Fragile strength

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Unfettered beauty

Riding the storms of Chaos

Fragile as a heart

There are few things as strong…or as fragile…as a butterfly. Their delicate wings can withstand both wind and rain, yet the touch of a finger can damage them beyond repair. Their physical strength starts early when, as caterpillars, they munch their way through leaves ten times their size before moving on to the next, decimating the plants upon which their parent laid their eggs.

They have another strength though, not visible to the irate gardener or passionate lepidopterist… they have the strength to yield to the inevitability of their own dissolution. Retiring to their homespun cocoon, metamorphosis occurs; they are dissolved into the component parts of their own being before their final emergence as beauty incarnate.

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It makes you wonder about the strength of the impulsion of Nature…and whether the caterpillar is aware of its future. How much awareness does a caterpillar have? Enough to fear its transformation… or just a blind obedience to the urgency of instinct? Either way, the process is inescapable. They cannot hold on to their juvenile form… only let go and allow Nature to do her work and the inevitable transformation to occur.

We face the same fate as we live and grow… that too is an inescapable process. We can cling on to youth or to the past, to our illusions or to people, desperately trying to maintain the life and comfort-zone with which we are familiar and that conforms to our image of self… or we can let them go. Not everything that we release will fly away; sometimes they remain and in that there is great beauty, for what we then have we do not need to hold, for it is a gift freely given, not the product of restraint and a grasping hand.

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The saddest thing of all must be the butterfly collector. His strength, he imagines, lies in his knowledge and expertise… and in the completeness of his collection. In truth, he is more fragile than the flying petals he seeks to acquire; he imagines himself master, yet can only appreciate what he has squeezed the life from before skewering it with a pin, preserving its perfection by robbing it of life.

There are many who seek to ‘collect’ people, knowledge or a perceived truth in the same way. Seeing beauty flutter by, they seek to capture it in their nets, pinning it down so that it cannot escape them, yet all they are left with, to display to the world in their pride, is an empty and lifeless shell.

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When beauty chooses to land in our lives, it is a privilege. It is not something to try to capture, not something we should attempt to pin down. It is a gift, to be savoured, with gratitude and wonder, for a breathless moment and then let go, to fly free. Beauty, whatever its form, is as strong as the life we allow it… and as fragile as our fear. It will not always stay…it will not always leave… but our recognition of its inner life and freedom may help us find our own wings.

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Time for change…

Image: Pixabay

I was given a clock for Christmas, a clock framed by pictures of my grandchildren. I hung it on the wall, marvelling at how quickly life can change. I, who was a young woman not two minutes ago, or so it seems, have grandchildren.

My eldest granddaughter had made me a card too and written it herself…with a little help from her father. I had to smile at the design the pair of them had chosen, a single red candle with holly leaves and berries… a design I had made from sugarpaste, every year, to decorate the family Christmas cake when the boys were young. Christmas is a time for tradition and memory. My granddaughter has recently changed from being an only child to being a big sister. She is trying to work out relationships and needed to check if her Daddy had been in grandma’s tummy, once upon a time. Her father raised his eyebrows and grinned… we shared a glance that was not only between mother and son but between two adults who are parents and who understand the odd things small children can say. In one sentence, little Hollie had summed up a lifetime of changes.

I have seen so many changes, both natural and unnaturally brusque, over the years. When life creates change, we have little choice but to accept them. We do not always find it easy to create change for ourselves… even n the small things.

I yawn at the computer, finish my coffee and stand at the back door in the freezing night air to wake myself up. It’s only eight o’clock. Way too early for bed.

Or is it, really? Why?

Let’s think about this. I’ve been up since five…there’s no one here now but Ani and me, no requirements at this time of night to do anything, only the choice to work, wallow in a bathtub or put my feet up with a film. Granted, I can’t go to bed too early or I’ll have a desperate dog climbing the walls by morning, but she is asleep for the evening so this is a reasonable time as far as she is concerned. Especially given than ‘early to bed, early to rise’ will kick in if I sleep soon. It would do me good to stop tapping away, and relax for a while. So, what stops me?

Guilt. Years of habit, that’s what. Eight o’clock isn’t bedtime, it is the start of the evening in a busy household when everyone is at work all day. This is the time when cooking and dishes are done, time to sit down and relax with the family.

This no longer applies. My household has gone minimalist, just me and the dog, my official working day starts early and my unofficial working day finishes at whatever time I choose to stop writing. Still, the habit of being awake all evening is a hard one to break.

I’m working on it, taking the odd hour or two out to watch a film or read for a while. Because I can. That was a hard one. I can. Me. Selfishly, indulgently.

I hadn’t actually realised the conditioning, the programming, I had both accepted and imposed upon myself over the years; habits and routines that have inadvertently dominated the decades. It is only when that old saying kicks in that you start to notice; ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’… and it works both ways.

Like a chronic pain that you learn to live with for so long, that it is only when it disappears that you notice it, so it has been since I began to take stock of how hidebound many aspects of my life had become. Many things have changed over the past few years, and those changes highlighted how much of my day was lost to habit. With subtle shifts in responsibility, the ‘I’ that I was is no longer required, redundant. As with many redundancies there was a period of floundering in the unknown as I emerged from under the security blanket of habit, desperately scrabbling to keep hold of at least some of the familiar yet tattered threads.

Routines are not all bad. They allow us to get through the necessary tasks and have time for getting out there and living. There are many routines, however, we are simply unaware of, and because we have done things ‘that way’ for years, we neither notice nor take the opportunities for change.

Now, finally, the I that I am is beginning to unfold. Not because it has to in order to keep pace with the changing circumstances of life, or some outward imposition of change, but because I am choosing, in awareness, to let go of many old and outworn behaviours. And yes, parts of me are kick and scream in protest as I strip back the familiar spars and start the spring cleaning of my days. As with physical spring cleaning, the de-cluttering will hopefully leave me with only those things I need, freeing up the dark cupboards and stuffed drawers. It doesn’t mean changing everything; I am still going to brush my teeth before bed and comb my hair before I go out. It just means being aware of what I am doing and why… and I am finding it to be an ongoing voyage of rediscovery.

We fear change in our secure routines, even when we don’t recognise them as such. They are what we think of as our lives after all, forgetting that these habits are no more than patterns with which we regulate our days. Life may be waiting patiently in the wings for us to give the cue for it to begin a new act, but while we are still immersed in the last, the curtain cannot rise.

You can’t take it with you…

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The hottest day of the year so far and what am I doing? Sunbathing? Gardening? No… I’m building bookshelves and unpacking dusty boxes. They say that you can’t take it with you, but that applies to a more distant removal… a mere downsizing means that you can. At least some of it. Especially if it has pages and a spine.

I did re-home or dispose of a good many books when I moved. I really did. To those who pointed out that I have too many books… I must finally admit that they were right, although not in the way they meant it. I do not…in fact, I believe it is impossible to have too many books. The problem arises when what you lack is bookshelves in which to house them. And walls that have space for more shelves.

For the past few days I and my trusty screwdriver have been tackling the MDF forest. I am currently taking a breather from lugging boxes of books…and looking for the buried-somewhere-I-wouldn’t-lose-it tape measure to see if I can squeeze at least one more bookcase in somewhere.

There is, however, a growing pile of empty boxes on my bedroom floor and several rapidly filling bookcases are finally looking lived-in. Or lived through… which is probably closer to the truth. The books are not just books… they are a reference library, a playground, an adventure… they are a spiritual quest and repository of knowledge… and tucked between their pages are memories.

Many of those memories go back a very long way, to the people who first owned the books. My grandparents’ names are inscribed in copperplate within the covers of many of them. My own is inscribed in a childish hand in those I wait to read to my grandchildren, as I read them to my sons. All of the pages hold memories of the emotions and realisations experienced as I lived an adventure of imagination and learning.

And some of them hold other things, more tangible. Like the photo that fell from between the pages of a children’s story that has my very first ‘love letter’ on the back. Okay, we were ten or eleven… but he sent it because we would miss each other while he was on holiday… and signed it, ‘Love, Neil’…. and my heart felt that first feminine flutter of a daughter of Eve.

He will be middle aged… getting old, just like me. Looking at that handsome young face, though, it did not occur to me to wonder where he is now and what he looks like. I remembered only the tenderness and excitement… the silly things like walking past his door and hoping he would see me… and the thrill of that first letter from Ingoldmells. None of that was in the photograph… just a boy on a beach, but the tide of memory came rolling in.

It was then that I realised that you can ‘take it with you’… and we do.

All the books I have ever read have left their mark, just as all the people I have met have done. Every experience, every word, every lesson. Some have passed through my life with the lightest of touches, barely ruffling the surface of memory, leaving neither footprint nor scar. Others have buried themselves deep and secure in the fastness of my heart and soul.

I realised too why the physical books still matter. Their presence is their trigger. Every day as I pass them, the names on the spines, author and title, nudge memory into action and what I have learned from them, the adventures they have taken me on, the joy I have experienced through them is all brought back closer to the surface. They remind me of who I am, who I was and how I hope to grow. I do not need them… I enjoy them. They do not define me… but they have helped to shape me and, as I revisit the memories in their pages, will continue to do so.

Everything we experience leaves a trace in memory. We dismiss the majority of what we see and do as it lacks emotional importance and it is filed away so carelessly that memory will seldom retrieve it. Other things stay in the surface of the mind… the things that mark or matter, the times of intense emotion or revelation. Even those need a trigger before we recall them. Age, illness and injury make the memories appear to fade… I don’t think that they do, it is our access to them that becomes more difficult or even impossible. But what each of these moments and people have truly given us, that stays with us, changing us as we grow , gradually becoming part of who we are. Whether we dismiss something…or someone… as being of no importance, or embrace the gift we are given in full consciousness… nothing is lost or wasted. Least of all Love.