I was really stressed about the intervening time. I also tried to ring EE, a dentist friend back home, to find out what to do, and to tell her that I wished I was within reach of her office! To add insult to injury, I got a message from Halifax bank (not mine) that someone had taken thousands out of my account over time.

Freakily enough, S has just signed up with a dentist and had a recent message from Halifax - but there's also a message for me here - about stepping out of the dark into the light (the kitchen/house I was in was dark and didn't let in enough light; going out to see others in BRIGHT sunshine, not a cloud in the sky), letting go of the old and trusting in the new.

But unsettling as it was, I am thankful for this dreams and all the others - messengers with lessons I need to learn.

Friday, 11 November 2011

GC, Day 11 - Veterans

There are no words to express my gratitude to the men and women who, over the years, have enlisted in the Armed Forces and offered their lives - and the lives of their families, who have borne so much, from PTSD and shell-shock, to boys on bicycles bringing telegrams to officers walking up to their door - to protect us all. To this day, I can barely watch a Remembrance Day programme without my tears blurring the picture on the screen.

Thank you is all I have, but I offer it from the depths of my heart.

And since my words will not suffice, perhaps the words of one of your erstwhile comrades might:

For The Fallen
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,

Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal

Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,

There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,

Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.

They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;

They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;

They sit no more at familiar tables of home;

They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;

They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,

Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,

To the innermost heart of their own land they are known

As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,

Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;

As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,

To the end, to the end, they remain.

--Laurence Binyon

Replace 'England' with the name of any country, for this is for all those who have sacrificed for their country - for you are all known to the innermost heart of your own land.

Lest we forget.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

GC, Day 10 - a night off

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE counselling, and I love my Thursday night shift. But that doesn't mean that I don't occasionally need a night off - and recently, I've been feeling pretty damn close to the end of my reserves. So much so that getting to my Thursday night shift was beginning to feel like a real chore, though I loved how I felt after the sessions. But I had resigned myself to waiting till 1 December for my planned few days away before I had a break.

Today, at 15.45, about 20 min before I'd normally leave, my phone went, but the number didn't show up before it went off. I turned it off and turned it on again, put it somewhere it had signal, when a text came through - my client had cancelled.

One shiftmate was off this week already, the other was wrapping up a final client. At worst, I'd have to go down to babysit and be out at 18.30. I made ready to go - after all, what chance was there that HIS client had cancelled too, right?

"But my intuition kept hounding me. 'Ring him. Ring him and check. She has, you know."

"Oh, come ON,' my logical side said. 'Don't be stupid. Just go. Wishful thinking."


I sighed, acknowledging defeat. So I nipped out to where I had signal and rang.

He picked it up on the fourth ring, and after the usual greetings, I asked, 'Hey, on the offchance, has your client cancelled?'

He said, 'Well, yes, yes she has. Why?'

Once I'd overcome my shock at the serendipity, 'Because mine has cancelled, so there's no point in us showing up; there's no one to see.'

His voice lit up. 'REALLY? A night off!'

I grinned. 'Yup.'

In unison, 'See you next week.'

I was somewhat surprised at how relieved I was at having to stay at work and just go home at 17.00 as usual; to be able to wrap up in my slanket and not to have to help anyone.

But for once, I didn't feel guilty. As they say on airplanes, place your mask on yourself first before attempting to help others. And this night off is my mask, which I'll be putting on and drawing deeply of the oxygen of rest.

So, to Our Lady, the Holy Spirit and the angels for orchestrating this one - a huge thank you and a big 'mwah'.

And now, it's time for me to get home to my slanket. Till tomorrow, everyone. I'm off to nestle in on this dark, autumn night of the full moon.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

GC, Day 9 - Rum & Coke

Have had about half a pint too much - so I've had more alcohol in the last week than I have the entire year to date - but rum & Coke will always have a special place in my heart, since it's the first drink I ever had, made by LLM when we were in high school - using 1/2 rum and 1/2 Coke. My proportions are closer to standard now (though the ones Jack made tonight are between a double and a triple) - but I still love that fizz up my nose, that much-loved cola taste with the twist of West Indian spice.


I may drink more gin and tonics, and anything with a Baileys base will always be a favourite, but rum & Coke, you were my first.

And we all know how you never forget your first. L'chaim!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

GC, Day 8 - Counsellor review

Didn't think I'd be grateful for this - I was actually quite dreading it. But I was blessed enough to have my review with 2/3 of my interview panel - both of whom I get on with really well, trust and feel I can speak my mind to.

The synergy was amazing - lots of laughter, challenge, thoughtfulness and 'How about Question 10? Shall we start with that?'


Me: 'But you're client-centred - that shouldn't matter!' (cue *gales of laughter*)

That pretty much set the tone for an open, warm, organic conversation, which wasn't short on probing, depth or honesty. I had been worried about how I was going to say what I needed to say about my concerns, but I needn't have been - they arose naturally in the course of the discussion, without the edge, without the anger I feared would creep in.

And when I left, the bus to get me home - which only comes every 30 minutes - showed up 5 minutes after I got to the bus stop.

The whole evening was a perfect example of flow, reminding me of something else very important: Wu Wei, or doing through not doing.

What needed to be done was done; what needed saying was said - all in the most effective way possible, with the least effort, in a way that it could be most absorbed.

And I had nothing to do with making it happen.

I couldn't have forced it to happen or manipulated it to happen in a better way - anything I would have tried would have led to a poorer outcome.

So - reviewers who listen, synergy and Wu Wei via Ruach (as well as allowing room for it to happen - or breathing room, perhaps?), G-d, we give you thanks.

Monday, 7 November 2011

GC, Day 7: Tonglen

I don't particularly want to talk about it in detail, but today, the practice of tonglen - whether it was breathing in anger, fear, hurt or grief (and yes, I did all four and then some) - mine or anyone else's - made a real difference.

Having a practice to sit with difficult feelings meant that I could act from my centre, that I could ask G-d for help, that I could remain grounded in the midst of a maelstrom.

Thank you, Buddha, and thank you, Pema Chodron - you made it possible for me to both stay in the space and hold it, even when I most thought I might not be able to.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

GC, Day 6: Those with breathtaking talent

A few weeks ago, I sat through a sermon where the preacher suggested that some of the worst times in our life were times when we realised that people were better at things than we were - e.g., playing the piano.

I was mystified. Why would knowing that someone was better than me at something be one of the worst times in my life? The worst times in my life have been the moments of unimaginable loss, when I could barely breathe, barely remember who I am. Other people being better than I am and not being the person I thought I was weren't even at the periphery of my mind. Even as I heard him, I thought, 'Why would I be upset at someone being better than I am? Someone always IS.'

My parents felt like he did - that I needed to be the best at EVERYTHING intellectual, and that if I wasn't, I was either being lazy or robbed. Even then, I knew it wasn't true. What I resented was not being allowed to work out who I was and who I wanted to be - and what MY gifts really were.

At our high school commencement exercise, we were told to applaud those around us - to start clapping and never stop. I hope I've done that.

And do I clap wholeheartedly? I do.

I take immense pleasure in watching the breathtakingly gifted using their gift to the full: Usain Bolt; Itzhak Perlman; Mikhail Baryshnikov; Carl Rogers; Stephen Hawking; Salman Rushdie; JM Coetzee; Nelson Mandela.

It's like catching a glimpse of the spirit of God move upon the waters. Because people pouring out their gifts, using them to the hilt, is a continuation of that first act of creation.

It is holy.

And do I ever get upset if I see those better than I am at my gifts? No. Watching Lorna, our tutor last year, teach, was an incredible experience - I just wanted to learn from her. Ditto my friend Keith, who is a superb therapist. And as for writing, well:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
--John Keats

Tell me, no matter how wonderful a writer one hoped to be, how could one not melt into that for sheer joy in its beauty? To resent that would be a sin.

We all have gifts to bring in ways that only we can bring them - and it is for us to continue Creation's song by pouring them out as do the Usain Bolts, the Mikhail Baryshnikovs, the Nelson Mandelas.

And so I am deeply grateful for them - not only for the joy and good they bless us with as we witness their beauty and power, which is a form of tikkun olam, but also - and even more so - for pointing the way to compose our own phrase in Creation's song.

Sometimes, having your breath taken away can be a good thing.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

GC, Day 5 - FIRE

No serenade, no fire brigade, just pyromania --Def Leppard

As it's Guy Fawkes Night on this side of the pond, also known as Bonfire Night, I thought I'd give thanks for fire - because I love it in so many forms: in its roaring forms such as fireplace, campfire, woodsmoke, and bonfire, of course. But I also love it in its quieter forms such as candlelight, pilot light, gas stove, glowing embers, lava, thurible.

I love its dance, its glow, its beckoning.

And though I have a healthy respect for fire, I find myself fascinated by it in its more destructive forms - taken in by its hypnotic power even when I should move away.

Fire warms, cleanses, purifies, destroys dross, tempers steel, makes room for new growth - though often devastating when not channeled - as are so many things, not least our shadow.

It may wreak havoc, but it has made life possible.

And so, Prometheus - thank you. And everyone else, I've got something to say...

It's better to burn out - than fade away!

So, walk into the ring of fire - you will, without question, find devastation - but you will also find passion, warmth, creativity and a dance with life.

Friday, 4 November 2011

GC, Day 4: Nighttime walks

This entry was totally going to be about the theological conversation I overheard last night - in fact, it's still in draft as Day 4, but will have to become Day 5, because half a pint of strawberry beer and splitting a bottle of white wine with Nick means I am too drunk to do a complicated gratitude entry before midnight.

So, I am grateful for nighttime walks in my city. Oxford is beautiful at any time, but increasingly so at dusk and after - and the sense of being at a crossroads in time - that you'll turn a certain way and find yourself in the 17th century - envelops one. It's why I go on the Oratory night walk every year. To turn a corner and see one of the many stunning buildings - colleges, chapels, part of the Bodleian library, lit from inside underneath a moonlit sky fills my heart with joy.

Note to self: must take more.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

GC - days 2&3, the cheat: Gosia & Paz

Ok, as I said yesterday, since I started on 2 November, I'd cheat on one of the days of the gratitude challenge and do two things for which I'm grateful. So, here we go: I'm grateful for the two greatest officemates ever, Gosia and Paz. They can decide between themselves which one is 1 November and which one is today.

Gosia and I started here at about the same time, autumn 2007, and discovered that we were birthday twins (she's the younger) - which was all we knew about each other whilst I was cataloguing books part-time. We'd smile at each other, have brief conversations, but didn't really get to know each other till my job changed and I came on full-time in a position where I had the pleasure of working closely with her, and later, of sharing an office with her.

G (as I call her) exudes the cool and glamour of old-style movie stars: tall and graceful as a Grecian column, she can be wearing jeans and still make one feel under-dressed. In addition, she is frighteningly competent and shows remarkable equanimity with things that drive me into wanting to slap people silly. Professional glam, that's G.

But scratch the surface, and you find an amazing cook (her baked goods are to DIE for), a wicked sense of humour, and a superb listener who dispenses some of the best advice I've heard and reminds me that there are times to leave it be. Without a doubt, she's a friend you'd want by your side no matter the situation. She reminds me that it is possible to be passionate and professional, a gift I hope to do justice to one day.

I am so grateful to count you amongst my friends, G, and I shall miss seeing you every day.

Paz - or the delightfully pint-sized Pizzazzadoodle/P-doodle (as I call her - don't ask) - is as warmly effervescent as G is coolly glamorous. Unfortunately - or fortunately - she's as easily amused as I am (again, best NOT to ask), so our peals of laughter are often heard through the office, as Gosia grins, yet somehow manages to remain the grown-up presence as we find ourselves unable to speak. But as with the froth on the surface of the ocean, don't let the effervescence fool you - there's a perceptiveness and depth that startled me early on, but does no longer - and a genuine acceptance of people as they are, and a real 'to each their own path', that is a true grace - one I'd love to have one day. Our daily lunchtime constitutionals are something else on my gratitude list, the more precious now that they are numbered.

As, of course, is the Pizzazzadoodle mug she gave me for my birthday.

I shall miss you loads, P-doodle: not quite sure what I'll do at lunchtime anymore, or without the sound of your Diet Coke cans opening. I'm sure I'll figure it out, but I think it'll take a while.

With such different personalities, one would have thought this would have been one of the spikiest offices in North Oxford - but it came together with such synergy that by the end of Paz's first month, I knew we had something special - and by grace, I have never taken it for granted.

Now that it is coming to an end so soon, I find myself grieving, of course, because I shall miss them more than I can express. But I am also deeply grateful that I have had this time with them, and wouldn't have traded it for the world.

Love you guys, and wish you all the joy in the world as you move on - may all your dreams and so much more come true.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The gratitude challenge - All Souls' Day

A friend has just posted a gratitude challenge that she did last year - one thing you're grateful for in every day of November. I want to do this because I tend to focus on what needs fixing and I need to shift that, but also because I'd like to write more regularly. I missed yesterday, so I'll be a bit naughty and do two in a post soon - but for today, it'll just be the one, since it's an unusual one.

I am grateful for All Souls' Day - the day the Catholic Church commemorates the faithful departed. It may seem an odd thing to be grateful for, but it is one of my favourite days - and masses - of the year.

I'm a twilight girl by nature, so I'll naturally prefer the nighttime Easter Vigil to the brightness of Easter Day; the shadows of All Souls to the dazzling All Saints. But my gratefulness is about far more than my preference.

In a world where we are told that we are failures if we are not perpetually happy, where we worship youth and shun aging and death, a day dedicated to death, prayer and grieving brings us back into the natural rhythm. We belong to both the light and shadow, joy and sorrow - we cannot have one without the other. It has been said that burnout is caused by a failure to grieve our losses, leading to a loss of joy and purpose, and an inability to act.

We need to grieve to live.

And so, I give thanks for this day of requiem: a day of black vestments, unbleached candles, minor keys, and twilight. This day, we enter grief's domain, and pray in the depths of our souls for those losses we have suffered in a way no one else has suffered them - but do so collectively, knowing that those next to us also grieve. And as we widen the spiral of prayer for the dead and bereaved to include their sorrow, those in our pew, and our church, the Church, the world...we go deeply into the heart of our grief, and come out the other side, finding solace, catharsis and peace.

And so today, even my facebook status marks this descent:

Irim is in an All Souls' mood: introspective, melancholy, praying for all souls, those who stand at the veil, and all who grieve - and looks forward to Anerio, unbleached candles, black vestments and stillness.

Even in the heart of grief, I am blessed to be part of this tradition.

Thank you.