Death’s Angel

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Death’s Angel, also known as the Angel of Death, or the Black Angel, is probably the most important figure that we will meet, face to face, here, in the evening of our lives. He appeared at my bedside the other night, and spoke to me. Bright moon. The Angel stood there, haloed, blazing in a spotlight of glory.

“Everything you have, I own,” he announced, taking my hand. “Your house, your wife, your children, your cat, your dog, your car, your books, your flowers, your garden, they are all mine. And one day I will return and take you  from them.”

Cold, the moonlight. Frigid, that waking from my dreams. My hand burned with his fire, yet I shivered.

“When will you call for me?” I asked?

“Soon,” he said. “Very soon. And remember: it will always be much sooner than you think.”

“What can I do?”

“Nothing. I will lend you all these things that you think you own, for a  little while longer, but you must never forget that I am lending them to you. You do not possess them. They are only borrowed.”

“And then?”

“And then they will be mine As you will be mine.”

“There must be something I can do to …”

“There is always something. Embrace me now. Hold me. Breathe in my breath. Know me for who and what I am.”

I did as he asked and his warmth filled me. I looked into his eyes and no longer knew fear.

“There is no past,” he said. “No future. All that you own is this precious moment, the magic of the now, this breath you inhale, this air you release. That is what you own. Understand that, and let everything else go. Live in the moment, for the joy of the day. Seize each second, as you live it. Enjoy it, for that alone is yours. Knowledge, foreknowledge, and understanding: these are my greatest gift to you.”

Then, for a moment, I knew and  came to terms with the gifts he gave me.

“Sleep now,” he said. “But remember, I will be back.”

I fell asleep and dreamed of the man who met Death in Cairo. Death looked surprised to see him. “What are you doing here?” he asked. Fear filled the man. He ran, packed his bags, left Cairo with its vision of Death, and traveled as swiftly as he could to Baghdad. where he met again there with Death, who welcomed him.

“Why were you so surprised to see me in Cairo?” the man asked.

“Because we had a meeting here in Baghdad, tonight,” Death replied. “And I didn’t know if you’d show up.”

When I awoke, a joyous sun illuminated the world. What I had heard and seen rang out with splendor of church bells calling across green fields and leafy woods on a summer morning. I also knew that what the Angel told me, was not for me alone. It was for everyone I knew. A message, not of sorrow, but of joy, not of despair, but of hope.

This wine I sip, this bread I break, this ray of sunshine, this raindrop glistening, that nervous deer peering shyly from the woods, that chickadee feeding, those crows that bring the world back to life with their daily chorus, each is instant of life held, for the briefest of moments, and then released.

My greatest joy, gained from reading Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements,  is to pass his wisdom on to you who read my words, for this message will change your life, as Don Miguel Ruiz’s message has changed mine.

Carpe diem: seize the moment. Deus est in nobis: it is the world soul alive and living within us, unique to each of us. While it is with us, our joy will live forever, and, even though we perish, that joy once shared will never die.

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Anniversary

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Anniversary

Kicked him out, she did, just like that. Told him to sleep in the spare bedroom. She couldn’t take it any more. She couldn’t sleep. He had to go.  It was the diuretic that did it, mind, the diuretic.

After the radiation treatment, they gave him hormone injections, told him he’d put on ten to fifteen per cent of his current body weight, but not to worry. It was quite natural. It was the hormones, see?

He stood on the bathroom scales without a care in his heart. Watched his weight rise, five per cent, ten per cent, fifteen per cent. When he reached twenty per cent, he started to worry. Swollen ankles. Swollen knees.

At twenty-five per cent, he was really worried. Socks no longer fitted. Couldn’t put on his shoes. Couldn’t bend to tie his laces. Had to wear sandals and slip-ons.

At thirty per cent, he started to cry. He was ugly, so ugly. He was down to one pair of shoes and one pair of sandals that fitted. He went to the pharmacy. The pharmacist took one look at his feet and gave him a long list of Latin names. Told him he’d need a perscription, from his doctor, to get pressure socks, and medical shoes that would help him walk.

“It’s the feet, see, the feet. Once they start to swell, you’re in big trouble. There’s nothing we can do. Go see your doctor.”

“I’ve seen the doctor.”

“Go see him again.”

So he did. Broke down crying when he entered the surgery.

“I’m down to one pair of shoes. You’ve got to do something, doc.”

So the doctor wrote him out a perscription for pressure socks, medical shoes, appointment with a psycho-something, attendance at a clinic, everything he wanted. Then, just as he was about to leave, the doc stopped him.

“Hang on a sec,” he said. Sat at the desk. Checked the computer. Wrote out another perscription. “New tablets,” he said. “Take these yellow ones. Stop taking those brown ones.”

He went away happy. Stopped at the pharmacy. Got the new pills. Went home. Took them. And straight away started to pee. He peed all day and he peed all night. Every 15 minutes. That’s when his missus kicked him out of bed.

“Go,” she said. “Every fifteen minutes. I can’t stand it.”

So he went. Grabbed his faithful Teddy Bear and went to the spare room with its cold, lonely bed. Except he had his Ted.

Lost four pound that first night. Twelve pound the first week. Twenty pound the first month. God, he felt good.  Tried to get back to his own bed. Missus wouldn’t let him in.

“Go sleep with your Teddy,” she said. So he did.

He’s looking pretty good now. Back down to ten per cent body weight up. Says he can live with that. Likes sleeping with his Teddy. Says it doesn’t snore. Or kick. Or punch him. Unlike his missus. It’s the first anniversary next week. He says he and his Teddy are doing fine. They’re going to have a Teddy Bears Picnic to celebrate.

No, sorry, I don’t know what his missus thinks about that.

Ghosts

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How many ghosts loom out of our past and stand over our beds at night ready, willing, and waiting to enter our dreams and haunt us? I guess we all have them. But, like the animals in Animal Farm, where some are more equal than others, I guess some of us are more haunted by our childhood past than other people are.

What haunts me most from my childhood? Loneliness, rejection, and abandonment, I think. An only surviving child, I was sent to boarding school at a very early age. This initiated the sense of rejection. In my own mind, I was clearly being thrown out and equally obviously, nobody wanted me around. This reinforced my sense of abandonment. Rejection and abandonment were complicated by loneliness. When I came home for the holidays and talked about ‘school’, nobody in the family knew what I was talking about, because nobody in my family had ever been to a boarding school. My school experiences were foreign to the rest of the family.

We lived in a working class area of Wales. It didn’t take long for my ‘posh accent’ to further single me out and this led to even more torment inside and outside the family. I will not repeat some of the things that were said, but I have never forgotten them. Only recently have I begun to understand what many of those words and snide comments actually meant.

“Sticks and stones can break my bones,
but words will never hurt me.”

The old Welsh proverb seems to ring true. I certainly got the sticks and stones, above all the sticks, daily beatings and canings in school. Back home, the words swarmed like black-fly and yes, they stung, hurt, and did a great deal of damage, much of which still clings around me.

Loneliness: how important was that? Both my parents worked, so when I was home from school for the holidays, I was either at home all day during the working week, alone from early morning until late afternoon when my parents came home, or fostered out to family members, not all of whom wanted me around. Many, many days I spent at home, on my own, face pressed against window panes, waiting, watching the eternal rain.

There were some blessings: I learned very early how to cook and I have carried the love of cooking with me always and everywhere. For me, cooking is a joy, a filler of space and time, a beloved occupation that dispels loneliness, and abandonment, and fear. Cooking: the thinking, the planning, the creativity, the activity … I hated cleaning up afterwards, always have. But, it’s amazing how many people love you, and love to hang around you, when you know how to cook, and how to cook differently and well.

Why do I write about this now? Well, I read this article on trauma and addiction a few minutes ago and it moved me greatly. Clearly it’s time for me to face some of those past ghosts and to banish them from my life. Can I do this? I don’t know. But I’ll give it a WIGAN, a jolly good try.

Crow

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“What is this life, if full of care, / we have no time to stand and stare,” W. H. Davies wrote, expressing our need for solitude and silence. Sometimes we must just walk in the woods and be alone with our spirits. Too much excitement, too much Brexit, too much mid-terms, too much suspense, too much controversy, too much shallow thinking, too much knee-jerk reaction, too much emotion = too little time to be alone, to sit and think, to work things out for oneself … so, let the snow fall, let the drifts deepen, let the snowflakes accumulate.

There are so many things I want to do that I am not doing any of them. I must take some, make some, time to sit back and relax, I guess. The well is empty. It’s time to be on my own, to meditate, and to allow those inner springs to fill up and flow again. That may not take long. Woods, crows, cardinals, and the hushed whisper of falling snow will do the trick.

It’s been a long time since I last posted. I guess life gets in the way. A beautiful cardinal sat on my feeder this morning, but by the time I had found the camera, our family of crows had frightened him away. Here’s the last (of five) just arriving in the tree. He’s not as pretty as the cardinal, but he’s very stark against the falling snow, speckled too, in places. Vade mecum. I will be back.

 

 

Insomnia

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Insomnia

Mine was at its worst in Moncton in 2015. I was committed to eight weeks of radiation treatment, and after two weeks, I slept restlessly, if at all. Some of the other residents of the hospice were worse off than me. They got up at all hours of the night and paced the floors downstairs, nursing their wounds, both mental and physical, searching for the peace and the sleep that eluded them. I never went down to join them. My case was different. All cases are slightly different. In spite of this society’s attempts at social engineering, each of us is an individual and we deal with our own problems in our own way.

In my case, the need to pee during the night dominated my sleep. I would sleep in ninety minute cycles, then get up and visit the bathroom, then return to bed for another ninety minutes. Sometimes, I was lucky and the cycles went for two hours, or two and a half hours. I rarely got more than three hours sleep. Upon returning to bed, I would often just lie there, remembering, thinking, musing, hoping, waiting for sleep to come. Often my cycle would reject the sleep I needed, and I just lay there waiting until I was ready to pee again. These were not great times. Luckily I never fell asleep so deeply that I wet the bed. Some did, but I was one of the lucky ones and managed to keep my bedding clean.

During this time, I learned to divide the night into segments. I thought of the segment that ran from 10:00 pm to 3:00 am as an uphill climb with the initial joy of dropping off to sleep tempered by the knowledge that the urge to urinate would soon be upon me. The segment from 3 am to 4 am was the plateau at the top of the hill: I rarely slept during this period and would look frequently at my clock while the minutes ticked by. Sometimes I would turn on the light and just watch the second hand throbbing slowly round. It was like watching sand sift through an hour glass, or water sift through the fingers: uncontrollable, unstoppable, life just slipping away. I had plenty of time to think and much to think about. I relived my life during those eight weeks and a lot of it was unpleasant as I blamed myself for the situation I was in.

At 4 am, the universe shifted, and I was able to relax and slide downhill into the Land of Winking, Blinking, and Nod. With the urges of the earlier segments fading, I would often get two sound sleeps at this stage, one from 4 to 6 and the other from 6-8. If I was lucky, I would sleep from 4-7, or even 4-7:30 am. These were bonus nights and I awoke after a three hour sleep session to find myself greatly refreshed.

Three years after my treatment, many things have returned to normal However, those sleep patterns have not changed that much. I no longer feel the need to urinate at such regular intervals, but I still dip in and out of those same sleep cycles. They have become a part of my system. The easy part, tired, sleeping from bed-time to about 2:30-3:00. The lying awake, anywhere between 2:30 – 4:30, then the relaxing slip into dreamland, for the last part of the night.

The good thing is that my dreams have changed. I am no longer chased by the ghosts of times past who pace through my night, awake and asleep, to prove that my suffering is due to past moments of childhood iniquities discovered in soulful daily examinations  induced by a consciousness of minute sins demanded by the weekly confessional. Now, I dream of many things, of shoes, and ships, and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings, and if the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings. This is much more fun: I find I can now control my dreams, re-think them, and re-write the endings. In my waking periods I do just this, and my dreams adapt and change and become more pleasant as I fall back into sleep. This has turned into a time of great creativity: but that is a tale for another day.

Shadows

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Shadows

My front door stood open,
but I thought I’d left it
closed.

I tip-toed in and called:
“Is anybody there?”

Echo answered
‘… there, there, there …”
then silence.

I walked
from room to room,
startled by shadows.

I opened doors,
looked under the table,
searched behind chairs.

Nothing. No one.
The house stood
still and empty,

save for the fear,
the silent fear,
that lurked
like a remembered cancer
and occupied each room.

First published on this blog, Shadows, 27 April 2017. Here now with some minor changes and a voice recording.

 

 

 

Life

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Life

A champagne glass
bubbling to the brim,
your voice over the phone,
sparking and sparkling.
“I’ve got a new job,” you say,
and fresh horizons
open before my eyes.
I see your ship sailing
towards undiscovered lands.
A better life beckons:
more responsibility,
higher pay, a move away
from the routines, once fresh,
now boring, that hold you back.
“Well done. Congratulations!”
I hear you start the car.
“Take care. Drive safely.”
You accelerate away
driving into the  unknown
dimensions of a newer life
beyond this life,
a life I will never know.