Toe Dancing :: Secret of Life


Just now, I noticed that my toes were dancing.
I’m listening to my soul-minstrel, James Taylor.  He makes my toes jiggle. Which makes my heart giggle. It’s happiness, right there.   I’m just going to leave these lyrics and his song here for you. Maybe you need a bit of toe dancing on this fine Friday night, too.

The secret of life
Is enjoying the passage of time.
Any fool can do it,
There ain’t nothing to it.
Nobody knows how we got
To the top of the hill.
But since we’re on our way down,
We might as well enjoy the ride.
The secret of love
Is in opening up your heart.
It’s okay to feel afraid,
But don’t let that stand in your way.
‘Cause anyone knows
That love is the only road.
And since we’re only here for a while,
Might as well show some style.
Give us a smile.
Isn’t it a lovely ride?
Sliding down, gliding down,
Try not to try too hard,
It’s just a lovely ride.
Now the thing about time
Is that time isn’t really real.
It’s just your point of view,
How does it feel for you?
Einstein said he
Could never understand it all.
Planets spinning through space,
The smile upon your face,
Welcome to the human race.
Some kind of lovely ride.
I’ll be sliding down,
I’ll be gliding down.
Try not to try too hard,
It’s just a lovely ride.
(Isn’t it a lovely ride?)
Sliding down, gliding down,
Try not to try too hard,
It’s just a lovely ride.
The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.

Mother of God

My mother in law Mary has just passed away, you might have read about that here recently.  She slipped away late in the quiet of night.  I like to think of her last exhale as a sigh; no more struggle. I like to imagine her now, free to move. Happy, laughing and feeling at ease.

The last time we saw her she was having a good day. My husband cracked a joke and her face broke into a sudden grin; she laughed and we saw a glimpse again of the Mary, Mum and Nanna that we know. I like to think about that moment and I am grateful she got to share a laugh with her son. She loved him so much.

In the beginning, I used to think of her irreverently, as
‘Mary: Mother of God’
…because, like many doting mums, the sun rose and shone in the eyes of her boy. As if he himself were God! I thought wryly.  It seemed that he could do no wrong, and when we visited, her whole world would shift to revolve around him completely. I remember we were talking about him one day, soon after he and I had got back together again after a breakup; I stated what I thought was the obvious, “-yes, but even he is not perfect you know, Mary”. She looked at me and her mouth dropped open, just for a second, and I realised that in her eyes, he just was.

mary-mother-of-god-iconOf course, I wasn’t a mother myself then, and now that I am, I understand her better. In her eyes, her son was perfect. She loved him completely and unconditionally.  That kind of love is the special reserve of mothers. He is a lucky guy to have been so loved, so adored. I’m sure it is part of why his self esteem is so robust. She has always been his unwavering cheer squad, his bringer of supper and endless cups of tea.

Sometimes, believing that your kids are perfect makes it hard to love their partners. Mary and I didn’t think the same way, and there were times that I thought we would never breach the awkward misunderstandings between us. It seemed impossible for her to know that we were actually allies in the same quest; to love the man she raised and the man I chose. Maybe I just wasn’t the sort of girl she understood, but I always felt the love I gave him was not the love she thought he needed.  I agonised over it for years, wondering how I could do better or convince her that my intentions were pure.

I suppose it is common in mother-in-law/ daughter-in-law relationships. Many of my friends would say I am not alone. I persevered with the relationship because I knew that family was more important than those feelings. That there would be a time when she might need me.   As she got sicker and the Parkinson’s Dementia took hold, she often spoke to me about Rachel, her son’s wife. Because in those conversations, to her, I was someone else entirely. During those times, I enjoyed a friendship with Mary that I hadn’t experienced before. It was quite good for both of us.  I’m grateful for all those times when we were able to see each other through fresh eyes, and find something in each other to love.

The visit before last, in a rare moment of lucidity, she told me she just wanted her boys to be happy. My mother heart understood that so completely. Her eyes seemed to implore me to take up the torch, to make sure of it. I held her hands and told her I would do everything I could, but I knew even as I said it, that neither she, nor I could do enough to ensure her sons’ happiness. And that is the pain of love. To want to make everything perfect, to smooth the way, to lower the barrier, to ease the burden. We wish to do this for the ones we love even though we know that  we cannot control the hardships of life. They are not ours to command.

I held him in my arms after we heard that she had passed. He’s a big guy, my hubster. I held that big man and listened to the boy within, as the realisation began to wash over him. I held him and I thought about how far happiness was in that moment, and I offered him instead, comfort. Empathy. I listened and I helped him pack his suitcase. I made him a coffee for the midnight drive home.  I wished I could take away the shock, the loss, the thoughts of what might have been.  I know from my own loss, that those things are the price we pay for having had the love of a great mother. I could no longer take them from him than take the sun from the sky.

I think of Mary and imagine her soaring high above us, her eagle eyes watching out for her boys like she always has.

I know I am failing her still, failing to make him happy in the ways she wanted for him. I cannot be the sort of wife she wished me to be. I will not subject myself to the sort of life many women of her generation chose. I just cannot believe in my heart of hearts that the pathway to marital happiness lies that way. At least, it certainly doesn’t for the hubster and I.  When I am subservient to him, it simply breeds resentment. It’s not our recipe for success.

Still, these days I feel softly towards her for her expectations. In my head, I ask her to forgive me for not meeting them, because I simply can’t.  I ask her to look again at him, to notice. He loves an imperfect woman, lives an imperfect life.  And, he is already happy, in all the ways that count the most.

Rest now; mother Mary.  Rest safe in the knowledge that in any way I can, I carry your love forward into the future. I cannot mother him as you did, those times for him are treasured and past. But your boy, he’s safe in my arms,
I promise.

I don’t think there is a more fitting song than this one for this post, it was written by Paul McCartney, about his own mother Mary who died when he was 14. This one is a cover by Vazquez Sound, I just loved that it was sung by a child, because nothing renders you closer to your inner child than the passing of your mum.  So this is for my man, and for me too.

Because, I’m Happy.

There have been some significant changes in my physical experience of life lately.  I’ve been putting them all down to my new steroid treatment regime.  A not-so-scientific assumption made by me.  You see, my improvement is rather a lot better than can be explained by my protocol. It doesn’t make good scientific sense, hence the terms ‘magic’ and ‘too good to be true’ from my general physician and immunologist.  And my attendant happiness is quite over the top, according to my nearest and dearest. It’s not just a surprise to the doctors who have seen me, my husband, kids and best friend are all a little taken back by this new ‘feelgood’ Rach, too.  She’s a lot different to the previous Rach. Even though I have been working really hard on maintaining positivity and searching for answers for all these years; this level of happiness has only been in my world since the immune suppression therapy happened.

Today, I received an email from my friend, Sheryn. Attached was this fascinating TED talk by Shawn Achor.  He’s pretty famous for his psych research into success and it’s relationship to happiness.  You can read more about him here.  And you can watch his TED talk below, more than 9 million people have already, so there must be some compelling ideas in there!

Something he said really struck me.   See, when you are sick, people feed you platitudes and positive thinking speeches a lot. And it all falls pretty flat.  After a while, you even stop responding to them, because those proverbs, or ‘silver lining’ statements don’t actually help much. They just make you feel inadequate for not being able to take them on board.  More work, more effort, more trying in an already trying set of circumstances.

Shawn has done extensive research on happiness, and this is what he says about it:

“Happiness is NOT the belief that everything is great,
happiness is the belief that change is possible”.

This, and some of the other things he said in his very entertaining talk, have had me contemplating my state of wellbeing slightly differently.  Is it possible that I ‘feel’ better than I can reasonably claim to feel, because I believe that my circumstances are changing? Is all this upsurge of happiness creating a better experience of living in my body? Is it in fact, the reduction of fear for the future?  Perhaps, something to do with laying down that burden of believing I am headed down this disastrous path with only one possible outcome.  Now, I have other possibilities.  Based on my strong response to steroids, we know that my problems are largely auto-immune.  An auto-immune aetiology means treatment, treatment means real hope.  Real hope breeds happiness, ideas about the future; a sense of buoyancy.  Could I be feeling inexplicably better, not only because of the immune suppression, but because I am happy?

It’s something to contemplate. I think we are learning more all the time about the connection between mind and body.  I’m not saying that if you are sick you just need to get happy and everything will be alright.  Far from it! There are genuine and significant physical reasons for illness.  And maybe there are emotional factors that can impact your illness further.  Or indeed, your wellbeing. Shawn Achor suggests ways we can improve our mental habits that will lean us into a more positive frame of mind, but I am not sure if being grateful for three things a day, journalling, meditating and performing random acts of kindness would ever swing most of the patients I know into a different prognosis. What I am saying, is that how we feel emotionally is a part of how we feel physically.  It’s something I hope to explore more.

How what we feel is connected to how we feel.

For now, despite how unsettling Happy Rach is to those around (!) I am riding the wave.   It might dump me at some point, and I’ll probably get sand in my togs and water up my nose.  But right now, I’m riding high, surfing that wave of happiness.   Can you see me up there on my metaphorical longboard, waving at you with a stupid big grin on my face?  Sunshine on my shoulders and wind in my hair.   Hope on the horizon…

Can you see me riding that metaphorical

Because I’m happy.

Life Lessons from Lulu

It’s been a week since Lulu came into our family.  She is a horse.  She is the horse I said we would never own, the horse that was way out of our budget, the horse that was a dream only and very unlikely to ever come true.  Until the phone call came saying that she existed, she was available.  Our daughter’s riding coach, Alex urged us to just do it.

But I’m not well enough to help!   I thought.
“She’s a beautiful pony with an excellent background”, said Alex. “She’d be great for Bee”.  I figure when an experienced horsewoman tells you that, it is good to listen.

Screen Shot 2014-12-13 at 2.33.42 pm

We agonised for half a day.  Thinking about our budget, our girl, how hard she has been working towards her goals as a rider.  How hard she has been working in general.  When finally, the budget was worked out and a decision was made, I called Alex.  “YES!” I squealed, barely understanding the magnitude of that one small word.   She called back with what I felt sure would be confirmation that Lulu was ours.  But the news was far more devastating.

“She was sold half an hour before we called them back”, Alex groaned.  The bottom dropped out of the cloud of happiness I was perched on. I decided it mustn’t be the right thing.  Decided the timing must be wrong.  Decided it was a sign we should have said, no.  Who are we, anyway, to even think we could be part of the horsey world?  Our daughter, maybe, but us?  We’re clueless!  My insecurities herded all my hopes back up into a tight little knot and locked them away again.

Two weeks later, Alex texted.
“Lulu might still be ours, I’ll keep you posted”.  And then, all of a sudden, she was.  Her new owner sold her to us.  Alex had called and made a case; the new owners must have had a soft spot, because they agreed to let us have her. She was ours. The money changed hands.  The pony was on her way. The plans for the big surprise were underway.  Somewhere deep inside of me, my own little girl heart swelled up with joy.  Lulu was already wound tightly with my heartstrings.  My buried hopes began to creep out of their hiding place.

When my daughter met her pony for the first time, she was rendered speechless.  Not a sound came out.  She walked over to her, took hold of the lead rope and gazed up into that beautiful pony’s big brown eyes.  She didn’t even ask her name, just stood in quiet awe, looking at that big grey girl.  Her own horse. When she had gathered herself.  She croaked out ‘thank you’s, to Alex and to us.  It would be half an hour before she could tear herself away and wrap her arms around us.  Snuggled into her Dad’s chest, all she could breathe was “I have my own PONY”.  We let our tears gather across her warm blonde head.  Her dreams, our dreams; so closely entwined.

Photographed by Beverley Couper

Lulu is cared for by Alex at her stables.  Bee heads out there three times a week to exercise, wash, groom and feed her.  I was so worried that my illness would make supporting Bee with her pony, impossible. But it isn’t. It’s just like anything else.  I have to pace, I have to prepare. And then, when we are there together, I have to push through. But the payback from that beautiful pony!  It’s worth every effort.  She is the relief of joy when it all seems too bleak.  She is a velvety muzzle and a kind eye. A warm reassuring flank.  A wise girl, teaching my girl, and I, lessons we will never forget.   She brings much more than she takes. We did the right thing. Here is what she taught me today, our first day out with her on our own.

Hold On
Lulu is a big pony. I am a big girl, and my girl Bee is all wiry muscle.  But the strength of one horse outflanks both of us easily.  In her paddock, Lulu was accompanied by four really big sporthorses. Tall, elegant horses with lots of muscle.  After Bee slipped the lead rope through the ring on Lulu’s collar, they came galloping up towards us in a show of frightening intimidation. They all converged on the gate, and Lulu, at once.  The horses began to circle and agitate, Lulu was feeling spooked as they pushed her into the corner.  My mother-vision saw trouble (you know, that fast forward reel of all the things that could go wrong? Those horrifying action shots all mothers watch in their mind’s eye?) ….  Bee let the lead rope out, but held it firm, taking quietly to Lulu.  The horses thought better of staying, turned and took off again.  Lulu remained. If Bee hadn’t held on, she’d have been running the length of that paddock playing chasey.  Hold on.  That’s what I learned from Lulu in that moment.  It might seem like the circumstances are stacked against you. It might seem like nothing is going to turn out right. Like the scary dangers, way bigger than your knowledge of things, might all come to fruition.  But hold on.  Hold on to your hopes for wellness, hold on to your hope for treatment, for answers, for more medical research.  Then, when the scary stuff abates, you’ll be hitched to your dream and ready to ride.

Photographed by Beverley Couper

Look where you want to go.
We were bringing Lulu up from a lush grassy paddock where she had been holidaying with her horse buddy Spiderwings.  She didn’t want to leave all that delicious grass behind, certainly not without any of the others.  I guess if I was a horse, I would have preferred to stay there with my buddy, too!  Leading a reluctant horse along a country path is impossible if her will is stronger than yours.  Bee and I, together, struggled to take her along the path. She turned five times, pushing us away so she could head back. Eventually, Bee took hold of her lead rope with steely determination. “This. Way.” she said firmly to Lulu.  Then she lifted her gaze to where  she wanted to take her, and began to lead. Lulu followed, just like that.  Whenever Bee’s gaze wandered, Lulu would try to go back. But when she kept her eyes on her destination, Lulu let her lead.  So it got me thinking.  I know my purpose, but I can’t fulfil my purpose if I don’t have my eye on my destination. Thanks Lulu, for showing me something about how to move forward.  I’ve been floundering a bit lately, wondering if I truly do have something useful to say here on my blog. I think I do.  But I’ve been looking down, sinking in my doubts.  The only way forward is that I must lead myself, eyes up, one step in front of another, heading to where I want to be.

Photographed by Beverley Couper

Work Hard
There is much that goes into a short horse ride. There’s retrieving the horse from the paddock. Easy peasy, (huh)! There’s actually getting her from there to the stables.  Then there is tacking up.  My nine year old heaved the saddle across to the arena fence with a grin on her face.  Saddle blanket, saddle, girth strap, stirrups, bridle, reins. Check, check again. Finally, satisfied that it was all on correctly, Bee climbed up onto the mounting block and swung her leg over Lulu.  They exercised in the dusty arena, in full sun, for an hour. I watched them with wonder from the cool comfort of the car. They are new to each other, but there is something good happening between them. There is trust.  Security.  They’re taking it slow, feeling each other out.  Getting it right. Bee holds herself with greater poise, she leans in more often to murmur lovely things to her girl, Lulu. Then, when it is all over and most kids would collapse into a chair and gulp down some water, asking for food; Bee takes Lulu to the wash bay.  Can you imagine what a big job it is for a kid to wash a pony?  She does it. I ask if she wants a hand, “No mum.  I’ll do it”.  After washing, there is spongeing, taking off the excess water, making up the feed, feeding, packing up, putting the summer blanket back on, and leading back to the paddock. She eventually climbs back into the car.  She’s tired.  But her face is glowing.  I ask her how she feels, “Satisfied,” she says, “I’ve seen my girl, I’ve had a ride, she’s all tucked up.  It’s feels good”.  And I see it.  Hard work feels good.  I think about how the type of work I do has changed.  I work at words now. I smile at the thought of how satisfying that is.  Lulu, you remind me.
If I want to feel better, I need to work hard, in whatever ways I can.

Connect
Over the years, I’ve met lots of horses.  Since Bee first dragged me into the world of pony obsession, we’ve watched her infatuation with many, and I have harboured a few pony-love-flames of my own. I’ve spent time snuggling with all manner of horse personalities.  Nick, Star, Jonte, Candy, Dougall, Scooter, Mellow, EightBall, Billie, Pretty, Brio, Ace, Beau and now, Lulu. Each one of them has given me gifts when I connect with them. Solace, empathy, compassion, peace, inspiration, kindness, warmth, love.  Horses are so generous with the clueless parents of their riders.  I have been greeted with such grace and always I come away with wonder. Today, as I quietly freaked out at wilful Lulu on the country path, it occurred to me that I hadn’t even said hello to her before we wrenched her from her buddies to follow us. I hadn’t taken the time to connect.  Bee had, though. And it was Bee she followed.  Half my size and twice as compelling. I took this lesson from that moment: Take the time to connect with the people (and animals!) in your world.  You will be surprised by the gifts their presence will bring, and the things you may learn from them in the connecting.

Photographed by Beverley Couper

What a day.  What beautiful lessons to be learned.
Thanks Lulu, thanks Bee for letting me learn from your pony.

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Have you been feeling overwhelmed and afraid about the circumstances you face?
Hold on.
Have you been feeling like you will never make it to where you want to be?
Look in the direction you are going.  And lead.
Have you been floundering about how to achieve your dreams?
Work hard.
Have you been missing the beauty life holds, right there, just out of reach?
Connect.

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All the photographs in this piece, except for the first, were taken by our friend Be Couper.  You can find her work, on a range of subjects, here.