Sunday, 24 June 2012

80 Years Young

There are people who uniformly, consistently make things that little bit easier for others. Yesterday a few of us had the privilege of celebrating the 80th birthday of one such lady, and as we took it in turns to recall her kindness it was overwhelming evident that we were in special company. Here are a handful of lessons learned in the few hours spent celebrating Shirley:

1. Small is beautiful
Almost everything that people wanted to say thank you for were small attentions: a hand-wrapped treat of favourite sweets given as a spontaneous gift; unasked for financial help with a notelet of encouragement tucked into the envelope; names remembered and families asked after; conversation in place of loneliness; a smile and a hug instead of isolation. People have carried those moments of love like life buoys. Selflessness saves lives.

2. Loss is inevitable, but not insummountable
I don't know her well enough to speak definitively on her behalf, but looking at the life events that did and didn't take place over the last eighty years, I hazard a guess that at some stage a decision was made to be "better, not bitter".

3. Learning is life-long
From sports to spiritual growth, it was incredible to listen to a long list of the new things being discovered at an age when it might be tempting to think you know a thing or two already.

4. Image is irrelevant
One of the things I prize the most about returning to the church community that I grew up in and Shirley belongs to is a timely rebuke about getting caught up in how things look from the outside.

There things are done in idiosyncratic and arguably unfashionable ways: awkward silences are allowed to attend a party instead of being drowned out by background music; spontaneous off-key singing is okay and common interests are sometimes hard to find in the ethnically, economically and age diverse hodge-podge of people.

But there is laughter. There is love, so much love. And the peace of being acceptable and accepted by others - not on the basis of attractiveness or shared likes and dislikes, but just because. It's miraculous. It settles the soul.

To grow old having lived life on that basis in a society that shouts the opposite is surely one of the most amazing achievements of all.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Lyrical Lifelines - "Never Once" (Matt Redman)

Matt Redman - Album: 10,000 Reasons 
Buy it Here

Sometimes it's tricky for me to decide what to write about and why - this blog is still in its infancy, only just beginning but at the same time feeling like a transitory phase that might blow over and end at any minute. Then along comes a day like today and I remember why I'm choosing to scatter thoughts to the wind.

A day like today is one where - for whatever reason - I find myself extra hungry for inspiration and reassurance. The particular scenario this time around was work-related, but it can come at me from any angle and I'll find myself suddenly needing to be lifted out of self-preoccupation by a snapshot of someone else's experience. 

Blogs help me in that respect. Reading the beautiful thoughts of Brin Wisdom or being intrigued by insights of a famous yet familiar-feeling actress I admire sets my emotions at ease. Seeing significance in other people's ramblings helps me to stop taking myself so seriously, worry less about "getting [life] right" and be in it for the crazy ride, the completely unique and worthwhile wonder in all of the ordinary bits. Because my favourite blog posts are about the ordinary. My favourite blog posts aren't about gossip or breaking news, but about reflecting on the ordinary until its transformed into something extraordinary, something comment-worthy.

Take today. I read a blog post today that had the lyrics of "Never Once" written out in black and white. I know the song, I could hear the melody as I was reading the post. Even so, as I read it I knew that the ordinary and familiar was becoming special right before my eyes and those words were meant for me in that moment. They gave me an energy and fresh perspective on my situation that I had been incapable of mustering up in my own strength.

So I persevere in writing this blog because sometimes the internet lets me stumble across exactly what I needed to find. I write to pass that feeling on. Not because I have grand things to say, but because sometimes just by re-articulating an existing idea and putting it out there it has the potential to resonate in a fresh way with someone else.

'Lyrical Lifelines' - songs that save my world 

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

"One Day" - David Nicholls

I'm behind the curve when it comes to commenting on this book - it had fans long before the 2011 film came out starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess, and it gained more readers in the wake of the resulting publicity.

My two-pennies worth of thoughts aren't so much about the book itself but about 'good fiction' in general. It's a topic I've been pondering on and off recently as I've tried to find books to colour in the bland spaces in routine or to relax with when I'm taking a break. From the raving reviews on the cover, online and in personal conversation, I know that I'm not alone in considering this book to be 'good fiction' but pinpointing why was harder.

Em and Dex are truly people in their own right. Like in any relationship with people I meet and rub shoulders with, I had my moments of irritation or found some of their decisions incomprehensible. But I defy anyone to not be drawn into the vortex of their emotional landscape. The magnetism of their unfolding lives was so strong that the experience of reading this book was all-consuming escapism, a life lesson in not taking people for granted and a masterclass in great writing - all in one.

Above all, it stayed with me. And that's what I enjoy the most. Whether through identifying with a character, taking on board a cautionary tale or - in this case - the sheer beauty of someone else's talent, for me, fiction is at its best when it leaves me with a clearer understanding of who I want to be in the real world.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Wardrobe Stories

These boots were a God-send.

It's a controversial idea. I remember listening to a clergyman on one of the rare occasions I attended chapel during my time at university expressing disdain at the idea that God listens to and responds to "petty prayers" - requests for help to find lost keys, divine intervention providing everything from car parking spaces to discounts in shops. As if God doesn't have better things to do or bigger issues to address than pandering to the self-centred wish-lists of a select few. 

I agree with him on some levels: there's little scriptural or moral support for the idea of a genie-God, overly concerned with my idiosyncratic dictates. In fact, the biblical depiction of God suggests the opposite. Those who profess to have any kind interaction with God are instructed to let His values and priorities shape their lives, not the other way around; self-forgetfulness, not self-centredness is the spiritual goal.

At the same time, there are also numerous assurances that, in choosing not to focus all our energy and resources on taking care of ourselves, we are on safe ground because God will look after our needs as we trust Him. Its a theme that echos in the Old Testament narratives of the Israelite's exodus out of slavery, right through the teachings of Jesus on materialism and contentment and on to the New Testament letters to early communities on generosity.

Bearing in mind the fact that all the boots I own have inch-wide holes in the soles, letting in water like wells in a wetland; and bearing in mind that I needed to be out and about in the rain, I personally am grateful to God for the hunch I had and the sequence of inconsequential and seemingly haphazard events that led to me unearthing the beautiful boots above in a Swedish Salvation Army charity shop (Myrorna) for a mere 175 SEK (roughly £17.50). In addition to the fact that aged, mid-brown leather boots are my all-time favourite style, there's a more basic source of delight that I've been missing out on for months now: the sheer joy of dry feet.

Even if, as the clergyman might have felt, my prayer for affordable fashionable boots with some sort of constructive social impact was too trivial to have moved the heart of the Almighty, perhaps the money raised in the purchase is the answer to someone else's "more legitimate" petition - for food, for shelter, for things easily taken for granted. Either way, I'm chalking this purchase up as a reason to be thankful.

'Wardrobe Stories' are a string of posts helping me to appreciate the clothes and accessories I own in an atmosphere where it's easy to end up taking things for granted.
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