Lessons from the swing…

(photo thanks to Justin DoCanto at Unsplash)

This afternoon I had a long to-do list, on the last day of a hectic March. It was sunny outside. People say if you put your laptop in a cardboard box, you can still work in the sunlight, without it making the screen illegible.

But that hasn’t worked for me yet. Squinting through my varifocals, I still can’t see the screen clearly.

And did I mention it was sunny outside?

I’d already put the washing on the line, a simple Spring ritual I relish. Living in a flat for most of my life, with no garden, means I still love the novelty of a peg. Pegging clothes for sunlight & fresh breezes to dry is still a joy. Even when the entire wash seems to consist of 137 socks, I love to peg. One sock is always hiding, ofcourse…

After the washing, I should have been getting on with my to-do list. Emails to reply to, emails to write, emails to send, articles to write, sessions to plan etc. But it was sunny outside. And the forecast for tomorrow didn’t have big yellow cartoon sun symbols on it, so it probably won’t be sunny tomorrow.

So it would be rude not to go outside, wouldn’t it?

I wrote a funeral service last week, for my work as a Civil Celebrant, and wrote a line about how important it is sometimes in life to ‘turn our faces to the sun’. And right now, so many loved ones are struggling with all sorts of things, and life in 2021 is far from simple for any of us at the moment. We’re all just doing our best.

Sometimes we really do have to turn our faces to the sun. Not just metaphorically, although that is certainly true. When things get really difficult, stressful and broken, sometimes we have to remind ourselves to try and find that chink of light that Leonard Cohen wrote about. ‘There is a crack in everything… that’s where the light gets in.’

Over the last year of lockdown, many of us have had to repeatedly remind ourselves, or nudge ourselves to turn our faces to the sun, to try and find some light in the darkest of days, as that is the only way we can keep going. Finding our way out of the dark one tiny bit at a time.

And sometimes you just have to go and sit in the sunshine in the garden, on the swing and enjoy the sun. It can be rare in the UK, so if it’s at all possible, when we can, to go out and relish and appreciate it. Even just a half hour break, with a cup of tea.

Humans are a lot like plants… some sunshine, and water helps us grow in places where we’re welcomed. Just sitting in the garden, hearing the chattering of bird song, watching robins, blackbirds, sparrows and blue tits at the bird feeders and then splashing around in the bird bath.

Seeing the signs of new leaves growing on the lilac and blackberries, and last year’s chard getting a spurt of new growth. Gazing at the cuddly furry bees waggling around, and spotting butterflies just doing whatever they were doing fluttering round our little garden.

Bliss. Utter bliss.

I’m not so important that my to-do list couldn’t wait till tomorrow. Sometimes we just need to sit and do nothing at all, other than observe what is going on around us. Notice the world carrying on quite happily in spite of whatever dramas are currently consuming us.

Then I went for walk and called a friend who is still recovering from surgery. She sounded a lot brighter and much more herself than when we last spoke, and is able to go for short walks or hobbles. This is the good stuff. All part of that sunshine we turn our faces towards, with gratitude. Finding the cracks where the light gets in won’t always involve actual sunlight. Although on days like today it does.

I took a book outside, ‘The phonebox at the edge of the world’, which a friend had kindly sent as a gift. One of those exquisitely written books that you want to read just a few pages at at time and savour each phrase like a morsel of the finest chocolate truffle.

So after a few pages, I marked the page and tucked it in the shade under the swing and savoured the last few minutes of sun. I had to move the swing around a few times as the sun moved, or tucked behind buildings. This reminded me of that phrase ‘turn our faces to the sun’. Sometimes it takes a bit more work than that, like getting up and moving the swing, or chair.

Sometimes it takes walking to the local park, or driving to somewhere open, or flying off on holiday to be in the sun… maybe one day in the future we’ll be able to do that again. But for now, if you’re lucky enough to have a garden, or local park, and we’re lucky enough to get some sunshine through April… we can turn our faces to the sun and let it shine on us.

If you take your chocolate eggs with you, keep them in the shade, or you might need a teaspoon to enjoy your chocolate smoothie!

What to put in your ‘Festive First Aid’ Kit?

Not ideal news from the government the week before Christmas… your plans for festive celebrations may now be crumpled up and chucked in the recycling bin. Meeting up with loved ones may be postponed till next year, families and friends separated by the Tier system and even the turkey is now sulking in the freezer.

Scrolling the list of what we’re not allowed to do may prompt tears of frustration, anger and sadness. So what can we do? Tiny things might help. If you could pack two or three simple things into an impromptu ‘Festive First Aid kit’, what would you choose? Not including people – sorry, we know that’s been forbidden so much this year. But have a quick think and see what tops your list.

It could be ‘Netflix, Coffee & Doughnuts’, or ‘Cheese, Wine & a Karaoke machine’, or’ Pizza, a knitted Dalek and a Rubik’s cube’. (One of those answers is from the man I love!) Whatever gets you through these strange times, there’s no right or wrong answer. Books and chocolate are two things that make everything better. In my world anyway. There’s usually several of each on the go at any one time, and both have helped me survive the uncertainties of 2020. So far.

Hopefully over these festive days, you’ll be able to enjoy some contact with those you love. If a little differently this year. Maybe you’re meeting up in permitted bubbles, to enjoy food and muffled giggles in well ventilated rooms? Or a brisk walk in bracing December air and if you’ve got really long arms, maybe a socially distanced hug? Or this might be the year of virtual connection. Skyping with a mince pie & mulled wine, while your Santa jumper jingles, or a cosy phone call wearing pyjamas & chatting with family in different Tiers or Time zones?

Not how we’d choose it. And not easy for anyone. But ‘this is how it is for now’, as my friend Sue concludes, for this year. She’ll be on her own this Christmas, and has practical plans to navigate the big day. Hopefully a walk by the sea when others are having lunch, so it’ll be quieter and safer for someone who’s had to shield for much of this year already. A good book to read, a film on Netflix, and cooking something from the freezer for a late lunch. In between, Sue will be talking to friends and relatives spread around the globe, with gratitude to technology for the connection. She will muddle along through stoically. As many of us will aim to.

Because this is how it is, for now.

It might help to remember that simple phrase & repeat it to frustrated loved ones who are sad, angry and upset at the change of rules ushered in this weekend by the government. Not the first time they’ve done a U-turn, and we’ve all had to delete our plans this year. And for many it does feel heartbreaking. But even if it doesn’t feel like it, this will pass. Not just because of the vaccine, but because eventually everything does pass. From the serious stuff to the more ridiculous like 80’s haircuts; everything in nature will pass, including each of us one day.

We’re approaching the Solstice, and Winter echoes this, the season of letting go. Like the leaves effortlessly released from tree branches that turn to mulch and eventually return to the soil to help new things grow and flourish. So this year we’re having to practice letting go of the Christmas we usually have; we planned to have; we wanted to have. And hopefully some good things will grow and flourish next year.

Because this is how it is, for now.

In the meantime, we muddle through as best we can. For those who have lost loved ones this year or any year, Christmas is never easy. To deny the human instinct to hug each other, feels wrong as we seek to sooth each other in our grief . It’s easy to feel powerless and overwhelmed at the prospect of more uncertainty ahead for months or years of the unknown.

But for now, let’s just make a tiny plan. Not a Baldrick style ‘cunning plan’, just a simple plan. What small things in a ‘Festive First Aid kit’ might help you get through the surreal 2020 ‘festive days’ ahead? Whether you’ll be alone, or with family or housemates, trying to keep to the rules and create the best possible celebration for those close to you.

Make sure you’ve got access to a few simple treats that make your world just that tiny bit brighter. Something comforting to eat or drink, which can be as simple as your favourite teabags or crisps. Maybe stash away a few of the purple foiled chocolates from the big tub if the kids usually grab your favourites first. I won’t tell! And try to find something that occupies your mind or hands, like a book or jigsaw, maybe knitting, or your favourite funny TV show, and carve out some time to enjoy them.

If you’re able to, take a short walk and notice charcoal silhouetted tree branches, and robins permanently auditioning for a Christmas card photo shoot. Even if you’re not feeling full of festive joy, you might smile at how the neighbours’s children have drawn snow scenes on their front windows. It is just a short few days, and these little things might help get you through.

This is how it is, for now.

Books and chocolate are always my First Aid. A current favourite is ‘The Book of Joy’, by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. Both leaders have lived through decades of unimaginable horror for their countries, with so many people suffering. Yet these two wise friends can still find hope and joy in the world; and they make each other giggle like naughty schoolboys at times! It’s a delicious read, and highly recommended. I’ve sent a few copies as gifts this year and hope they help loved ones that are struggling.

Good luck with your Festive kit. I’ll find a zip bag, squish my books and chocolate inside and stash it away for my ‘Festive First Aid kit’. If the chocolate melts, I’m sure the Dalai Llama and Desmond Tutu won’t mind. It’s always Fair Trade chocolate, and would make them laugh with pure joy.