That’s life

So, I want you to change these two men into Donegal cap wearing cronies. As they chat, it’s very possible one or both will suck their breath between their teeth, shake their head and say these two words:

‘that’s life’.

It is the perfect response to bad news.  News such as, ‘She’s not long to go’, ‘some lad got shot last night’, ‘the cows have got in and wrecked herself’s garden’ or ‘the house burnt down after yer man overloaded the boiler’. Anything, nearly anything, can be handled with ‘that’s life’.

When you say it, you’re either lost for words in the face of terrible tragedy or you just want to move on to another more palatable subject. It is most commonly uttered by world-weary, life-battered folk who have seen it all and worse. I like to hear it when I or someone close to me is going through a tough time. It is good to be that philosophical about things without making light of them.

However, I would propose that you also consider this saying:
‘This is the life!’

There are plenty of times when all we have to offer is ‘that’s life’. But there are also an abundance of times when we can be grateful, even joyful about the funny, good, comforting, delicious things and people around us. If you stop and think about it, you’ll find loads of them.

So this Christmas, I resolve to irritate everyone around me with that celebratory phrase, this is the life!’

Many times over.

Who’s with me?!

I write, therefore

I can reach people, see places and do things beyond my physical ability. On the days when it’s hard to get out of the car and walk into a coffee shop, I e-mail or text my friends and family. Mondays are the weekly reminder to myself and my readers that I am a writer. The rest of the week, I create, control and rescue fictional people. While my life is uncertain, in this make-believe world, I can make all things good. If happy endings are nearly impossible in real life, I will fight to make them happen in my books. That may well mean critics would pass them off as sentimental and twee, but I will never apologise for that.

The book I’m working on right now (I’m on draft 3 so nearly there!) handles a collection of ‘hopeless’ cases. There’s domestic abuse, a disabled vicar, fatherless children, runaway mothers, dysfunctional families, homelessness. Happiness is hard to find. But don’t despair, it’s there…

The thing that holds them all together is a run-down church called St Anthony’s. I chose St Anthony because he is the patron saint of lost things. The story is a twists and turns, highs and lows treasure hunt as we watch the characters search for all that they have lost, forgotten or never knew existed. Some of the people in the story are people I knew back in my past, but most of them I have put there so that I can reach out and help them. I will never be able to stand and serve soup in a soup kitchen, so I make sure my homeless man gets fed. I will never have the energy to help out at kids’ clubs, so I bring my fictional boys to one.

I don’t like being unable to fix things in real life, but I can do my darndest through my writing.

Right now, that’s all I have to give.

Ignorance: bliss or debilitating blindness?

Maybe it’s just me, but most of the time I operate on a ‘need to know’ basis. I skim, never study, articles about MS, I do terrible checks on my children for head lice, I look beneath the cobwebs in the corners of my living room. If I don’t see it, then it’s not there.

Last week, my husband rescued a little hedgehog from our dog and put it in a cardboard box in the garage, leaving it to me to care for when he left for work. Well. For the morning, I put some water and food down, and checked it was still there from time to time. As the day went on, I tiptoed closer and closer. Eventually, I made up a hot water bottle to put beneath it. I still couldn’t tell if it was even alive. It took my daughter to lean close enough to confirm it was still breathing. A man from the USPCA came and took it away. That was four days ago. True to form, I haven’t phoned to see if it’s ok, because I’d rather believe it’s alive, than hear it didn’t survive.

Ignorance can be so disempowering. Yes, knowledge can terrify you, but it also gives you the tools to help others, and yourself. Like the hot water bottle. If I hadn’t got close enough to find out, I would have believed the hedgehog was dead. If I hadn’t read more, I would never have known that they are working flat out to find a cure for this disease I’ve got. The thing is, whether you hide your eyes or look straight at the facts, life will happen one way or another.

It took a bit of courage to lift my hedgehog up, but if I hadn’t warmed it, it may well have died. Which leads me to a more universal problem. We simply cannot keep telling ourselves that the crisis of our dying planet will go away. It is time to take our hands away, and face up to this horrible truth. Maybe we can still change channels or look away from the car engines pumping fumes into the atmosphere. Maybe we can say “Oh, it’s Christmas” as we pile sequinned clothes and plastic gifts into our single-use shopping bags. Maybe we can hide our faces and block our ears as more and more animals move over to the list of endangered species. Maybe ignorance will protect us.

But it won’t, will it.

Home



All my life, I have wanted to be at home, more than anywhere else. Every day after school I’d grab something to eat, race up to my bedroom and curl up with a book, happy to limit my traveling to places in my imagination. When I played with my dolls and teddies, I loved tucking them in.  I do the same now with my youngest. It’s going to be hard to let go of those times when my children get big.

‘Cosy’ was and still is one of my favourite words. I love pulling the curtains on a winter’s night and knowing my family are close by. Sitting having coffee with my parents, or watching a movie huddled up with my little family on the settee gives me so much contentment.

Of course, leaving home as we become adults is a necessary part of life. I found it challenging, especially when I spent a year in France. Looking back, I see that homesickness actually took away from the amazing experiences offered to me. I never fully gave myself to anything as my heart was too devoted to home. I regret that now, but I don’t think I could ever do it differently. Once a home bird, always a home bird.

As life brings its own inevitabilities of age, sickness and loss, I’m realising that what we, I, understand by the word ‘home’ has to change.  Home cannot be a physical place with unchanging people.  We can’t let our hankering after the way things were or the people we miss, blind us to the remarkable life that’s still out there waiting for us.  I have no idea how to do that and I wish I did.

I wonder if we need to be more nomadic as time goes on, bringing our sense of home with us, whatever journey we’re forced to travel.

My greatest comfort is the sure knowledge that a forever home with our heavenly Father  is at the end of all this, and all the people we miss so desperately are there, waiting for us.

Happy traveling, and don’t forget: there’ll always be books and biscuits along the way!

Looking forward.


Early this morning I remembered something. A few years ago, a GP asked me if I was able to look forward to things in the future.  Sadly, I couldn’t think of a single thing I was excited about. All the stuff I was dreading and worrying about had pushed out anything good.

So today, my challenge to you is this: can you find something you feel happy anticipation over? Every time that heavy, dark dread threatens to grab you again, can you focus on the happy event instead? It’s a mental exercise but I think it’s doable.

When the radio or TV reminds you it’s only seven weeks to Christmas, how do you feel? When you look at the week ahead, do you just want it over with?

All my life I have coped with difficult things by saying, ‘it’ll be over soon’, you know, stuff like exams, times away, child birth, sleepless nights, medical procedures, the dentist’s, moving house and so much more.

That’s more than thirty years lost in wishing things over.

When does the loving life bit begin?

Christmas is a really good time to put this into practice. Already, I’m stressing about the dinner, what to buy in this anti-plastic, anti-waste age, why I have completely lost sight of the actual meaning of it all. Someone said to me yesterday how much he loved Christmas, ‘because my wife does it all’. Let’s leave a moment of silence after that…

Can you ‘do it all’ and still be excited about it? Can you stop the torrent of thoughts, to-do lists and tasks and re-discover the excitement you had when you were small? Can you look forward without dread? I hope so. Just get other people to stop stuffing themselves with chocolate orange and step up and share the burden. Or let someone else do it all for you. What a present that would be.  And give some time to those who are facing it all alone this year. That in itself should stop you thinking it’s too hard. They need us to be bright and strong. They need us to give them a reason to look forward without dread.

Did you notice that the binoculars in the photo are facing inwards? It’s time to flip our perspective and focus on what, who, really matters.

Write a different list. Not of the things to do or buy, but of the people you need to look after this Christmas. And another of the times you’re looking forward to. I’m off to start mine now.

No need to check this one twice.