My only real act of rebellion ruined me: why today is reclaimed as Lifejoy Day!
That’s the sentence that came to me when I went for a wander around my mind. Wandering is what I do when I go to meditation sessions.
It continues to amaze me that as someone who can chatter a lot, there is the juxtaposition of the deepest need for silence, stillness and aloneness. I’ve known I needed it as a child, but the need was always eclipsed by the demand within me to wriggle. Seriously, I could not sit still. My Grandmother used to beseech me to be calm and constantly worried I had a condition called St. Vitus Dance.
The first time I knew that the silence was my ally was in junior school. We were invited to participate in a sponsored silence for an hour. We were to sit in the hall together in our own little islands of parquet flooring that had seen a thousand bad school dinners, millions of minutes of hymn practice and assemblies and JUST BE. The initial thought terrified me. There was to be no chatter, no wriggling, nothing! And then it occurred to be that this might just be the ultimate hour of my entire schooling.
My Mummy prepared me well, perhaps with a wise anticipation of knowing that this might just be a make-or-break moment in education. She packed me up a little straw basket with a colouring book, blank notepad, a little solo game and some pencils. My life felt complete. Her very act of thoughtfulness made me feel very loved and the permutation of choices available to me in that hour of silence felt like the ultimate liberation.
I had by the age of eight experienced many hours in Church where prayers were said and there was little space for silence. Little space for stillness amongst the rounds of scripted services and bustle of fundraising to keep the whole place afloat. Our sponsored silence was something entirely new.
To everyone’s astonishment, I excelled. The hour was not long enough. I had so many plans and ideas that were not able to come to fruition and I can still recall the peace it gave me. A peace that passed all understanding for a little girl with grubby knees, too much enthusiasm and so much illness chasing her family. Afterwards, I had to run myself ragged in the playground to counter the goodness my soul had just glimpsed. Now here is the most amazing part of it…we were fundraising for Help the Aged and were presented with a certificate signed by some gent called Hugh Faulkner. I was very proud of it and my Granny even more so. She did love a good document of achievement. I loved that I could fundraise and had little compunction about asking everyone to sponsor me.
Ten years later Hugh arrived back in my life during a particularly unpleasant hospital stay. I was forced into silence and too much stillness. There were no adventures for my mind, no straw baskets, and only desperate hours. Mummy brought me a newspaper cutting which mentioned Hugh. I had not connected this to my sponsored silence, but I believe, God has a sense of humour as well as a plan for our lives. Hugh had started a new charity for research into M.E. He had retired from an illustrious career in fundraising and campaigning, and this was his next vocation. Suddenly there was a bit of light and hope. I had to help him after our encounter on a two-inch newspaper column. I got in touch and spent the next decade fundraising for him. We wrote letters every week, I sent cheques and weathered too much silence and stillness in between.
His marriage to Anne was remarkable and their friendship to me instructive. When he died, I was invited to his memorial service in St Martin’s in the Fields in London. It was a grand affair full of posh people and not the place for a pale poorly girl in a charity shop dress and frail legs. When I walked in, I was told it was not for me and not believed that I could have been invited. Then Anne saw me and shouted, “It’s Beccy, Beccy from the North. Come in my darling.” The effort of going on a train and managing that service was the achievement of a decade, not just a year. It took me a month to recover. I have few words to describe the elation of managing it. The peace in that service was beyond description. All this time I had not made the connection between that sponsored silence and this magnificent soul. But it was there and still amazes me how we found one another again.
Last week I was decluttering filing cabinet and found a file of the letters that Hugh sent me. It was a moment of profound reckoning tinged with a deep grief that decades diminished by illness brings. Those typed letters signed with blue ink fountain pen were full of love, hope and ingenuity. They were a snapshot of an elderly gent and a poorly girl being pals in the darkness of it all. We were both trying to do something. Just the little something that we could do.
Fifteen years later with Granny, Mummy, Hugh and Anne returned home to Heaven, I returned to St Martin’s with Mr Dinsdale. I wanted to weep. On my previous solo trip I had across Trafalgar Square into the National Gallery and only made it to the first hall of exhibitions, that was all my legs would facilitate at the time. There was a picture of the Bathers by Seurat on display. How I longed to be well enough to go to the shop and buy a print. It’s those things that illness steals, the ability to do those most normal things but it also builds a resolve to try again. It took fifteen years to try again. Mr Dinsdale took me to that same shop with more assured legs and his steadfast goodness to buy that print. We enjoyed the immense privilege of being able to wander in peace.
So, after a wander this morning in our online meditation I reflected on these small things of my life. When illness has been so dominant, it leaves us without many of the big things in life so we have to nurture the ability to cherish the smallest of things, to magnify their significance beyond that of normal lives. Yesterday, someone said I was, “disgustingly joyous.” I do have a deep capacity for joy because it was so rare for so long. Being light-hearted, hopeful and realistic is an odd combination for a character to enfold but during our wanderings we have the chance to find the patterns, paths and beliefs that have shaped us. Therefore, the title of this offering needs some explanation: I got sick on 15th November 1991. Every day, every choice has been dictated to by health, the quest for it or the lack of it. Everything. Now here is the real piece of wanderings wisdom. By most people’s standard’s what happened to me was quite a lot, but I look at it as the easy end of it because what would befall my precious parents has been much harder to endure. To my friend with severe M.E who are still imprisoned in silence and stillness, we send you all our love and admiration.
On that day, I went back to school after a couple of days off. I went back when I was too ill and in those brief but crucial hours, something explosive went on in my system that ruined me. I rebelled because I had been told by both parents to stay home, to rest and be sensible but it was the only time I did not adhere. I walked across a school field to get to an ‘A’ level maths lesson that seemed so important at the time and that would ruin so much for so long.
Therefore, my friends, as my fifth book is about to be released and I love my clients as my daughters and sisters, I would offer this ~ appreciate the wonders that come from the wanders in life; appreciate the courage that is within you; appreciate the glories that can come from enduring and don’t rebel. Listen to those whom you love. Get your priorities right. Just be you. Let your light shine. Hold on. Keep going. Never give in. Wander in hope.