It’s been a longer gap than usual between posts. Nothing has seemed worth writing about. My attention has been elsewhere; directed inward. I’ve been doing the mental equivalent of sitting in a corner with my knees drawn up under my chin. Not a comfortable pose, but not an unhappy one either. I’m not describing a depressive state; rather one for contemplating, weighing, reassessing. Clearing out the garbage, if you like.
So, the first post in a while. I hope you also enjoy what might seem like an eclectic collection of photos. Most of them are in some sort of context.
(Surfers taken from Burleigh Headland)
I’m quite at peace with myself as I write this. There’s even a warm glow shining from some place deep inside. Happiness, is a word for it, I guess.
The last few weeks have seen me let go of some things I needed to let go of. There’s a weight off my shoulders, a spring in my step, and if not a song, then a blog post in my heart.
For a start, I’m grateful – for a whole lot of things.
I am healthy, mostly. I could choose to focus on the aches and pains but I do not. I am alive, with all the possibilities, chances, and delights that flow from just being.
I wake up each morning to a beautiful day, breakfast down at my local coffee shop by the sea, a walk and then time for whatever else I feel like doing.
I have a wife I love and who loves me. With our marriage we have worked at and drawn from, we are so much more blessed than we would be without it. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting marriage is an essential staging point on the road to happiness; or a pre-requisite to it. Not at all! There are enough miserable married people to make that idea a little shaky. It might sound a bit strange but the experience of a loving healthy marriage relationship has helped me understand that we don’t need to allow ourselves to become dependent on another person to be happy. (I just hope my wife reads that part carefully and understands what I mean). Just to explain it more carefully, I think a marriage where two people are comfortable in their own skins is a much better indicator of health and happiness than one where each depends on the other for their worth and meaning. Am I making sense? Well, I am to myself.
My wife and I are definitely joined together in a deep spiritual and emotional way, but we retain our identities, our preferences, our tastes, and our opinions. Neither of us would have it any other way.
So, just to finish up on that point, I am not arguing for marriage as a means of being happy. For Sue and I it has been, and is, a wonderful gift. That’s great. There are a lot of other people for whom a marriage relationship has been a destructive experience. There are many others, who are not married in a legal or any other sense, but who have strong healthy identities, are content with their lives, and who are just as blessed as we are.
So, where was I?
Yes. I’m grateful.
Friends. How wonderful it is to have even one friend? I have more than one, and I have no idea how I managed that. I am so happy to feel the close bond of friendship. Man or woman, it doesn’t matter, although I guess it’s a bit less complicated for me as a man to sit down with another man and share the deepest stuff. Friendship founded on mutual respect, affection, and trust makes my heart sing. To shatter or betray a friendship is a miserable, terrible thing (one thing I learned along the way that has stayed with me). My friends are important to me. With them, I can be who I am. I can say what I want to and I can be a servant to them in turn. Sometimes I need do nothing but sit and listen. There is a symbiotic relationship between friends that is worth caring for. I sometimes think friendship encourages the finest things of which a human being is capable.
I’m also grateful for family members, daughters, sons-in-law, grandchildren, brother, sister, and in-laws. To show them my love more overtly and unconditionally has been a bit of a challenge for me historically. I guess I have been seen by some of the family at least as a bit of an oddity. They have accepted me despite my oddness. I have tended to play my cards close to my chest where I should have just hugged and laughed and spent time with them. Simple really, and not rocket science. I hope I will continue to learn how to better express the love I feel for all of them. That really would be a blessing and much more important than some of the things I will talk about below that I have decided to unload from myself.
(A lone reflective Pelican in Biggera Creek)
This has been a cathartic post to write, and I have not even begun to discuss some of the things I intend to leave behind. So, now to those things:
(Pedestrian crossing sign in Berlin)
I am determined to let go of the need to understand and to categorize other people. People’s motivations are their own and there is no need for me to know why someone else does what they do or behaves the way they do. Neither will I presume to judge them on what I see. (Alright, that might be a bit of over-reach. I will at least try not to judge others quite so often).
Other people deal with stuff I am not privy to. They respond to pressure I am unaware of. They battle demons I cannot see. I will try hard to remember that.
Other people do not need to make choices that I approve of. Well, it’s nice when they do, but I will learn to accept them just as well when they do not. Once again, this might need to be a work in progress.
In the same way I will not allow myself to take on board someone else’s judgment of me. No one knows me as well as I do or my creator does. People may be well meaning in their judgments, or they may not be, but either way, I will learn to follow my own path.
Specifically, I will withdraw from involvement in pointless political discussions and debates. At least I intend to try. Now and then I have allowed myself to be drawn in to a cesspit of negativity where I question other people’s support for political causes and their motives. I have come to understand that contributing to an atmosphere of political polarization where mistrust and hatred drown out concern, compassion and even rationality is not what I want to do. It is not me.
Yes, I have ideas about how the country should be governed and how the world should operate. I have values that I want to see promulgated. For me though, I am going to try to spend my time on building relationships and looking out for those around me, instead of participating in the cacophony of voices talking past each other that constitutes contemporary politics.
I am sick of it all. I have had it up to here (he writes, thinking of his head). Political argy bargy can be left to those who enjoy it, or to those who think it makes any difference.
At the start of this blog I set out some of the things that are important to me. It is these things: My marriage, my friends, my family, and any other people who need a hand, who are going to receive my energy. At least, that is the conclusion I have come to. Life is meant to be a feast. It is too short to spend in endless negative loops.
(Dining Room at Wernigerode Castle, Harz Mountains, Germany)
My Manifesto is more of a guide than a checklist; a wish list even. I am heartily sick of the endless negativity of political partisanship that I see blighting my country and others. As far as I am able to, I will withdraw from it. Maybe then I will see more clearly to attend to the things that are really important to me. Blog writing continues to be one of those things. Don’t expect that I will retreat from controversy; just pointless political partisanship.
We will see.
Another poem that found its way onto the blog:
(My photograph taken in the Lego Shop in Copenhagen. I will leave it up to you to decide if it is relevant)
Stand back or dive in?
Paint pretty pictures for the world to see
or hang out your laundry for visitors to sift through?
Bring it your triumphs,
Say things best kept to yourself?
Seductively, secretly and sediciously,
it beckons us on and inward.
It gathers and stores without comment.
Do it all on facebook.
A feel-good gesture costs nothing
but hints at vacuousness.
Je suit Charlie
Save the planet.
Bring world peace.
Repost and show your concern
with the press of a button.
Do it all on facebook.
Mining a rich vein of need
it grows rich.
Meanwhile it reflects us back on ourselves.
It laughs at us behind its hand
with contempt at our pretensions.
It holds up our vanities and insecurities;
smirks at our shallowness, our hypocrisy.
It advertises our self-centredness to the world.
Not even the casual callous nastiness
we might prefer to keep under wraps
gets by without an airing.
Do it all on facebook.
Our banality lifts its cover
and broadcasts itself on facebook.
It is scrupulously honest, but we are not.
It mislays nothing,
even as we prefer to forget our transgressions.
It is fearless and relentless.
Quietly and gently it takes away from us what matters most:
Our privacy and genuine intimacy.
Chasing the illusion of community
we chase 'likes' in lieu of kisses and hugs
and validation in lieu of conversation.
Well here’s a treat for you. Never short of self confidence, I’ve decided to write a diagnostic checklist for love. Naturally the coverage will not be exhaustive. What it lacks in comprehensiveness it makes up for in sincerity.
There has been one main stimulus for this article. The last few weeks have been ones of very strong contrasts for me: A follow up hospital stay for my long suffering shoulder; visits to far away children and grandchildren; joys and sadnesses in family relationships; aged parents who are struggling; and my brother, sister, and stepdaughter who are dealing with their own pain. Love or its absence, is a common factor in these experiences. There’s more, but you get the picture.
Sitting here this morning in the midst of a sea of pain surging out of the space between my shoulder blade and spine and extending down my arm, I cannot avoid being reminded that I am not an easy person to live with at times like this. Love springs to mind this morning, as it provides an antidote for and an explanation of sorts to many of the events of the past weeks.
So, we begin with my own humble diagnostic checklist which is not meant to be a paraphrase of the well known ode in the first chapter of the Book of Corinthians:
1. Love is inexplicable, inexhaustible, and usually undeserved. It cannot be predicted, resisted or owned. It surprises constantly with its adaptability, resilience, and its ability to forgive.
2. Love is tricky, and may not be what we expect. Sometimes it goes unrecognised, as people look for it in all the wrong places. Sometimes in their quest for love, people try to force it or settle for a replica of it. That is never a successful strategy. It is inevitably destructive for everybody concerned.
3. Love is not sneaky. It does not patronise or diminish. It is not afraid of the truth.
It never undermines. It builds up the loved and the lover. Love leaves us open to, and vulnerable to, the will of the one we love. That is the risk (and maybe the price) of love. The possibility of real hurt and pain is never far away. If you are not vulnerable, it’s not love you are experiencing.
4. Love can not be coerced. It can be as strong as rock, but evaporates quickly when fences are built around it or conditions are attached to it.
Love blossoms in every person who receives it. A person who is loved has fullness of life.
Love is not a commodity to be bought and sold. It can not be taken by one person from another. It can only be given away. It is always a gift. But like every gift, it is wise to receive it with humility and grace.
5. Love is a bit like a garden too. It needs to be tended, watered, the weeds removed, the soil turned and fertilized. Mostly though, it works in spite of the gardener. The seeds grow independently and the plants and flowers appear of their own accord in their own time. Just like a garden though, love can dry up and wither. In a loving relationship, the two people know this, and watch each other’s backs.
6. Love is the essence of life. Where we receive it, it heals us, lifts us, inspires us, reassures us, and sends us on to give it away to others. The presence of love is easy to recognise, just as is its absence.
How did I do? Did I cover the ground?
Does my description apply to the love between wife and husband? You bet it does! At least in this household.
Does it apply to romantic ‘lurv’? Yes, I think so, to a greater or lesser extent. There is a difference between being ‘in love’ and loving someone, as most of us discover eventually. Hopefully we discover it before we cause ourselves and others too much damage. Its all in the focus. The love I talk about above is not at all about ourselves. It is focussed on the other or others. On the other hand, romantic notions of love tend to be susceptible to a focus on having our own needs met. Maybe I am sounding like some old out of touch guy who doesn’t know what he is talking about. Maybe.
So, I would give romantic love a tick for No. 1? Yes. (forgiveness can be a bit problematic here though).
No. 2? Definitely applies!
No. 3? Ooh, not so sure.
No. 4? Yep.
No. 5? Don’t know whether this one gets much of a look in the first blush of romantic love.
No. 6? Yes, but don’t mention the ‘others’ bit too loudly. It will cause problems.
What about the love between friends or family members, sisters, brothers, cousins, uncles, aunts and so on? Does it apply there? Yes, I think the principles apply. There are undeniable undefinable differences in degree of course! I want to be there for my friends and family. I want to be open to them. I feel for them. I don’t want to let them down. Neither do I expect perfection from them (as they certainly won’t get it from me). Readiness to forgive comes in to play here too.
Specifically: No. 1? Yes. Friendship is one of the joys of life.
No. 2? Yes. Trying too hard to have friends is not a good way to go usually. Sometimes we can be surprised by the people who become our friends, just as they are by us.
No. 3? Absolutely and for sure, although the vulnerability barriers would be set higher than they would be with my wife for instance.
No. 4, 5 and 6 Yes. Pretty much word for word.
Well, I don’t know if I covered the gamut of manifestations of love, but I did forget about my pain for an hour or so, so I am content.
Hope it provoked some thoughts.