Don’t wait until it’s too late

countryside

A slightly more personal post following the passing of someone I knew, perhaps you may relate. All pictures taken during my time in Chichester, England. 

We’ve all heard it before.

We’ve read it on hundreds of “setting-sun-on-the-calm-sea” Facebook pics, heard it on Oprah or read it in that “guide to a happy life” booklet we picked up in the cute shop down the road.

“Don’t wait until it’s too late”.

To make amends. To tell a loved one what they mean to us. To do that one little thing we’ve been meaning to do for such a long time for that special person…

IMG_3364

Yet we still wait. And so I waited and missed my chance.

About a year ago, right in the middle of my two years of travelling and freelancing, I spent a blissful couple of weeks “house-sitting” for an older couple in Chichester, in the South of England. House-sitting as well as “work-awaying” have allowed me to travel for much longer than my mere savings would have allowed. Most importantly, they enriched my experiences with some of the most memorable moments of my travels.

One such moment happened in Chichester during the late summer. 

I had agreed to house-sit and look after a couple’s garden, home and chickens. It was a delightful assignment as I was starting to get really hooked by the green thumb and had never experienced work with poultry… yet those  feathery fellas had always intrigued me.

Upon arriving, the lovely couple, Lise and Ged, showed me around and then kindly took me out for dinner at the local pub.

Green DogSmall

As is the case in those rare moments of perfect timings in life, these two seemed to be landing in my life just at the right time.

I liked their outlook on life, their love for nature and truly enjoyed hearing their stories of past and present. Although quite reserved, Ged seemed to hold an Encyclopedia’s worth of stories from his time as a commercial pilot. Lise simply adored her dogs which she trained from when they were puppies and lived an active and what seemed to be a very happy life. They also spoke with such tenderness about their children and friends. Overall, they seemed to be living a life where things were “done right”. Where kindness and friendships were naturally and effortlessly at the forefront.

I liked them both from the very beginning.

The next morning they left for their trip and I stayed behind, getting to know the aloof chirping brood and getting to grips with the watering/trimming/admiring of the garden.

les poules with name

Time flew by. Each morning I was greeted by 2 warm eggs nestled under the ever-less-shy hens, the garden and greenhouse became my little natural sanctuaries where I seemed to learn a new thing each day.

Day after day passed to the gentle sound of the English autumn’s cooling melody.

IMG_3418

Before I knew it, Ged and Lise were back. We caught up on all things house-related and took some time to get to know each other a little bit better, all three of us agreeing that we would have loved to have more time together.

field 2

After the goodbyes, Ged drove me to the train station and during that time our conversation drifted towards the importance of solid friendships, something that we both seemed to cherish.

As he swerved confidently from one winding country-side road to another, I felt his youth just millimetres below his wrinkled skin on the gear stick. I had to remind myself that he had once been a commercial pilot and that skilful speed was probably a very strong point, even at his age. I sat back and just enjoyed his storytelling and soft voice unshaken by the sharp curves.

IMG_3366

He told me of a good friend of his. Of the friend’s early struggles in life. Of how if he had only had a different beginning things could have been different for him, yet were to become such a struggle at times. Of how he had tried to be there for him for many years. Of how he was one of his closest friends. And of his passing. Of how hard he found it. The hand of the gear stick seemed to soften its grip just a little. 

IMG_3376

He also told me of a place of solace for him – Lourdes, in Southern France. Lourdes, that “holy” place where one can go and prey for miracles for the ill. That place where he had been many times with a group of people who needed all the miracles they could get. He was there accompanying them, helping them on their pilgrimage towards hope. He seemed to be a deeply religious man and a strong man in his faith and commitment to others. I admired his calm storytelling as the green to my side kept whizzing by.

IMG_3423

He dropped me off just in time (those pilot skills definitely helping!) and we said goodbye. I hoped to see him again.

Months passed, I continued travelling and all the while keeping in touch with the couple through emails exchanged with Lise.

field3

At Christmas, when returning from a quiet few days away in the Pyrenees with my travel partner and husband Dan, we veered off course and stopped by Lourdes. I knew of Lourdes from my Catholic Sunday school days, but hadn’t given it much thought until Ged mentioned it a few months before.

We walked around the “sacred rock” where some children had supposedly seen the Virgin Mary all those years ago. We took abstraction of the souvenir shops all around and the clutter of cheap hotels and tried to enjoy, in our own pagan way, this great place of worship. Everyone seemed to want to fill little bottles with water from the stream that passed through the cold and humid Lourdes. It was said to have healing properties. We were hypnotised by the quiet piety of the international crowd and their silent prayers. We meditated, we remembered the quiet hills and holy rocks of the Himalayas where we stood among monks just a few months before. And we too filled little bottles of this “holy” elixir.

IMG_3403

One of them, I filled for Ged. I would send it to him with a note explaining how I had been touched by our short encounter. And that if he was no longer able to go to Lourdes as often as he may wish these days, Lourdes would come to him this time…

More months passed. As I painted and wrote in my South of France studio, the little bottles glistened near the window sill. I had time, I thought. I would send it next time I got to the post office.

The fury of life would pass us each day. Calm days, busy days, they all passed the same. And the bottles still glistened on the window sill.

IMG_3385

We eventually returned to the UK, drove through Italy, Austria, Germany and back home to Kent. The little bottles rattling somewhere among my art supplies in the boot of our Ford Focus. “I can deliver them by hand now”, I reassured myself. And the weeks passed again. We found a new flat, got ready for the fall, got stuck in new projects. And as it so often does, the day-to-day sped-up again, down the narrow roads of countless projects, meetings and deadlines.

And then it all came to a sudden halt with this email. “…I am so sorry to inform you…”. You know how it ends.

Ged had passed away.

…As I read the email, I could not even remember where the little bottles were anymore.

Let this be a gentle reminder of the speed at which our days pass yet the timelessness of a small act of kindness. I will forever remember Ged for the soft kindness he showed me.

I hope he knows I thought of him over there in Lourde’s humid caves.

IMG_3316For Lise, Carin and family.

Advertisements

Living our bliss

image

The weekend is often a time when I set off to de-clutter, re-examine, catch-up and relax. This weekend I am preparing for another clear-up of “stuff”.

It’s funny how even when you have very little in means of material possessions, “stuff” tends to accumulate. But I love these periodical reminders to myself of what is essential and important and what is superfluous and simple mind/space clutter.

Here is a very inspiring quote from Joseph Campbell which is definitely energising my weekend efforts to simplify.

“If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time. (…) I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”

If you wish to read more about Campbell’s advice on how we can “let our lives speak” and how to “live the questions” rather than reaching for the ready-made answers here is the article where I read the quote:

http://www.brainpickings.org/2015/04/09/find-your-bliss-joseph-campbell-power-of-myth/

The Garden

Could I be feeling restless?

I seem to have ticked quite a few boxes of the thoroughly exciting journey out of the 9 to 5 and into more creative endeavours. I’ve “retired” from my London office life, I’ve travelled, explored and learned, I’ve set the wheels in motion with my art and now I have found a quiet and inspiring place where I can let my paintbrushes and photo pixels run uninterruptedly free… Yet, at times, I am still finding myself tapping my restless finger on the table, expecting some sort of confirmation.

Confirmation in the form of a sign perhaps. A message from the Gods that “I’ve Done the Right Thing” and am “On the Right Path”. Something that would unquestionably validate all these upheavals and blind thrusts forward… like a divine tap on the back… or at least a letter of recognition. I guess the 9 to 5 mentality is a bit hard to kill…

The creative world of self-employment is one where taps on the back and letters of recognition do not exist, at least not when one is starting out. It is a slow and laborious march forward in a thick fog, with the dim light of our own vision and dream as only companion and guide. Yes, we can read books about it, let other creatives tell us about their journey, accept the words of encouragement from friends and family members, but at the end of the long line, there is only us and the pencil.

Us, our dreams and aspirations, the excitement of creating, but also the fears, doubts, insecurities and frustrations that come with it all.

There is however one sure blueprint in these times of uncertainly which seems to unfailingly clarify a few things for me. Nature.

I have been planting and sowing a garden for the first time in my life. I’ve delved into gardening books and websites, reading about bulbs and seeds, sunlight and natural fertilisers, hoeing and digging, pruning and weeding. In essence, with muddy hands and knees I’ve discovered a whole new exciting world.

I’ve recently reflected about how the garden and the work I put in it resembles so closely the process I am going through in my life. As the sun warms my back and I dig deep into the moist earth, I am reminded of the striking similarities between the process of growing in nature and within ourselves.

Firstly, there would be no garden without a good and well thought-out  plan. You have to consider how much space you have and what you can do with it, where each crop will fit in best, what to combine together and when to plant each seed. But mainly, you think about what it is that you want. Why plant hundreds of radishes if no one will eat them? Do you want flowers or food? Do you want just a little bit or do you want to become self-sufficient?

The plan is important. It’s our vision and it is what will guide the next steps.

Once the vision has been established, we feel amazing. We can almost already taste it all!

Alas, now comes one of the most difficult parts of the process of growth – clearing and preparing the grounds (ie weeding!). Slow, laborious and yet so crucial. Weeding the ground will allow our crops to grow without having to compete for sunshine or nutrients. It will allow a clean and organised result of what we envisaged. It’s a necessary evil.

I was a little discouraged at this stage of my garden work and contacted Nikie, a great friend and an expert green thumb always ready to help. She explained the need for weeding but then added something which got me thinking. She said that anything (even “good” plants) in the wrong place could be considered as weeds. I thought about how we all allow so many “good” distractions to interfere in the process of growth when we are striving to achieve a goal. It’s so important at this stage not to get sidetracked. I guess it’s a bit of a ruthless process of clearing space and time in order to allow enough sunlight and nutrients to feed our vision.

I feel that in the past two years, I’ve been clearing my land – from the heavy rocks of a career which wasn’t my fit at the time, to the smaller weeds of time and resource-depleting activities which I let go of one at a time. I then fed my grounds with the enriching experiences of travel and discoveries, fertilised it by surrounding myself with people and activities which were in line with my vision and now I am starting to plant the seeds which will grow into the life I see so clearly in my mind.

And here comes the finger tapping, as I stare, transfixed, at the freshly sowed vastness, wishing I would see even the slightest shoot of reassurance.

Just as the earth told me to go boldly in the direction of my dreams, it is now telling me to be patient. To continue weeding, to continue watering and most importantly, to continue believing. The earth has been providing for us since time immemorial… there is no reason why it should fail me now.

Here is an image I created which reminds me of the imperfect symmetry and beauty of nature.

Geo skyline with stars

 

 

A day to celebrate

For no reason at all. Because we are here, alive and well.

Sundays are also a great time to reassess, to look ahead and perhaps plan a few meaningful actions for the week. Not a massive list of chores and obligations, but gestures which feed our soul and heart. Sometimes it’s as easy as letting go of  the little things. Crumbs on the counter from your roommate driving you mad, bad driving, someone cuts in the line? Make it a goal to not give a damn about it this week. Why? Because it doesn’t matter. Why should our time be sucked away by such trivialities…. leave it, walk away and smile.

Bloom

Carpe Diem

“The reason to consider life and what’s of value is to make sure you’re not missing out. Seize the day. What’s important to you, what you care about, what matters. Pursue that. Forget the rest”.

Brittany Maynard, like so many others, is working to make the transition of dying with dignity an easier choice. She is also reminding us of why it’s important to live fully every day.