A heavy bag

We carry all sorts of baggage through life, and often it distracts us from experiencing joy. Do we know what loads we are carrying? What do we need to carry? How can we relinquish the things we don’t need? I tell this story with thanks to my youngest daughter who, indirectly, inspired it.

the-gunny-sack

There were people everywhere.

Some were in families, some in tribes. Some were in uniform; many were not. There were a few smiles and some laughter; there were a few tears and wails; there were many shouts, of anger, triumph, and lamentation.

The people were walking, some slowly, some briskly. Some striding forward purposefully; many meandering; some marching busily in one direction, then changing course to tramp equally energetically in another. Gradually though, no matter how winding their path, they made their way due west.

And all but the smallest and youngest carried a bag, a hessian bag, a gunny sack.

I approached one of them, a woman about forty years old. Her hair was streaked with grey, and her face was lined. Her bag seemed heavy.

“I hope you don’t mind my asking – it’s nosey, I admit – but would you mind telling me what you’re carrying in your bag?”

She sighed deeply, and glanced inside the bag as though to remind herself.

“It’s grief for my mother. She died twelve years ago.”

“You would travel more easily without your burden. Why don’t you let go of it? Here, leave it by the roadside and go on without it. Nobody will mind!”

Tears welled in her eyes.

“Then I would have nothing,” she wept. “My grief is all I still have of my mother.”

I didn’t know what to say, and so I left her and approached another, a young man. His face was steadfast and his movements purposeful. He had energy and, maybe, humour. His bag was large, and looked heavy, but he was strong and made light of it.

“I wonder – it’s inquisitive I know – but would you satisfy my curiosity about your bag? What is it that you prize so highly that you carry it everywhere, even though it is so heavy?”

He stood tall, shoulders held back, and looked me boldly in the eye.

“I carry the expectations of my family!”

“Why not lay down the burden? Travel light. You don’t need to carry it; you can choose!”

His face stiffened. “If I did that, I would be saying that my parents made the wrong choice when they toiled all the hours of the day to give me a good start in life. I’m not going to do that!” Then, sheepishly – he was a young man after all – he added, “Besides, it’s not so very heavy. I can manage it.”

I wished him good luck, and looked around.

There! Over there! A meadow, where a young couple are playing with two children! Their bags are empty, and the woman has flowers in her hair!

She smiles at me as I approach, a merry, mischievous smile.

“You want to know why my bag is empty, I think,” she says.

There is a scent of roses in the air. The noise of the crowd is hushed, and I can hear birdsong and gently falling water. The children, playing with their father, laugh joyously as he tumbles them aloft and a-low.

The girl laughs with them, then turns to me. Her expression is serious, but bears the memory of her laughter.

“It was hard at first,” she admits. “I would take something out of the bag – pride, say – intending to leave it behind, and I would look at it. Out there,” and she gestures at the vast plain with its toiling figures, “pride can sometimes look quite attractive. And then I would put it back into the sack again! But eventually I realised that what looked like a big lump of pride was actually made up of lots of little bits of pride. It was easier to let go a bit at a time. And the more I let go, the easier it was.”

“It sounds okay,” I say, “but what happens if you throw something away that you later find you need on the journey?”

“That probably won’t happen. There are so many resources we can draw on. But, even if the lack of something brings your journey to an end, wouldn’t you rather travel here than out there?” Once again I look at the monotonous expanse, the grey figures struggling with burdens they can scarcely carry.

The girl can sense my hesitation.

“You don’t need to make up your mind all at once,” she says quietly. “A little bit at a time is all it takes. Go now! You need to see more.”

She holds up her arms as though to shut me out, and I trip and fall.

People barged into me, cursing. A heavy sack landed on my right arm, bruising it painfully. The man carrying it swore vilely at me.

“What’s so important about your sack?” I demanded.

“It holds the will to rule,” he snarled. “Honeyed words, lies, delight in others’ pain, and the wish to wound. Now get out of my way!” He hauled the cumbersome bag onto his bull-like shoulder, his muscles writhing, his veins bulging, pulsing with turgid blood.

He barged past me. I watched him, this ox, this gorilla, this serpent, and I saw him stop. He held up his bag, and, with a great roar of frustrated rage and defiance, he tipped out the contents. Awestruck, I watched as they spilled out and broke into a million fragments, first chunks, then crumbs, then dust, until finally they were a mist that the lightest of breezes swept away. I looked back at the man. He had faded, was almost gone. And as he disappeared I realised that I could remember nothing about him.

As I gaze, and struggle to understand, I feel the lightest of touches on my arm. It is the young woman, only now she is no longer young. Laughter and love have left lines on her face, and her body sags where gravity’s pull has exaggerated the stretching of childbirth. She carries a small, empty bag.

“You see?” she says softly, “You see?”

The gentle air hints of roses in the twilight of evening. Birds sing merrily about a night that is just the prelude to a new dawn. With a laugh as merry as the birds, she shakes out her bag. There is nothing in it, but as she shakes the fabric it becomes silken. It glows white, crimson, emerald, azure. It grows and grows, stretching up and out as she holds it aloft at arm’s length, like a banner. The light grows brighter and brighter, until I can see only her face, her eyes and her smile; until there is only tranquillity and joy, great joy.

 

Thank you for visiting my blog!

If you enjoyed what you have read, please “Like” and “Share”. If you are new to the site, please feel free to browse earlier posts.

If you would like to be sure of reading future posts, please “Follow” me, and then you will receive email notification of every post (I try to post at least twice a week).

Because feedback is a powerful tool to help me improve, please comment. The button to do so (“Leave a comment”) is on the left under the Categories and above the Tags.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Carnival

I’ve been in Switzerland this weekend, staying with my daughter and her family. Unfortunately I haven’t found time to finish the story that I planned to post today – I’m sorry about that. However, we went into Sion this afternoon and saw the carnival. I’ve written a brief account that I hope you enjoy!wp_20170225_14_18_18_pro

The sousaphone player marched at the back of the band. He must have been as strong as an ox, because his was no ordinary sousaphone but a monster. It needed a full breath for every note. The tone blended with the boom of the big drum, providing a rhythmic, percussive bass for the ensemble. The bandsmen wore costumes so brightly coloured that a jester in motley would have been an austere figure beside them.

The Carnaval de Sion is an annual event, one of many carnivals in Valais that take place just before Lent. Its origins, though, predate the church’s calendar, having their roots deep in pagan beliefs. Thousands of people take part in the march, almost all in bizarre, and even sinister garb. If I tell you that a voodoo display was amongst the milder disguises you’ll get the idea. Tens of thousands come to watch, and, delightfully, many of the spectators come in costume too. The throb of the drums and the rhythmic music arouse a sense of magic, of possibility.

I sat in a café, drinking an Americano and watching. A monstrous pirate ship mounted on a lorry came down the street. Every so often, the pirates fired a cannon, filling the street with smoke, and, amid shrieks of laughter, showering bucketfuls of sparkling confetti over the crowd. The café where I had my vantage point was on a corner that the pirates needed to round, an operation that required them to strike their colours, lower the black sail, and take down the mast. Halfway through this one of them fired the cannon, earning scowls and suitably piratical curses from his colleagues.

One spectator, perhaps thirteen years old, was in a white dress like a bride. I watched as she ran around with a group of boys of similar age carrying light sabres. She seemed very familiar with all their games; if it weren’t for the dress you would have thought she was one of them. Two men in cowboy costumes, hand in hand, picked their way through the crowd.

The town square was filled with stalls, mostly selling food and drink, featuring such traditional Swiss fare as crepes, fajitas, pies and curry, with plenty of German beer to wash it down. A metre of beer cost forty Swiss francs, which seemed rather expensive. I gave it a miss this year; maybe I’ll try it next year.

I cut through back streets, and when I rejoined the route of the procession I found that I had overtaken the band. The sousaphone player was still at the back, still blowing one breath to every profound note, still synchronised perfectly with the man on the bass drum. The costumes no longer seemed outlandish. Like the carnival itself, like the spectators, they were just a representation of some of the colourful ways we can all be human. 

Thank you for visiting my blog!

If you enjoyed what you have read, please “Like” and “Share”. If you are new to the site, please feel free to browse earlier posts.

If you would like to be sure of reading future posts, please “Follow” me, and then you will receive email notification of every post (I try to post at least twice a week).

Because feedback is a powerful tool to help me improve, please comment. The button to do so (“Leave a comment”) is on the left under the Categories and above the Tags.

 

Mother

This poem really moved me. It has some wonderful imagery. I hope you enjoy it too!

Melody Chen

Mother,
Stepped afoot a plane for the first time,
Lost count of the number of miles it took
To reach the land that seemed so much nearer on the map.
Had a daughter whose birth rooted a lineage in foreign soil.

Mother,
Packed an entire culture into her suitcase,
Lugged it across the ocean,
Only to have it opened by a daughter who lost her way
In a myriad of alien traditions and customs
That tangled like Christmas lights.
Wondered how she would teach her daughter
Tens of thousands of characters,
When her school teachers had told her everything could be expressed
With twenty six letters.
Gifted her daughter an intricate name worth an essay, and watched it be abandoned
For one that was lighter on the Western tongue.

Mother,
Mined iron to construct her daughter’s bones,
Her own arms only strong after having to lift up an entire family.
Taught…

View original post 190 more words

In the moment – Three worlds

wp_20160127_11_48_12_richI wrote this poem late one August afternoon, sitting in the sunshine beside my fishpond. I thought about living in the moment – but which moment in which world? Sometimes, if we wish to be in the moment, we have to look beneath our surface feelings into a place that may look dark; but may, too, be a home of beauty.

Three worlds

The koi, red, black, white, metallic gold, slip through the water,

Their paths traced by slow ripples that roll across the pond

To make a panelled lattice of silver, through which the fish

Slide, now visible, now unseen,

Hide, by light, by movement.

A vine’s reflection, leaves hard-edged against

The black and silver water, seems more solid than the plant itself

As it strives sunwards from the same root in the bank.

The moment of reality shimmers.

Red, black, white, metallic gold, appear – and vanish.

The Promise

A young couple meet on a skiing holiday and fall in love. So far, so ordinary. But the love between Joanna and Frank is special, profound and generous. And when the time comes, Joanna gives Frank a great gift; she gives him his freedom.

london-eye
The sun was brilliant, the sky was deep blue, and the ski-lift was crowded. I had only just managed to squeeze into the gondola, pressed close to a young woman. She was tall and slender, and long, dark-brown hair cascaded from under her casquette; her dark amber eyes were merry and she was smiling.
As the door slid open at the upper lift station, I said “After you.”
“No, after you!”
“Aggressive feminist?” I wondered, and glanced at her face. We both moved at the same instant and half tripped over each other, apologising and laughing.
“Why don’t we ski down together?” she suggested.
She was a better skier than I, especially through the mogul field, but she slowed to allow me to catch up. I pointed to the mountain restaurant.
“Can I buy you lunch?”
“That would be lovely. This is my all-time favourite restaurant!”
We ate lunch. We drank wine. We talked; and suddenly it was five o’clock. We had dinner that evening. By the end of our holiday we were a couple.
Joanna lived in London, while I lived where I had grown-up, near Manchester. Within two months I had a job and a flat in London and we saw each other every day.
I asked Joanna to take June 30th as holiday, and show me round London. The day started cloudy and grey, so she took me to the Courtauld Gallery to see their collection of paintings by the Impressionists. By noon the sun was shining.
“Why don’t we visit the London Eye? It would be wonderful to see the city from above.”
“What a good idea, Frank!” she said. “I’ve never done that, even though I live here.”
“I’m glad you said that!” I grinned, and produced two tickets from my wallet. “Flexi fast track, so we can turn up any time and beat the queue.” She kissed me and squeezed my hand, and then held it tightly all the way to Westminster.
The view from the Eye is spectacular. We ooh-ed and aah-ed with the best of them as the gondola climbed high above the buildings. And at the high point of the ride, I went down on one knee in the crowded gondola, and asked Joanna to marry me. She simply answered, “Yes, of course,” but with such a radiant face. It was the happiest moment of my life.
It was during March the following year that we noticed something was wrong. Joanna had no energy. She suffered abdominal pains that sometimes disturbed her sleep.
“I’m just run down,” she expostulated. “There’s nothing wrong with me.”
But she didn’t improve. The pains became worse, and more frequent, until even Joanna couldn’t pretend she was well.
She was pale when she came back from the Health Centre.
“The doctor says it may be serious. He rang up the hospital, and they want me in for some tests. Ow!” She winced and grabbed at her midriff.
“When’s the appointment?”
“Now. I’m to pack my things and go in straightaway.”
I had never felt so frightened in my life as when she told me that.
I went with her, of course. As she sat in her hospital bed that evening, she looked quite bright. It was only then that I realised how much pain she must have been suffering; they’d prescribed morphine for her.
Tests, tests and more tests. They were extremely thorough.
When the results were available, the consultant saw the two of us together. He wrapped up the truth in medical mumbo-jumbo but the reality was still the same. There was no hope. Joanna had only a month or so to live.
She came home for a short while, just a few weeks. The pain became worse, despite the morphine. Eventually, “I think I’d like to go into the hospice for a few days, just while they work out the analgesia,” she said.
That night, as she lay in the hospice bed, she said “Don’t grieve for me too much, Frank. Promise me you’ll try to find someone else.”
Those were the last words my beloved spoke.
I held her hand, the tears flooding down my cheeks. Nobody could replace her, nobody.
“I promise I’ll try, my love. I promise.”
She relaxed. Her face was at peace, even smiling. Her long, dark-brown hair streaked over the pillow as it used to after we made love. There was a little colour in her cheeks. She was beautiful.
A few minutes later she slipped away, so quietly that I hardly noticed. One moment she was asleep, breathing very gently, the next moment she had gone. Her mum broke the stillness. She came to my side and put one hand on my shoulder, while with the other she stroked my hair.
“I am so sorry, Frank,” she said.
She held me close, and I buried my head against her and wept as though I would never stop.
“You can come home with us,” she said.
Everybody was so kind.
It must have been dreadful for Stephen and Gillian to lose their only child like that, and yet in the midst of their grief they were able to offer me love. I hated them. How dared they accept Joanna’s death? How could they not rage that she should be taken so young?
I had to escape, had to, I couldn’t bear to be here in this place, in this time. I wanted her back. I didn’t want her to have gone. She hadn’t gone.
I fled to the Alps. The high meadows were full of flowers, but snow still shrouded the peaks. It was a world of beauty from which I was excluded. I walked there until I was exhausted, day after day. Night after night I woke at three o’clock and lay sleepless and miserable until the morning.
I went down to the sea. The eternal waters washed the harbour walls; the tides rose and fell in their eternal rhythm. The sun blessed the waves with loveliness, and I spat on them in envy of their joy. I swam until my body felt wooden with fatigue and cold. How easy it would have been to have swum away from the shore, and just keep going! I thought of Joanna and my promise, and turned back. As I stumbled out of the waves, an old man looked sadly at me, and shook his head. He knew.
I went home. I took a new, ruthless edge to work. What did I care about other people? What was their hurt compared to mine?
I couldn’t bear it.
I accumulated the pills over several days. It’s possible if you try hard enough, if you know where to look. I drank some scotch; not a lot. I turned on the music system. Tavener’s “Song for Athene.” The memory of Joanna’s funeral slammed me as the music gently and insidiously filled the room.
I lined up the pills on the table. Here is a lethal dose. Here is double a lethal dose, and here is treble. And one more for luck. I fetched a pint glass of water, sat down, and took a deep breath. I listened, and remembered our shared joys. I picked up the first pill.
“I’m sorry, Joanna, I can’t do it. I just can’t. Forgive me.”
The doorbell rang, strident, continuous. I waited but it didn’t stop.
I replaced the pill on the table, and answered the door.
She was young. The curls of her blonde hair made a halo around her face.
“Oh dear,” she said, “I’m afraid I seem to have broken your doorbell. I’m awfully sorry!”
The doorbell abruptly stopped. We looked at each other. She seemed about to laugh, and then her face changed.
“I was going to ask to scrounge some milk; but there’s something wrong, isn’t there?”
I nodded. I didn’t trust myself to speak.
“Do you want to tell me about it?” she asked.
She came in, and I told her.
She took away the pills, and the scotch. She took away some of the pain.
I’m seeing her again tomorrow.
* * *

Thank you for visiting my blog!
If you enjoyed what you have read, please “Like” and “Share”. If you are new to the site, please feel free to browse earlier posts.
If you would like to be sure of reading future posts, please “Follow” me, and then you will receive email notification of every post (I try to post at least twice a week).
Because feedback is a powerful tool to help me improve, please comment. The button to do so (“Leave a comment”) is at the top of the blog post, on the left, under the Categories and above the Tags.

 

When did the wind change?

This is a poem by my friend Patricia Rogers. She is a writer I greatly admire, because, as well as writing beautiful poetry, she writes with courage and unflinching honesty. In another poem you can find on her blog, she writes of ‘living a little life’. But a little life described honestly and courageously can also be a significant life.

Patricia Rogers' Weblog

When did the wind change?
The first brittle leaves
stumbled down from the trees
in the heat of summer.
They lay on the ground
in plain sight
while the children ran
barefoot over the warm grass.
Nobody noticed.

When did the dark nights begin?
The sunset crept forward
so gently that darkness
came as a surprise.
The children were called home,
scampering into their lighted houses
one by one..
Heads were laid to rest.
Night fell.

When did the world change?
How long has it belonged
to someone else?
Summer slipped through my fingers
while I looked away.
Skeletons of bare trees
stretch upwards through fallen beauty,
reaching for home.
I keep walking.

IMG_0276

View original post

In the moment

wp_20170213_15_57_40_proThe pack on my back was heavy; the weekend shopping included tins of soup, oranges, meat and red wine. The air was cold, freezing, and it was snowing very lightly. As I walked up the hill towards the mill, a car passed me.
At the mill entrance, it paused, not quite stopping but moving very slowly. Another car came up quickly behind it. It edged closer – and closer. The driver of the first car presumably noticed him and went a little faster; the driver of the second car matched him for speed, and stayed tight on his tail. I felt his impatience.
The two cars vanished round the corner. I trudged on up the hill and I thought, “That’s what dying is going to be like. So many interesting things happening, and I shall never see how they conclude.”
The wind stung my face; the snowflakes danced; beauty was all around. I remembered the affection of the friend to whom I had been talking a few minutes earlier. I had beef and wine in my backpack, and Daphne was waiting at home.
Life is good.
Thank you for visiting my blog!
If you enjoyed what you have read, please “Like” and “Share”. If you are new to the site, please feel free to browse earlier posts.
If you would like to be sure of reading future posts, please “Follow” me, and then you will receive email notification of every post (I try to post at least twice a week).
Because feedback is a powerful tool to help me improve, please comment. The button to do so (“Leave a comment”) is on the left under the Categories and above the Tags.