What Is Left?

What is left?

When the things you want to do are hampered or denied

by injury

by lack of time

by lack of space

by lack of money.

What is left?

When those you love are absent

the one who remarries and moves away

the one who lives on the other side of the world

the one who moves away in search of work

the one who would have understood you best but is gone forever.

What is left?

When the friends you had have been driven away

by hurtful words

by thoughtless actions

by irrational emotion

by a lack of attention and time spent.

What is left?

When the structures that held you up and held you steady

the community of faith

the community of theatre

the community of song

the community of writers

are damaged or gone from your life.

What is left?

When you see yourself failing

as a partner

as a parent

as a child to an ageing parent.

What is left?

What is left?

Not much.

Only to try and remember

you have a roof over your head and bombs will not fall on it

you have food in the cupboard that will not vanish with the next drought or flood

you have a home and a place to belong instead of languishing in a refugee camp

you have education, healthcare and technology readily available.

What is left?

Gratitude. Wherever you can find it.

Grateful for the sunrise each day

The Best of Friends

friends

What makes the best of friends?

The best of friends stick with you through the good times and the bad.

The best of friends do not abandon you when life changes.

The best of friends forgive your mistakes, thoughtless words and careless actions. Time and time again.

The best of friends are there for you when you need them even if you haven’t spoken in a year.

The best of friends receive an offer of help with joy and not a sense of obligation because they know that helping them makes you happy.

The best of friends can pick up where you left off no matter how much time has passed.

The best of friends let you know where you stand and tell you to your face when you’re being a pain.

The best of friends celebrate your successes and mourn your losses.

The best of friends never leave you hanging.

The best of friends take a genuine interest in your passions even when they are not their own.

The best of friends can live close or far, see you every day or only once a year but are always your friend.

The best of friends can read between the lines and respond to what has not been said.

The best of friends know the worst sides of you but love you anyway.

The best of friends are a rare and precious gift.

 

What makes the best of friends for you?

 

 

 

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Empty Chairs

There were empty chairs at the Christmas table. Some temporary, some permanent. Some have been empty a long time. Some we are still getting used to.

Others might think thirteen around the table to be a grand-sized party. The table was full and crowded. But the empty chairs were obvious to me.

I sat in my father’s chair. It made sense, as the only one of his children present. But the burden of taking that place felt heavy.

The party was congenial but I missed my natural allies.

Little things were difficult. A discussion of family likenesses to those not there. The bottle of wine my father always bought for Christmas. Traditions replaced by new alternatives.

The grief has been hard this year.

Things were wrong and there was no way to make them right.

I went to the ocean. I felt the cold water on my body, the sting of salt in my eyes and I let the ebb and flow of the pounding waves carry away some of the pain.

But still next year there will be empty chairs at the Christmas table.

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The Emotional Memory of Music

You’re standing in a shop and a song comes on the radio that makes your heart do a little dance and you smile. Perhaps it reminds you of a happy wedding, a joyous celebration or a ridiculously fun weekend with friends.

 

“No Life Without Wife” from the movie “Bride and Prejudice”, once performed (with costumes) at a raucous girls’ weekend away. Still makes me laugh.

You’re sitting in the car and a song comes on the radio that makes your heart skip a beat and tears appear in your eyes. Perhaps it reminds you of a significant loss, a painful goodbye or difficult time in your life.

 

“Turn, Turn, Turn” by The Byrds, played and movingly danced to at the funeral of my sister and niece.

Music has memories. The most potent of these are emotional memories.

 

“Deep Peace” by Bill Douglas from the album “Celtic Twilight”. I compiled a playlist of Celtic music as a ‘birthing tape’ for when my boys were born. This song always makes me think of them. (Unfortunately, I actually forgot I had the tape when I gave birth to my first child. With the second one, he arrived so fast the tape didn’t make it out of the bag. It was only with the third child, who took his sweet time coming, that I got to enjoy the whole playlist. Many, many times…..)

Songs can be the most likely to bring up memories, as we connect not only to the music but also to the lyrics. Words can have power.

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Sometimes it may even take you a while to realise why a song or piece of music is making you feel the way it is because the emotional memory of it remains strong while the mental memory has faded with time.

The emotional memory of music can also linger for much longer than the situation that created the emotion. A song may have triggered a strong reaction because of the space you found yourself in at the time and the connection you made to the lyrics. Years later, you may no longer be in that space in your life but hearing the song can still elicit the same reaction as the first time you heard it.

 

“Here We Are” by Belinda McArdle. This is written and sung by the amazing woman who runs the community singing group I attend. When she first introduced this song, I was at a stage in my life when I didn’t know what I was doing, what I was supposed to be doing or where I was going with my life and I felt I was wasting the gifts I’d been given. This song made me cry. That was four years ago and until very recently, if it came on my playlist in the car, it would still make me teary. This despite the fact that I have now found my way and I am happy and fulfilled in my life. I am no longer in the place I was but the emotional memory holds tight.

I do believe it’s possible to change the emotional memory of music. If the new connection is stronger than the previous, it is possible to change one type of memory for another.

I recently attended a vocal workshop facilitated by Belinda and it was an amazing experience of finding newfound confidence and trust in my own voice. After the workshop, we sang the chorus of Here We Are together and it was a powerfully emotional experience for me. And thus, the emotional memory of this song rewrites itself to a new one. This song now reminds me of what my voice can do if only I trust in it.

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What song or piece of music holds strong emotional memories for you?

 

 

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(Re)Living The Italian Life

Last night I went to Tuscany. San Gimignano to be precise. Oh, the food, the wine….

Yeah, okay, so I didn’t really go there. Well, not on an aeroplane in actual person. What do you think I am, a movie star?

I did, however, buy a bottle of Vernaccia di San Gimignano and make homemade ravioli. And I listened to Italian music while I wrestled with the pasta machine. (There may or may not have also been some choice Italian swear words in action.)

“Why??”

I knew you were busting to ask that.

Two lovely friends are currently living the Tuscan life on the trip of a lifetime in Italy. They’ve been posting photos and stories on Facebook and I’ve been reminiscing.

Yes, we did once fair dinkum go to San Gimignano.

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On a seven-week European odyssey with three small boys in tow (ages 11, 8 and 5), we had wisely booked a week in a small Tuscan town at about the halfway point. We didn’t know it was wise at the time. The wisdom only became apparent when we got there after our previous stop in Nice included the line “I’m over it! I want to go home!” That was me. As chief travel agent, tour guide, purchaser, cook, washer and seemingly font of all travel wisdom, the pressure was building. The opportunity to stop and breathe in one place for a week brought sanity back to us all.

Sometimes the significant travel memories that stay with you are not about awe-inspiring art or impressive structures or spectacular landscapes. Sometimes they are about living the life, feeling a part of a community of which you are a part for just a tiny moment. That was Certaldo for us. I’d managed to book a three bedroom apartment in a former 13th century palace with a tower where you could sit and see the towers of San Gimignano in the distance for only AU$800 a week.

Of course, first impressions count when you travel and the fact that we arrived on the weekend of their annual food and wine festival may have had some impact on our positive experiences. We didn’t know it was on when we booked. Another of those serendipitous moments that make a holiday special.

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Boccaccesca Wine and Food Festival, Certaldo Alto

It was like it was all meant to be.

We relaxed, shopped at the market, read books, ate a lot of good Italian bread and cheese and made day trip forays into neighbouring tourist centres such as Sienna and San Gimignano. We didn’t have a car so these were accessed by public transport. There’s nothing quite like squeezing onto a crowded local bus to make you feel a part of the community.

It was a favourite moment in our holiday and I can’t help thinking that its impact was greater because it came at just the right time. We headed off after our week-long stay with renewed energy and patience.

I’d love to go back but I suspect that it wouldn’t be the same.

In the meantime, I’ll find the odd bottle of Tuscan wine in the local Dan Murphy’s, drag out the pasta machine and relive la dolce vita at home.

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Certaldo Alto, Tuscany

 

 

 

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Further Life Lessons From The Doctor

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It’s time for some more wisdom from everybody’s favourite Time Lord.

Things got very philosophical and deep for a while there…. (And for my blogging friend Bun and his boys, I finally found a quote from the Tenth Doctor I could tolerate.)

But you can always trust the Eleventh Doctor to come in swinging with the optimism:

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Truths were told:

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And my favourite fashion choices were upheld:

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Relevant observations were made about the state of the world and its politics:

We’ve definitely all had moments like this (I feel like this right now with only one more week of term before the holidays):

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And to finish, the Eleventh Doctor swings again:

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A Selfish Good Person?

Am I a good person?

Do you ever ask yourself that?

I ask it a lot. It’s something of a tenet, a measure, a check and a balance to my life.

Am I a good person?

How do you measure if you’re a good person?

For me, it’s always been about how I treat others and, more importantly, what I do for others.* Born into a family ‘blessed’ with an overactive servant gene, it has always filled my soul to be helpful to someone.

Until recently.

I’m not sure but I think somehow my servant gene has mutated into a selfish gene.

There are significant people in my life who require my help but I can’t seem to muster the willpower to do it.

There are tasks I have willingly undertaken for years for someone about whom I care very much that lately I have found a chore.

I take forever to answer emails requesting assistance for some task or other (if I answer at all).

Issues of justice for which I used to advocate passionately all just seem too hard now.

Friends regularly chide me (gently) for not being in touch for months on end.

When it comes to the blogosphere, I’ve been binge-watching shows on Netflix when I know I could be reading the blog posts of people who so kindly read mine.

Is there such a thing as a selfish good person?

Even when I try to be a good person, I can end up in a no-win situation. A genuine offer of assistance to a friend has become meaningless as I find myself regularly unavailable on the day required because I want to do what is best for a special group of children. Being good to the one means being selfish to the other.

Maybe it’s too hard to be a good person.

Or maybe we just have to be as good as it’s possible to be under the circumstances. A ‘good enough’ person.

And then we hope the circumstances change to allow us to be the person we really want to be.

What makes a good person to you?

Tennant quote

You and me both, Dave.

 

*Consequently, should I do something against this tenet and do or say something that causes hurt to another, I never really get over it.

 

 

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Coming Up For Air

Up For Air

In case you were wondering where I’ve been lately…..

I’ve been working full time for the past two weeks.

All the full time working readers: So?

Well, I also have kids.

All the full time working parent readers: So?

Well, I’ve also been sick. In fact, one day I felt so sick, I actually thought I might have caught man-flu.

All the sick full time working parent readers: Sss….. Yeah, okay, that’s probably fair enough.

To be honest, I felt pretty wimpy. I mean, people do this all the time. At work, I’m surrounded by working parents teaching full time in a challenging environment. And, being full time teachers, they also have all that other accountability stuff like Professional Development Plans and reports and checklists and planning and…. It exhausts me just thinking about it.

Even allowing for the added challenge last week of spending each day fighting off a headache and trying not to cough up a lung, it concerned me that I was so tired at the end of each day.

But then I thought, maybe working is like any other physical activity. It takes fitness. Just as I used to be able to run 10km without really thinking about it, now that I haven’t run in months, even a short 4km is an effort. Maybe working full time takes training.

Apart from the occasional short stint, I haven’t worked full time since I had the kids. Prior to that, I was working full time on an IT project in a large corporation. I was commuting by train for over an hour each way and I was working long hours. And I really mean long. Six o’clock train in the morning, 7.15pm train home was the standard day. A 9.30pm train home was not unusual. Then there were the days I’d catch a taxi home at 3am. (The trains stopped running at midnight.) Or the one memorable day when I caught the 6am train to work and then came home at lunchtime the next day.

It’s been over twenty years since that mad stage of my life. There’s no way I could sustain that now. And it’s not just because I also have children who need me at the end of the day. I just don’t have the fitness for it any more.

But unlike my running that I do need to get up and … er … running, I’m not sure I’m ready to put in the training for full time work just yet. So I’ll stick with the casual relief work and take each option as it comes. And hopefully I’ll still find the time to hang out here in the blogosphere for a while yet.

Have you ever felt like you’ve lost your fitness for something?

I’d like to dedicate this post to my friends and colleagues who work full time in challenging environments. You rock.

 

 

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The Grief Never Leaves You

 

Woven grief

The grief never leaves you, you know. It lingers on, hidden from view but an eternal presence woven into the fabric of your being.

You move on. You accept that this is how life has to be from now on. Joy returns, new life grows and living can be good again.

But the grief never leaves you.

You realise this at times both obvious and unexpected. Anniversaries, holidays, significant family events… How could that absence not be noted?

It’s the unexpected ones that catch you, though. That bring forth the pain so suddenly it seems impossible that you could have moved on, that your life didn’t stop the moment they left you.

A song on the radio, a photograph, a name in a book. Reminders of a life taken too soon, of memories you shared and of memories you have had to create without them.

Giving away something that once belonged to them feels like giving away a piece of the person they were. If you gave it all away would they cease to exist?

It doesn’t matter how long it’s been – months, years, even decades.

The grief never leaves you.

As the pain takes your breath and the tears cloud your eyes, you ask yourself, “It’s been so long. Why this pain? Why these tears?”

It’s hard not to chide yourself. It’s hard not to feel indulgent, ridiculous even.

But you’re powerless to stop the feelings of loss, of sadness, of wishing things were different.

Because the grief never leaves you.

 

 

 

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You Want It When? – Delayed vs Instant Gratification

How do you open a present? Do you rip the paper off, revealing its contents in a nanosecond? Or do you carefully remove each piece of tape and unwrap the paper (immediately folding it of course) to reveal the gift several minutes after the giver has lost patience?

What about practical jokes? Do you like something quick that will garner you immediate laughter or do you prefer the long game joke with the punchline coming a week after everyone’s forgotten the original premise?

In a world of online shopping, video-on-demand and a 24/7 communication tool in the palm of our hand, you’d think we’d be a community of Instant Gratification Seekers.

And there’s no doubt there’s a lot of them out there.

But the Delayed Gratification Seekers are still out there too.

I am one of them.

Case Study

A delivery of mail containing:

2 Bills

1 Payslip

1 Greeting card

1 Magazine

1 Parcel (containing something eagerly awaited)

In what order would you open them?

I’m guessing the Instant Gratification Seeker would open the parcel first, then the greeting card, the magazine (and probably take the time to peruse it) then the payslip and bills.

Here’s the order I opened them:

Bills – Payslip – Greeting Card – Parcel

I am yet to open the magazine. I want a quiet block of time to enjoy it properly so I’ll wait.

The term ‘delayed gratification’ has a tendency to sound like a bad thing. Like you’re punishing yourself by making yourself wait for something pleasurable. But I’d argue that it actually adds to the pleasure.

I’m currently waiting on a letter from a friend. I know it is going to be something special. It is also something that I very much want to read. But I’m in no hurry to receive it.

You see, it’s the joy of the waiting. It’s the excitement of the anticipation. It’s the imagining of what it might be like. Once I have it, as wonderful as that will be, it will also mean that the pleasure of that expectation will be over. And that will make me a little bit sad.

Instant gratification is, well, instantly gratifying but are we short-changing ourselves of more? Isn’t it a richer experience of gratification if we have to wait for it?

So. Instant? Or Delayed?

What’s your gratification?

 

 

 

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