All was miracle…

Was there no safety? No learning by heart of the ways of the world? No guide, no shelter, but all was a miracle and leaping from the

pinnacle of a tower into the air?

Virgina Woolf, To the Lighthouse

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26 July: The Bear

In this little film by Jean-Jacque Annaud, a baby bear is chased across land, over a tree trunk and through a river. It is a tale of survival in the wild. Although it looks more majestic and filled with danger, the little bear’s struggle is not all that different from our own lives.

Just when we think all is lost, when the little bear is floats to shore and the tiger big “cat” is about to attack, mama bear shows up. Even if we don’t have our mother anymore, we need someone who has got our back. Watch the video!

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How to be alone

There isn’t really much to say about this lovely little video, “How to be alone.” We all have struggled with being alone at one time or another, and some of us try to practice meditation and other things in order to cultivate our ability to be alone. But it’s a challenge. This poet/singer/songwriter, Tanya Davis, has thrown us a life preserver: we are able to be happily alone in many moments in our day. We need only acknowledge how easy those moments are in order to stop stressing about how much we don’t like being alone. Being alone is as easy and natural as going to the toilet, one of the many things we do in a day all alone.


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Paying attention

“Take the seemingly undeniable logic that your kitchen is always there, its contents assuming its familiar forms whether or not you’re in it. At night you leave for the bedroom. Of course the kitchen is still there, unseen, all through the night. Right? But consider: the refrigerator, stove and everything else are composed of a shimmering swarm of matter/energy. Quantum theory, tells us not a single one of those particles actually exists in a definite place.” Robert Lanza M.D.’s post, “Is There a God or Is There Nothingness?” explores the new scientific paradigm, and tells of experiments that show that measurements an observer makes can even influence events that have already happened in the past. “Regardless of the choice you make, it’ll be you (the observer) who experience the outcomes and histories that result.”

So, what we see, what is ‘real’, is what we pay attention to. We should therefore focus on what it is that we want to see, not what we imagine. Rather than worrying about what might be in the kitchen you have just walked away from, concentrate on where you are now and see the shimmering swarm of matter/energy that is before your eyes. It too might disappear if you change your focus.

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The Little Engine That Could

In this children’s tale, a long train must be pulled over a high mountain. Bigger and stronger engines were all asked but, for reasons of their own, they refused. The request is then sent to a small engine, who agrees to try. The little engine succeeds in pulling the train over the mountain by repeating its motto: “I-think-I-can”.

Determination builds muscles we didn’t even know we had!


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The Little Red Hen

In the tale, the little red hen finds a grain of wheat, and asks for help from the other farmyard animals to plant it. However, no animal is willing to help her. At each further stage (harvest, threshing, milling the wheat into flour, and baking the flour into bread), the hen again asks for help from the other animals, but again she gets no assistance.

Finally, the hen has completed her task, and asks who will help her eat the bread. This time, all the previous non-participants eagerly volunteer. However, she declines their help, stating that no one aided her in the preparation work, and eats it with her chicks, leaving none for anyone else.

If you have to do all of the work, at least you will have all of the rewards!


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Powering up

I’ve been trying to get back to writing this blog post for months. But my writing seems to be suffering from some kind of inertia, much like the rest of my life did until about a year ago. I was thinking about how hard it was to move from the couch to the front door in the first 2 years after my company died, 10 months after son died. And then once I started going out again, trying to be part of the world, I realized that at first it felt like I was pushing a massive boulder up an infinite hill. Yes, this was my own private hell, although I couldn’t think of what I was being punished for. My boulder didn’t roll back down again, but I worried constantly that it would. The worst had already happened, but I still imagined there might be bad things at every turn.

I wondered if I would ever get even a fraction of my energy back. Things move so slowly when you’re in the dark. Progress is imperceptible. I managed little things in those 2 very dark years. I cooked. I started a writing group. I could temporarily illuminate the darkness by bringing people into my home. That was a start. It was the beginning of the end of isolation. Then I went on the road trip and made my film and almost accidentally I wasn’t back to work but I was back to living. Doing and finishing little things led to doing and finishing bigger things.

It was almost as if I had too many programs open on my computer. Everything was so sluggish. It was like I’d left the computer on for far too long, never doing a full re-start. So powering up was so very slow for me. Some invisible code was rushing around trying to make connections between things. Before the connections were instant, I was firing on all cylinders (forgive the mixed metaphors). But after my loss my random access memory seemed totally fried.

There is only so much memory in a device. But there is infinite memory in a human mind. When the one person I’d known, loved and spent my life with died, all of the references to our shared history died too. These infinite memories became inaccessible, jumbled and disconnected. I didn’t know who I was other than my son’s mom. My other identities were insignificant in comparison. So restarting me took much longer than an overworked computer. Powering up was so slow. It started about a year ago, and little by little I see signs of new memories being formed, new connections being made (with myself and others) a new history being written. I still feel slow, not the old me.

Reading this article in the NY Times about wisdom reminded me of my conversations with myself about powering up. “Older people have much more information in their brains than younger ones, so retrieving it naturally takes longer,” according to a study they cited. Since I am no longer creating new memories with my son, I guess I got stuck in the old ones, even though I try to forget them. Maybe it is the forgetting that scrambled who I am. I’m using an old operating system; memories that help me retain a connection to my old life. Maybe it’s our losses that make it take longer for us to power up.

I was walking in the park yesterday and saw how long it took for these swans to take flight. They were slow getting started but beautiful once in flight.

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Yesterday I wrosebud-9731436as thinking about happiness. I thought I’d write about it, but then just got busy and forgot about it. But there have been quite a few sad moments in the last week or two, probably because my son’s 5 year death day anniversary is about a month away. This kind of anniversary is hardwired into my body. Even if I could forget the calendar, my body won’t.

“How come you’re always so happy in the morning mom?” my son asked me on the last day I ever saw him. We’d stayed up all night watching a presidential debate. He loved that I woke up at 1:00 am to watch it with him. I’m not a night person. But this was important. We had such a good time that night, our last night together.  At about noon I went into his room to see if he wanted breakfast (he had his own apartment not even a mile away, but loved coming home for weekends to what he called his summer home, my flat in London). He was just waking up and I smiled at him, one of those big smiles that seem to go on forever. I always smiled when I looked at him, and especially in the morning. He was always a little grumpy when he woke up, and could never understand how I could wake up so happy. I couldn’t help it. I loved being his mom. I was happy. How could I not be?

Yet, I think that I’ve always been a happy person. Lots of hard things had happened in my life up until that point. I’d get stressed, and even had some big heart breaks. But I was still mostly a happy person. I knew that in my heart. But what made me so happy? Was it only because I had my son from the age of 19 and from then on my life was truly complete? Was it because I had a single mission – to take care of him and to make sure he had a great life? Or is/was my happiness due to something else?

Maybe being happy has something to do with cultivating those happy moments, planting seeds and then watering them. I think there is definitely some choice involved in being a happy person. Even after the worst thing happened I still try to find things to do that will make me feel like life is worth living, to find things that I can truly engage in. In the early months after Shaka died, I went to work every day to keep my company going, to make sure that what we’d built together continued and, I didn’t want to let my employees down either. When the company later went under I started a writing group, made a documentary…  This is how I’ve survived the last 5 mostly heartbreaking years – I cook, I babysit, I write, I try to help people who need a shoulder or some encouragement. I do not let myself sit alone in the quiet. I avoid thinking about my missing son; I don’t look at his photos, I try not to think about him at all. It is an act of will that takes all of the energy I have. I put myself wholly into whatever I am doing in the moment. This might have been what I’ve been doing all of my life. I needed to pay private school fees, or college, or rent… and all of those grown up things.

This morning I was reading op-ed pieces in the New York Times and I stumbled across an article “Looking to Genes for the Secret to Happiness.” It refers to a study that found ““our genes can tell the difference” between a purpose-driven life and a shallower one even when our conscious minds cannot.”  It goes on to say that purpose is pretty elastic and only needs to be something greater than immediate gratification. Being a mom gave me the greatest happiness, and the greatest purpose. Nothing will ever compare to that. I don’t have a big purpose any more. But each little mission I have in a day gives rise to the chance of moments of happiness. I may not be able to choose when I’m going to be happy. But I can usually choose to do something, to take some action, to be purposeful about something. And in doing so I am relieved to know that there is a good chance that some happiness will blossom.


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My greatest accomplishment?

clearbluesky-300x225-1051469As I get closer to my birthday, not a particularly special or noteworthy one, I am naturally looking back … That’s what we do with birthdays, right? Mine comes in about 48 hours.

Yesterday I found myself making coffee, and while the water was boiling, I started dancing to some music in my head. The sky was blue above me. My kitchen ceiling is all glass. And I was happy. I was bubbling up and out, just like the hot water in the tea kettle.

This year has been the longest, darkest, coldest, rainiest year I remember since I’ve been in the UK. I came here nearly 25 years ago. I so appreciated the sun yesterday morning. The sky was clear. For about 5 minutes I forget everything and just danced to my inner DJ.

And then I remembered where I am, my life as a whole. And started thinking about the one person who would have been here, or at least called… and certainly the one person who I would really want to talk to on my birthday. And he is gone. I stopped dancing. But I didn’t immediately plunge into my darkness, the place I live emotionally when I stop moving. There was a residual of dance left in me. It kept me moving forward, stopped me from plunging downward.

Most of us think of where we are in life when our birthdays come. It is a time of evaluation and re-evaluation, for setting goals and for looking to the future. I can’t yet find my future. I might have found my inner DJ, but my future is still missing, along with my missing son. I don’t really have anything to be proud of. I saved that for him. All of his accomplishments, his dreams and achievements, made me happy. He was my greatest accomplishment. I was so proud of him. He was so lovely. He had the best of me multiplied by 10, or a million. He was more than I could ever have imagined being. He lived his dreams to the fullest, sometimes crashing to the ground… but he soared. And I sometimes floated up to meet him, carried on his wings.

Not long after I stopped dancing on this beautiful and sunny day, the first in a long line of dark and cold days, I realized something. My son was not my greatest accomplishment. The fact that I am still standing after he died is. He would never have believed that I would still be here, that I would have a few minutes of dancing to some silent memory of music, in a momentary sunny moment. I can’t believe it either. The fact that I am still here is my greatest accomplishment. It is something that I thought, knew, would have been impossible. And yet it has happened. I am my greatest accomplishment. Somehow my son has become my inner metronome… He is my constant pulse. He makes my heart beat when it is so broken that it cannot find its own rhythm. He is my greatest accomplishment, and I am his. My birthday reminds me of his death day… but my inner DJ reminds me to dance when the sun comes out.


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Desert flowers

desert-300x168-8947664I’ve been wandering around in the desert these last few years. I’m not sure I will come back with any tremendous insights or transformation. I’m not even sure I will come back. Maybe I am the desert.

Most of my identity was destroyed when my son died. My once green and fertile life became the desert. But even though I can’t always see it, there is life in the desert. There are seasons too. Changes in the desert are very subtle. You have to look very closely to see what those underground streams are nourishing.

Lately I’ve seen a few green shoots in my desert. Individually they didn’t look like much to me, just efforts to survive, attempts at having fun. But seen globally they begin to tell another story. I have been living a secret life. In fact, I have many secret lives.

Last week a track I recorded was released. [listen to it here].

I’m not a musician or singer/songwriter. I don’t have any desire to be one either. And I don’t listen to tech/house music. But when I was visiting a friend in Madrid a few months ago she and her business partner asked me if they could record my voice, just me speaking about something (listen to the track and you’ll see what I was talking about), something improvised. Sure, why not! It was fun!

Last year I made a documentary (trailer is here and if you want to watch the whole film, just email me and I’ll send you a link). I’ve never made a film before. It got into two festivals. I did it because I wanted to see one of my screenplays made into a film but that seemed overly ambitious as during this period I was anchored to my couch and couldn’t see a future. There was no reason to think anyone would ever want to make one of my screenplays into a film. So I did the only thing I could think of – I made one myself, about me, this journey, about the desert. And an unexpected outcome is that my life imitated art. I started shooting stuff not sure there would be any message, anything useful to say to myself or anyone else. But as I came to the end of the film I saw that the ending became my new beginning. Just making the film got me going in a new direction, in a direction.

And then there is my secret restaurant, again started on impulse and mostly out of necessity. In these dark months not long after my son died I barely left my house. What once was a house filled with people, laughter, cooking and love became and empty space filled with sad memories. No job. No family. No money. One of my son’s friends told me about these crazy secret restaurants in people’s homes and suggested that I do one too. I’ve always cooked for large groups. Why not? And although it is not a business, it is a hobby that brought (and still brings) me face to face with loads of strangers and brought me out of what would otherwise have been total isolation, back into the world – even though the world now is inside my house.

All of these little, random activities have somehow managed to grow out of what I thought was completely empty, my broken heart, my inner desert. These were not the activities of desertflower-300x156-9409975the old me. Yet they are the beginning of the new me. Microscopic traces of who I used to be have somehow been given just enough water and nourishment to grow by the mere, sometimes fleeting, attention I have given them – like flowers in the desert after a sudden storm.


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