When Strangers become Neighbours

bears
Bears watching over the neighbourhood

It’s two years since I last wrote on this site. Two years of an inward journey trying to make sense of the shifts in my thinking. Two years of inward pilgrimage-ing as it were. That as well as having painful left shoulder surgery and building a new home. But now in this unprecedented global situation of Covid 19, I need to reach out. Like many introverts, I find writing so much easier than talking.

How to make sense of these crazy days? In New Zealand, where I live, whole households are on ‘home detention’ to keep them safe, to save lives. The country’s economy is shut down so that citizens can remain safely in their homes and not expose one another to Covid 19.

We’re having beautiful weather. Balmy autumn days with cool evenings so that sleep is possible, and warm enough sun to entice us outdoors. Yes, we are encouraged here in New Zealand to go for a walk, or to ride a bike  as exercise is beneficial for our mental health as well as our bodies. I am grateful we can venture outdoors. Looking out at the beautiful Coromandel harbour, it’s hard to realise that there is danger lurking for so many. We don’t have ambulance sirens going passed our home- like so many others do -constant reminders that potential danger hangs in the very air we breathe.

There are  other dangers lurking too. Homes are not always safe and friendly places. Cooped up together, children fretful and not capable of understanding the lockdown situation, tempers fray. Hopefully, there are people watching out for these folk.

We’re all being encouraged to watch out for each other. To be kind to one another. And people are (mostly) responding positively to these messages from our leaders. Strangers who have lived  in the same street, for months and even years, are becoming neighbours and greeting one another across fences which once separated us and enhanced the belief that we are independent of each other. We know differently now. We need one another. And so we greet each other as we pass at the regulation distance of two metres as we take our daily walks. We (mostly) wait patiently in the supermarket queues again standing at the required two metre distance, and we are making new friends here too.

Will we remember these lessons once the danger of Covid 19 has diminished in our memories? What are the stories that children will take forward into their futures? Maybe that life is hard and uncertain for that is part of our reality. That we need to look out for each other and that the days of tribalism are now gone. We are one across the globe as together we look to contain the current threat to the well being of so many lives and economies.

Words of the English mystic, Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) have been sustaining me.

I shall make all things well; and you shall see for yourself that all manner of things shall be well.

(Norwich, Julian. n.d. English translation: Elizabeth Spearing. 1998. Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love. London, UK: Penguin Books.)

And why the bear photo? In New Zealand some wise person suggested we place teddy bears in our windows to cheer the children who pass our property. So many children have  heard the ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’ story. The bears, instead of dwelling in their dark caves, have come out and joined our households reminding us that :

We’re Not Scared of any virus and that all shall be well despite the daily news which might suggest the contrary.

Stay well and virus free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fidelity then Self-Doubt

From the photo you will notice I did get to sail from Antigua, with a stop off at Jamaica then completing the journey at the San Blas Islands and mainland Panama. My hopes to blog during the trip were soon to be unrealised due to the vagueness and unreliability of the internet connection. However, I do have enough notes for a book…. not a walking book as my first one – see Kiwi on the Camino: A Walk that Changed My Life – but a book about my experience as a novice on the high seas. Never before had I been on a small boat out of sight of land.

I arrived in Antigua to join the 14 metre Beneteau yacht (Zehn) with three questions foremost:

  1. Would I cope with being out of sight of land day after day?
  2. How would I cope with the intense dark during my solo night watches?
  3. Would the three of us crewing the yacht get on well enough to ensure a pleasant journey for all?

I was delighted to find I thoroughly enjoyed the sail. I didn’t mind that I couldn’t see land and living on the periphery of Coromandel town, New Zealand, where it is dark at night due to the absence of street lights and a small population, the demons didn’t worry me at all during the deep dark. And thirdly, the three of us enjoyed and appreciated one another throughout the journey. That is not to say we where without tense moments. When the unexpected happened,  for example hitting a submerged log, and experiencing extremely messy, rough conditions crossing the Jamaica Channel, we were (mostly) able to remain supportive and good companions.

Back to the title of this blog. Fidelity. A word used and developed by Joseph Conrad in The Heart of Darkness. He wrote of having fidelity in work and the vessel. I read an article in a sailing magazine at  Miami airport detailing Joseph’s development of the word, fidelity, I converted the word fidelity to trust during the journey. Trust in my brother as captain and  his skills and knowledge acquired over many years of sailing as a professional captain, and also trust in the yacht. I knew that Wayne would have ensured that Zehn was  outfitted with the required safety gear and that he would have the most modern technology possible. Therefore, as we sailed across both calm and rough waters, I had confidence (fidelity) in both captain and vessel. The knowledge calmed my fears, settled my nerves and gave me the emotional space to thoroughly enjoy the challenges that came our way.

Our days and nights were broken up by the ‘sleep, eat, watch’ routine – day after day – as we carried out our three hourly day watches and two hourly night watches. At times asking ourselves the proverbial, “Are we having fun yet?” The answer, sometimes after a brief pause, had to be a resounding Yes.

What a journey, what an experience. Then back home to writers’ block brought about by doubt in my abilities to write. Other writers are so much better! Having published one book, I am now wrestling with doubt demons; how could I possibly have had the audacity to write a book in the first place and now I’m considering a book about sailing across the Caribbean! (My second book was to have been about living here in the Coromandel and seeking to live with the lessons learned while walking the CAmino, but the unplanned for yachting trip needs to take precedence I think.)

My current challenge, then, is to be content with who I am, no more and no less, accepting my limitations and acknowledging my strengths as I take up ‘my pen’ once again.

at the helm on Zehn

The Frenetic Pace of City Living and the promise inherit in a rainbow fragment

I’ve been in the city for a month now and can see and feel all around me the frantic pace  and resulting stress of the city dwellers. I notice the resignation and/or frustration on the faces of strangers sitting in cars that are stationery or moving so slowly, taking 30 minutes to drive what would usually take just 5 minutes. The slowness of traffic  just adds to the overall pace of life.

I have become aware that it is not just solitude I need on a regular basis, but also stillness. One of the things I have taken from my pilgrimage along the Camino Francis is the understanding of the importance of stillness. Solitude and stillness was available to me even while walking. A frantic pace of life makes it difficult to find times of solitude and stillness. We all too quickly adjusts to being super busy and living at the pace required to keep up the adrenaline rush.

Classroom teachers talk of their concern that young people today are unable to be still long enough to engage with their learning. They are so used to being in environments of stimulation and entertainment.  John O’Donohue in anam cara writes, “Pacal said that many of our major problems derive from our inability to sit still in a room. Stillness is vital to the world of the soul” (p. 234). He also writes that our lives are restless because our minds are always elsewhere, either in the past or the future. What I notice about myself, is that my mind is often not on the task at hand, but thinking about what I need to be doing. Lists help me here, for once something is written down, I no longer have to think about it – to remember – and I can later take the time to plan the task or accomplish it – get it ticked off.

So in my time in the city, where I currently find myself – and I am grateful I have the flexibility in my life to be in the city right now to give family members support – I need to take the time for stillness, to be prayerful, to be grateful, to be quiet, to be still.

With the above in mind, I went for an early morning walk (although not so early because of the extended daylight saving hours and the later time of the sun’s rising) and spotted a small strand of colour in the sky. I couldn’t see any rain at all, but took heart from the encouragement of the band of colour. There was promise for me in that band of colour. May my life continue to have purpose and contribute to the well-being of those whom I love and  the others who come into my life.

faint rainbow in a rain free sky

A Moral Imperative to Find ongoing Meaning in Life

I have just finished reading When Breath becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi with an Epilogue by his widow, Lucy Kalanithi. Paul was a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist before his death from a very rare form of lung cancer (and no he was not a smoker) at the age of 37. In his last year of life, he became a writer. The above book was published posthumously and I recommend it as a powerful book of integrity.  Paul looked into the eyes of death with fortitude and grace. He wrote as a doctor and a patient.

His writing triggered my thinking yet again about the meaningfulness of my life now that I am two years post working for ‘a living’. I had been having another one of those days where I was wondering – yet again – what is my current life purpose? What am I doing that is of value? I find I get into this kind of existential space when I seem to have unspoken for time on my hands. I don’t like to ‘waste’ time. I want – I need – to believe that I am using time in a meaningful way. Just living for pleasure, or yet another experience  is not enough for me. I have people in my life who love me. I am so grateful for this and yet I still need more. I need to have purpose and be giving beyond those who love me.

After finishing When Breath becomes Air I wrote myself some questions:

Am I living my life with integrity and in doing so, facing my inevitable death with grace?

Why do I wonder about such things so often? I am well and strong. My parents are elderly and perhaps this is a reason for my wondering about life and death and the balance that exists between them. Thinking (reluctantly) about their deaths necessarily has me consider my own leaving of this current life.

Or it is that I now have time to reflect – to think; one of the changes I hoped for post my pilgrimage across Spain?

While I still have agency in my life – which I continue to believe and accept as a gift to be shared – I dare to hope that my days will be full of meaning and purpose beyond the contribution of grand-parenting activities, important as these are.

Prayerful-ness, reading, reflection and writing sustain the hope for purpose and meaning and have me believe my life has meaning beyond myself.

Perhaps some of these wonderings lie within my hope to be daily living the principles of pilgrimage in my everyday life.

 

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An Irony – and Unforced Rhythms of Grace

The entrance to the Tairua Estuary with a strong-ish Nor’ester blowing in

the Tairua estuary

Driving over to Tairua, to give the second of my three author talks on the Coromandel Peninsula, I was thinking about how busy my life had become since publishing Kiwi on the Camino: A Walk that Changed My Life. I think I have commented before about the unexpected work that self-publishing a book produces in the marketing of the book. In writing this blog, it now occurs to me that even authors who publish through traditional publishers ‘hit the trail’. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy my trips about the place meeting such interesting people and making new friends. I like this aspect of my new life since publishing Kiwi on the Camino. It is just the irony of thinking about my second book with the working title A Slower Life: Living the Dream on the Coromandel and my concern about keeping busyness away.  And the reality is, there is no comparison with my former city life.

The comparison I am making, is my current life, with my life of hibernation – of living on my own for four months and just writing. What a luxury that was. Time just to be in the zone of writing. Few authors get that kind of space. I now need to learn to be disciplined and set the time aside each designated working day to write.

Leaving for Tairua, with the worry of busyness once again taking over, I made sure I left home early enough to be able to stop and relax. So I did stop at the rest stop to have a look across the water to the islands. I did take the time to walk the short path to the end of the bluff to get a better view. And after my talk, which threatened to not happen – I didn’t realize I need to take the data projector from the Thames Library across to Tairua – but the local printers came to the rescue and unearth their machine –  I found a picnic spot beside the estuary and watched the waves, the seagulls, greeted the few people as they passed by, and watched the speed boat head out across the Bar only to turn back. Such a sensible decision to turn back when the going is too rough. I will take that picture with me into the coming weeks. That it is okay to change my mind sometimes. To turn around in the face of too big a challenge.

How important it is to me to take the time to still myself and to reflect upon experiences. It is in the reflection that I integrate the various events in the experiences and thread them together with Meaning. It is in the reflection that meaning becomes possible.

So thank you Tairua Library staff for inviting me to meet and talk with you and some others. And I am thankful I was able to take time afterwards to walk upon the shore, smell the salt air so much more vigorous with the waves pounding upon the sand and wave to the boatie as he returned to the safety of the Tairua harbour.

It is in the reflection that meaning is made of experiences. I am looking forward to this coming winter where I begin to shape my notes into manuscript number two.

Buen Camino for our daily pilgrimage through our ordinary lives, which are afterall, pretty extra-ordinary.

 

 

Storm Battered But Still Afloat. A metaphor for human life.

I’m not one for new year resolutions, but I do begin each year with hope for a year where I live my life well. I hope for a life that will benefit others and be creatively fulfilling for myself. I continue to want to live the principles of pilgrimage on a daily basis and hope to remember to live my life prayerfully, simply, thankfully and with gratitude. To do so, I need to live my life slowly. To remember to avoid buying on impulse as most things I will be able to do without.

I am aware that there will be some rough times through the year. That is how life is. We had a storm last week and many people’s homes were inundated with sea water. The Thames / Coromandel coast road was heavily battered and undermined. Once again, communities were cut off as road crews worked to move debris so people could be on the move. We had just returned our dingy to its dingy shed some 24 hours before the storm hit. Bruce checked the shed and dingy early in the morning, before high tide, and said there was a little damage, but all was fixable. Little did we know, the tide would come surging in, an extremely high tide with waves driven against the shore by the storm strength winds. A man later told us he saw the tree trunk that a wave picked up and hit our shed.

We visited the scene at low tide to discover that the shed is no more. The pieces are scattered across the rocks waiting for us to collect them before the next super high tide can sweep them away to become a hazard to boats. Our dingy was lying on the rocks with one side destroyed.

battered by the storm

This is a dingy that we have had for many a years. An old wooden dingy that is a good size for our use and one Bruce has reinforced so it can be dragged over the rocky shore. We were not sure it was salvageable. At the next high tide, when we went back to retrieve the dingy, to our amazement, it was floating. Storm battered, but still afloat. Because Bruce had reinforced the bottom of the little boat, it was able to float on the now still, calm water. Yes, we are going to restore this little boat. How could we not? The one post and top of another, are all that remain of the dingy shed which housed this sturdy little boat.

battered but still afloat

Humilty

Such an old fashioned word, but one I have been thinking about recently. Two events have brought this word to my attention. To start with the second one first.

Today, I spent some time with one of my granddaughters walking around the art shops here in our small fishing village of Coromandel. When my granddaughter talked with the artists we met, she impressed them with her questions indicating a flair for art. Some of them have gave her a small gift of their art as an appreciation for her talent and interest. Occasionally, the artist looked to me for an answer, and I just suggested they ask the young girl – for she had the insight, not I. It was humbling for me to be with my granddaughter and to witness her obvious passion and talent for artistic beauty. I just do not have it to that degree.

The second event has come through my reading of a book called “Humanure Handbook” by Joseph Jenkins. I realise the subject of composting human manure can be a very challenging topic for many people. For me, however, the idea of recycling all our ‘waste’ seems to be a natural progression from my decision to move away from eating animal productsto eating a plant based diet. This decision to eat a plant based diet, came about after walking the 900kms along the Camino de Santiago and Camino Finisterre in 2014. At the end of this journey, I was far more aware of my responsibility to live care-fully on this only home we have, that is our treasured planet earth. I write a little about this in my book Kiwi on the Camino.

The second event – my reading about how to compost human ‘waste’ – which I no longer call waste as it is recyclable – is the other link to my thinking about the notion of ‘humility’. Bruce and I have been recycling our food scrapes for many years so are familiar with composting processes. We are in the beginning stages of planning to build our new home, here in Coromandel, and are are thrilled to have a builder and an engineer who understand our requirements to recycle both the black water and grey water we produce on a daily basis. Thus, we have a builder who is familiar with installing a commercial composting toilet and an engineer who is familiar with recycling all the water from our washing machine, dish washer, shower etc. We will also have solar panels on our roof which we hope will generate all the electricity we will need. I will not have a clothes dryer as we will use solar energy (i.e. an external clothes line) or in wet weather, dry our clothes by our wood fire. We obtain our fire wood from our property.

What has recycling our human ‘waste’ got to do with humility? Jenkins – in his book Humanure Handbook – writes of a time he met with a community of nuns called the Sisters of Humility (see p. 69). He writes that the sisters said that the word humble and  humus come from the same semantic root. They also suggested that human is related to these two words. Therefore, they, as sisters of humility decided to recycle their digestive products. They suggested that recycling the by-products of digestion is an act of humility. I like this idea and have decided that recycling the by-products of digestion is an act of acknowledgement that I am a small part in the cycle of life. Also recycling is an acknowledgement of the debt I owe both to the planet, the growers of my food, those who provide for my daily needs, and above all to the Creator who holds all things in His love and provision.

I have still much to learn about how to recycle all our ‘leftovers’ safely and well, to ensure that all pathogens are destroyed, but I have confidence we can do this and that the planet, our neighbours – both human and animal – as well as ourselves, will benefit from our attempts at humility and care.