Green Willow

Green Willow

The astringent smell of wet willow leaves filled the air as she pounded along the tow path, and danced in and out of the puddles. The cold spring rain lashed against her face and dripped off the peak of her running cap but the pounding of her feet and the drumming of the rain failed to drown out the music in her ears. Volume up as high as she dared go, she’d set her mp3 player to random and had let fate choose whatever songs it dared on this day. Let the music decide what she did. The one good thing about running in the rain was no one could see that her face was as wet with tears as it was with rain.

Pushing herself to run faster and harder than she liked, the miles added up and while her legs and her lungs begged her to stop, she couldn’t stop running till she finally stumbled and fell.

The fall knocked the breath from her body, and drove grit and filth into her hands as she tried to protect her face from hitting the ground. The chill of the day delayed the onslaught of pain and for a shocked second or two she lay still, face in a puddle, until both the blood and the pain started to flow. That was the point when a steady stream of tears became a torrent and she curled up and howled at the empty canal and beat her bleeding fists on the path.

In a movie, this would be when a kind passer-by would stop and comfort her and take her home, tend her wounds and help her heal. But there was no one, not even a solitary dog-walker, collar turned against the rain, and she sat in an icy puddle and sobbed till her throat was raw. She’d kept all the pain inside, never speaking of it, never allowing it to reach full consciousness and that morning, it became like a ghostly elephant, a ponderous foot pressing ever harder down on her heart. Her usual morning run had already been extended by significant distance and when she dragged herself to her feet, she could feel she’d pulled various muscles and strained her left ankle when she fell. There was blood oozing through her running trousers where the fall had gashed her knees, and her hands were pitted with gravel and dirt. Slowly she turned and started limping homewards, energy and hope spent.

There was no way she’d get to work on time, and she decided that as soon as she got in, she’d ring in sick. She’d run a hot bath and lie in it and…..Her mind wandered to whether it was possible to detach the blade from ladies’ razors. The fall had just released the pain she’d not wanted to acknowledge and like a shattered window there was no way of restoring that barrier between her feelings and her conscious mind any more.

And that would have been the end of that, a body found in a bathtub, friends and family horrified and totally mystified (“She was such a steady girl; what on earth made her do it? No-one can understand it!”) but for two things happening within moments of each other.

The first thing was the wind getting up and slapping her in the face with a slender branch of newly-opened willow leaves, knocking her backwards in shock.

The second was her mp3 player choosing that moment to start playing an old song:

All around my hat,

I will wear the green willow

All around my hat

For a twelve month and a day

And if anyone should ask me

The reason why I’m wearing it

It’s all for my true love,

Who is far, far away

Fare thee well, cold winter

And fare thee well, cold frost

Nothing have I gained,

But my own true love I’ve lost

I’ll sing and I’ll be merry

When occasion I do see,

He’s a false, deluding young man,

Let him go, farewell he!

The other night he brought me

A fine diamond ring, but he

Thought to have deprive me

Of a far better thing!

But I being careful,

Like lovers ought to be,

He’s a false, deluding young man

Let him go, farewell he!

With a quarter pound of reason,

And a half a pound of sense,

A small spring of time,

And as much of prudence,

You mix them all together,

And you will plainly see

He’s a false deluding young man

Let him go, farewell he!”

The wet leaves seemed to have a life of their own, and caught in her hair and her hat, and she struggled for a moment to free herself from the branch. It felt more like a briar than a  willow and she had to break the longest twig to free herself from it.

Staring at the shining brilliance of the new leaves, she felt a shiver starting and as the song thundered on, a queer little tugging began somewhere in the back of her mind. With a rapid twisting, she made a rough wreath of the willow twig, tucking the ends in. She didn’t expect it to stay in the oval circlet but it did and she took off her hat so she could arrange the wreath on that.

Grunting with a weird sense of satisfaction she put the hat back on her head and started to hobble more briskly homeward.

The Pivoting Point ~ where life changes in an instant

The Pivoting Point


There comes a moment in any life, or even within a life experience where everything changes. Often it can be a single moment, or series of moments where the entire universe seems to shift irrevocably from one way of being to another one. I call these moments pivoting points and if you look back carefully you can identify them within your life story. Once you get your eye in, you can often spot them before they happen too.


One of my major pivoting points came when I was nineteen years old. It wasn’t when I  grabbed the pills, nor was it when I first heard the siren. It was when a stranger’s voice broke through the partial
silence and darkness and changed things totally for me.


She said, “What are you in for, kid?”


I’d seen her brought in earlier, her face bruised and bloodied and her
cotton night dress torn and I’d turned over in my bed and hid my
face. You can’t gaze easily on the sufferings of others when your own is self-inflicted, after all.


I wasn’t sure what to say. To put it simply seemed… well, blunt. To
try and put it delicately seemed insulting. So I explained in as few
words as I could and hoped she would shut up and go to sleep herself. I’d  already lain awake, wide eyed, for hours, head pounding and with tears trickling down so regularly my pillow was damp. I wasn’t expecting sleep.


But she didn’t. This voice, a rough Scouse accent made rougher by
smoking, became strangely kinder.


Come over here and tell me about it,” she said.


I’m not sure I am allowed to,” I said.


Never mind them, just come over.”


I slipped out of bed, bare feet cold on the tiled floor and came into
the shadowy lee of her curtained bed. They’d left the curtains partly
drawn, to shield the new woman from the elderly and somewhat senile lady in the next bed. I couldn’t see her well in the dim light and at my age, anyone over thirty was hard to place age-wise. Over thirty for sure, she was dressed in her night things, just as she’d been found. There was blood on the front of the nightie. I’d heard them offer her a hospital gown but she’d refused. There was something dignified about the refusal; a clinging of pride to the rags she’d come into hospital in, clutched almost as holy relics.


So, what happened?”


Where to start? The thing about suicide attempts is it’s very hard to make someone understand the depth of the pain and explaining why seldom actually makes it clear quite how much you were hurting. The
circumstances often seem trivial to others. I guess it wasn’t the
break-up of the relationship that was the final straw; I’d known when
I ended it that it was the best move I could make. Some relationships are doomed before they start and that one really was. I’d been doing so well up to the point he got on the same bus as me, and that was when it felt as though a great aching chasm had opened up inside me. But the thing no-one was likely to understand was that the shape of that chasm wasn’t his shape but my own. I had a real shock to realise that all the pain and anguish created by seeing him again was not due to missing him but actually due to missing myself.


Shamanic workers talk about something called Soul Loss. This is where the soul fragments due to trauma and long-term distress. The fragmented soul-part vanishes to a place between the worlds where it feels itself to be safe and stays there until it is retrieved. In the
moments on that bus I realised that a pretty hefty chunk of my soul
was no longer where it should be and the shock of this triggered a
massive emotional meltdown. I couldn’t bear to be myself any more. I hated myself for having allowed this damage to occur and more than anything I simply wanted the pain inside to stop.


So I went home to my flat, counted out tablets and when I realised I
didn’t have enough, I went to the pharmacy on the corner and bought more. I realised what I was doing halfway and picked up the phone and called someone. The friend I rang asked me some questions, then he rang and sent an ambulance direct to my flat, called me back and stayed talking to me till the ambulance arrived.


Reaching the hospital, I was offered a choice. I could take some emetics and throw up what I had taken, or have my stomach pumped. I took the emetic option. By some kind chance, another friend who was a nurse was coming off duty as I came in and she stayed with me during the process, held my hair back and helped get me comfortable later.


But it was later in the night when the misery really hit. In the evening, I’d also discovered my period had started, so obviously the whole she-bang was worsened by hormone imbalance, but the headache and the cramps went unrelieved as they couldn’t give me any pain relief. I just lay crying steadily hour after hour and in the small hours, the arrival of the woman opposite made me feel even worse. The nurses were asking her things and I couldn’t help but hear it all. I’d done this to myself but she’d been beaten up and thrown out on the street by her own husband. Guilt compounded my misery.


Sitting on her bed though, she talked to me with such wisdom and
understanding and she drew my story out gently and I realised that
she and I were sisters in some strange ways. We’d both been victims
of steady emotional and physical violence over a fair length of time
and had believed we could “change” the guy by loving them. No
more. She had two young children to go back to. She knew she’d never change her man but the prison doors of her life were as harsh as real steel. 


You’ve got a chance to live,” she said, the next morning. “You’ve got
away. I can’t. I have my babies to go back for; I can’t leave. I’ve
tried. Your way and others.”


She showed me her wrists, ropey with thick scar tissue.


Promise me something, darlin’,” she asked when I came over to say goodbye.


I nodded.


She took my hands in hers and looked me in the eye.


Live,” she said. “Live for yourself and live for me.” 


I don’t think I ever asked her name. I suspect she may well be dead by now; that’s twenty five years ago. But whenever I reach the point
where the gap inside me that should be filled with a soul fragment
that had fled for safety when life has become unendurable becomes
painful again, I think of her and bless her unknown name and give
thanks that out of her unimaginable pain she had  wisdom and
compassion for a young woman whose own life had become agony beyond bearing

(this article originally appeared at )