A Little Yuletide Magic!
Well, the festive season is finally here! How will you be spending this time? For myself, I certainly don’t take to my armchair with a jar of humbugs 😉 but I’m quite a quiet sort on the whole and I like to keep it simple. Usually I take some time to sit still and think about where the year has brought me to: what I have planted and grown; what I have harvested, and what I want to sow and nurture in the coming year.
This past year has been a bit of a roller-coaster with a whole raft of experiences and challenges. Our little unit has weathered so much illness between us, been through so much stress and worry, and yet somehow in the midst of all that I managed to start a business. Not only start it, but start it growing despite a little choppiness midway! I started writing a blog. I started recording my songs. I started to recover my creative voice along with the courage to start sharing it…gawd help you all :D! When looking back at the challenges and obstacles, I am amazed at what I have achieved this year. There is so much to feel positive about and grateful for, so much to build upon. I don’t always realise it as I’m going along, which is why this time each year is so precious. Each Yule I sit down and recognise and am thankful for all those little bits of magic that flutter into my life..little miracles. Perhaps my miracles may not seem like miracles to most people. Usually we think of ‘miracles’ as something that requires some momentous and unfathomable event to take place. I don’t think of them like that. I think miracles happen every time the world exceeds our expectations, every time our perception of life, ourselves and others is challenged and shifted and transformed in a positive and perhaps unexpected, sometimes inexplicable way. Those experiences, whether big or small, can be life changing or they can simply make us feel more positive about life, rekindling trust and hope that we may have lost along the way.
I’d like to share a story about a lady called Laura and one of these little miracles that I witnessed some years ago…
Once upon a time there was an old, old lady called Laura who lived in a care home. She was a tiny lady, existing in a cloud of brilliant white hair that radiated from her head in an aura of light. Her skin had sagged and wrinkled like old leather bags, yet her face was still capable of breaking into the most beautiful smile. Most importantly she had lived for a whole ninety two years. Laura had lived through wars, had given her service in the WRAF, had travelled the world; she had been married, given birth to children, loved and danced and tapped her feet to hundreds of tunes; she had seen deep snows and hot summers, grown flowers and watched the leaves fall from the trees. She had seen her husband and relatives and many friends decline and die; had seen daughters, nephews, nieces and grandchildren grow and thrive into middle and old age. She had seen birthdays and christenings, weddings and funerals. She had knitted jumpers and sewn dresses, embroidered and crocheted and decorated cakes. Laura had seen all this and many, many more things that I never had the chance to find out about. Ninety two years is a long time after all. But now Laura could not see anything much. She still wore the glasses that had at one time helped her to read a book or watch the television, but a dark cloud was slowly descending over her vision. Age was grasping greedily, not only at her eyes but at her joints and bones that swelled with arthritis like jack balls, stiff and sore. Even holding a cup of tea was hard work. Where once she was a buoyant personality, she became withdrawn. Where once she would have laughed she grumbled and sniped. Where once she was sociable, she confined herself to a lonely chair in her room, listening to the clock tick, counting down seconds, minutes, hours. She would occasionally join the other residents for morning coffee where she sat quietly, but later would retreat back to the tick-tock of the clock on the wall.
The first time I met Laura I was working as an Activities Organiser in her care home and she was not pleased to see me. I was yet another new staff member who would no doubt come and go, and was therefore merely an interruption. So she squinted hard at me through the glass slabs that dominated her little face and then retreated behind the winged head rests of her chair. After a moment’s silence she asserted that there was nothing I could do for her as there was no longer anything she could do. She couldn’t see and she couldn’t hold anything, so there was no point in anything. The only thing she wanted from me was to order her talking books from the RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) because she was registered blind even though she could still see slightly, didn’t I know that (??!!), so there was nothing she could do.
I realised at that point that Laura was not going to be easy. There was no reason why she should have been, she felt understandably frustrated and depressed by the physical restrictions that had come upon her and saw no reason to pretend she didn’t just to please others. So I took her the talking books and tried to encourage her to join in the other activities with the residents. Occasionally she would venture out for music sessions, or simple social events, but by and large she liked to keep her self to her self.
As time went on, Laura let some of her defenses down and we talked. I found out that she had once loved crafts and had learned all kinds of skills, made all kinds of things. She spoke more enthusiastically than I had ever heard her until I made the mistake of asking her if she would like to join in some of the craft sessions we had organised within the home. She closed down in an instant and her defenses were back up: look at her fingers, she couldn’t do anything with them any more, and besides, she couldn’t see, so of course she couldn’t join in with any of it. Reluctant to abandon the thread of conversation, I asked her if she would come if we helped her, but Laura wanted none of it. That part of her life was over and that was all there was to it. I left her room that day kicking myself for having mentioned the craft sessions when she was talking so enthusiastically about the past. I had seen such a spark, such a transformation in her mood as she talked that I went away and racked my brains to try and come up with a way to get her involved. I have to admit that ultimately we fell back on trickery and deceit :)!
A big part of all our activity sessions was the teas, coffees, biscuits and chat between the residents, so I asked Laura if she would come along just for the tea. At first she refused, but under duress she finally agreed. We put a warm blanket over her legs and wheeled her chair out onto the sunny terrace where the table was set up with ribbons, beads, lace, fabric flowers and wicker baskets. Easter was fast approaching along with the annual fete and the residents had had the idea to make Easter baskets that would be filled with sweet eggs to sell on their stall, raising money for a local children’s home. Laura clutched awkwardly at her cup and saucer as others busied themselves with the pieces on the table.
The other residents sounded jolly in their work, and I could see it had, as we had hoped, piqued Laura’s interest. I could see her trying to peer through her glasses at the ribbons but I said nothing. Eventually she shakily passed her cup onto the table and reached out her hand to touch them. She pulled a dark blue ribbon onto her lap and smoothed it with her fingers. Then she took another and put them together. Then some lace and a flower. She sat quietly with her chosen items, touching every part of them. After some minutes of this I whispered in her ear “Laura, would you like to make a basket?” She hesitated. She turned her face to me. I could see her desire to do something she loved fighting with the defensive belief that she was not capable of it. “I’ll help you with the fiddly bits” I said. She nodded and I put one of the small wicker baskets on her lap.
Over the next hour Laura made a basket. She battled with lace to fix it to the rim, finding new ways to use her fingers and nails as tools to hold things in place. She held beads as we glued them to the outside, I helped her to push ribbons and flower wires through the wicker weave. She poked and prodded, stroked and smoothed all the different areas until she had a basket she was contented with. It was not the most adeptly created basket, and she knew it, but it didn’t matter because it was enough to make something magical happen…
I had ventured over to another resident to help them with a stray ribbon and turned my back to Laura briefly. When I turned around, she was not looking at me or anyone else. Her entire attention was focused on the basket in her lap. Her hands cradled it like a precious treasure, she seemed to be almost trembling with happiness and disbelief, her smile directed down straight into her basket. She kept touching it, every part of it, all the time smiling to herself, knowing that this was her creation, that despite everything she had believed, she had manged to make this basket. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She was radiant. Watching her as she sat there, glowing, was without a doubt, one of the absolute highlights of my working life. Laura, that tiny ninety two year old woman, with her huge glasses and arthritic fingers, her quietly sassy attitude and her courage in facing her fear, filled up my heart. I still feel my heart swell to tears every time I recall the sight of her sitting with that basket in her hands.
Now perhaps you may not call Laura’s journey miraculous, but to Laura it was. She thought that part of her life was over, beyond her, only to find that through her willingness to suspend that belief and try, she was able to achieve more than she had thought possible. After that day Laura slowly became more open to trying other things, more involved in the life of the home. The knock-on effect of this was that over the time she had left in her life, she became more upbeat and chatty and positive. She changed her experience of her life through that one seed that kept on growing. At ninety two years old, believing there was nothing she was capable of, Laura dug inside herself and pulled out hope and spirit. At ninety two years old, her courage and determination impressed and inspired me enough to want to tell you about her so many years later. She not only transformed her own life experience, she transformed mine as well. I often find myself thinking about Laura when I feel afraid of failing, when I am holding myself back or when I have lost hope that a situation can change or that I can change within it. I think about her when I consider the value of a creative life and the importance of that being something accessible to everyone who wants to engage with it.
The magic that we create in our own lives is like a candle; something that we light within ourselves and that can go on lighting the candles of others without its light ever being depleted. Laura probably never knew that she had had that effect on me, just as we may never know the effect that the moments when we let our spirits shine brightly, when we reach beyond what we believe about ourselves and the world, may have on the people around us. It is the magic of the child who comes into the world with an open heart, ready to approach life as an adventure, without judgment or fear; ready to love and laugh and play freely; knowing that the world welcomes them and embraces them just as they are. It can draw us in, encourage us to remember our own playfulness and joy, our own openness and capacity for love. So many of us grow up having that inner light slowly dimmed one way or the other. We are trained into cynicism, to have fixed ideas and beliefs about the world and ourselves that can become ingrained until we don’t even know they are there. It’s no failing in any individual, just the way the world operates and the expectation of what it means to be an adult. But what happens if we suspend those beliefs, just for a moment? What if we let ourselves drift back to the time when we believed in magic, that the impossible was possible, that our world is not solely governed by logic and reason and knowledge, but also by our imaginations and dreams? How would it look? What might we be inclined to try if we were not restricted by what we think we know? How much more might we find ourselves capable of if we cast ‘knowledge’ to the wind and let ourselves jump feet first, trusting life to catch and carry us like a child that laughs and giggles as their parent swings them in the air then brings them safely to ground?
‘Knowledge’ is a funny thing. We talk about ‘being realistic’ as if our perceptions are facts. Sometimes they are…there are some things that we can’t change however much we want to; but so often it seems that phrase is simply something that we say to avoid the feeling of being uncertain, of being outside of our comfort zone; we worry what people might think, what they might say to us or about us, how it will change the way that we relate to and fit into the world. So we set our dreams aside; perhaps forget that we ever had any. But seeds can lie dormant in the soil through the deep cold of the winter for many months without perishing, waiting and waiting for the touch of the sun to warm the soil. Frozen in those deep dark depths they do not give up hope, they persist though everything around them is barren and still. Finally that waiting is rewarded by the coming of Spring and that hope allows the magic of growth to happen, gives form to potential, sustains the force of life within the plants, just as it sustains us as human beings. But I think that to have hope we must first allow ourselves to dream and to remember that the world and the beings in it have a habit of surprising us just when we least expect it….
Whatever and however you celebrate or mark this time of year, I wish you a magical time that will nourish your dreams and bring you every hope of love, warmth and happiness :). My gallery this time brings you images of Yuletide magic from some of those talented people over at Etsy 🙂 – just click on the image to go to my Etsy Treasury: