Monthly Archives: February 2012

Time

Time folds you in its folds…Time folds you in the blanket of itself, it folds you tenderly and wraps you round, for where would you be without it.” Margaret Atwood

 

No one remembers to breathe anymore. They don’t stop. They are too busy rushing, fretting, and getting things done. No one has any time. They are rubbing their eyes, they are sighing, they are saying, “Hold on just a minute til I do this.” Then they pause. They half listen. They apologise. There is so much to do and not enough hours in the day.

 

Where is the life we have lost in living?” T.S. Eliot

 

I made some decisions a few years back, in that year when illness demanded I stop. That year I had no choice. The illness had our full attention. We watched every outer sign; we examined the blood tests and hung onto the words of specialists. For months we fumbled for light as if in a dark basement trying to remember where the door was. We searched for its strip under the door, to lead us back to the life we missed but it seemed that God had another plan. Try as we might, we couldn’t grasp the healing we wanted. Instead of light the strip offered a draft of thin air and we leaned toward it forcing ourselves to be satisfied with the soft breeze.

 

Sometimes you want the sun and instead God sends a zephyr. It will drive you mad if you let it. Social media will taunt you with the way others are supposedly living their lives; family dinners and picture postcard experiences. You feel sorry for yourself, angry at life and everyone else’s good fortune. Then with the breeze comes His whisper and you lie down in order to hear His words. In the darkness I came to see the invisible man who dragged up the plastic chair beside me. That year, that horrible year, when I finally lay down my agenda, I discovered a new relationship. I see Him now, in my memory leaning against the doorframe in His suit, holding His hat in His hand.

 

“How long have you been standing there?” I queried.

 

“If only you knew time.” Came his response.

 

I came to long for those visits. That presence. Mostly it happened when all was silent, when I had stopped rushing down to the kiosk for treats, or the pharmacy for drugs, or the cashier to have my car park card certified. I never noticed him when I was rushing. I didn’t run into him in the corridors, I didn’t see him at the nurses’ station or where the patients watched TV. He came when she was sleeping, while I cried silently by her bed. He came as I sat wondering if it were time to make my way to the car, to head home to the other children whom I loved equally but who were not ill. He came to take my place, to dry my tears and to reassure me that all would be well.

 

“Take your time in the morning,” he’d say, “don’t rush back. Sit, reflect, and then come.”

 

In that year I discovered the power of pausing and I decided that when life returned to normal, however one defines normal, I would keep the pause in my daily ritual.

 

You have to fight to protect the pause. People are watching, they are judging, they are evaluating what you do. Maybe they aren’t. Maybe it’s just you and your perceptions of the way things are but inwardly you feel guilty if someone catches you staring into space. Yet staring into space is very valuable.

 

 

Kessler writes, “Periods of silent reflection not only soothe the soul but allow the associations, consolidation and imprinting needed for effective learning.” God wants us to find Him in the silence. He teaches us to pause and to learn from Him. In Genesis 32:24 we read about Jacob being left alone and wrestling with a man til daybreak. It’s an interesting verse! Sometimes being alone feels like abandonment but sometimes God has something so special to teach us that He separates us from all other distractions. Sometimes He finds us in the middle of what seems hard.

 

I am blessed to work with a community of teachers who deeply value reflective practice. At the end of a learning session, or an assignment or after a new experience we ask the students: what did you like? What did you learn? What would you do differently? It’s amazing what they say and what comes from discussion. Sometimes we decide to ‘sleep-on’ what we’ve discussed and see if we feel the same way tomorrow. After a longer reflection the experience often makes a lot more sense. We discover that hard isn’t bad, that uncertainty is not the end and that we have grown as a result of the challenge.

 

When we pause and breathe and reflect, time stops just like the clock in the dining room when I was a child. I remember my father tapping the glass on the old fisherman’s clock, opening the door, after finding the key in the drawer, fitting it in the slot that rewound the cogs and the wheels so time could begin again.

 

Breathe deep, rise early, stay up late if you have to, but don’t neglect the time of reflection that hoists the clouds, that puts weights on the chains and causes the hour to chime. Do it today before “time,” as Atwood writes, “folds you in its arms and gives you one last kiss and then flattens you out and folds you up and tucks you away until it’s time for you to become someone else’s past time.”

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Sight and Sound

Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when it seemed as if tangible whiteness shut you in, and a great ship, tense and anxious groped her way toward the shore with plummet and sounding-line, and you waited with beating heart for something to happen? I was like that ship before my education began, only I was without compass or sounding line, and had no way of knowing how close the harbour was. “Light! Give me light! Was the wordless cry of my soul, and the light of love shone on me in that very hour.” Helen Keller

 

The dense fog that once surrounded you lifts, leaving a chalk-like smudge, a stain upon your eyes. Life looks different now. Your eyes are stained with the mark that pain leaves behind, scared with the memory of fear. This is the thorn in your flesh and like Paul it keeps you from boasting.

God saw the value of keeping you in the dark room without light. He knew that there the best lessons could be discovered. He knew that in the darkness of that cramped space His light would penetrate the room and you would learn new things.

Sometimes there is no view except that which comes from His illumination. The thing that you face is out of place like a huge boulder someone has deposited in your lounge room. It’s too heavy to move and there seems no way of covering it. The carpet gets worn all around that boulder as you try your best to live your life with it there.

It’s awkward when people come to visit. You try to explain it away but it is so huge and so ugly and all consuming that there’s no way you can ignore it. People feel sad. For your sake, or maybe for theirs, they act like they don’t notice it, they laugh with you but all your attempts at laughter are fake. Others come carrying trowels, they chip away at the boulder and their tears turn to mud as they kneel by your side.

Added to the awkwardness of the abnormal boulder you notice the music has gone. It is not only your sight that seems to be taken but also your ability to hear.

“Why has everything gone silent?” you ask when you get on your knees to pray. All He is prepared to say is that the rest is part of the music.

In response you decide to pay attention. Many an opportunity has been missed because you got distracted when you were supposed to be counting the beat. If you learn this lesson now you will be ready to come in with the others in the orchestra. This is what you want now. You no longer care to have your own voice heard above the others in the crowd. Mostly you want to be part of the symphony that plays in harmony with your Maker.

Instead of spending your days catching up with friends you rediscover your childhood love of books and all the ways they make you wiser. You find things that resonate with all the lessons you have learnt so far.

“My mother always says that fear and pain are immediate, and when they’re gone we’re left with the concept but not the true memory.” The words of Teá Oberht frighten you. You don’t want it to be just a concept now; you want the memory to move you. You know you must act because until you do more people will die.

You don’t want to walk away or live a life without meaning. More than anything you want to help people to be persuaded to donate stem cells so that more people can have a life like your eldest daughter now lives. Sometimes you can’t work out how this is possible.

During the week you teach your class about persuasive language, high modality words and writing. All the while you wish you could publish your own story so that people might be persuaded for your cause.

Not all of life makes sense but you are thankful for the effect that the dark room had on your family. You know that your youngest daughter  is equipped to manage student life in Paris because of all the lessons you learned together and the bonds that were built as you hung on to everything that mattered.

One morning in the café they are playing Louis Armstrong’s rendition of La Vie en Rose.

“Is this to taunt me?” you ask the owner. “Do you know Emma is in Paris?”

As your coffee arrives you read her email. “We are at the new apartment,” she writes,  “and it is so much better. We had to get the locks changed (what’s the change without a hiccup?) but we are here and it is so much better, so much more space!”

Eventually the boulder is removed, space opens up and the music plays again.

You converse with your daughter about light and shadow, and all your deep thoughts over email. She reminds you of a beautiful quote by Annie Dillard. This shared love of language feels so rich and as you search for the chapter she’s been referring to you discover this quote instead:

“Appealing workspaces are to be avoided. One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark.”

 You think of your friend who had to work all day on a Saturday, in a room without a window and you smile. “She’s a wise woman,” you think to yourself as you dive under a wave.

Returning home after a coffee, after a swim, after all the things you enjoy, you look at the floor where that boulder once dominated your life. You consider all the ways your imagination met memory in the dark and how it pulled you through when you had no way of knowing how close the harbour was. You know it was His whisper that lead you through the silence and the tender nudge of His hand.

You marvel at how the sun (the sun you felt you never saw) has darkened the space all around where that boulder once sat. Yet in the space where the boulder has been removed the carpet is plush, and new. You know in the season that God hid you He also protected you, He taught you to see and to hear.

Now as He lifts His baton, He has your attention and you are positioned to play. You close your eyes because now you have discovered that the darkness has taught you to see.

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New View

 

“Everything we have seen and everyone we have known goes into us and constitutes us, whether we like it or not. We are linked together in a pattern we cannot see and whose effects we cannot know. One slub here, a dropped stitch there, a bump encounter in that place, and the whole fabric will be different once it is woven.” Anna Funder

 

In the last six months so much has changed.

 

Gone are the long linoleum corridors,

The pains in my heart,

The searching for a park

In downtown Darlinghurst

Grant manages this with Sam now.

Thankfully, the appointments are fewer.

 

After three years of the intrepid journey

We arrive at the top of a mountain.

As anticipated the view is breathtakingly beautiful.

The journey has been worth it.

Life opens up again before us.

Different this time

 

I haven’t posted here for so many reasons.

I never stopped writing.

Writing saves me.

It takes the thoughts that whirl in my head,

And pins them to the page

Before anxiety knocks me off balance.

 

Last August some surprising things happened.

Grant proposed.

Sam said yes.

Emma got accepted to study in Paris.

Jack started Year 12.

 

I haven’t known how to share these things.

I haven’t known how to do anything really.

 

I’ve been talking to God about this.

 

“God, I don’t really know how to be good at the next part of life.” I say.

 

I’ve asked Him so many questions and in His faithfulness, He always tells me enough for each day.

 

Then last weekend a lovely email came from Paris.

It was from Emma.

 

Ever since Emma was very little we have shared a love for words.

We have read them out loud, and penned them side by side in silence in cafes.

Then over coffee we have asked each other, what is God saying to you?

 

In her email Emma asked me to blog again.

‘It would be a good way for me to know what God is saying to you,’ she wrote.

 

So this is for you Emma.

 

I’ve been asking God how I will know what to do, now that my children have taken me seriously and moved on to the independent life we always encouraged them to live.

 

So much of my life has been occupied by active parenting. Is that a phrase, which explains the process?

 

I don’t know!

 

What I do know is that almost every waking moment for the last 24 years has been focused on trying to get this right. The house has rarely been this quiet or this empty.

 

I take myself for coffee in the mornings out of habit now. I no longer need to find space or an excuse to not search for socks.

 

Emma is doing a brilliant job dealing with the landlord in Paris over unfortunate events. Jack has her car and makes his own way to school. Sam is making breakfast in her own apartment with her husband.

 

Yet the habit is fixed, I leave early, ordering coffee over the phone as I start the car in the driveway. When I arrive at the café, I am welcomed and it is placed in front of me, piping hot.

 

I am thankful for small familiar habits.

 

On top of all the changes at home, I started a new job. Instead of teaching Kindergarten, I am teaching Year Six. Instead of being in a classroom on my own, I am part of a team of teachers. Instead having 30 students in the class, we share 180 across the stage.

 

I ask God, how will I know how to do this?

 

In His lips I see a strand of thread. As He holds it in His mouth, focusing His eyes on the eye of the needle, He tells me that He is changing the colour of the tapestry.

 

Suddenly I think of my own mother. When I was young she had a huge tapestry wound around a frame so big that it rested on a stand. It was big enough to sit underneath and I remember being crossed legged on the carpet looking up at all the slugs and joins in stitches when she changed the colour of the thread. It seems for years that tapestry sat there in the corner of the lounge room, stretched out over the frame.

 

Every now and then, when mum was in the mood, she would do some stitches. She would choose her colours and neatly complete a part of a scene.

 

I said to God, “I feel just like that! After all that stitching and working and choosing of threads, and tying pieces together and joining the knots underneath – I feel like my life is complete and I don’t really know what to do anymore.

 

Then he showed me the tapestry again. He showed me mum’s fine hands unscrewing the edges of the frame, lifting the rods and rolling the part of picture she had embroidered and stretching out another part of the tapestry in its place.

 

And I heard God whisper, “Look, there is so much more and there’s a guide for you to follow. It’s the same tapestry, it’s the same canvas and it’s the same story. Life continues and there’s nothing to fear.

 

 

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