Keep Going

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Never underestimate yourself. For your strength and resilience are far greater than you could ever imagine.

You haven’t survived for as long as you have, nor have you journeyed as far as you’ve come, only to quit now. When you feel like giving up, when your heart is too heavy to carry, your feet to weary to walk, your words too silenced to talk – dig deep and remember who you are.

Remember the lessons you have learnt; the scars that you earned; the joy you outpoured; the grief you’ve endured; the tears that you shed; the love you have bled – remember it all. For this is the fuel that will drive you on with the utmost faith in your heart. Because ‘when you have gone so far that you cannot manage one more step, then you have gone just half the distance you are capable of.’

You are stronger than you know. So keep going.

In love & light,

Hayley xx

Open Hearts

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There are times when our hearts become closed. Just like tender skin that has come into contact with a hot stove; we contract and recoil from the pain. Our body’s defence mechanisms are designed to protect us from further discomfort; if we fail to withdraw, we risk severe burns, or worse still – death. Our natural reaction, therefore, is to retreat.

But what happens when we remain constricted, when we close our hearts through fear of ‘getting burnt’? When we build a wall of protection around us, we cut off the natural flow of love. Not only do we prevent ourselves from giving love, but we also restrict our ability to receive love. What is called for is not complete constriction, but caution; which is simply another word for ‘attention’, or ‘awareness’.

Just as the stove does not purposely set out to burn our skin, it is not usually another’s intent to inflict harm upon us (with the rare exception under extreme circumstances, of course). But more often than not, we get hurt because there was some degree of carelessness involved. Our own carelessness or that of another. Maybe the heat was turned too high and the pot had reached boiling point? Could it be that we rushed in impatiently, or approached at the wrong angle? Maybe we neglected the stove completely and a fire broke lose? Whatever our reasons for getting burnt, regardless of who was to blame, the affects need not result in the permanent closing down of our kitchens. And the same is true of our hearts.

When we remain open, we choose expansion over constriction. The doors are set ajar for love to drift through once more, filling our hearts with the sweet aroma and comfort of joy. To close our hearts is to take a pillow to our souls and smother our very essence. At the core we are love. And to restrict that life force within us is a slow death for fettered hearts. That is not to say that if you are dealing with a hazardous or faulty stove that you shouldn’t replace it, because your safety and wellbeing is paramount. But what I am saying, is that there is no need to stop cooking, to stop loving, to shut up shop and starve.

It is ok to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We need only exercise more care and attention, that’s all. But what if I am hopeless in the kitchen? – you may ask. As a child raised on boxed food and packet noodles in working class Tameside, I reply: cooking takes practice and patience. We don’t always get it right. Sometimes it leaves our kitchens in complete disarray, or an unpleasant taste in our mouths which can linger –  but when we do manage to create something wonderful, nothing compares to the pleasure and comfort of a sumptuous home cooked meal, prepared with tender loving care.

Those are the ones that warm our hearts, soothe our souls and ‘light the whole sky.’ That, my Dear, is a love that tastes simply divine.

We Remember

Day 18: Compose a series of anecdotes
Today, tell a story through a series of anecdotes (also called vignettes): short, episodic scenes or moments that together read as variations on the same theme. 

Based on real life accounts published in the local newspaper. Names and some details of individual experiences have been changed.

Last month over 1000 people gathered to remember the 185 who died in the February 2011 earthquake. I have written about my own experience of that frightful day here. With Christchurch still experiencing ground movement, we can’t help but be reminded of the many lives lost. Survivors guilt is very real, and whilst fleeing the rubble relatively unscathed brought with it renewed gratitude for life and loved ones, grief for those less fortunate continues to percolate the surface of emotions for many, especially around this time of year.

New Zealand Earthquake

February 22nd 2011, 12:51pm,
Christchurch, New Zealand 

The low rumble intensifies before Anderson reaches the center of the room, the ground beneath him gives way as the building collapses into itself. ‘This is it,’ he contemplates, before plummeting into concrete below.

The shaking stops and an eerie silence ensues. ‘I must be dead.’ The silence is pierced by a female coughing and then he too is coughing, choking on the thick layer of dust which envelopes them. The agonizing pain of his left hand confirms his existence as it throbs with the motion of his body. He winces. ‘Are you alright?’ he asks his colleague. Jenny? Sarah? Elaine?
‘I think so,’ she replies.

Soon after, sirens spring to life and two hours later, they are rescued. Emerging from the rubble, they are met with cheers from the street below. Inhaling the air as if it were to be taken from them again at any moment, they stare at the ruinous sight before them. We are the lucky ones…

***

The shutter on Langley’s camera clicks as the earth beneath murmurs its low guttural groan. Horses in the nearby paddock whinny as they jostle and bolt. Langley is thrown to the ground and he clings to the grass, the earth jerking beneath him like a wild bucking bronco. Turning towards the city where he sat at his desk just thirteen minutes prior, he watches as a thick blanket of smoke rises like an ominous cloak.

Within seconds he is behind the wheel of his Toyota racing towards the city, his camera on shane-tomlin-lead-300x340the passenger seat beside him.  Nothing can prepare him for what he finds when he arrives at the center; buildings brought to the ground, terrified people with blood stained faces. He pauses, sees that the emergency services are working hard to rescue those in need of help, then reaches for his camera.

As he takes the photos that will document a day set to change Christchurch forever, Langley spots a man pulled from the rubble, his face covered in dust. He is comforted by two males who have come to his aid. The dust covered man stares down the barrel of Langley’s lens. Click. 

***

Strolling through Christchurch’s City Mall, Mary’s daughter turns with a smile as she holds up a pretty floral scarf, “Isn’t this …” She stops mid-sentence, eyes wide as the deafening roar consumes them. Before Mary can run to her daughter’s aid she is thrown into chaos and darkness.

Seconds seem like minutes, minutes like hours and hours like days, and all the while Mary is unable to reach her daughter. Her legs trapped beneath the rubble, she tries to call for her girl: ‘Amanda… Amanda…’ Nothing. She lies back in agony, not sure which is worse, the pain of her crushed ankles, or the heavy dull ache in her chest. In the darkness that surrounds her, Mary begins to weep.

She doesn’t know how much time has passed when she is finally pulled to safety, only that she does not want to leave the wreckage – not until her Amanda is also rescued. Against her will, Mary is raced away to the hospital, all the while calling out her daughters name… ‘Amanda…’

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  ***

48 hours later

Anderson sits in his leather arm chair staring at the forgotten brew in his lap. He has sat this way for over an hour, thoughts of his fallen colleagues circulating like a never ending ferris wheel. Up one moment, down the next, as news of his co-workers trickles in: Saho from Japan who’d arrived that morning to learn English as part of her studies… Peter, who always greeted him with a smile as he collected the mail… Janice, who was to attend her daughters wedding on Saturday. All of them, gone. A tear falls into his cold coffee causing it’s stagnant surface to ripple.

***

Langley sits staring at the screen in front of him just hours after hearing the news that the dust covered man he had photographed had later died in hospital. His editor approaches him and places a comforting hand on his shoulder. He cannot help it, a surge of emotion overtakes him and before he can stop himself, he is breaking down in floods of tears, hugging his colleague beside him.

***

Mary lies in the hospital bed, her husband in the chair beside her. Her legs are in a plaster cast but she doesn’t feel a thing. She is numb from head to toe, news of Amanda’s death not quite comprehensible, not making sense to this broken, grief stricken mother. She stares at the ceiling as her husband places his hand on hers; Why did you take my girl and not me?

Lost

Writing 101, Day Four: Serially Lost
Write about a loss: something (or someone) that was part of your life, and isn’t any more.

What’s important is reflecting on this experience and what it meant for you — how it felt, why it happened, and what changed because of it.

I was working at a beach front bar in Alicante, Spain; a decision I’d made on a whim aged seventeen. My best friend had asked if I wanted to move away with him, so I dropped out of college and announced to my family that I was leaving. Mum never tried to stop me, she said that she wished she’d had the opportunity to travel when she was young. My sisters were insanely jealous. Dad cried. Everyone said I would be home in three weeks…three years later I was still living in Spain, only visiting home twice in that time, the most recent at Christmas. Back then, I felt I was living in paradise, a far cry from my dreary home town in Manchester. I had not a care in the world. That was, until my world as I knew it came crashing down around me.

It was a sunny day in May, I was outside on the terrace cleaning the tables when I heard the phone ring from inside the bar. Nothing unusual. My friend and colleague, Alina, answered. There was a pause – and then she called out my name. I strolled indoors, and casually took the receiver.
“Hello?” A long pause. Odd. “Hello…?” I repeated.
“…Hayley?” came the broken sound of my Mum’s voice from the other end. She sounded so far away. So…distant. I sensed that the distance had nothing to do with the miles between us… She choked, struggling to say the words. She didn’t have to, because in that moment I just knew – knew that my perpetual fear had become my reality.

My heart heaved in my chest as my world became a sudden vortex of emptiness. A vacuum of nothingness. All senses lost. Somewhere in the distance I could hear Mum crying as she struggled to tell me that Dad was dead. “It’s your Dad…he’s…gone.” And then sobs. “…Hayley? …Hayley?”

I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t breathe. I dropped the receiver and somehow my legs carried me outside. Somewhere far in the distance, I heard an awful sound, a prolonged and painful moan which seemed half human, half animal. As Alina wrapped her arms around my shoulders, I realised that sound was coming from me. My knees buckled beneath the weight of the world and I dropped to the hard pavement, my heart wrenching as it shattered into irretrievable pieces. I trembled and shook as waves of uncontrollable sobs consumed me. I heard muffled voices approaching to see what the matter was. As my world violently tilted and turned, I was forced to stand before I was sick. I have to get out of here. But where do I go? I don’t belong here. I left. Alina called after me but she couldn’t leave the bar unattended. I walked. And walked and walked. I found a secluded spot on the beach, and there I sat, just staring out to sea.

I don’t know how long I sat there for. I don’t know what I felt, or what I thought, only that everything seemed so insignificant. So bland. So colourless. So…empty.

In the hours that followed I discovered the cause of Dad’s death – his epilepsy. I knew it would take him from me eventually. From the very moment I first witnessed Dad having an epileptic fit when I was aged five, I knew that his violent seizures – which caused him to plummet face first into concrete, to scold his skin as he landed, uncontrolled, on hot surfaces, to almost drown in the bath – would one day take his life. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I regularly had nightmares of losing him. Sometimes the dreams started off happy; Dad and I would be out, walking the woods or the canals. He would name the different birds we’d see and hear, and then, somehow, we’d become separated. I would call out after him. I could hear him calling out for me in the distance, but I could never quite reach him. Then he would be lost. Gone forever. I’d wake to tears streaming down my face. And now, my reoccurring nightmare had become my waking reality.

Despite knowing Dad’s epilepsy made him vulnerable, and that one day it could quite possibly take his life, I wasn’t prepared for the suddenness of his death…Parents aren’t supposed to die until they are old… Dad was only forty-seven – his hair hadn’t even turned grey yet…I never had the chance to say goodbye….Does he know I love him? When did I last tell him I loved him? Was he in pain? Oh I wish I had never said that when we fought. I’m so selfish. Why was I living here and not there? Spending those precious last moments with my Dad? Why didn’t I stay in Manchester when I went home for Christmas? Why was I so preoccupied with coming back here – to this empty place? Why did he have to leave so soon? So suddenly? And all alone? Was he in pain? Did he know he was dying? Dying alone… Did he call out for us? I should have been there. Does he forgive me for not being there? Was he hurting? I’ll never see his face again. Or feel his bear hugs. Who will walk me down the aisle when I marry? Who will my future children call Granddad? Is this it? Is this my life now? I don’t want this life. I want to turn back the clocks. Was he in pain? Oh – why did he have to be alone? These were the unanswered questions and thoughts that taunted and haunted me, left me racked with guilt and grief for the many, long, bleak months that followed.

Sorrows are our best educators. A man can see further through a tear than a telescope. Grief should be the instructor of the wise…

– Lord Byron

Without risk of this post becoming too long, or too depressing, I will omit the dark period that followed my Dad’s death. My grief continued for a long time afterwards, however, those feelings of utter emptiness and despair did, over time, subside. The pain of losing a loved one never truly leaves – but the dull ache and rawness eventually gave way to acceptance; with acceptance there came an understanding; understanding paved the way for peace, which, in time, allowed happiness to reside in my heart once more. It is true when they say – time heals. That’s not to say that time has healed the wound completely, but I have learnt to live with the scar of losing my Dad. There are still times when I am transported back to the moment of Dad’s death, and I am haunted with hindsight, guilt and grief. Yet, I understand that Dad’s love was so deep, so great, that he would never ever wish unhappiness on his family. Time has taught me that life is precious. Moments are to be cherished. Time has taught me that we should express our love and gratitude daily, because in doing so, we share our love with the world. I am thankful for the brief time I spent with my Dad, for the memories that we shared. Those spots of time in our existence will always remain, and however short-lived those moments were, however fleeting – the love I hold for him in my heart is infinitely endless.

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Loving you always – forgetting you never xx