FIX YOU (Sorry, Coldplay)

I’m not a Coldplay fan, to be honest, unless it’s a reworking by the Vitamin String Quartet.

Vitamin String Quartet – Fix You – YouTube

I’m not sure why but I’m beginning to think it’s the lyrics. You only have to watch the Gavin and Stacey episode where Pete and Dawn recite songs as vows for their wedding renewal to think again about ‘Fix You’:

Gavin & Stacey – Pete & Dawn Renew Their Wedding Vows – YouTube

I understand Chris Martin wrote it as a heartfelt wish to console his then wife, Gwyneth Paltrow, after her father died. But loving someone doesn’t mean fixing them.

Love is about listening, accepting, walking alongside.

Or, put more famously, love is about being patient, kind, unselfish, forgiving, protecting, trusting, hopeful, persevering. (1 Corinthians 13). No mention of correcting, improving, or changing the beloved there.

That doesn’t mean I think we’re already perfect and don’t need to change. I am a firm believer in growth, renewal, and transformation. It’s just the idea of being fixed, like a faulty toy that grates.

And I rather suspect that our definition of perfection needs changing.

To be whole and beautiful doesn’t mean surgically erasing wrinkles and dying away grey hairs to appear forever young. It doesn’t mean feeling permanently content and happy. It doesn’t mean being physically able or tackling all life’s challenges with ease. It doesn’t mean being independent all the time.

To be human is to be unique and vulnerable.

Life will batter and break us at times. But, if we let Him, God will take those wounds and weaknesses and fill them with His kintsugi love, not disguising them but acknowledging and transforming them as part of our history, a part of us. Just as lines on a face map a life filled with jokes laughed at, kisses impressed, tears shed, evidence of a life fully experienced, beautifying it along the way.

We don’t need fixing. We need loving.

Matthew West – Mended (Official Lyric Video) – YouTube

(Joining other writers on the prompt ‘Fix’ at FMF Writing Prompt Link-up :: Fix – Five Minute Friday)

Wearing a Mask

As I reach the bottom of the stairs, I yank off the mask. The pedal bin lid clangs with mutual relish as I drop it forcefully in. And I greedily inhale glorious sinus and lung-filling breaths of fresh tingling air as I step outside at the end of the day.

I’m not one of those healthcare professionals who work in intensive care, dressed up in space suits of infection control, but I have been wearing a mask for eight and a half hours, apart from a couple of breaks to eat or grab a drink.

I’ve got used to clamping the nose bridge as tight as possible to prevent my glasses steaming up – and I’m mostly successful, except when I’ve come in from cold weather to warm building. I’ve almost got used to the scratchiness of the stitching over my cheekbones. But it’s hard to get used to the soreness behind my ears caused by the combination of mask elastic, glasses arm, and goggles weight (when I’m seeing patients) that builds up increasingly quickly as the day progresses. Sometimes I worry that I might be developing a pressure ulcer there.

We change our masks more frequently now so at least I don’t have to put up with the stale smell that builds up otherwise over the day. And I’m grateful that I’m not getting the daily headaches anymore.

I don’t like wearing a mask. It creates a psychological as well as a physical barrier between me and my patients. Deaf patients struggle to hear me on the phone so I have to assess through a relative. Home visits take longer as we don and doff PPE at the beginning and end. I’m always conscious of the mask covering half my face and having to work at gestures and non verbal communication through my eyes and eyebrows to compensate. Gone are the days of discussing patients’ concerns over a cup of tea in a relaxed human way.

But each time I feel discouraged by the limitations, inconvenience, and discomfort, I remind myself that this is a small thing to do to keep my patients and their families (and my colleagues and my family) safe. I remind myself how blessed I am to live in a country where I have access to such protection and at a time where viruses’ transmission is understood and can be guarded against. I remind myself how blessed I am to have an employer who is so conscientious to look after its staff by providing this equipment and up to date guidelines how to use it.

And each time I step outside and take those first unhindered breaths, I am thankful, as perhaps I never have been before, for the blessing of something as basic as fresh air.

This post links with the weekly Five Minute Friday community and this week’s prompt: FRESH. You can find more here: https://fiveminutefriday.com/2021/01/14/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-fresh/

If I Could Turn Back TIME

Have you ever wanted to time travel?

We certainly seem to have a fascination with the concept as a society. Just consider films like Back to the Future or Tenet, TV shows like Dr Who or Star Trek Voyager, or Cher’s song from this post title. On Radio London, in a regular feature interview, Robert Elms asks what time period they would like to travel to in the city. Or what about The Time Traveller’s Wife or Outlander? I doubt HG Wells had any idea what a cultural phenomenon he was sparking with The Time Machine.

I wonder what it would be like to travel back just eighteen months ago, before the world was changed by this global pandemic. Sometimes I wish we could return to a moment of peace, before anyone had even heard, let alone died, of COVID19.

And if we could, knowing what we do now, would it make any difference to how we lived 2020? The Grandfather Paradox and Novikov’s Self-Consistency Principle suggest not.

But if we could, I wonder what we might change?

Would we start wearing masks sooner? Try to stay fitter? Tell those we care for that we love them more often? Appreciate our freedoms more? Would we lobby for earlier precautions? Stockpile flour and toilet rolls before anyone else? Get on with priorities more urgently? Would we be more or less selfish?

Regrets are easy.

Maybe regrets are what make us fascinated with time travel.

But regrets aren’t helpful on their own.

We can’t change the past. We can only live the present.

The writer Joyce Huggett said, “The only real mistake is the one you don’t learn from.”

So let’s not write 2020 off. Let’s see what we can learn from it and apply to our current situation. Let’s time travel slowly forward through 2021, doing our best with every moment that we can.

Why Twitter Has Made Me Angry This Week

It’s that time of year when I would usually write a post about the books I’ve read in the past 12 months. And I had planned to do that – honest. But I’ve been thinking about, or more accurately, feeling about what I’ve been reading on social media increasingly this week. And it’s painful.

There is a narrative doing the rounds about the unequal value of lives. And that’s not only painful but frightening.

I’ve seen too many comments recently about COVID19 ‘only’ killing ‘the very old’ and those with underlying conditions, therefore anyone outside those categories shouldn’t have restrictions put on them. The unsaid assumption behind these words is that some lives matter less than others.

For the last few years of his life, I would catch my elderly dad praying:

“Lord, please take me. I’m ready to go.”

He had felt strongly that his purpose in life was to take care of my mum. So when she predeceased him by a few years, he felt his purpose had gone and couldn’t understand why God continued to keep him alive.

It was heartbreaking. Especially as dementia stole more and more of his faculties and dignity from him. Emergency after emergency, fortnightly trips to A&E, falls, hospital admissions, fractures, kidney injury, and eventually having to give up his home to move into residential care – this was not the life he, or any of us, had imagined or wanted for him.

A couple of months shy of his 90th birthday, God finally answered his prayer.

But were those final years valueless?

Appallingly difficult, for him and us, yes. But valueless? Not from my side.

I look back and see so many gifts my Dad gave me through that time:

  • An appreciation that every moment with him was precious and not to be taken for granted
  • The chance to time travel and see how my father was as a boy, even as dementia messed with his orientation
  • The extra patience and lovingkindness that I learned
  • The empathy gained that improves how I do my job looking after dying patients and their families
  • A treasure box of memories: his catchphrases whenever we arrived to visit; the familiar loving tone as he continued to call me “Lass”; our laughing dilemma at how to transport the plants we bought at the garden centre whilst pushing him in a wheelchair; his ongoing indecision about who was the loveliest nurse at his care home; reading our favourite Bible passages the last time I saw him.

If my dad had been alive in 2020, he would quite likely have been one of the statistics for care home deaths in this pandemic. And some people would be saying that it doesn’t matter because he was very old with an underlying condition.

That just because some old or already ill people are dying earlier than they might, we others shouldn’t have to change our behaviour or have restrictions put on us. That the lives of younger and fitter people are more important. “I’m alright, Jack” taken to the extreme. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” followed by a resounding “No.”

I’m tempted to rewrite Martin Niemoller’s words in response:

First they devalued the lives of the disabled
and I did not speak out
because I was not clinically vulnerable.

Then they devalued the lives of the very old
and I did not speak out
because I was not over 60.

Then they devalued the work of healthcare professionals
and I did not speak out
because I did not work for the NHS.

Then they devalued my life
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

So this me. Speaking out.

Not because I’m worried about my life being devalued. But because I believe with all my heart and soul and mind that all lives are infinitely precious and should be treated as such.

What are you going to do?

IMMANUEL: GOD WITH US

I had a go at writing a carol this morning. That’s not what it ended up, I don’t think.

Then this afternoon, we got the news of stricter restrictions for much of the country starting at midnight, which means for the first time our eldest won’t be with us for Christmas. I’m gutted.

But I read what I wrote again. And I wondered if it might be helpful for anyone feeling the same. Or whether it was written for me.

Look at this world God: Can’t you fix it?

Don’t you know just how we feel?

Why don’t you come down and mend it

There’s wars to end, disease to heal.

Let me take you to a stable

Creep inside and take a glimpse

There’s my answer crying, suckling

Human baby, Heavenly Prince

No offence Lord, but pretty pictures

Of tinselled babes don’t speak to pain

Tales of mangers, shepherds, angels

Won’t bring my world to life again

Look closer, child, let me remind you

Feel the cold and smell the dung

Watch them fleeing from a murderer

A life of trouble has begun

Ok Lord, that one I’ll grant you

Our view of Christmas can be fake

But that was all a long time past

What difference can a baby make?

Let me take you to a hillside

He’s grown now, listen to his words

Lessons taught on living rightly

Metaphors in blooms and birds

Wisdom, teaching, I can grasp Lord

But what does he know of despair?

Of utter loneliness and weeping

Howling into empty air?

Let me show you my son broken

Hanging, gasping, he waits to die

This is where he feels abandoned

Hear his agonising cry

So why don’t you leap in and act Lord?

Change what he is going through?

Come to think of it, why don’t you

Do the same for us now too?

Let me take you to a garden

Come inside and take a glimpse

My answer’s in the emptiness

Folded graveclothes, Risen Prince

Oh Lord, you don’t give easy answers

And when I buckle under fear

You don’t take away the suffering

What use is there in “I am here”?

My child, there is a deeper purpose,

A bigger picture you don’t see

But I promise I am with you

If you only trust in me

I will be your strength and refuge

When the storms of life attack

I will walk with you through darkness

I hold your hand, I have your back

So look around and be the answer

See the others just like you

Walk with them through joy, disaster

Show them I am with them too.

Somewhere, BEYOND the sky (Five Minute Friday)

I’m in the garden, as is my routine, first thing in the morning. From the eastern sky the rising sun is lighting the world with pale gold glow. Low on the southwest horizon, a white, almost full moon lights its side of the view with silver. Gold and silver meet and merge overhead. These lights, cool and clear as the fresh winter’s air, wash my mind clean just as they touch every ripple of bark and vein of leaf around me.

Another day: “Quick, come to the window!” The glimpsed hope of sunshine has combined with the necessity of rain to cut through a grey day with two glowing prisms of multi coloured light. The sight and the promise lift our hearts as if we were still children. Later, our son sends a photo of the same phenomenon two hundred miles away; he has the same grin of delight as us.

Scene 3: A pre-bedtime wander outside for a few minutes of clarity and peace after a brain-bombarded day, I tip my head backwards to stretch out the computer-induced tension and am silenced by the sky. A Delft blue background is pierced by patterns of a hunter, a saucepan, a W, a reverse question mark, and a cluster of sisters*, surprising in their clarity and detail for an urban environment.  A dusty speckled arc** spans the darkness. I feel tiny in the vastness of galaxies.

The lines of a hymn pop into my mind: ‘Hands that flung stars into space’. How enormous, how very far away and beyond our understanding God seems.

And yet that hymn continues: ‘Hands that flung stars into space, To cruel nails surrendered.’

And how very small, how very close, how very human God became for us. All that divinity, all that vastness, all those omnis***, compacted and compressed into one small human body, one small human baby.

All that beyondness – beyond our understanding and imagination – brought close, just for us.

*the constellations of Orion, the Plough, Cassiopeia, Leo, the Pleiades.

**the Milky Way

***omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, omnibenevolent

Linking with this lovely and talented lot: https://fiveminutefriday.com/2020/12/10/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-beyond/

Signs of Hope and Gratitude

Mid afternoon and it already feels like late evening as I trudge to the post box and round the block for my daily exercise. Street lamps throw down spotlights along the pavement like a theatre set. Thick tree silhouettes, blocking the glow from warm windows, push the illusion further into night.

But here and there, Christmas decorations have started to go up. One house and lawn, covered in white lights like a sequined dress, switched theirs on two weeks ago – which, to be honest, felt like an assault on my eyes as I drove home.

But it’s officially Advent as of today, even if it isn’t yet December. So now I don’t mind.

In fact, I rather welcome it.

In England we’re just coming the end of our second lockdown but the majority of us will still be living under significant restrictions. There will be a short lifting for 5 days over Christmas then back into restrictions for who knows how long. It’s been a grim year.

So we’re all clinging onto what traditions we can celebrate, what routines we can still practise.

We’re all longing for some familiarity, some normality.

We’re all craving some light, some hope.

These early lights are a declaration against the darkness. They are reminders that the story isn’t finished yet. They are pinpricks of gratitude among the loss.

They are pointers to the Promise that Christmas is all about:

“In him was life, and that life was the light of all humankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

(Linking with https://fiveminutefriday.com/2020/11/26/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-grateful/ )

GRIEF or not

My husband is too clever by half. When I moaned that I simply didn’t want to write about this week’s Five Minute Friday prompt, he said:

“So write about not wanting to write about it.”

Here’s the results of that. Maybe not my most subtle or profound work – but you can always blame him.

I’ve had enough of grief this year

So I don’t want to write

Of loss and pain and bitter tears

Anxiety and fright

I’ve had enough of grief these years

So I don’t want to write

Of parents gone and son’s near miss

And giving up the fight

I’ve had enough of lockdown blues

I won’t join in complaint

Of loss of freedom, friendship, hugs,

How masks make me feel faint

I’m in a different place right now

So this is my confession

I don’t want to write this week

Of dementia or depression

I’ve written of these plentifully

And I’m sure I will again

It’s just right now I’d rather stand

Outside and soak up rain

Or gaze into the winter sky

And count the constellations

Or grin in wonder at the skill of

A Strictly dance sensation

I’d rather listen to the birds

I’d rather count how I’ve been blessed

Maintain hard earned perspective

Instead of giving in to stress

I’m sorry if for you it’s grief

I’ve drowned in darkness too

But hold on for its passing

Dawn’s promise will come through

Here he is – inspiration and blessing

LOCKDOWN 2

Inspired by Five Minute Friday’s weekly prompt CANCEL https://fiveminutefriday.com/2020/11/12/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-cancel/ here’s a poem:

Cancel concerts

Cancel cuddles

Cancel contact face to face

Cancel plans

Cancel parties

Cancel trips to distant place

Maintain prayer

And maintain worship

In personal or online space

Maintain care

And maintain kindness

Let love leave its golden trace

Practise faith

And practise patience

God’s not forgotten His human race

Fogbound: Waiting in Uncertainty

Today I’ve sent my two sons a small surprise gift each to help them get through Lockdown 2. My 25 year old’s immediate response is to try and guess what it is.

He never was great at waiting. I remember the little boy stamping his feet and crying:

“But I can’t wait anymore, Mummy! I just can’t!”

In desperation, I growled back:

“Don’t wait then. Just sit there.”

Which, to my surprise, worked.

In happier mood

There’s so much waiting going on this week: US Elections, the hope for a return to some kind of normality. And so much ahead is obscure: will there be a clear result? Will the R rate decrease to a safer level?

It feels rather like my journey to work yesterday through autumnal fog – I know where I want to get to but I don’t know how long it will take and my view of the road before me is limited.

So what is the answer to all this hard waiting? Should we ‘just sit there’ and mark time?

Well, there’s a lot to be said for making the most of a pause to our usual routine, taking the time to notice and be grateful for the small details – the crunch of autumn leaves, Strictly, the smell of coffee, electronic communication – whatever it is for you. Or using this period to consider what really matters to us rather than following our daily patterns out of sheer habit, a chance to reset and reprioritise.

I believe that patience can best be grown out of trust but I am challenged by the hymn writers’ words:

‘I do not ask to see

The distant scene, one step enough for me’

(John Newman, Lead Kindly Light)

and

‘I know who holds the future and He’ll guide me with his hand’

(Alfred B Smith, I Do Not Know What Lies Ahead)

So my increasingly frequent prayer is: ‘In Your hands, Lord. We are in Your hands.’ And I picture a tiny baby safely cradled in strong fatherly palms or I imagine leaning into God’s shoulder, His arm around me like my dad did or my husband and sons do, my safe-and-at-home place.

And instead of focussing on the insecurities of today or the uncertainties of tomorrow, at least for a few minutes, I focus on the warmth and comfort of His presence and strength as we move forward together.

Writing this in conjunction with https://fiveminutefriday.com/2020/11/05/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-ahead/