Sunday, April 26, 2009

P.A.D.

I have finally managed to catch up!

At the beginning of the month one of my bookmarked writers’ websites issued their annual “A poem a day” through the month of April challenge. It is always something that I have wanted to do, but never felt that I had either the time or the talent to go for it.

I am glad that I did it this year. It has provided some much appreciated distraction from the sadness of my sister’s death, and the long wait for autopsies, coroner’s reports and funeral arrangements. It has also provided an opportunity to do what Rabbie Burns did – to respond to life’s observances with poetry.

The challenge each day is to respond to a prompt – a word or a phrase or an instruction. My poetry has always had a spiritual focus to it. Even a poem about tulips ended up with some reference to creation and God and worship. There is something nice about everything coming back to God, but there was also a sense of been “poetically crippled” if I couldn’t just write about something and not put a spiritual swing to it.

All of life is simply all of life and it has been a challenge just to write. There are no word limits, and to some extent, no time limits. Although it is a poem a day, there may be circumstances that prevent you from writing a poem one day, so the challenge allows you to post a poem at a later date in the month.

What has surprised me has been the sheer variety of things I have written about. Some are short two line couplets, while others are much more of a free verse ramble – but I did it! I am amazed too about the insight they provide about me – about my feelings and experiences throughout life – maybe not so much in just a single poem by itself but in the whole twenty five of them so far. It is also so unsettling when I see some very raw emotions seeping out! A pocket history of Mel, if you like.

Here is a selection:-

The shortest:- Loch Ness ( the prompt being a landmark)

Despite the way the scientists spin it
I am convinced there’s something in it

The darkest – Friday (the prompt being Friday)

I remember it was Friday
When we said goodbye
They pulled out the plugs
And I watched you die

The most pretentious! - Phoenix (the prompt was rebirth)

I stand within my nest
Of broken dreams
And disappointments

Ignite the fire
And let me burn

Then I will be
Reborn and
Made anew

And the ashes
Gathered by the wind
Will drift away

The one I like most - A Different World (the prompt was Travelling)

Words create the carriage
Sentences carve out the highways
Climb between the pages of the book
Disengage the world
Ease off the stresses of the day
Press down on your imagination
And steer towards a different world

Some of the poems are just too raw to share with people that might know me. My sister’s death has opened up a door – much like the opening of Pandora’s box! I have no hesitation, I suppose, with posting them on a site where there are a hundred other poems just like them, and no one knowing who I am. Sharing things with friends isn’t always so easy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Crispy Bacon Moment


Let me describe to you what a “crispy bacon moment” is all about and then you can decide whether you have had one or not.

A long time ago, when Joe and I were in our early days of being married, I baked a bacon and mushroom flan, or quiche, if you prefer posh words! I’m not the greatest baker in the world, but I always seemed to “get” pastry.

I am one of these people that save the best bits of a meal to eat at the end. It’s not that I don’t like anything else on the plate, but I like to leave the meal with the taste of the best bit of it in my mouth. On this particular occasion, it was a bit of crispy bacon. I had carefully isolated it from the rest of the flan, put it to one side to enjoy later.

Suddenly, this fork swooped in, stabbed the bacon, lifted it from my plate…and my crispy bacon disappeared into Joe’s mouth.

There was a wordless kind of expression that could be translated as “What?”, followed by a crimson flood of embarrassment.

“I thought you weren’t going to eat it,” was his first comment.

This was swiftly followed by a bit of honesty.

“I had watched the careful, almost loving way you have placed the bacon to one side. I knew you were saving it for your last mouthful…but I just couldn’t resist taking it.”

As I said, that was early in the marriage. These days, if Joe attempted stealing my crispy bacon moments…well, lets just say I’d put my fork to good use!

I had a crispy bacon moment this afternoon. It wasn’t about bacon…or food of any description. It was about time. I just seem to be disappearing under of pile of “To Do”s that that built up to the size of the Empire State Building. I decided that I would set aside a couple of hours, concentrate fully, no distractions and just get one with it. Just like the crispy bacon, I carefully set the time aside, digging out a radio to play quietly in the background while I got on with things. I was going to enjoy the feeling of a job well done and out of the way..

A friend of mine chapped the door, stuck his head around it and came in.

“I know that you’ve had a bit of a hard week. I thought you might appreciate some company.”

It was the last thing I was looking for, but seeing as he was there, I laid aside my Empire State Building of a “To Do” list and dive in to being sociable.

It was a lovely conversation and I did appreciate him stopping by, and the chance to sound off about things. It was a great way to spend a couple of hours.

The Empire State Building is as tall as ever, and still needs to be dismantled. I just wish it wasn’t so temptingly sunny outside!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Pure Joy

I had a moment of pure joy yesterday, although I suppose if I were to analyse it, it would probably not be pure joy at all, assuming that pure joy is something that’s linked to God in some way, and what I was doing wasn’t really linked with God at all. That has got to get you curious if nothing else!

Maybe in any other week of my life, it would not be pure joy, but just a vague happy moment, but this is not just any other week. It is the first week of living without my sister, Linda. It has been a week that has been full of sadness. There has just been a cloud over everything that I have done…and I have felt a spectrum of not particularly positive emotions!

At the start of the month I decided to take a up a poetry challenge. One of the websites that I have bookmarked is a poetry blog called “Poetic Asides”. It is part of a bigger site called “Writer’s Digest”. Every April, they throw down the gauntlet of challenging poets to write a poem a day. They provide the prompts and you can do what you like with it. There are no word limits or line limits, so what you write can be very long or just a few lines.

I have missed half a dozen days, but you are allowed to go back to the missed days and post something. I wrote a catch-up poem last night, on the theme of memories. All I want to think about is the current situation I find myself in, so it was nice to think of something far nicer.

The Smell of Ginger

The end of a meal and a coffee cup
I unwrapped the biscuit and picked it up
The smell of ginger haunted me
A scene forgotten I could see
Four small children sitting round
A reel to reel recorder on the ground
We learned our lines and pressed “record”
A message for granny who lived abroad
Ginger biscuits in a windmill shape
And us and our message on big black tape

It was after I had penned the verse, and posted it, that I sat for a while with a huge grin, feeling for a moment that all was right with the world.

The pure joy moment didn’t last for long. The shadows soon crept in. But just for a while, I felt glad. It’s nice to know that there will be moments like that…more and more of them.

I did say that pure joy moments were linked to God. To write poetry is a gift from God.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Fixing My Thoughts

There are some many thoughts buzzing around my head these days.

Sometimes I think about the catalogue of mistakes that the hospital made that lead to a simple operation having such tragic consequences.

Sometimes I think about my brother in law and the heart ache that he is going through. I know that he has asked my sister to go over and help sort out Linda’s clothes and jewelry.

Sometimes I think about the funeral, and what to wear, and whether to drive down in the car or take the train. I worry about crying too much and making a fool of myself. I worry about not crying enough and people thinking I didn’t care about my sister.

Sometimes I think a lot about my niece and nephew and how it is too young an age for them to be left without a mother.

Sometimes I think about other people and how my sister’s death means nothing to them. The world hasn’t stopped turning.

Sometimes I think that I ought to be braver. I have these extra resources given by God and I should have a handle on all of this grief.

Sometimes I think I am wallowing in sadness, even though it has not been a week since she died.

Sometimes I think that I will have a Bobby Ewing moment – stepping out the shower to realise that it was all just a dream.

Sometimes I think that I failed to pray enough. I failed to hold her hand as she lay in the hospital bed and rebuke the infection the way some other person might have done. I think I just stood by and let it happen.

So it came as a balm to my heart this morning when I read the words from Hebrews 3:1 - “Fix your thoughts on Jesus..”

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Good Grief!

I wish that we were like other races and cultures. I wish we didn’t get so awkward about the “death” word. I think I almost wish that people would say the wrong thing rather than say nothing at all.

I opted to go into work today. There are a lot of things that won’t wait until I feel in a more positive frame of mind. Life doesn’t stop and wait for you to catch up.

Inevitably the question about what you did over Easter was bandied about. People asking it couldn’t know that it was like a landmine to me. I thought, once or twice, about mumbling something vague and indistinct, but it seemed the coward’s way out. They had asked so they ought to be prepared for the answer.

I explained about the hospital visits, the illness of my sister, and finished with the rather bleak pronouncement that she had died at the weekend.

What a conversation stopper!

I felt obliged to justify my presence in school. It was easier to have distractions around me, and tasks to keep me occupied, or I would have just brooded at home. There would be days off to come with a funeral to attend, and I wasn’t sure just how much compassionate leave I was entitled to.

We just don’t seem to know how to deal with someone else’s grief. So often we are afraid of saying the wrong thing that we say nothing at all. It’s not that we don’t care, it’s just that we don’t know how to express that we do.

It was at the end of the day when I finally bumped into a lady I was deliberately avoiding. I was feeling fragile and knew that in her presence I would start to cry. She is not the kind of person that says nothing. She doesn’t say the wrong thing, or particularly the right thing, but she emanates compassion. We hugged. I cried. She held me and patted me on the back. I worried that people who didn’t know about my sister’s death were looking on curiously. She let me talk about how I was feeling without making it seem all very awkward.

I just wish that there were more people like my friend.

My brother, Richard, was present when my sister died. We had all gone home. Joe and I were due to travel back to Inverness the following day. We didn’t think that the end was so close, although all the signs were there if we had looked for them. Throughout the week, every time the nurses or doctors needed to do something, we had been asked to leave. On that final day, they had just worked around us, never asking us to leave the room.

Richard was asked how he had known that this was the end, when all of us seemed so oblivious. He replied that our problem was our faith. We had always expected the miracle to happen. We had never stopped praying. We had never accepted that her death was inevitable. Faith says that there is always hope. He admitted that he envied us that kind of faith, but to him, reality said that things were not going to improve for Linda. He had been preparing himself for weeks for it to happen.

His daughter was with him when my sister died. She was amazed that he didn’t cry. She asked him why he didn’t cry when Linda died, but had wept buckets when the family’s hamster had died. He replied that he had done all his crying over the last few weeks, so that he could be strong for the rest of the family.

A friend asked me recently how I felt about God. Did my sister’s death diminish my faith in God in any way? I don’t pretend to understand the workings of the Almighty, what he permits, what he allows, why he steps in to intervene sometimes, but seems absent at other times.

I know that I have allowed God access to my heart at all times. At three in the morning I have wept buckets. I have tried to picture where Linda might be now, to feel a sense of her presence, somewhere.

I think there are times that I would like to descend into an almighty sulk at God for not intervening, but my spirit refuses to cooperate – hence the poem!

Pilgrim

Pilgrim, though the night is dark
Dawn is on its way
And with it comes the radiant sun
All shadows melt away

Pilgrim, though the heart is sore
And tears so often fall
With soft and gentle tender touch
I’ll wipe away them all

Pilgrim, though you cannot see
The joy that’s yet to be
I ask that you would simply trust
All that you know of Me

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Enthusiasm

Seems to me that there should be some law against it! Yes, we can all see the sense in digging out the lawn mower, weeding the borders and putting in a few hardy perennials in celebration of spring and in anticipation of the summer – when it’s a sunny day. We’ve all been there. We have perhaps tackled a little bit too much, a little bit too enthusiastically and no doubt ache a little in places we didn’t ache in before.

Our next door neighbour, however, is taking things a little too far. On our way out to pop around to put on our Grand National bets, our neighbour was rigged out in yellow waterproof jacket, braving the downpour to dig out the borders of his garden. Too much, mate. Too much.

As my husband said, climbing into the car, “That man would probably be a suicide bomber if he was a Muslim in Iran.”

I thought the comparison to be very apt. This is not to say that all Muslims living in Iran are suicide bombers…just that our neighbour is a very earnest about the appearance of his garden!

The more likely scenario is that he has had a busy week, that is part of a busy month and even if it is raining, he has to do the garden because otherwise it won’t get done.

Me…I don’t think that way. Even if it was sunny, I would probably have a zillion other interesting or urgent things to do, and the garden still wouldn’t get done!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Ezekiel, Eric and I - a brief History of...

Joe and I went to the cinema last night. It was a three way toss up between “Marley and Me” (I’d read the book – I am never sure about watching films based on books that I have read. They never seem to match up to my imagination and I end up disappointed.), “Duplicity” (which was the subtitled version – I’m not sure about subtitles either. I am not a fast reader. OK so the subtitles are there for people who have hearing difficulties, but that won’t stop me trying to read them!) and “Knowing” (the critics didn’t think much of it, action packed perhaps, but leave-your-brain-at-home fare.) We settled for “Knowing” knowing that we don’t always agree with the critics anyway.

Action packed it was. There were some superb special effects. I won’t be giving much away of I tell you it is all about deciphering a pager of numbers, and linking the numbers to various disasters. There are three numbers left to go and it is left to Nicholas Cage to save the world.

The film has a website and a comments feature where people post their views and opinions. It was a film that was very open to Christian interpretation in some aspects. There are a bunch of strange people in the film that basically stand at the edge of the woods and stare at people. They wear black coats and “whisper” things in the ears of children. Later on in the film they take shed their “human disguise” and what you see I suppose depends on where you are coming from. Aliens or angels? They had wings.


There is a scene earlier in the film where the hero and his female companion find a page from a Bible. It contains a lithograph of Ezekiel’s vision. Not the valley to dry bones, but the one at the beginning of the book – his vision of the heavens – wheels within wheels and flying beasts.

Way back in the 1970s I confess to having read and soaked up Eric Von Daniken’s book “The Chariot of the Gods”. His premise was that Earth had been visited and probably populated by aliens. His evidence, taken from the stuff of cave paintings and drawing scratched onto rocks on Easter Island, et al, seemed to my young fifteen or sixteen year old mind, to prove that he was right! (At the time I was wavering between becoming a Mormon because I was a Donny Osmond fan or embracing some kind of atheism/agnosticism based on a vague disappointment with the Roman Catholic church). I remember waving the book before my RE teacher and saying “See, God has been proved to be an alien from space!” (I don’t think kids today actually read much, so no one has waved any books at me and said, “See God has been proved to be…this, that or the other.”)

I have to admit that I can’t read the chapters of Ezekiel’s visions of heaven without thinking about Von Daniken’s alien space-craft explanation. I have probably seen too many Sci-Fi programmes to “de-programme” my brain.

I was thinking last night how sometimes knowing too much can be a disadvantage when it comes to embracing Christian truth. Knowledge – a certain kind of knowledge – can sometimes get in the way of a straight and simple answer. When you have studied textual analysis as a part of a Theology degree, there is a pile of knowledge that sometimes you just have to shift to one side, to reach a response. Sometimes the knowledge helps to reach a better understanding, but often what you pick up is someone’s commentary that isn’t free from bias and prejudice.

How essential it is to listen to what the Spirit says and be prepared to lay aside preconceptions.