Slimegrobbels and custard…

“Tell me a story…”

My granddaughters and I were sitting on the floor of their pink-painted cabin at the bottom of the garden. I had evicted yet another invading spider and, while the youngest sat on my knee, her almost-five year old big sister was sprawling in the pink armchair.

The three of us had been playing. I had pushed little Imogen on her swing until she giggled with joy and had chased Hollie around the garden, swinging her up onto my shoulders and teaching her to stand on her head in a fairly unorthodox manner. Somehow, small children make you forget the aches and pains… at least until next morning when you try to move again.

By this point though, we had settled down in the playhouse and eaten a meal of chocolate-dipped worms and green slimegrobbels with custard… a menu chosen by Hollie and lovingly prepared by the smallest of chefs. I could only be thankful that the meal was imaginary… and delight in the serious expression with which Imogen, barely two years old, ‘cooked’ and ‘ate’ the ‘food’ while Hollie supervised. Watching a child’s imagination begin to flower is a beautiful thing.

As we settled down in the pink palace built by a besotted father for his princesses, Hollie asked what we should play next. I asked her to tell me a story.

“I don’t know any stories…” She held up empty hands, but that, I knew, was far from the truth. Not only can Hollie tell a good story from those she has heard, she also creates whole imaginary worlds for us to play in.

“You know lots of stories…” Hollie sighed and rolled her eyes in a manner that will serve her well when she has children of her own.

“Just pretend I don’t know any stories, Grandma… so, you’ll have to tell one.” I had walked into that, so we snuggled up and I began with the traditional words…

“Once upon a time, on the edge of a forest, there lived a little girl. She was as pretty as a princess and loved to wear a red riding cloak with a hood. Her name…” I could see the satisfaction as Hollie recognised the tale, “was Fred…”

Fred???”

“Fred.”

Hollie, her interest well and truly caught, sat forward in her armchair as I told how Little Fred Riding Hood had gone to visit Grandmother in the woods, carrying a basket of slimegrobbels, because Grandmother’s best friend, the Wolf, was poorly…and how, when she arrived at the cottage, Fred found that the wicked witch, disguised as a woodcutter, had changed them both into gingerbread men who had been packed in a giant’s lunchbox and had to be rescued by the fairy godmother who turned them into pumpkins by mistake.

Imogen was almost asleep, but Hollie had listened to every word. She sighed again.

That was just a pretend story, Grandma. Now tell me the real one…where Red Riding Hood isn’t called Fred… or anything else…” She went on to give me a synopsis of the whole adventure so that I would not miss any of the important details.

I smiled and told the story, pleased that my little granddaughter could tell the difference between a ‘real’ and a ‘pretend’ fairytale. It wasn’t simply that she knew the original plot well, she recognises that such tales have to be told in a certain way… ‘properly’, she called it. That is a common thing for children. The words and how a story is told matters.

What struck me most, though, was that from the way she was telling me the storyline, she also seems to understand, at some instinctive level, that while fairytales are not true, they are real in their own way. They have their own integrity and, when ‘properly’ told, they are important. Arbitrary changes are not allowed as they alter the essence of the story completely and, at the heart of every old fairytale, there are lessons to be learned whose sense will be lost if the salient details are altered.

In the days before the majority could read or write…and even further back, to a time before the written word was invented, storytelling would have been very much a part of the life of the tribes and families as they gathered around the light of the hearthfire. Stories would have been valued, from the anecdotes the old ones told of their youth, to the tales of the hunters, to those told by the shamans and teachers.

Much wisdom can be concealed within a story… and such tales would have been learned young, perhaps long before they were fully understood. Because they were stories, not obvious lessons, they would have been remembered and both the stories themselves and the hidden wisdom they held would have been passed down through the tribes and clans, just as we still remember the fairytales of childhood and tell them to the children at our knees.

As I sat there with my granddaughters, I felt that we were part of a story that goes back to the earliest human lives… and forward into a future that will one day leave even our memories behind. I remembered my own early years, looking up at great grandma and saying those same words. Images flitting across the screen of memory like gentle ghosts… a child absorbing lessons unawares, their stories attached to the emotions they engendered… and to the love of the storyteller .

Will Hollie tell her granddaughters about Little Fred Riding Hood one day? Will Imogen teach her grandchildren to make slimegrobbels and custard? How far into the past do we reach with that one simple phrase? How far into the future will one shared fairytale carry us as children uncountable say the magic words…

“Tell me a story.”


There is a lot more to fairytales than the wide eyed child understands, especially in the older versions. The archetypes we meet in these old stories echo many aspects of the human condition and the journey of the soul.

We are born into a magical world, where our childhood is peopled with wonders. We are given gifts and talents yet our soul is held within the body, like the princess in the castle. As we grow to adulthood the magic fades…or more precisely, our awareness of it fades. Like the princess, we fall asleep, lost to the song of the soul as the ‘curse’ takes hold. Alive but slumbering, waiting…

Join us next April to explore the hidden beauty of fairytales… and awaken the beauty that sleeps within.

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Growing emotional…

It is the end of a long day; one of those days when many small things have seemed to go wrong and a few bigger things cast dark shadows on your horizon. You are tired…not the pleasant kind of snuggle-up-in-bed-with-a-book tired either, but the kind that begins to question and ask ‘why does it have to be like this?’

It comes to most of us at some point; that emotional bone-weariness. Chances are, you are too tired to even begin looking for answers and past thinking about them if you fell over them. But you are going to find things that look like answers wandering through your mind just the same.

Under stress, they will probably be the wrong ones. Anxiety and fatigue cloud thinking, and what may appear to be a perfectly logical train of thought can begin from a single skewed idea, from a slight misapprehension or misunderstanding. Pursue them and you could end up very far from the truth and casting blame in all the wrong directions, even, perhaps, where there is no blame at all. Life just throws things our way sometimes.

Why does it have to be that way? The most likely answer is that this is a path we have chosen for ourselves. Not, perhaps, with any conscious volition, but through the gradual shaping of our worlds over a lifetime, allowing it to become what it is today. Some events may be beyond our control; there may be no choice in whatever it is we are facing at any given moment. But how we react to it is a choice and one we may have been unconsciously making for a long time.

Our very earliest interactions with the world around us begin to shape how we will react throughout our lives. The nurture or lack of it that we receive as we grow, the people in our lives, our circumstances, all combine with the raw materials of who we might become to make us who we are. Our reactions to any given event are born from this accumulated and integrated input of experience. Our character and the way we walk through life devolves and evolves from the life we have lived so far and therefore we shape many facets of our own lives in what has been called a mechanical fashion.

That is a cold way of expressing it. We could equally and simply say that our reactions are determined by who we have become. It may sound like a negative assessment, yet it is not necessarily so. Reactions that lash out at the world in hurt or anger stem from here, but it is also from here that the means to express the generous impulse is born; the act of kindness and empathy, the outstretched arms… We all know someone who is, or perhaps hope we are, that person who instinctively reaches out to others when they are hurt or in need. What is that if not reaction?

 

For those who seek to understand a little more of how they themselves have come into being there are many systems, beliefs and paths available. Within the Silent Eye we use the enneagram, placing upon it archetypal figures that express the basic ways in which we function… the chief impellers of our choices. These are not cold caricatures…they cannot be, for all we do stems from emotion. Whatever is behind our public face, whether we are creatures of laughter and tears or intellectually focussed, emotion is the prime mover at the root of all we are.

Imagine working backwards from the very tip of a branch, retracing the intersections from the finest twig, back to the bough and eventually to the heartwood of the tree. The deeper we consider what moves us to be who we are, the fewer possibilities we are left with. The closer we get to the source, the more I am convinced that even from a purely psychological standpoint, love can be seen as the root of all we are. Whether we know it or lack it, feel it or feel its absence and a yearning towards it, whether we feel it must be earned or deserved, or run from it in fear of the demands it might make… whether we clothe it as a need for admiration and respect… even whether or not we feel love for ourselves…Whichever way you look at it, love seems to be the central fact of our existence.

From a spiritual perspective, many have never doubted that this is so. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once wrote, “The truth is, indeed, that love is the threshold of another universe.” When you see that the Source of all Being, and the source of our being as one and the same, it changes the way you see the world, yourself and your fellow man… and leads you towards a threshold of understanding that surpasses knowledge. And perhaps it is here we will find our answers.

Morning glory…

gardens 107459

It is 4am and I haven’t slept a wink. I’m not entirely happy about that. It is not as if I haven’t tried. My mind whirrs quietly, emotions heightened by a frustrated fatigue. Ani is draped across the sofa snoring softly. For all I would, at this point, much rather be asleep, I love this time of day.

The sun has lit the touchpaper of the horizon and the east is edged in palest gold, the fire of dawn spreading silently over a sleeping land. The first bird just started to sing, Another has joined and the morning chorus has begun. There is a rainwashed freshness in the air and the colour, still absent from the ground, now gilds the sky, shifting the focus upwards.

It is as if the divine Hand has opened a window allowing us a brief glimpse of glory, lifting the eyes away from the earth towards a realm higher and clearer than the one in which we move. That small shift in focus alters perception completely and the world becomes a wider place, filled with a magical possibility as I watch the sun crest the horizon and see its pale eye with my own.

It seems as if the light steals in over the landscape, illuminating each leaf and branch, so softly it cannot be measured, yet bringing them to a life of living colour moment by moment. As it does so, the focus shifts again, back to earth and the glory of the morning sky is forgotten as attention is drawn to the detail of living, familiar green.

Yet it is still there. The sky is still full of light, the sun still rides the heavens all through the day, so bright it cannot be perceived directly but only by looking at the world it holds in light.

I see the analogy in this. A daily, unregarded reminder of the way in which our attention is glued to the details of everyday life, while the essence of the soul need only shift the focus to see whence it comes and in what it has its being.

Most mornings I miss the summer dawn, dreaming of other realms while my own awakens unseen around me as I sleep. Missing too this moment of the daily reminder of the beauty of light as it performs its revelation of reality while slumber holds my eyes closed and my mind absent.

It is a brief miracle every day. In the minutes lost to writing, the sun has risen, the world is flooded with light and had I just awoken, I would look at the earth and not the sky, mesmerised by the colours of leaf and flower. To share a moment with the dawn is a gift.

To have and to hold

From behind the curtain I am watching the birds in the garden. I am waiting for the hawthorns to grow tall and become a haven for feathered things. They are, for the moment, little more than bushes, but even so, every morning, sparrows and blackbirds, bluetits and doves visit my little patch. Ravens and jackdaws fly in most days, while Ani lies by the open door and watches, or bounds out to scatter them when she sees that I am watching. Every day, overhead, the great red kites soar majestically. Yesterday one landed on the roof behind my home and I watched, not daring to move for the camera, as the huge beauty surveyed its domain.

It was a rare privilege. Though I would give the proverbial eye-teeth to take a really good photograph of these birds in the wild there are some things you can only experience, not seek to catch. Had I moved for the camera I would have missed the moment; had I sought to capture it, I would have lost something precious. Some things are simply a gift from the Earth, just for you in that moment, to be enjoyed, cherished only in the heart… not to capture.

There are things, moments, that are so beautiful, yet so ephemeral and fragile that they cannot be held or possessed, only accepted. Like a sunbeam that cannot be caught, but only felt as it plays across your skin, or seen as it lights the rainbows in a diamond… or like a butterfly whose fragile wings are crushed by a child’s grasp at beauty. The ancients knew and told the story of Eros and Psyche… Love and the Soul…. Psyche could be with Eros only as long as she did not seek to look upon him and when she did, he disappeared.

By seeking to hold we can often lose the very thing that moves us. Yet it seems we are programmed very early on to want to ‘have’ what touches us, instead of being able to simply love something that is free to be itself.

Even language seeks to impose a degree of ownership on all we do, and particularly in regard to human interaction. Language conditions us and the careful choice of words can have devastating effect, for good or ill. While we may be aware of the effects caused by the deliberate usage of words in terms of propaganda, we unconsciously do the same all the time, not realising, perhaps, the insidious implications a single word can have.

Even the simplest statement… “I have two sons…” implies a degree of possession. We do not intend it that way, we may simply be using the easiest words… we may be indicating affection rather than ownership, if we think about it at all… yet the verb ‘to have’ implies ownership at some level.

Yet, when we possess something it ceases to be itself and becomes little more than an extension of ourselves… it loses more than freedom and autonomy, as its own identity becomes subsumed in our projection of our own. Even deeper than that, we often become, even in our own eyes, defined by what we think we possess… yet in truth, we come into the world naked and leave it the same way, so we possess nothing. We may think we hold things for a while, but the only thing we truly ‘own’ is our self. And even that is debateable.

As I watched the birds I was thinking about that. Would I want to cage a sparrow? No… I delight in their antics in the garden. I love them for their freedom. Would I want a red kite on a perch, just to say it was ‘mine’? No, I want only to see them ride the wind… though a little closer to the lens would be nice, I admit!

We all delight in the unexpected glimpses of wildlife. And, by their very nature, they are free… wild… unowned…untamed. Over the years a good many baby birds or injured ones have passed through my hands. While it is a delight to have that close contact for a while there is never any other goal, and no greater joy, than to see them fly free as soon as they are able. You are left with nothing but memories… perhaps a photo…with empty hands but a full heart. Maybe that is the only place we can truly hold anything.

On the doorstep…

Cerne Abbas (11)

Have you ever laid in the dew damp grass of morning and watched the petals of a daisy unfold, purest white, lifting its heart to the sun? Or seen a newborn creature take its first breath, opening its eyes on a new world? That was the gift I was given as a young man and I sat on a doorstep in the sunshine, talking of those questions that are hidden in each of us.

It would have been impossible to say who was the teacher and who the student as the spring sunlight poured down, honey gold and warm on one of those moments outside time where all that matters is opening the heart. The roles were continually reversing, as ideas flowed backwards and forwards between us.

Like the walrus and the carpenter, we spoke of many things, not sealing wax and cabbages, but equally disparate, yet somehow all with a similar theme. As if we were piecing together a puzzle. We spoke of jigsaws with pieces missing where, even though there is a gap in the design you can still discern what should be there. Even though it remains unseen and your vision may not be exact, the design gives you clues to what remains invisible and that may be enough for the mind to complete the unfinished image. We spoke too of pictures seen through the myopia of involvement and attachment, that become clear as you rise into the free air above them, seeing a wider view with a cleaner perspective.

Inspiration and intuition were discussed, learning to listen to those synchronous occurrences and odd ‘coincidences’ as we to listen to that inner voice… the gut feeling or the whisperings of the heart that often knows more than the mind can frame.

We talked about how our perceptions can only be our own. Even though we may nominally adhere to a particular code or creed that dictates rigid parameters within which we are supposed to understand…  our personal interpretation of all we perceive can be no-one else’s. It is unique to each of us. It can be manipulated, or encouraged into a particular pattern, yet there is a limit to how much that can be done, just as there is a limit to how much we can truly communicate or share with each other. Our perceptions are coloured by our own very personal cocktail of experience, action, reaction and understanding. Yet so often we see only what we expect to see, accepting the surface we are shown, rather than deepening our understanding through actively engaging with anything.

 

This led us to speak of the mechanical nature of much of our lives… the routine, the habit that keeps us moving blindly through the daily round and how different the world seems when we wake to ourselves and start living in awareness.

We spoke of the laws of physics and looked at them in a metaphysical light: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every trial, every painful experience there is an equal and opposite joy… a lesson available to be learned through opportunity. It may not make the lesson any easier, it will not make evil good… but within the darkness light can be found, if we are prepared to take those lessons when they are offered and carry them forward. This led us to speak of trust and how we learn to trust the design of the scales. And in that knowledge of trust and balance there is peace.

On the subject of balance we spoke of faith and the personal relationship with whatever we conceive of as divinity; for each of us has to find that for and within ourselves. We are poised, like the waist of an hourglass, between two modes of being… human and divine… and we embody both at that point of balance. The hourglass can be turned… sometimes we are fully human and the sands of experience flow through us from the physical world in which we move. Sometimes we are filled with something higher and that too flows through us. The point of perfection for us, whilst in this life, stands between the two; open to receive the sands from both, feet squarely in earth, arms raised to the heavens. For we are the hourglass… the vessel… through which light and life flow.

We spoke too of other vessels; how, without wine, a cup is merely an empty shell. Yet the cup is not the wine; it is something to give it form and shape. It is a container into which the wine is poured, and in which it is held, so that it might be lifted to the lips of others and shared in joy and blessing.

And we arrived at a conclusion of sorts…one which opens the way to many other questions to which we may seek answers…or not, simply accepting what is and what might be. That we are all vessels into which the light pours. We hold it within us, shaping it, expressing it through our words and actions, bringing it into the world that others might drink. Through any one of us, at any moment, the clear light of inspiration can become the wine of life.

Pancakes, sophistry and sacrifice…

It is Shrove Tuesday and in England that means pancakes. Not, you will understand, those heart-warming American delights, nor the elegance of French crepes, but ‘proper’ pancakes. For my sons, following in the tradition of the family that has spanned generations… several of which made pancakes for me as a child… it involves Mum armed with a hot frying pan, presiding over a conveyor belt effect of ‘next one’s ready’ and ‘how many more can you eat?’.

In the typical Pancake Day scenario, in our family at least, Mum makes up a huge batch of batter to feed the family. She spends the next hour cooking and deftly tossing pancakes for everyone else, ending up with usually too little batter left for herself. And having cooked so many for so long, really, the desire has all but gone. Just to add to it, she then usually eats alone in the kitchen before washing the dishes.

My eldest son and I have pancakes on the menu for lunch. It was a convoluted journey to achieve that goal, as he watches his diet closely and eats more healthily than anyone I know. Pancakes, oozing sugar, cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be counted as healthy. But he managed it with a little judicious sophistry and in a spirit of true self-sacrifice, deciding that it was the only way he could guarantee I would have pancakes myself and, indeed, actually eat today.

Pancakes and sacrifice go hand in hand. I wonder these days if the majority of youngsters, rolling them up and licking the lemon and sugar as it drips, know about the origins of the tradition… using up the rich foods like eggs and butter on the day before the beginning of Lent. In the Christian tradition, it was a day to confess one’s sins and be shriven… hence the name of the day… and prepare for the time of sacrifice to come.

I have often thought how the role of the cook on Pancake Day echoes the tradition behind it. Yet there is a deeper level to sacrifice, however, than merely giving up the odd luxury or a little time and effort. We see it in action all the time, though it often goes unnoticed or unrecognised, because the very nature of true sacrifice is that it is done quietly with no thought of gain or praise. When we genuinely put the good or well-being of someone or something before our own there is no thought of self. Yet in doing so, we gain something far more precious than that which we give up.

Sophistry can come up quite a lot where sacrifice is concerned. We can be very good at it where our own desires and wishes get in the way of loving sacrifice, reasoning and arguing with ourselves against the prompting of the heart. And it is often these inner whispers that are behind our moments of greatest beauty. There are opportunities in every life where we have a chance to do something simply and cease to think of anything other than the moment.

History and theology are peopled with those who have given their lives or their lifetimes to a belief, or an ideal. These are the ones we see as saints, or the movers and shakers of humanity… the ones whose passion made a difference on a global scale. Yet in every street, every day, small sacrifices are made. I call them ‘small’ only in comparison to those that visibly affect the whole of humanity. To each of those benefiting from them, they can make a world of difference, and the ‘cost’ to those making them is the same. They are giving something of themselves. And they are doing it with love.

Whether these sacrifices are inspired by their love for an individual, an ideal or their God, love is the common thread that binds them. And I have a feeling that these seemingly small, quiet sacrifices do affect humanity on a global scale, radiating unseen, but not unfelt, through our lives and perhaps the evolution of our race as a whole.

It is an odd thing, but a beautiful one, that true sacrifice, as with love given freely from which, I think, it stems, demands nothing in return. Not acknowledgement, nor praise, nor the return of what is offered. Yet it breaks all the rules of supply and demand, for the more we give away, the more we have to give.

Shine…

Have you ever thought how fragmented we are most of the time? Bits of our attention are given or called here and there, certain of our skills and talents required but seldom more than that. If I am asked to hang a picture, for example, it has no relevance that I can bake a fabulous chocolate cake or speak decent French, and (unless they have an urgent desire for cake with a little je ne sais quoi while I hang the frame) the person who asks me will have no interest in those talents at that moment in time.

How seldom is it that we are asked to give ourselves whole to any task or area of our lives? Even rarer, perhaps, are the occasions when we choose to do so, simply because we can, plunging head first into the moment at hand as if it is all there is in the whole of eternity?

I wonder if anyone is ever really known, except in a fragmentary way, through the facet of the self in action in a particular arena or relationship? Even our nearest and dearest have things they do not share with us, facets of themselves we may never see… and that is as it should be… we too have faces we may not show or share with everyone.

Even we seldom consciously know and accept our entire selves. We readily admit our flaws to ourselves, once we have become aware of them. Yet, while we may admit, nay boast, even, of the glories of our respective chocolate gateaux, few of us will admit to those personality traits which are seen as ‘good’.

We may admit to the socially acceptable ones… the type we put on job application forms… flexible, adaptable, good with people… but the really good ones, we seldom admit to seeing in ourselves. Possibly in part because those who voice that recognition of their own better qualities rarely seem to actually have them. ‘I see myself as compassionate/empathetic/generous’ … the vast majority of the time, these things are said by those who aren’t and we have all known those who voice them and yet wouldn’t know true humility or compassion if it hit them in the face with the proverbial wet fish.

But voicing it is different from feeling it. To speak of compassion and to feel it working through the layers of your being, reaching out, that is a different thing. Compassion is not pity… pity looks with a sad smile from on high… compassion reaches out in empathy from the level ground of a shared humanity.

Perhaps we need to take that scintilla of time to simply recognise the good within us as we feel it, in exactly the same way as we recognise the darker facets of ourselves in action… the ones that make us cringe and squirm occasionally. We all have those. Because unless we are prepared to admit who we are to ourselves… the good equally with the less good, accepting our wholeness in all its balanced beauty, how can anyone else ever see that in us too?

Don’t we all wish to be loved and accepted for who we are in our entirety? Yet we hide the good, even from ourselves, behind a socially acceptable modesty while brandishing our flaws and frailties as if they alone define who we are. They do not. We define who we are. As much by how we choose to see ourselves as by anything else. If we see ourselves whole, perhaps others may too. They cannot until we do, as we project outward only a fragment of who we are. The saying ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ comes to mind. Maybe if we love our whole selves we can love others wholly too.

We are told that the very physical fabric of everything we know, including our own bodies, is made of the matter from which the stars were formed. Our physical forms exist because somewhere, aeons ago, a star died. If that is so, why should we not simply shine?

The caring game…

Image: Pixabay

“It is such a mysterious place, the land of tears.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

“Bebop died. I stayed with him. Said thank you.” He choked again. “Said goodbye. It was really emotional.” The voice managed to sound both surprised and a tad embarrassed, even through the evident emotion, and well he might. “…and then Arthur died too…”. There was a silent pause. I am fairly certain I heard a sniff. Bebop was his horse… not a flesh-and-blood horse, mind you, but part of a computer game my son had been playing for some time. Arthur was the character as which he had been playing. Oddly, I didn’t laugh. I could quite understand why he was feeling that way, even though, on the surface, it should have been funny. I have cried my way through too many books and films to laugh for such a reason.

The game, one of the latest generation, is graphically gorgeous. The wide landscape it portrays is beautifully done and very realistic. You can wander it at will, exploring the Wild West in its heyday as well as following the story through the game. He had shown me the scenery and I was impressed, not only with the artwork and animation, but with the attention to detail. Birds and butterflies randomly rise from flowers, day turns into night, grass bows in the wind as the seasons cycle and there is wildlife in abundance.

What had impressed me more, though, was that in spite of it being a western in which you play as an outlaw…and the inevitable gun-slinging that goes with it… the game does require you to make moral choices. Your character can choose the be helpful, compassionate and honourable… though that doesn’t always work out too well for him… or to simply be a violent, mindless outlaw, taking what he chooses at gunpoint. There are consequences to violence, and you will be hunted and imprisoned, or worse, should you choose that path, though doubtless many do, as violence and gore seems to be part of the gaming culture. My son had chosen to follow the honourable path instead, and that choice determined how the game unfolded.

‘His’ character takes care of others in his camp, and helps them with their problems. If he hunts, he must do so with respect. The animal must be killed cleanly, the flesh used for food without delay and the skin must be used too. No wasted deaths. His horse must be fed, groomed, watered and encouraged. It cannot be overridden and needs enough attention to bond with its rider. It needs to be protected… and the character needs sleep, food and shelter too.

But no matter how honourably you choose to ‘live’ as your character, both you and your horse will ‘die’. It is part of the story. How you die depends on how you have ‘lived’… My son had invested time, attention and care the virtual horse.  He had identified with the character in the same way you do when you watch a film or read a book. And his choices in the game had given the character the gentlest of the programmed passings, against a beautiful sunset and he had found it moving.

For a game, it is engrossing and, after many hours of playing, I could quite understand the emotional attachment my son had formed for both the horse and character. Even though it was just a game, he had put the welfare of horse and friends before his own and had lavished attention on his horse, even going so far as to name it, and naming things has always been a big part of the bonding process. It illustrated very clearly that you learn to care about what you choose to care for.

It reminded me of the Rose in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book, The Little Prince. The Rose is not a particularly nice character, but the Little Prince loves her and when he finds a whole host of roses, he explains why:

“You’re beautiful, but you’re empty…One couldn’t die for you. Of course, an ordinary passerby would think my rose looked just like you. But my rose, all on her own, is more important than all of you together, since she’s the one I’ve watered. Since she’s the one I put under glass, since she’s the one I sheltered behind the screen. Since she’s the one for whom I killed the caterpillars (except the two or three butterflies). Since she’s the one I listened to when she complained, or when she boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing at all. Since she’s my rose.”

The emotions that grow when you make a choice to care are almost inevitable. It is not the same as shouldering a duty or a chore when it is a chosen course and the reward comes quietly, as an opening of the heart; it becomes an act of love. If we care for person, we grow close to them, if we chose to care for… looked after… our planet, the way the Little Prince cared for his Rose, we would care about it too.  The two go hand in hand.

It doesn’t really matter whether the thing you care for is what you feel it to be. It could be a cantankerous rose, or a virtual horse… the reality and the beauty is within the love and the care that is given, it is not always obvious in what we choose to care for. “But eyes are blind,” says the Little Prince. “You have to look with the heart.”

The little fish who swam

There has been a sick fish in my son’s pond for months now. At one point, there were two of them, floating belly up, side by side, and sporting ugly ulcers. They were so ill that we had even been obliged to discuss the possibility of euthanasia, although that goes against all we have learned about the nature of hope over the past few years.

We even went as far as buying clove oil with which to anaesthetise the fish if their suffering seemed too much for them to bear….and the day we did so, they rallied. It seemed at the time as if, having accepted that responsibility, the need for action was removed.

We named the fish for their characteristics during their illness, to distinguish between them for the daily reports on their progress or lack of it. Once, grossly swollen and looking for all the world as if he would die of dropsy, a virtually incurable problem, we called Fat Fish. The other is now on his third name.

After a few weeks, Fat Fish made a truly remarkable recovery, against all odds and predictions. The other fish was not so lucky. At first, all he could do was flap feebly. Then we had a period where his recovery looked impossible… and the next day he would be swimming. We named him Trooper for his gallantry.

Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there.

Trooper hid himself under the plants and no longer swam. He was not eating and became translucent, thin and weak. Every day, I twitched his blanket of plants when I arrived at my son’s home…at first, expecting the worst, then as the days went by, hoping for his release and knowing that by all logic, he should already be dead.

We were back to the big question again… how long could we leave him in this state? We had tried every medication and intervention by now and nothing was working. It was heartbreaking to watch.

Nick, however, was convinced the little fish would rally again. “He’ll be fine,” he said, over and over again and with utter conviction, every time I broached the subject. “He can do it.”

I had to wonder if my son’s unrealistic belief in the fish were a reflection of his own impossible recovery, rather than a hope based in reality. Nevertheless, we continued to watch and wait…and I continued with my own unreasonable hopes, and every day I expected to be preparing a grave.

Then, one morning, Trooper was gone. He was no longer beneath the plants… my heart sank. He had given up the ghost and I would have to remove his body if I could find it in the depths of the pond. I looked everywhere…the water is clear and yet I could not see him.  Until I caught sight of a fish with the distinctive black marks on his back that identified him as Trooper, swimming with the rest.

I held my breath, expecting the emaciated fish to float back under his plant. He didn’t. He sped around the pond, chasing his friends and doing laps. We had seen him rally briefly so many times, though, that I was not convinced. He hadn’t eaten for weeks, was so thin and pale you could almost see through him and his side had still not healed.

Told you he’d recover,” said my son. I was still expecting a relapse, but a week later, and the little fish is still swimming. His back, unless he chooses to submerge, doesn’t quite make it underwater. He is a little lopsided… but his side has now healed. He’s eating… and he is out-swimming every fish in the pond in terms of speed and energy. My son renamed him Super Trooper.

I cannot help wondering how much my son’s adamant belief in the little fish helped his recovery. I had enough knowledge to realise that my own hopes that the fish would pull through were not at all realistic. My son, with less knowledge, simply had faith in him and refused to believe there could be any other outcome.

That is a magical thing. The little fish’s recovery, given how ill he was, seems a minor miracle.  I have seen a good many troubled teenagers who just needed someone to have faith in them, trust them… believe they were worth something… and it changed their lives from a slippery slope to a steady climb. I held my son’s unconscious hand, willing him to health, despite the prognosis… surrounded by his friends and family who also believed he could shatter the predictions. And he did. Those who have believed in me when I could not do so drew me out of the shadows of my own life and into a place where I can believe in myself.

To believe, to trust… to have faith in someone… that is an expression of Love. It can move metaphorical mountains… it can change lives, and bring healing, both to the one who believes and the one in whom they have faith. I wonder how often we underestimate the power of such a simple act… and what we could achieve if we could bring our whole hearts to Love, hope and trust?