Chasing carrots

Because I couldn’t find a donkey…

It has been hot in England recently… hotter than usual, even for summer. There has been no rain in my part of the country for weeks now and the ground is parched and cracked. Harvests are being brought in early, fields are already shorn and neatly dotted with straw-bales, and the human population has been slowly wilting in the scorching, heavy air. So, it was with some eagerness that we awaited the promised rain and thunderstorms.

They didn’t arrive… The forecasters shifted their predictions to the next day, then the next… and all we had seen was a spot or two of moisture accompanied by a distant, lazy rumble of thunder. When the rain finally arrived last night, it was no more than the briefest of light showers. The dog and I, nevertheless, headed outside to enjoy the fall of water, watching its instant evaporation on the superheated concrete of the paving, but glad of the momentary respite.

Although the weather is a national preoccupation in England, we generally don’t suffer too badly from its vagaries. Ours is temperate climate. Summers are generally warm, winters cold but not glacial… but whatever the weather is doing, we will soon be complaining about it. On the odd occasion, we do get a severe winter… by English standards… or an unusually hot summer. We are prepared for neither, and both can bring the country to its knees at temperatures other nations would consider mild. We don’t cope well with what we consider extremes of anything… be that weather or behaviour…

There is a ‘normal’ for everyone… parameters within which we are comfortable, because they are familiar. They do not have to be good, or what we would choose… they are just our accustomed and accepted standards of normality. Step beyond their boundaries and, depending upon your temperament, you are in a zone of unease, or one of excitement. Such boundaries shift and change with time and circumstance… and the adaptability that is one of humanity’s greatest assets can also be its greatest handicap, as we learn to accept a new ‘normal’ very quickly and alter the parameters to suit the moment.

I was talking to my son about this as we headed out to the local farm shop on Saturday. Because of the changes in his life and capabilities caused by the brain injury, he has been redefining his ‘normal’ on a regular basis. He tends to forget where he has come from, and what he has endured and achieved to get here, and the latest version of ‘normality’ takes a great deal of the journey for granted.

We took the country lanes back to my home after we had done the shopping, stopping by a field gate so he could get out, lean on the gate, and watch the fast-forming clouds race in. It is a simple thing, but I remembered the first time he was able to do that a few years ago… and the wonder we both felt at that achievement.

This time I watched as he lost himself in the moment, seeing emotions on his face shift from bright to dark and back again, like the cloud-shadows on the land. The wind was getting stronger as dark clouds raced in. The little bit of rain had enhanced all the colours, turning the dry grasses to gold and illuminating the green of the hedgerows, where blackberries glistened amongst the wildflowers. The changing weather and the experience of beauty lifted him out of his normality and allowed him to see what he might otherwise not have noticed.

“You forget,” he mused. “You strive for a goal, but as soon as you attain it, there is always another ahead…. And the goal you just reached becomes worthless, no more than a stepping stone…when you should be content.”
“Carrots.”
“Eh?”
“Carrots on sticks. Donkeys. The donkey keeps walking to where it thinks the carrot was… and when it gets there, the carrot has moved, so it keeps on walking… but the carrot is always out of reach.”
“Expectations. Yep… We do that to ourselves all the time. It didn’t rain… I could be disappointed because I expected rain… but what the day has given me instead,” said the son who had just used his walking frame to cross the rough terrain of a farmyard…and in public… for the first time, “is even better.”

As we drove home, the clouds closed in above us, darkening the sky, deepening all the colours of the land. The wind gathered momentum, whipping sun-dried leaves from the trees into great golden plumes that danced across the road like aureate autumnal spirits. The earth smelled sweet and fresh as the rain poured down on the wide vale below us. Sometimes, you just have to leave expectations behind and leave space for life to happen.