Laughter in a Holden Commodore.

One of the very mixed blessings about now living a way out of town is the drive home. It’s brilliant unwinding time; I can think, I can listen to music, I can plan what needs to be done. Sometimes, I find poems or Haiku or story ideas formulating themselves in my head; at other times I simply delight in the beauty of the countryside I’m driving through.

Sometimes, though, the drive can be an absolute pain. I can take as long to drive the eleven kilometres to the outskirts of Newcastle as I do to drive the remaining twenty-five kilometres home. Sometimes it’s bumper-to-bumper traffic and I don’t get out of second gear – although of course city dwellers will, I’m sure, challenge me on my country-driver categorisation of a traffic jam. Either way, it’s the part of the drive I often find tedious.

Today I was chaffing at the bit, just slightly. It hasn’t been the easiest two days at work, and I was tired and wanting to be at home. I was a bit grumpy and I’d almost been run off the road by an idiot in a four-wheel drive who I’m sure was a nice guy just having a bad (driving) day, and it was starting to seem quite unreasonable that all these other selfish people wanted to use the same road as I did when I just wanted to get home quickly.

Until, stuck at one of the most protracted red lights on my drive home, I noticed the couple in the car behind me. A young couple, in a beat-up Holden Commodore. I don’t know what had been going on previously – I’d glanced in my rear-vision mirror to see them talking, pointing out to each other interesting things out of the windows. This time when I glanced back, the man was laughing – helplessly, leaning back in his seat, head thrown back, laughing with complete abandon. The woman had a look of half-amusement, half-indignation on her face and I took it that he was laughing at her; this was confirmed when she threw out a hand and gave him a good-natured shove, flattening him against the passenger-side window. He kept laughing, and she managed to maintain dignified composure for a heartbeat more before conceding defeat; she too started to laugh, and they shared that humour until the light went green and I had to send my attention back to the road in front of me. As I did, I was smiling.

That was all: nothing spectacular, no epiphanies, no psuedo-profound thought; nothing other than two people who like each other enough to laugh at each other, a joking shove absorbed in good humour and not the cause of violent retaliation, and human love in a Holden Commodore.

I’m glad I saw it. And I hope that those two have many more years of disinhibited laughter, mock indignation and joking shoves. The world’s a bit brighter because of it.

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A boring blog post, and inter-species love.

I’m tired and on the edge of grumpy, because one of the really shitty things about living with PTSD is its unpredictability, and last night was a tossing-and-turning, sleeplessness-followed-by-quiet-horrible-nightmares sort of night. Which is funny (funny-strange, that is; not funny-amusing) because I had a perfectly ok day and a pleasant, peaceful evening and when I went to bed I felt reasonably at peace with the world.

And then the insomnia came, and then the nightmares.

It seems a contradiction to have both insomnia and nightmares in the same night. And it hardly seems fair.

But that’s the way the cheese crumbles.

Right now, though, I’m sitting at my desk in a quiet house (one of the joys of living in the country is the utter silence. It forms its own sort of music), wearing spotted pyjamas and woollen sleep-socks, and I’m typing this and watching my cat quietly munch her way through a bowl of cat biscuits (she carefully avoids the green ones. I haven’t quite got to the bottom of why). I know that odds are, when she’s finished her snack, she’ll come and sit on my lap, and she’ll purr and put her warm, soft head under my chin, and I’ll kiss her head between her ears (I’m sure that spot on a cat was designed specifically for humans to kiss), and she’ll hum with contentment and feel cherished, and I’ll know that she loves me, and I love her, and in that interaction the very Creator of love will be present, and alive.

And I’ll (hopefully) sleep knowing that because of this warm, solid scrap of being, there is a little more love in the world, and that despite our differences, we can communicate and share that love, and that where love is, there also is God.

And that’s it, really.

A slightly battered angel.

I’m not a big believer in angels – not when it comes to beautiful humans with fluffy, feathery wings and white dresses flapping around in insipid artwork, anyway. What I do believe in is angels as messangers of God. And I believe in saints – both living and dead – as a person who is holy. Someone touched by the light of the Light of the world, someone who brings that light to the world in all that they do, all that they are. There are very few of them around, and most of them aren’t dressed in fine liturgical clothing and lit from without by their status – most of them are quiet, unassuming, simple people lit from within, who don’t choose to be anything special, but can’t help being saints and angels, because that’s just what they are.

My grandma is one of those people: an angel, a saint. Someone who can’t help spreading the love of God, because that’s what she’s made of; she could not keep herself from spreading light wherever she is, any more than a flame could dim its vividness. This is a woman who, sitting vigil at the hospital bed of her gravely ill son, made friends with the woman visiting another patient on the ward, who can’t speak English, and who needed a friend. This is a woman who gives love to all who need it, regardless of any imposed sense of whether a person deserves it or not, because she that’s just what she does – in her actions, she upholds the sacred beauty of everyone she comes across, and people walk away from her feeling whole, in a way that only being afforded utter respect can do – a rarity for so many people. This is a woman who always had a tin of chocolates for when her grandchildren visited; who has six hundred-odd teddy bears (at last count) and still delights in the next one that comes along as a present, and who buys them from op shops because they look sad and need a good home.

Tonight my grandma is in hospital after a fall, and when I phoned her from the helplessness of a thousand kilometres away, her first response was to ask me how I am. I know that she will spread light and love and her own brand of quirky humour in the busy bleakness of a public hospital ward, because she can’t help it. Wherever she goes, she leaves things just a little bit better than she found them, just by who she is. Often, she leaves them a lot better.

The air is thick with prayers tonight.

Hearts, footprints, friends and a bad metaphor.

I can’t remember where I was recently, but I was passing one of those over-priced homeware stores selling those shabby-chic country-style furnishings and decor. One of the signs in the window (I think you’re supposed to hang them on your wall) made some psuedo-profound comment about the people who move through your life, and how friends are the only ones who leave footprints on your heart.

I’m in a pretty crappy mood at the moment so my default is to be cynical, and I have to admit that the cutesey little sign annoyed me, even without the poor metaphor and slightly disturbing imagery. We all, I reflected, have the capacity to leave footprints on the hearts of those whose lives we touch, even if that touch is only fleeting. We all have the capacity to do damage, to tread on the hopes and joys and reactivities and nobilities of the people we come into contact with, and usually it’s not deliberate: it’s insensitivity, or absent-mindedness, or grumpy-mood snappiness, or simply not noticing the shared humanity of the person selling us coffee, or passing us in the street.

What struck me, though, is that friends are the ones who don’t leave their muddy footprints all over your heart (does anyone else find this image disturbing, or is it just me?). Friends are the ones who treat lightly, who leave things better than they found them. Friends are the ones who are careful, and patient, and who are mindful of their touch and the impact that it has. Friends are the ones who know, without asking, those bruised points of tenderness, and who handle them gently. Friends know what pains they can ask about and what pains it’s best to leave alone.

I’m lucky to have friends – utterly blessed, I know that. I have far too much evidence of friendship in my life to doubt it, but I cannot take for granted the fact that my friends are there: a text message away, or in a shared glance across the choir, or at the end of an email. A Sunday afternoon spent in peace over coffee or ice cream. A stupid joke which makes me laugh aloud, adolescent giggles when we should be serious. A greater blessing than I deserve, or that I can comprehend.

My heart is marked not so much with footprints as with kick-marks, scuffs and scars. My friends don’t add to those with footprints – its my friends who are teaching me to heal, and who are patient and loving and hopeful and fun while I do it.

My heart is safe in the hands of my friends. But I really, really need a new metaphor.

A hymn, a searing compassion, and an unsolicited email.

These are the lyrics to a hymn we sang at Mass tonight:

Come as you are, that’s how I want you. 
Come as you are, feel quite at home. 
Close to My heart, loved and forgiven. 
Come as you are, why stand alone? 

No need to fear, love sets no limits. 
No need to fear, love never ends. 
Don’t run away, shamed and disheartened.
Rest in My love, trust Me again. 

Come as you are, that’s how I love you. 
Come as you are, trust Me again. 
Nothing can change the love that I bear you. 
All will be well, just come as you are. 

For the record, it’s the Don’t run away, shamed and disheartened line which moves me to tears every bloody time, no matter how I try to brace myself against it. Because that’s exactly what I’m struggling with, exactly what I’m trying to keep myself from doing.

Here is an excerpt from the email I just wrote to Sr Deirdre Browne, the author of such miraculous words:

Dear Sister Deirdre,
      Forgive the unsolicited email. I am a chorister from Christ Church Cathedral in Newcastle, NSW, and I have now sung your hymn Come as You Are twice. Each time it has moved me to tears.
      I am a survivor of physical, emotional, spiritual and sexual abuse at the hands of my now ex-husband, an Anglican priest. I left him a year and a half ago after a ten-year relationship. I have kept my faith – and stayed alive – only because of the Cathedral choir of which I am a member. I am learning to live with the shame of what has been done to me and what I have survived. 
      I wanted to thank you for your beautiful hymn which is one of the most profound and painfully meaningful I have ever sung. Both times I have come across your hymn I have been moved to tears by its expression of the depth of the love of God in which we dwell, the utter passion of God for the small soul that is me, and the gentleness and care of the compassion of God which both sears me to the bone and holds me in a love that is too big, too deep for me to comprehend. Each time it has challenged my shame and reminded me of the utter and vital terror of the mercy of God in which I am held. Each time I have come away from it shaken to my core by the reality of how much the Creator of the world cares for me, that He should ask me to “trust me again”, and that He should beg me to refrain from running away from Him in my shame and hurt. That He should care whether I run from Him or not, and that the Master and Maker of the universe should be willing to be vulnerable in in my flawed and feeble and frightened response to Him. 
      Again, my apologies for contacting you out of the blue, and please do not feel any pressure to respond. I simply wanted to express my thanks, from a girl whom you will never meet but whose life and soul your words have profoundly touched.
      Peace,
      Naomi.

I really hope it’s gone to the right person. Otherwise I’m going to feel like a complete idiot.

Merton, because I’m too tired to brain.

I’ve been hit by a wave of fatigue so intense that I can barely keep my eyes open, and that makes me think of nothing but attaining the haven of my bed and a dark room – and which probably guarantees that the minute I do, I’ll be distressingly, nightmarishly wide awake. Thank you to my brain, and thank you to ten years of fucked-up sleeping patterns. Cheers.

But I’m too tired to come up with something intelligent or meaningful or even worth reading, so again I’ll turn to the wisdom of someone far worthier than I: Thomas Merton.

I’ve been to choir tonight, surrounded by friends who are light and love and strength and hope for me, and who allow me to be that for them. In these friendships I’ve participated in the love of God.

Merton: Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.

The meaning of life doesn’t lay on the floor of the choristers’ vestry, any more than it dwells on the altar or in the branches of the tree under which I sometimes sit outside the Cathedral, any more than it dwells in my to-do list or my journal. But it’s found in all those places. The love of God is found in all those places. And tonight, for me, the love of God was again found in the faces and the hands and the voices and the hearts of that family of people I love, and who love me.

Thanks be to God.

Zoning out to blessings.

Here’s a confession: sometimes during Mass, I zone out. It’s nothing personal, and it’s not a reflection of how interesting or relevant the service is – it’s probably a reflection of how fatigued or scattered I am, to be honest.

I zoned out during the homily on Sunday (sorry, Father) and, sitting there in the choir stalls, roasting inside voluminous layers of choir robes and struggling to push through sleeping-tablet hangover (exactly like a regular hangover without the dehydration or the fun of getting there), I found myself watching my fellow choristers in various stages of reflection, introversion or boredom respectively. This tenor, listening with her chin cupped in both hands. This soprano, studying her fingernails with minute attention, another staring into space only to catch me eye and mouth “I love you”. This bass surreptitiously rubbing at a mark on his shiny shoe; another stretching his feet out into relaxation before the musical demands of the sung Eucharist we were yet to come to. The soprano at my side, lost in her own thoughts, beautiful and still and calm. And those I couldn’t see: the altos behind me, the choristers outside – multi-talented – teaching Sunday school. The friend who usually sits beside me, off at work; our choirmaster, hidden from sight up in the organ loft.

Looking around at these people who have, without my meaning it, become a family to me, naming to myself those who weren’t there and sending a wordless but fervent prayer of thanks, I felt my heart, my soul – where I feel things, that vulnerable point of tenderness protected by my sternum – swell with love. These people, imperfect and beautiful, brought together to form this community-within-a-community only because we can all sing. And yet united to so much more than just music and song. United by a shared faith, a shared role in bringing sounds of glory and reflection and praise into being. And yet made into a community, a family, by so much more than just a common purpose and shared experience: bound by love, by friendship that stands strong through light and darkness, through storms and smooth sailing. A friendship that allows us to be light and strength to each other, to care and accept care. To be the hands and the eyes and the heart and the love of God for each other. To be the Source of compassion for each other.

Sitting there, watching these people for whom I would walk through fire without a heartbeat’s hesitation, my heart swelled with love and gratitude. Sometimes, despite how difficult everything can be, especially when I’m singing – sometimes, the blessings in my life shine like glory.