Choosing Life

“I can choose to live in perpetual sadness immobilized by my loss,

or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have – life itself”.

Walter Anderson


Back is burning, boring – and it doesn't let up. It is fiercely concentrated – I would admire its determination if it were a person.

I am used to it – is that better or worse? The fact I had hope when starting the marijuana makes it harder. The doors started opening and I could see light through the crack: see the grandchildren, go to the theatre.

But if I am going to get through this night, I must change the story I am telling myself. I need to sleep to have a chance tomorrow – and I want that chance for Bill.

So what is my new story? After all life isn't what happens, but how I perceive it. And I don't want my story to be a victim, or bravely courageous. I just want to be normal. I don't want to build my morale by grabbing points over some other poor wretch. I don't want you bereaved, so I can say “at least I am not you.”

I am loved – and that is so huge. I can afford the help I need. I have loving friends, in whose happiness I rejoice.

I have sight – and the joy of watching clouds. I have an active mind and zest for life.

For what life, when I can do so little? For reaching towards understanding what it is to be human. And where better to start than from pain?

Now to sleep. Thank God for a sleeping pill and warmth on my back – and the purring of Thea, who snuggles so close each night and her paw creeps into my hand.

So now I hand over my pain to God and play one last game of 100! on my itouch. Placing each piece as carefully as I can.

So that one thing is perfect.

I wrote this late last night after a bad pain day, while trying not to let myself feel despair. Last week, I was tried on medical marijuana. It switched off the pain within an hour – and lasted for over 12. The doors started opening again – possibilities, perhaps see my grandchildren or go to the theatre, which I used to love. Galleries, nights out with friends – dizzying choice. And no longer trying not to mind being left out. Then as the marijuana built up in my system, the side effects came in, stomach cramps, and worse, a lost sense of self. Where was the love of life that never deserted me even through years of pain? I was pain-free but dulled and so tired, because I couldn't sleep. I tried splitting the dose, and using it topically in a cream, but nothing gave me back my self. So I came to last night. This is what I wrote to calm myself, to try to sleep. I wanted to be OK today, because Bill has an evening arranged with friends and I want him to be able to enjoy it. I haven't edited at all. This is what pain is like,


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When a Friend Dies …



When a friend dies, it catches you in the throat. The loss, the flavour, the timbre of him – for this time he is a him. We remember his cadence, humour and kindness. But also deeply ask, what is it all about, that life can be over – and what is life?

The places he traveled, sights seen, music heard can't go with him. What does it mean to look at a view, listen to a song? Where does that feeling go, when we are no longer here?

We can, by our acts, make statements to history. Integrity draws a wide brush stroke across the canvas of our common world. We remember Rosa Parks and Mother Theresa, but also the quiet neighbour who donates a kidney or Robert Charest who, despite chronic pain, takes his walker and picks up litter each day.

And on a personal scale, I remember acts of truth by my father and they seem timeless; Granny's wise sayings I pass on to my grandchildren – spanning 5 generations. Camping in the South Arican bush, by a flickering fire, I retail my grandsons with “Grandfather stories” for, despite fierce integrity, he was eccentric and always in trouble.

So, perhaps we need to kick our bucket list aside for it is not the bungee jump thrill that lives on. Not what we did or saw, but HOW we lived.


In memory of Kit, a kind and good man, beloved by his family. He will live on through his grandchildren.


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New Horizon

Wishing you all well and a better 2017. Our son and I agreed in a recent call that we just wanted to see the back of 2016 and didn't feel very optimistic going forward.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to live in that frame of mind, nor do I want to jolly myself along with false bonhomie – it always feels fake.

Then I remembered flying back to England for my mother's death. Down through a hole in the clouds, I could see grey, misty, chilly England. I looked around at the clear blue and rolling clouds we were about to descend through and turned to the man sitting next to me, who was flying to his brother's deathbed.

“We must remember this in the says ahead!” And I did through the sorrow that came – and it helped, having a safe space to rest.

So my resolution for 2017 is to choose have my being in that sunlit space of joy. Not ignoring the hurts and fears of the world but to keep my essence in a place of light and joy – in God's space.




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Choosing our Choice


We are not victims. We are not the product of our pasts. We are the products of our choices.

We are response-able meaning we can choose our responses.

The power to choose is a reflection of our independent will.”

Steven Covey – Primary Greatness

Victims? I have struggled all my life not to be or feel a victim. I have chronic pain, and spend a lot of energy refusing to let it be my identity. And 30 years ago when my body collapsed on me, I recognized that this was partially caused by my very stressful childhood. Dwelling on this was not healing.

Finally, I said to myself, “You have a choice. You can blame someone else or you can look at what it was in you that enabled this to happen. Because that you can change.” This sounds like “blame the victim,” but it put the power back into my hands. I didn't blame myself or negate what was done to me, but I could see where my reaction amplified it and what in me made me a target. So I was able to start the long journey up into wellness.

I started with anything I did that weakened me: how I talked to myself, how I reacted to stress. You name it, I had very bad reactions. Take my tendency to react to crisis by running in all directions like a headless chicken. Why? I discovered to make a smoke screen that would stop any other demands on me. So yes, I am with Steven Covey on this one.

But we are products of our pasts, subliminally. Kids start out knowing nothing. We have to decode life and weave it into a coherent narrative. We learn what is safe and what hurts us. We also, by osmosis, learn the values of our culture.

I certainly learned that girls were less valued than boys. I learned many 60s survival skills: not appearing more intelligent than my boyfriend, for example. Sounds crazy today, but not back in Mad Men days. And many of my beliefs were deep down inside, buried. I didn't know I had them – except sometimes they come up near the surface, so I can grab them and say, “of course, this comes from way back.” A huge wave of relief as I take that filter out of my vision. I never knew that I was interpreting my life through a lens distorted when I was five. I just thought “this is what life is.”

So, Steven Covey, yes we do have choices, but only if we understand that what we believe is the truth on which we base our choices is often only the survival interpretation of a child.


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An Injection by Any Other Name





Sitting in the dentist's chair is probably THE most unfavourite place to be. And when there, it feels as if we are always there – and time passes very slowly.

The injection, described hopefully as a “little prick” is the nastiest part. So today, captive with a bright light bearing down and TV showing optimistic views, at a very peculiar angle, I thought, “Suppose I enjoy the injection?”

Normally, I endure with tight muscles, but today, I thought, “it is only a sensation.” I am the one who codes it unpleasant and coil my muscles in defence. What if I just relaxed into the sensation and observed it. The crazy thing is, my muscles relaxed and the pain became interesting rather than unpleasant. Why on earth didn't I think of this before?


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Wave of Kindness

Today, we had just parked when a guy leaving handed us his ticket. It had an hour left on it and he even backed up to give it to me. Just a random act, but that simple kindness set off a chain. When I went in for my physio appointment, a battered young man was trying to pay his account. He looked weary, his hand was heavily bandaged. He was not having a good day!

The receptionist explained they had no cash float; she had to have a card. He had none, just twenty dollar bills. She was prepared to put it on account, except he was leaving town.

“Give me the cash,” I said, “and it can go on my visa.” Next problem: he owed $101.78 and only had twenty dollar bills.

“Have it on me,” I said, “You look as if you could do with some luck.”

And I wondered would I have so easily offered if I hadn't been primed by the parking lot stranger's prior generosity? I hope so, but suspect he set the tone. And will my act perhaps get handed on by the guy I helped or perhaps the receptionist?

Is kindness like a wave passing through water or an electrical impulse down a line? In the Celestine Prophecy, people were vying for energy, stealing it from each other. Do we have another choice, passing energy as kindness, not knowing where it will end up, but knowing that as in physics, it never disappears.

And, worrying thought, what happens to the outright nastiness fired at call centre agents or vitriolic comments on line. Where does that poison end up – and how many does it hurt as it ricochets down through time?

As we walked out, Bill bent and picked a silver dime from the sidewalk.


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Who or What?

What's it all about? The question becomes more urgent the older I get. Nor is it just mine. Do any of us know why we are here? Or what it has all been about? So many threads, such tangled knots. Oh, for a coherent story. To be able to say what has been my purpose or yours, because just sometimes a friend lets me see behind the curtain – their confusion.

I know many bumble along, a hurdle at a time. Some have mid-life crises – what about end of life crises? When we know this is it, this is what we have achieved – and there won't be any more opportunities. What does Hillary feel now she's hit the wall?

What we need is a reverse mission statement. Not what I am going to do or make, but an executive summary of my life that makes sense, not only of what I have achieved, but who I am. Being primarily a mother, I don't have a career path, more a series of boulders I have climbed: first publication, first major speech, with fallow patches in between, filled with kids' activities and elderly parents. Imagine it's the same for most women. However we try to steer a steady course, we are also treading water with kid's activities or avoiding a whirlpool of domestic detritus.

Then, the kids move away, in our case overseas, our parents die and we are retired. My father, a neurologist, said to me that his career meant nothing to him in retirement. He hardly ever thought of it, nor did his friends: they all looked forward – to the grandchildren.

So we finally meet ourselves – who are we? And that's the answer, the core person who loved and cared, put our hearts and guts into each stage.


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