Zebra-crossing Namaste.

I was driving along today – in a bit of a hurry to make it on time to a meeting – and I arrived at a zebra-crossing about a heartbeat before a pedestrian. I could have kept going, and it would have saved me a bit of time – I really was cutting it fine to get there at the appointed hour. But I stopped, because I like to think (most of the time) that I’m a courteous driver, and I let the lady walk through.

She was an interesting-looking lady – long grey hair hanging down either side of her face; baggy, once-stately clothes; a string shopping bag hanging off one elbow and a ratty beige plastic-y raincoat clutched under one arm against the possibility inherent in a cloudless sky. She could have been equally at home in a darkened hovel surrounded by tens of cats, or sleeping rough in a doorway, or behind a university lecture-hall podium. And she moved slowly, walking as though in pain, or contemplating the bitumen beneath her feet. Potentially late, and already flustered, I was mindful of the fact that I could have quite legally driven through before she reached the road’s edge.

Just as she got to the middle of the zebra-crossing, at what could most kindly be called a solemn pace, she stopped, and turned deliberately to face me. String bag hanging from one elbow, and raincoat clamped beneath the other, she placed her hands together and ceremoniously bowed to me in thanks.

It made my day. When I waved to acknowledge her, I was grinning. I was still smiling as I started driving again, and when I arrived at my meeting my heart was just a little lighter.

My spiritual director – an amazing Sister of St Joseph who I’m privileged to consider a friend – often farewells me with the word “Namaste” – in Hinduism it means bowing to the Divine in each other, celebrating and honouring the Sacred which dwells in each of us. I have no idea what motivated the zebra crossing lady to bow to me – other, of course, than in thanks – but in that gesture I was reminded of Namaste. In taking that moment – a bow rather than a quick thoughtless wave – she acknowledged me as a fellow human being. Whether she knew it or not, she acknowledged the Divine in me. And I was reminded of the Divine in her; I was reminded of the Divine in all creatures.

Not bad for a ten-second zebra-crossing encounter.



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.

An unexpected miracle that I forgot to respect.

I had a massage on my recent holiday. An unexpected by-product: it made me think about how I treat my body. And, like most of us, I suspect, I found myself wanting.

I’m pretty good at self-care. I have to be. My job and life can both be pretty cushy but there are times, often unanticipated, where they can be extremely demanding: lunch happens at ten in the morning, or four in the afternoon, or not at all; there are days when I arrive at the sanctuary of my flat and shut the door behind me with the feeling of raising the drawbridge against the clamour of the outside world. There’s only so long I can fuel myself with adrenaline and so self-care is vital. To say nothing of the fact that I live with the mental manifestation of trauma which becomes a heavier burden the more fatigued I become.

So I’m pretty good at self-care. What I’m not so good at is listening to my body. I can go for hours before I notice that I’m desperate for a drink of water, or ravenously hungry, or in pain. Mind over matter is a useful way of getting through a war-zone existence but it’s something of a deficit  when the matter at hand is that I’m dehydrated, or dizzy for want of food before my walk home, or have been hunched over the same table for hours and need a head-clearing, muscle-easing walk. All of which I realise counts against me in the self-care stakes.

What I’m really terrible at is cherishing my body. I value my mind; I’m careful of it, I spend time caring for it and nurturing it. I’m aware of my soul, that inner world I need to feed and nourish. My body – the housing, if nothing else, for mind and soul – rarely occurs to me unless there’s something wrong with it. It’s not that I hate my body – although, like most women, I do feel that the mirror should re-think the reality it reflects. It’s just that I don’t love it. I don’t cherish it. I forget the bio-mechanical miracle of bones and muscles, chemicals and veins, joints and organs and moving parts that it is. I don’t treat it with anywhere near the respect with which the masseuse did. I don’t disrespect it; it’s just that, beyond meeting the needs required for reasonable physical and mental health, I don’t really think about it at all. And I suspect I’m not the only one.

I spend my time, both as a writer and as a person of faith, noticing things, celebrating the beauty and the miracles in the world around me. It’s good to receive a reminder that a big part of that  – a vital part of it – is to look inward as well. To look down, at my body. As I sit here, my heart beats, and my inner organs work without conscious thought, and the small muscles of hands and arms and fingers move in the rhythm of my typing, and I too am a miracle.