Warning!

  The following lines came to me (partially, anyway) yesterday in church. Those of you who notice the first line(and the title) is in homage to Jenny Joseph’s wonderful poem, give yourselves a gold star. This one is for Mark,who asked for something lighter after the somewhat grim offering yesterday. I was wearing more purple than the Bishop yesterday, and it sort of sparked some thoughts. Enjoy, I’m off to Marks and Spencer’s.

Warning

 

When I am bold I shall wear purple

With red satin undies that nobody sees

but make me feel a million dollars

in an inexplicable, sensual way

I shall say what I mean when I speak

and mean what I say, whatever the cost

I shall not waver in my conviction

that I have a right to be here

I shall leave my face unpainted if I want

And not feel bound by convention or habit

To alter my appearance in the slightest

If that is not how I wish to look.

I will wear flatties even if the style gurus say “No!”

because as a work in progress,

I am a being of perpetual motion

and no one can really run in heels.

I will try new things when I find them

even if they make me sick for a week

I will not follow the herd, but

I may accompany then sometimes

For observation and learning

because, you know, sometimes,

it’s nice to be part of a group.

But sometimes, I am far from bold

and I seek to hide my colours amid the beige

and wear underwear the colour of old gum

and say nothing when I should say everything,

shudder at the thought of trying something new

and hide from those who may need me

because to be bold is also to be a target

and a soul gets tired of being hunted.

So I will start small and work towards

an everyday boldness that becomes

a solid purple beacon of light

By buying those red satin undies

for those days when I need to be bold

and daring, from the inside out.

 

 

Self-doubt

I’ve just crawled out of bed an hour or two ago, after arriving home at 2.30am after a 25 hours shift. I was utterly knackered when I got in but actually I feel worse now, all muzzy and woozy.

But what makes it worse is the crippling self doubt that follows on the heels of any enterprise I undertake. The feelings that I might have messed up or not pleased, or got things wrong and not noticed. In the cold light of day, it was a good trip; nothing went wrong as such, no one got hurt, lost, robbed or otherwise inconvenienced. I think the teachers were so tired when I left them at their school at 11.30 last night that giving the humble courier any real feedback was beyond them; the leader thanked me and that ought to be enough. But I have to do these things almost in a sort of vacuum, because I haven’t ever seen anyone else do it; I’ve just had to make it up as I go along and I am terrified, no, PETRIFIED that I am somehow making a hash of it all and people are too polite/kind/reluctant to cause trouble to say anything. That was my fourth European trip; my boss is trying to make sure I get new groups where possible and she tells me she has every confidence in me. That ought to be enough. But it isn’t. As well as being worn out, I’m in a kind of inner agony in case I didn’t do as good a job as I want to do. I do this in my other job too; I worry that because the kids don’t greet me as their long lost friend that I’m not a good enough teacher.

I think I fear at a very deep level that on every level I am simply not good enough.

And I hate it. I hate the day after a party, an event, an anything because I wonder if I did OK. It’s kind of a need for approval (thank you J!) and because I have a very thin emotional skin, it all hurts.

I’m getting ready to go out to a barbeque with our Bee group this afternoon so at least I’ll have something to take my mind off it soon. But for a few days I will actually be worrying that there’ll be a letter arriving on my boss’s desk saying I was rubbish or worse, complaining I did things badly or not at all.

I do hope there isn’t any alcohol at the BBQ that I might actually like, because I feel like getting drunk and that really isn’t a great idea.

Belief(or lack thereof)

I’ve always had a bit of a problem with belief. I’ve stopped believing in things most people believe in and I hang onto beliefs many folks have long given up on, for far longer than you’d imagine. I believed in Father Christmas long after everyone else had decided it was definitely your mum and dad; I still do, to tell you the truth. It’s based on some fairly complex metaphysics these days, but back at age five, it was based on the empirical evidence of my own ears. You see, I heard the sleigh bells on the roof, one Christmas. The fact(eagerly pointed out to me by my older brother) that we lived in a Victorian house with a system of interconnecting chimneys, and I surely heard the sound transmitted from downstairs fireplace to my bedroom fireplace, where my father sat wrapping a jingly toy by the fire, and not from the roof as I thought, simply didn’t dent my belief that father Christmas was a real entity. I still believe it, now aged almost 43.

I don’t for example believe in Red Nose Day or Children in Need, Sport Aid or any of the other media fuelled charity blow outs this country seems to delight in. My bus driver today wore a red curly wig and a red nose; I suspect he wasn’t happy about it but you can’t go against the mass without jeopardising your place by the fire. I fully accept they raise a massive amount of much needed money for great causes. But I don’t believe they are the best way. They actually create charity fatigue; people get fed up with it and it’s a fair bet many give out of guilt and a fear of looking mean. I also have a cynical concern that a vast amount of the money raised vanishes in costs and administration.

I also don’t believe in the essential goodness of people, despite plenty of evidence experienced personally. This is based largely on statistics; in short, the sums just don’t add up.  If people were basically good, then the world would not be in the mess it seems to be in right now.

My current belief in God wavers; I suspect God not only exists and I’d also be willing to bet that He/She is basically benign. But also mainly unknowable. If you haven’t ever read “Mister God, this is Anna,” I’d highly recommend it; I think it ought to be required reading at every Bible college, vicar factory, theological college and seminary in the world. In one section, Anna, the eponymous heroine(an eight year old orphan) is watching some ants and tried to explain to Fyn, the author, that however much she loves the ants, there is no way for her to ever convey that love to the ants. Too much of a gulf exists for her to be able to make the ants know of her love. For me, in many ways, this is how I feel, a slightly enlightened ant, knowing that God is unknowable to me in my ant state but having a dim idea that he/she exists and probably loves me.

But, being me, the biggest thing I don’t and cannot believe in, is simply myself.

I have tried. Endlessly. And without success. Others do; others tell me I should believe in myself. I am told I have plenty to believe in, but when I try, nada.

I understand that faith is a gift, a grace if you like. I had a friend who was dying, some years ago. I spent a lot of time with him, massaging his feet and listening and talking. He wanted to believe in God, he really did. He envied his wife and her faith, but even though he wanted to, he simply never reached a point fo faith. I went to see him up until five days before his death, when cellular breakdown meant I could no longer touch his feet without causing serum to leak through his skin; he was the first person who I saw after death. I stood in the room while my husband said the prayers for the dead, holding hands with the family and friends and I could feel him in the room, a peaceful presence. His shell looked very peaceful and it no longer looked even remotely like him. I had the very strong feeling he knew now what he had been unable to believe in life, and it was good. His spirit appeared a few days later to a family member who had been unable to get to visit in the last days; he told her he was surrounded by light, and that it was just wonderful and then he vanished.

I’d like to be given a gift of faith, not just in God, because I have that to some extent, but in myself.

In Case of Emergency….

I have often been able to gauge the level of my anxiety by the weight and contents of my handbag. Yesterday it was back-breaking, even though I removed certain items.

By coincidence there was a programme on BBC2 last night about surviving emergencies and disasters; it was at once reassuring and disturbing at the same time. Reassuring because one of the key ingredients in increasing your chance of surviving an incident is preparation; both mental and physical and by having a plan BEFORE the event that means you can do things without having to think. For me, this means a lot of things. I’ve always gone through a mental checklist when arriving in a hotel room; check the window opens properly, check the fire exit so I know where it is, things like that. When I get on a ferry, I glance to see where the exits are, where the lifejackets are kept, which deck I am on. It’s no big deal; I’ve always done it, and I have had people tell me I am morbid or mad to even think about it. Even in a cafe or pub, I like to sit where I can see a clear route to the outside.

It was also reassuring because as a habit I carry various things with me much of the time; a dynamo torch, for example, sits in a pocket in my handbag. It can’t run out of battery because it is self powered. I used to carry a multi-tool, but that was either lost or half-inched last season; I must replace it. I would like to carry a knife but since that is now considered a problem, I don’t. My multi tool had small blades so I couldn’t have taken it on a plane but it was fine for the UK rules. I’d run through the current contents of my handbag but I think it would betray me as utterly neurotic even though I have removed some of the more telling items like the space blanket.

The disturbing thing about the programme was the fact that what is now known to kill more people unneccesarily in the event of a disaster is not, as you might think PANIC, but rather a failure to react. People will sit there like rabbits in the headlights waiting for someone to tell them what to do. In the 9/11 catastrophe, people did things like finish writing emails, filing papers and putting things in the safe, assuming they had more time than they did. If it had been a drill, they may have feared disciplinary action or the sack if they had failed to file sensitive papers first. People wait for peer confirmation that something is wrong. There was an experiment using smoke in a waiting room; people alone raised the alarm fast, but when surrounded by actors who ignored it, they waited and waited, fearing looking silly by reacting.

Now, this is disturbing because I have done just this thing myself. In late August 2001, I was returning from an overnight stay in a London hospital; I’d had an operation the night before and when I got to King’s Cross, I had just missed my train. So I sat down to wait; I was tired and groggy from the anaesthesia and my wounds were hurting. About ten minutes later, a strange siren began. I ignored it, assuming it was a false alarm, and also because nobody else seemed to react. Thankfully, the station staff came along and shooed us all out of the station and we were all shocked to see fire engines, police vehicles and the bomb squad.

Now I grew up during an era when IRA bomb threats were common and a very real danger; indeed, my high school was often disrupted by bomb threats and once, when I was 18, there was a real bomb in the building(but that’s another story) So for me, this was a real shock and I was scared and very worried. Not only were we all standing too close to the building to escape flying debris and glass, none of the emergency services seemed to know this. I moved as far from the building as I could and sat down on a kerb stone and waited.

Nothing happened. It was indeed a bomb scare; no device was found. Less than a fortnight later, 9/11 changed the world.

Now, I didn’t react. Had there been a bomb, I might well not be here writing this. I might well have been blown up, simply for not realising the siren meant GET OUT THE BUILDING NOW, YOU MORON.     

The experts interviewed stated that one of the biggest factors in survival in an emergency is not intelligence, or strength or speed or equipment but SELF-CONFIDENCE: The ability to act believing that you are doing the right thing.

Of course, blind luck plays a part too.  It can be a matter of utter chance. But an equation was emerging I found worrying. 5 parts self-confidence +  2 parts preparedness+ 1 part luck = possible survival. I have very little real self confidence; I can blag it in plenty of circumstances and pretend. But when push comes to shove, I seldom believe I am right.

Let’s hope then that in the unlikely event of a real disaster, luck and the insane contents of my handbag might save me!