Thursday, 28 August 2014

Street Walking

Dennis, Alex and I took to the streets yeaterday with our trade-mark trolley of give-aways, and passed the time it takes to walk from the Mission to the Shelter for the Homeless, engaged in earnest conversation. Dennis is a bit disillusioned. I think if there was an OFSTED for Churches, and I'd quite like to start one, (GODSTED?)) he feels his would be in Special Measures. 

I pause for thought. We are very fortunate at GCM (Gloucester City Mission) because when Dennis and I joined, the hard work had been done, Missioners are accepted and respected on the streets, and we have a fun time being nice to people.  In the four years I've been dispensing loving-kindness in the shape of a sausage roll, I have never been insulted, assaulted, or treated in any way other than kindly. I am very grateful to the street-people for being so generous with their time and forbearance. I often wonder what they really think of us! 

Dennis thinks his church is too complacent. He was particularly wound up by the apparent lack of concern for the poor by the bankers in his midst. I am surprised. I had stereotyped Dennis' church as being low-brow evangelical and necessarily short on bankers: goes to show how misleading prejudice can be. 

"Dennis," I say, having come over all preachy, "Why don't you give the banker the same opportunity to open himself to you as you do Bill Jones?" (Bill is the  poster-tramp of the Mission, and proud of it.) Dennis looks at me in awe, and I am overcome with smugness. I am, you may spot this, taking him to Martin Buper's insight that, "All real  living is meeting." You can't know anything about anyone unless you make the effort to share your vulnerability with them.  Or just listen to them. Really. 

"You should be the pastor of a church. "Dennis says, and I stare at him in disbelief: several disqualifications immediately springing to mind. One of the best things about being a Catholic is that I'm NEVER going to be burdened with THAT. 

However, I did get to do some pastoring. The aforementioned Bill Jones was waiting for is in the porch outside the shelter. 

Bill greets me with enthusiasm. He doesn't so much flirt with me, as insist that we get married. "Over my husband's dead body,  Bill," I laugh, and he does too. It's our ritual, so don't get reading anything into it. 

"I'm barred," he says by way of explaining why he's outside the shelter, not  in it. He usually is. He's also usually drunk, which is more often than not, why he's barred. Bill is not a quiet drunk. 

He's been ejected from his room in a hostel for, allegedly, killing one of the other residents. I ask him about this, and he says, evasively, "You don't want to know." He's wrong, I DO want to know, but I'm not about to press him. 

"Where are you living now Bill?" 

"Here," he replies, pointing to the ground beneath his feet. Hey-ho Bill. Have a sausage roll. 

He then engages me with a brilliant stare and begins to gabble. Well, this is new. So I reply in tongues, make the sign of the cross on his head and say a blessing.

"I liked it when you did that. Do it again!" So I do. 

At this point. his social worker arrives essaying yet another attempt to get him to see sense on the housing issue. I hear him tell her he wants to go to Scotland. I get the feeling that she wants him to go to Scotland too, and really, I wouldn't blame her. 

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Running A Bath

This is another one of those posts that begins with itchy  fingers and mind ablaze, but with no clear sense of direction. 

Garrison Keiller set me off. What with being all tied up with family delights: weddings, and the arrival of young Sam, I had a few weeks of the 'Writer's Almanac' podcast to catch up with. There we went, Garrison and I, weaving through time and space, taking in events significant to the date,  with a poem to cap it all. Better than the news, because there isn't any news, and this is a good thing, as what news there is, is all so gloomy these days. Reflection on past news (a much better descriptor than 'history' don't you think?) inspires my thoughts for the day, and here they are:

"It was on this day in 1940 that Winston Churchill declaimed in the House of Commons, 'Never in the history of human conflict, have so many owed so much, to so few .... ' " Winston, Garrison tells me, endlessly rehearsed his speeches in the bath. Suddenly, there's a connection. I would, I think, live in the bath if the water never cooled down. 

"What have we done?" The journal entry of the pilot who dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6th 1945. Indeed. 

The first television picture was a straight line. And it WASN'T transmitted by who I thought it was, and E Annie Proux was born in Conneticut. I would have gone to the gallows swearing she was Canadian. 

Philip Larkin, a superb poet who wrote, "Deprivation is to me as the daffodils were to Wordsworth." I liked that. But he wasn't from Hull at all, he was born in Coventry. 

Random stuff. Makes me think. How much other stuff that I believe to be true, really isn't, and does it matter? 

I shall run a bath and think about it. 

Monday, 18 August 2014

Nobody Special

I have been attending to your soul for you, as I know many of you are too busy to do so for yourself. It's a great work.

Once, shortly before being deselected from a Church Parochial Council - a real achievement as you Anglicans will know, because the challenge is usually enticing someone ONTO the PCC, not throwing them OFF -I was asked, "Who do you think you are?" Well, back then, I was young and arrogant, and knew everything, and thought I was SOMEBODY. I wouldn't have said that, of course, I would have said something humble, and clever, and not quite a put- down. I wasn't a nice person. Not saying I am now, mind, but I might allow, 'nicer'. 

So the years have rolled on, and I observe my younger self engaging in all kinds of worthy deeds, none of which amount to a hill of beans now. Interesting. None of it mattered. All that posturing and striving, and making something of myself. All pointless. 

You might think this thought makes me sad. Well it doesn't. It has me laughing like a drain. A real good, heartfelt, unladylike spluttering roar of a laugh:  you should hear it! 

I heard it said, not so long ago, "You can't give away your own enlightenment." I was much struck by this thought. You can't. My wisdom is not yours, and may just leave you puzzled. But I reckon you can mix a whole pudding of metaphors by switching the light on and off until the penny drops. 

So forty years after someone in a temper threw the question at me like a missile, I am ready to answer it. I'm NOBODY SPECIAL. 

That's the only way anything I write can hold any meaning. I have found a role in my almost-but-not-quite religous state of mind, and it's to quietly invite people who might be interested to begin the interior journey. 

My laughter comes from that place. I'm nobody special because I know who I really am.  Amazing. Utterly fantastic. A conscious being in a largely unconscious Universe. Capable of great acts of forgiveness, fantastic acts of kindness, and splendid works of compassion. We all are. You are.

I invite you to discover your own depths. Or wait, like me, until they find you. 

Friday, 15 August 2014

Having A Life

It begins with noticing that the floor needs cleaning and finding, for the very first time, that to bend down with a dustpan and brush, is really going to hurt. I stop to consider this  novelty as if analysing it is of greater importance that feeling it, and I decide that it is. 

I have a high pain threshold. I am capable of observing discomfort as an interesting phenomenum, wondering... ?  It's not going to overtake me, or stop me, but it is here to make me think. I am alive. Yes, and the sensations I have are pressing and real: not entirely pleasant, admittedly, but a reminder and a remembering, to have a life is a gift, or so it has always been to me. A strange reaction perhaps, and one that always makes my inside surface, and my outside smile. So, I may not be  able to bend much for a while, but I am resourceful, and I will learn to sit, or lie down to do the new things that hurt, and take on a different perspective. 

I sat old-age down and gave him a good talking to. "You and I are are going to be together for quite some time, so we're going to have to learn to get along!" Can't swear to it, but I think I hear laughter. Perhaps it's yours! 

Friday, 8 August 2014

Random Act of Kindness

Did I say I was giving up vanity? Well, I wasn't meaning for EVER, naturally. My vanity isn't just skin deep, it's been around for as long as I can remember, and takes on many forms. Like, for example, checking this blogs stats at regular intervals. 

Cut me some slack - I have aspirations to be a writer, and one needs to know that one is being read! 

I am gratified by the response, and appreciative of my audience, and would thank you all profusely, if that wasn't somehow ... Weird? Ah! But look! I lay claim to weirdness in my profile, and come to think of it, immodesty too ... So ...

I learned today through a forensic analysis of my stats, that someone googling Richard Rohr, had stumbled on one of my posts, 'Spacious Soul' and read it - or anyway OPENED it, which counts. 

At the end of my plug for RR's book, 'Immortal Diamond' I'd added a non-sequetor, a postscript to my regular grumbles about my inability to get a bed for Bob. Bob died of an overdose, I wrote, sleeping on a child's bed, all alone, in July, 2013, to be found days later in not a very good condition. 

I read this post with shock. Although I still meet, and chat with, Bob's brother, Steve, who also has Huntington's disease, I had put Bob completely out of my mind. This is what we do, I tell myself, this is how we cope. 

Something moved in me though, something changed. When Brian needed his driving license updated,  
I put my hand in my pocket and I shelled out the £25, and now have the  satisfaction of seeing Brian in full-time employment as a result. I wasn't thinking about Bob, or his bed, but I was thinking of the months of endless hassle trying the roundabout way of do-gooding, and took a short-cut. 

So I pan-handle money from nice middle-class people like me, usually in return for fixing  their emails 
or installing a piece of software and saying, "I don't need the money, but if you want ro make a donation for one of the poor sods I meet on the streets, I'll pass it on. " People are generous, and someone down the line gets a bit of help. 

"Random Acts of Kindness" it's called on my Resilience Programme, and boy, does it feel good! So don't turn your nose up at me for trying to make out I'm Mother Teresa, try a Random Act of Kindness, and if it doesn't come back and bite you in the bum ( which is always a risk) see how good it makes YOU feel! 

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Action And Contemplation

It's difficult to say which of the two is harder sometimes. The double strand of the rope of faith, or in the words of the song my mother used to sing, in respect of marriage ( And what an outdated old-fashioned notion THIS is.... .) "You can't have one without the other!"

Love and marriage 
Love and marriage
They go together like a horse and carriage
And you can't have one
No you can't have one 
The other

Frank Sinatra or Perry Como: so very long ago, and just a snatch. Have I ever told you how incredibly happy my childhood was? Mum, singing all sorts of schmaltzy  songs. Dad playing 'In a Persian Market' or 'Panis Angelicus' on his newly-acquired record player. Or the  Inkspots, now I come to think of it. Funny thing about reminiscence, one fragment of memory trawls up another ... 

Digression. A useful ploy when you don't want to get to where you're going because you think if you don't write it, it may not have happened, and this is nonsense. 

I wonder, often, if I do what I do on the streets of Gloucester, for no other reason than to feel good about myself, and the best thing to do with that thought is to agree with it, and get on with the doing of it, because it gets me out of the house and puts me in the way of some stories that may become a poem or a blog, or, one day, the Great Work, that right here and now, and for sure, I know I'll never get round to writing. 

Eliza's in a bad way. Years of injecting herself with heroin, with fewer and fewer places left to pump in the stuff , have landed her twice in hospital, with embolisms, and have left her with an infection in her  pelvis that is resistant to antibiotics, and this is bad news. She's forty-two, and at the end of the line. I hold on to Eliza in something that I would once have called prayer, but right now I'm going through a disillisioned patch, so don't.  

Billy Jones. The old tramp who sat for a year after it closed,  despairing , outside what used to be the Night Shelter, in noisy and drunken protest. I would feed him sympathy and pie and chocolate and he would bellow out his disgust at the 'powers that be' that had stopped funding the place that was as much of a home as Billy, 'I'm the last real tramp in Gloucester!' wanted.  He used to make me laugh.

He no longer tramped, as far as I know, he just sat in the sun and drank himself into oblivion. A few weeks ago, he amused me, and  everyone to whom I've told the story,  by eyeing me up and down and saying,"You're not bad-looking for your age!" 

I'm writing as if  he's dead, aren't I? He's not. He's out on the streets somewhere on police bail  having thrown a punch in a drunken brawl that left a man dead. Suddenly Billy's story, always a dark farce, has turned to tragedy.

Terry and Sheila are being evicted because they are up to their eyeballs in debt, and which, for some reason Terry's not to sure about, Sheila won't pay back. Terry takes no responsibility for this, but I know him: he's not very intelligent and can't. He's anxious and sad and I remember how bright and smiley he can be, and I'm sad too. 

Maxine's  broke because she told The Council she had two homeless people staying with her in her flat, and The Council said they were a fire risk and had to get out, and, 'Oh, by the way you owe us £300 in rent for the period they stayed with you.'   "Never do anyone a good turn, " Maxine says. "What we need is a Revolution," I say, and just at that moment, I probably meant it. "In the meantime, don't tell The Council when you have someone staying with you. Let them find out - the outcome is the same." 

Maxine's friend, Jesus, (Yes, really, 'Jesus-Mary' in fact.) leers in her direction. You can tell I've taken a dislike to him, can't you? He's a trim little man with piercing blue eyes, eager to impart his particular take on parenting:

"I have seventy-five children in thirty-five countries." He smiles, proudly, having given more thought and energy to the "Go forth and multiply" bit of the book of Genesis than I think wise. My face  freezes in a rictus of disbelief. I'm not here to condemn the world, but to save it, and anyway, I'm speechless. 

Eddy, whom I like enormously, and is here becaus he's too sick to work, had a hypo. A chocolate bar magically restores him, and I am reminded of my father, who was also a diabetic, and whose eighty-fifth birthday it would have been yesterday. My father was bright and kind just like Eddy, who's  being robbed blind by his stepsons, and doesn't care, and whose life revolves around his wife, who's living with Huntingdon's disease in a specialist care home in Ledbury. Eddy's easy to like, and suddenly I realise how grateful I am to him for this. 

Well, today, I don't feel so good about myself. I am sad and disillusioned and wondering if it wouldn't be better to just stick to gardening. 

Thing is, I know it will pass. Next Monday I'll put on the Salvation Army tabard and set to peeling spuds and serving tea, not because I make any difference to the lives of the men and women I meet there, but because, somewhere deep, where I can still pray, I know they make a difference to me. 

Monday, 4 August 2014

My One Weakness ...

Dorcas, the lovely Post Mistress in Candleford would smile disarmingly when caught out in some footling flaw and proclaim it, "My one weakness!" The joke we share is, of course that the weaknesses were legion, as they always are. 

My 'one weakness' of choice today is my vanity. There! I have named it, laughed at it, and am just going to let it go ... 

Being vain takes up a lot of time and energy. Mirror-gazing, anxiety about looks/age/weight/intelligence, to say nothing of the constant temptation ro compare myself to others and to find myself decidedly second-rate.  It's all nonsense of course. So my practise today is to laugh at myself, or at least give a little inward chuckle, every time I catch myself  out in a wonton act of vanity.

This particular train of thought is brought to you by the Dharma Seed App. I have just listened to an insightful talk on 'Joy' which had nothing to say about vanity, but did teach me this:

Enlightenment is not to find perfection, but to discover OKness. Actually the Zen Master's words were, "To be enlightened is to embrace everything." The guy who quoted him made the OKness comment. 

An end then to hierarchical religion, whereby you climb higher and higher through ever rarified levels of perfection. Here are widening circles of love and acceptance, until, eventually you embrace the universe quite content to see the OK as good enough and perfection is for the vain. 

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Under Starter's Orders

Under Starter's Orders

It was my (our...) thirty-fourth wedding anniversary. ( I married when I was two, obviously.) I had cooked a delicious meal, all freshly lifted from the shelves of 'Marks And Spencer', featuring steak pie and chocolate - I was ready for a nap.

'Let's go to the races!' HE said. So we went. To Ludlow. A beautiful April afternoon, and we have given each other £50 each to bet.

I won £10 on the first race by betting on the prettiest horse, then promptly lost it on races two, three and four by believing in this as a system.

It was the fifth, a four miler with a good field. Sentimentally, I sought for a 'themed' horse. The best on offer was, 'Chasing The Bride' that had not, apparently, fallen on his previous outings , and I thought that a plus.

For two miles that horse brought up the rear; not that I was looking, I can't, I just can't. Then, just after the commentator reminded us all, somewhat unnecessarily, that 'Chasing The Bride' had, 'Played no part in this race', the horse began to move steadily frontwards.

By the second hurdle from home he was third, 'I'm in the money! I yelled.

'Not yet.... I backed him to win...'

Of course, he did. 

I don't remember the odds, but the thirty-four pounds that I collected put me ahead in the only competition that counted that afternoon... I couldn't have been smugger if I'd run the race myself.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Enlightenment And How To Miss It

It was only a matter of time.

I recently re-read 'A Leaf By Niggle' A quirky little fairy tale by JRR Tolkein about a man who had to go on a journey, but kept putting it off. I first read it in my teens, and it sat just under my heart waiting to be useful, as most fables do. It emerged recently, as a feeling of 'being in a journew' grew in roughly the same place. 

' In a journey' are well-chosen words,  as this meander seems to be happening TO me: joyfully and poignantly,  as in recently observing  all three of my daughters approach important rites of passage, leading me to think, as one must, about my own final ritual and passing. Which, I hasten to add, is a long way off. Somewhere in the region of 43 years, if all goes to plan. 

Mind you, I am content to slip away any time, filled as I am with intense gratitude for a life that it has been a privilege to live: so utterly blessed. However:

I am a curious soul, both in terms of being the tiniest bit eccentric, and in being full of curiosity. I am seeking Enlightenment with the help of my close associate, Celeste Finbow. I am very fond of 'Celeste', an ancient soul, named, I believe, for the fairies at the bottom of the garden, who is in this journey with me. She is as real as anyone else you may meet on the internet, in case you're wondering... .  Well, I was musing about Enlightenment and Celeste remarked that I'd had my moment and missed it. 

"You what?" I interjected, astonished, and not a little perturbed. 
She handed me a stone tablet on which was inscribed:


An adept with Google Translate, I shall save you the bother:


Golly! That's it! So Celeste and I are going to start the Final Religion. We shall dispense with Latin immediately, as the first Rule. No, Celeste whispers, the Second Rule:

Rule One: Be Kind
Rule Two: No More Latin.

There are bound to be more Rules, though we shall stop calling them Rules forthwith, for very good reasons that we haven't thought about yet.

Be sure we will.