“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Friday, 28 February 2014

Once a Mother ...

This is going to get a bit sentimental, so if that is not your thing, please click away. Last weekend was my birthday, and my two children, both away at university, came home for it, which was lovely. It was great to catch up with them, and to hear that they are both doing well and being happy.

Then my son went back on Sunday evening, and my daughter on Monday afternoon. It had been gorgeous to see them both. And noisy and untidy! Now things are back to our new "normal", and the house seems so still and empty. Last night, my husband and I shared a quiet and peaceful evening, listening to Classic fm, he on his laptop, and I crocheting another square. And it was so Very Quiet. And part of me loves this, but part of me feels like I've had a limb lopped off. Being a Mum has been my default state for the last 23 or so years, and it is really difficult to get used to the fact that they've grown up and gone, and have their own lives to live. I've just been watching the first episode of the latest series of America's Next Top Model, which I've *always* shared with my daughter, and it felt so weird not to have her there.

I guess I'll get used to it in time. And I really am happy that they are building their own lives, and becoming independent. But once a mother, always a mother. I can now dimly understand why my own mother still cares if I get a cold, or am fed up about something. Being a parent changes you for life. But I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Reality Check

I've just got back from the cinema. My daughter and I went to see 12 Years A Slave. I'm not surprised it has been winning awards - the acting and direction were extremely high quality. Which of course meant that the story was distressingly real, and graphically violent. 

I admit it, I'm an ostrich by inclination; I would much rather not see such films. I know that it was set in the 1840s, but I also know that slavery is alive and well the world over, today, including here in the UK. And seeing this powerful and moving film has brought it back to the front of my mind.

I think it was TS Eliot who wrote "Humankind cannot bear very much reality", and in my case, he was right. Sometimes the ills and sorrows of the world seem too much to think about, because I can do so little to change them. 

But ... "Still I am one, and I will not refuse to do the something I can do." And it is also true, that as 18th century statesman Edmund Burke wrote: " The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." So doing nothing is not an option.

Friday, 14 February 2014

In the Spirit of Love

Brian Cavanaugh's Ten Commandments for Human Relations really sum up what it means to live your life in the spirit of love; whether the people concerned are your family, your friends, your church / chapel community, your work colleagues, or just people you meet in the street or the shop:

1. Speak to people. There is nothing as nice as a cheerful word of greeting.
2. Smile at people. It takes 72 muscles to frown, only four to smile.
3. Call people by name. The sweetest music to anyone's ear is the sound of their own name.
4. Be friendly and helpful. If you would have friends, be friendly.
5. Be genuinely interested in people. You can like almost everybody if you try. 
6. Be generous with praise, cautious with criticism.
7. Be considerate with feelings of others. There are usually three sides to a controversy: yours, the other person's, and the right one.
8. Be alert to give service. What counts most in life is what we do for others.
9. Learn to trust people, for trust builds lasting relationships.
10. Add to this a good sense of humour, a big dose of patience, and a dash of humility, and you will be rewarded many fold.

My favourite is number 5: “Be genuinely interested in people – you can like almost everybody if you try.” And yet it is probably one of the hardest things to do. We are all individuals, with different personalities and quirks, and will naturally be drawn to those people with whom we have something in common, or with whom we can empathise. Liking almost everybody is quite a tall order. I suppose it’s another way of saying that we should recognise that of God in everyone.

The other hard thing about living your life in a spirit of love, is that it has to be unconditional. You can never say “I’ll love you if …”  Instead, you have to say “I love you in spite of …” Joyce Grenfell coined the phrase “loving in spite of human imperfection”, and I think that that is the best kind. But it’s not easy. 

The parable of the prodigal son is a salutary one here. We all know the story; the youngest son demands his half of his inheritance, goes off and squanders it on wine, women and song, and is reduced to herding pigs, who are better fed than his father’s servants. He realises the error of his ways, and goes back home, with the idea of asking his father if he could be a servant in the house. But when he gets there, his father is overjoyed; he dresses him in a fine robe, puts a ring on his finger, and kills the fatted calf in rejoicing. As it says in the Gospel of Luke: “While he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.” That is loving in spite of human imperfection. That is living your life in the spirit of love.

Happy Valentine's Day! 

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Appreciating What We Have

I like Facebook. I know it can be a terrible time-waster, but I log on every day to keep up with all my Unitarian friends round the country, and with my children-no-longer-children, now both away at University. And I 'like', to use the Facebook jargon, a lot of pages, which include many pithy quotes which make me reflect on how I am spending my time and living my life. They can often provide me with a starting point for a blogpost, like this one.

One of my favourite pages on Facebook is called 'becoming minimalist' and the page owner, Joshua Becker, posts a lot of inspirational tips on how to simplify your life, and on how to appreciate what you have, rather than forever going after the next thing. One post last week read: "Treasure your relationships, not your possessions." Which reminded me again of the importance of appreciating what you have, and of living in the present.

Simplicity is also one of the five Quaker testimonies. In their Advices and Queries, they say: "Try to live simply. A simple lifestyle, freely chosen, is a source of strength. Do not be persuaded into buying what you do not need or cannot afford. Do you keep yourself informed about the effects your style of living is having on the global economy and environment?"

And I am finding that these beliefs, these ideas, matter increasingly to me. I know that my lifestyle is currently very far from simple, and that the way I live has more of an impact on the environment than it should. But I am working on it. For example, in the last twelve months, I have given up cigarettes and alcohol, and am trying to eat more healthily too. I am still very bad at buying new books whenever I see them, but try to really consider whether I need other consumer items, such as clothes or jewellery, or gadgets. Because I do believe that "a simple lifestyle, freely chosen, is a source of strength."

It is also about being aware of the sacred in the world. Sacred living is about weaving moments of attention into our everyday lives, and recognising the sacred there. It is about living with a new level of awareness. It is about going through our day paying attention to what is happening in each passing moment. It is about noticing the presence of the divine, the numinous, everywhere, in the natural world, in other people, in ourselves, and in things that happen to us. Sacred living is about rediscovering our sense of wonder, and living our lives in response to that. Sacred living is about truly appreciating what we have.

And giving thanks.