29 November 2015
23 November 2015
Beauty will save the world. It will start with loving someone.
21 November 2015
When they laid you in the crook
of my arms like a bouquet and I looked
into your eyes, dark bits of evening sky,
I thought, of course this is you,
like a person who has never seen the sea
can recognize it instantly.
They pulled you from me like a cork
and all the love flowed out. I adored you
with the squandering passion of spring
that shoots green from every pore.
You dug me out like a well. You lit
the deadwood of my heart. You pinned me
to the earth with the points of stars.
I was sure that kind of love would be
enough. I thought I was your mother.
How could I have known that over and over
you would crack the sky like lightning,
illuminating all my fears, my weaknesses, my sins.
Massive the burden this flesh
must learn to bear, like mules of love.
20 November 2015
He would like to have a word with the French president. All this talk about wars. What does he know?! This is not war, this is threats, this is warmongering, this is dangerous. And so on.
But, I say. No but, he thunders back. Believe me, I know this.
But, I say, you were only 10 years old. Exactly, he replies.
But, I say, the French president has just announced that France will take on 30,000 Syrian refugees.
Not nearly enough, and it has nothing to do with it, don't change the subject, he shouts into my ear.
He has a point, my dad.
So we change the subject, slightly. There is always the weather to talk about, that and getting older.
Shortly after 9/11 and after another president had spoken about being at war, we were flying to Malaga. I had been warned about Malaga airport, only one toilet in the entire airport, downstairs, long queues, dirty. But of course now this was trivial information.
Waiting at the gate, the predictable crowd of off-season holiday tourists, mostly couples without kids, off to a bit of late summer in Andalusia.
And one single young man. With a beard, a black beard. His complexion and hair colour seemed darker by the minute, as did the expression on his face as he noticed being watched. Discretely so, but we all had a good look. All the time. There was so much to scrutinise, his suit, the open-necked shirt, his slightly scruffy shoes, a small bag too big or maybe too small for what?, but most of all, his seemingly determined stares. And now he put on sunglasses!
Of course, we played it down, we joked and R told me to get a grip and on board we ordered red wine.
When he did not collect any luggage, we knew it! But then we walked out onto the shiny marble floors of the arrival hall, flooded in sunlight and laughter, and, well, there he was, surrounded by his family, a toddler pulling his leg, a baby in his arms, tears in his eyes. We sneaked past him like the idiots we truly were.
Why do I remember this now? Because I just read this here:
Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement: “If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.” Well— one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. “Help,” said the flight agent. “Talk to her . What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”
I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly. “Shu-dow-a, shu-bid-uck, habibti? Stani schway, min fadlick, shu-bit-se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Peso for major medical treatment the next day. I said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late, who is picking you up? Let’s call him.”
We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours.
She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life, patting my knee, answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies— little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts— from her bag and was offering them to all the women at the gate. To my amazement, not a single traveler declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo— we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.
Then the airline broke out free apple juice and two little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they were covered with powdered sugar too. And I noticed my new best friend— by now we were holding hands— had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.
And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, This is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that gate— once the crying of confusion stopped— seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.
Naomi Shihab Nye
15 November 2015
13 November 2015
It seems I have been humming and singing this song under my breath all my life. Long before I could understand the lyrics.
Right now, I remember singing it at the top of my voice while painting the walls of the former industrial school in Letterfrack in bright purples and reds. At the time, I didn't know a thing about the horrible history of that building. I was a clueless student of theories and ideals.
But I was happy, really happy. I had just fallen in love, I had met wonderful people and together we set out to make this place habitable again. We had grand ideas involving woodworkers, weavers, potters, children, gardens. You know, the whole shebang.
Today, my paintwork is long gone. Instead, it has become "a place of excellence".
I am still in love.
12 November 2015
Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look. That’s the compassionate thing to do. That’s the brave thing to do. We can’t just jump over ourselves as if we were not there.
11 November 2015
Being found is overrated. Being a little lost is good, because it keeps you alert, keeps you looking around. It keeps you scanning the horizons about to find your bearings, and you are not sleepwalking through the world.
10 November 2015
09 November 2015
Back home, I sat in the sun. Outside! Together with the handful of leaves left on the hedge and the last three flowering plants, I pretended it was May instead of November.
After lunch I went to another doctor's appointment, I am so good at this. This was with the gastroenterologist who had made me drink the five liters of moviprep last year. After two hours of sitting in his crowded waiting room I got up, said good bye and walked out. Life is too short etc.
When I got home, I remembered that I am actually not healthy or strong, just selfish and nasty.
08 November 2015
People are frightened of themselves. It’s like Freud saying that the best thing is to have no sensation at all, as if we’re supposed to live painlessly and unconsciously in the world. I have a much different view. The ancients are right: the dear old human experience is a singular, difficult, shadowed, brilliant experience that does not resolve into being comfortable in the world. The valley of the shadow is part of that, and you are depriving yourself if you do not experience what humankind has experienced, including doubt and sorrow. We experience pain and difficulty as failure instead of saying, I will pass through this, everyone I have ever admired has passed through this, music has come out of this, literature has come out of it. We should think of our humanity as a privilege.
07 November 2015
04 November 2015
Sometimes we’re going to find ourselves completely caught up in a drama. We’re going to be just as angry as if someone had just walked into the room and slapped us in the face. Then it might occur to us: “Wait a minute—what’s going on here?” We look into it and are able to see that, out of nowhere, we feel that we have lost something or been insulted. Where this thought came from we don’t know, but here we are, hooked again by the eight worldly dharmas. Right then, we can feel that energy, do our best to let the thoughts dissolve, and give ourselves a break. Beyond all that fuss and bother is a big sky. Right there in the middle of the tempest, we can drop it and relax.Pema Chödrön
Clear days, clear nights, frost maybe. We moved the plumeria inside into the front room where it promptly dropped all its leaves. R is losing patience with it and threatens to give it away if there are still no blossoms by next summer. I prefer to call it frangipani, sounds so much more tropical. Once upon a time, when we lived in paradise, I carelessly stepped on frangipani petals on my way to work every morning. And a visit from the local tortoise was just a nuisance - because he would regularly get stuck trying to push into the back door.
For a long time I would play this make believe game, where you have one wish (one really selfish wish, not a world peace or end to hunger wish), and I imagined that I wanted us to be back there, by our kitchen door, sweeping the mango leaves and listening to the fruit bats screeching and the dogs barking and the kids everywhere. But not any more.
Now my one selfish wish is a different one. I have become more careful - but equally unrealistic. Now, I avoid wasting my wish on being healthy again (but oh believe me, I want it so badly). Instead, my one selfish unrealistic careful wish is for a life without doctor's appoinments. I would settle for that. Maybe.
02 November 2015
28 October 2015
The full moon brought the strong easterly wind that will take down the colourful leaves and then we will enter that long period of grey and cold and damp and dark. Five months.
Silent slow mornings, carefully portioning my energy, so much I want to do, need to do, while the bed with its warm quilted cover beckons.
Manuscripts waiting for my attention on my desk, reports on kidney transplant failure rates in children, novel molecular genetic testing for very early diagnosis of dreadful diseases, starvation in Sudan, rebuilding lives in past-earthquake Mustang (NW Nepal). Have a guess which of these comes with a paycheque. Some days, the world is too big and my energy is too low.
I was reading recently how empathy research has shown that we are much more connected to others than we consciously are aware of. Not in a sense that we are all brothers and sisters, all that we-are-family crap, but on another level outside our control. And of course being the clever animals that we are, we have found ways to circumvent this. Like crawling back under my warm quilted bed cover.
Empathy isn’t just remembering to say that must really be hard—it’s figuring out how to bring difficulty into the light so it can be seen at all. Empathy isn’t just listening, it’s asking the questions whose answers need to be listened to. Empathy requires inquiry as much as imagination. Empathy requires knowing you know nothing. Empathy means acknowledging a horizon of context that extends perpetually beyond what you can see.
27 October 2015
A long walk in the hills, a couple of hours on a Sunday, the autumn colours and a scenic spot for a packed lunch and a flask of tea to share.
Cycling along a river, from the source to the mouth, watching it swell and expand for days, a week, as long as it takes.
Crowded rooms, noisy laughter, live music, dancing, all that careless high jinx.
And food. Recipes have become texts in foreign languages too complicated to digest.
But basically, I can hold it together and get over it. Still, sentences form that begin with "I'll never again will..." while the small voice inside my head is whimpering "oh please, do shut up" and then the overbearing voice of reason sniggers "you call that a problem?"
25 October 2015
22 October 2015
Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.
20 October 2015
18 October 2015
17 October 2015
My secret belief - the innermost credo by which I live - is that although life is loathsomely ugly and people are often terribly vile and cruel and base, nevertheless there is something at the back of it all, which if only I were great enough to understand would make everything, everything indescribably beautiful.
16 October 2015
13 October 2015
I used to joke that I'll try everything once. Haha. Very funny. The joke doesn't work when doing unusual things twice, even with sirens and high speed as an extra.
Stil baffled I pretend to observe this fake reality show from behind a one-way mirror. The night noises of an intensive care ward remind me of my vagabond days trying to catch some sleep while waiting for a delayed flight in a crowded departure lounge in a foreign place.
During the day I carefully keep my distances from the secret Information of sideway glances and whispered exchanges. If you have something to tell me, do it. If not , don't expect me to read between the lines and no, I will not fill the gaps. I will be the prfect patient for as long as possible. Polite and ignorant and not at all interested in anything but that potted plant at the end of the hallway.
08 October 2015
06 October 2015
Apparently, we are talking weeks - at least.
And yet, he did say recovery. Magical word.
So, here I am, reduced, battling the blues (sounds better than it feels) and generally trying not to drown in self pity.
Still, I've been here before I know but honestly, that doesn't help right now.
I will eventually get back into some form of a daily pattern, rediscovering the separating line between day and night.
Meanwhile, distraction is the key. Tracing humanity in many forms and shapes.
Go if you have the time and read the here and fall on your knees: http://www.humansofnewyork.com/
And then, have a look here:
The last time I was in London, one of these tower blocks was on fire. Just as we walked through the Columbia Road flower market where we got the bronze fennel that has spread all over the garden this summer. It was very dramatic but nobody got seriously hurt.
05 October 2015
01 October 2015
27 September 2015
We are all in some way beggars in this lifetime. We are at the mercy of others and at the mercy of what will happen to us. Of course, we can chose how we respond to it, but we are always praying for something to happen or not happen in one way or another. We come with these empty bowls and there’s a great deal that is given to us … We are all vulnerable to whatever might befall us.Ellen Bass
I have no patience right now. No desire to wait this out. I wake up in a sweat, desperately trying to find the switch that gets me out of this. Fighting another wave of nausea, but too exhausted to panic. Maybe all will be well or maybe it really doesn't matter. Shreds of dignity here and there but barely so.
Oh heavens. Tough shit.
24 September 2015
Then you collapse.
You are asked to open your eyes and you briefly try to concentrate on what maybe is the face of a tanned young doctor with long dark curls floating around her face. But everything is turning turning turning. Faster and faster and your head wants to explode with a roaring pressure.
You can feel a soft rain falling on your face as you lie curled up somewhere outside on a stretcher. You try to apologize to the jolly paramedics for vomiting all the way to the hospital.
You can hear R somewhere in a distance and of course you start to worry that he will be late for work but the world has lost all boundaries and for a short moment you feel the excellent beauty of floating and you let go of any striving.
Many hours later you open your eyes again to the tedious and sterile reality of a hospital room.
22 September 2015
20 September 2015
19 September 2015
We looked out in silence and autumn started to sneak in, right there before our eyes. The way it looks when you squint and try to block out the green and lush bits. It felt like one massive sigh.
Later, on my way through the traffic I almost cried. There was a sad song on the radio. It rained. Suddenly, this wave of self pity washed over me and I almost shouted, I was so angry. Give me one day without symptoms, you shitty universe.
Back home, I walked into the kitchen and R stood there, frozen. I just heard live
footage from the Hungarian border and there was this piercing cry from a baby. They are using tear gas against babies. We just stare at each other.
At night, I am holding a child, a sleeping toddler in my arms. That smell, so close, so soft. I try and keep very still, I know she will disappear when I move and wake up.
In the morning R tells me that in his dream he was holding S in his arms, a tiny S, crying and tired, until she fell asleep.
13 September 2015
12 September 2015
10 September 2015
07 September 2015
06 September 2015
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won't let you stay
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it's not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
and even then you carried the anthem under
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn't be going back
you have to understand
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
03 September 2015
All, ALL!, agreed that civilians are suffering tremendously and beyond our understanding. But for some reason nobody ever imagined that people who have suffered so much will need to escape, that Syria is no safe place for children, for families, for anybody. It was ok as long as they squeezed into the by now hopelessly overcrowded camps in the neighbouring states of Lebanon and Jordan. These are UNHCR emergency camps and for anybody who has never seen one: tents meant for emergency not for long term occupation in all seasons. Anyway, that was ok with us, watching from our comfy European homes. But since these desperate people have started to look for refuge here with us, we quickly shut any legal and safe route, we deny them visa, we will not permit airlines to take them on board, we force them in the hands of smugglers who put them on unsafe boats, into overcrowded vans and who drop them in the middle of nowhere or on the hard shoulder of the motorway. We do all this to protect our homes and our comfy compassionless lives.
All morning yesterday at the Serbian-Hungarian border, I saw Syrian parents determinedly walking with their children – trying to remove them from the horrors of the slaughter in Syria, which have been allowed to continue for four years, and to the promise of security in Europe. Those parents are heroes; I admire their sheer determination to bring their children to a better life.
Please read more here.