The story of a garden

This is a Long Read! I considered splitting it into separate posts as it’s so long – but it resisted, and insisted on hanging together, so here it is…

It is Imbolc, 2020. I’ve lived in this house for 6 months now. A corner plot, there is an abundance of outdoor space – scrubby grass mainly, some gravel, trees. A birch that has grown with multiple slender trunks and dances gracefully. And stones – I can see how stony the ground is up here, chunks of limestone scattered around among the hill-top grasses.

I have an idea that the long front garden, open to the road and passers-by and which gets sun most of the day, could be given over to community herb-growing, and maybe fruit and vegetables in time. A herbalist friend and a few others, people I don’t know but who turn up with enthusiasm and spades, help me mark out beds, lift the first turves, begin to gather stones. We have enough stones to build a spiral herb bed, enough to make paths – enough, probably to build a second house. The sound of metal hitting rock becomes a backdrop.

We stand, considering the work to come. The last few weeks have brought wild weather; rivers bursting, water rushing through homes. In South Wales, not far away, there are landslides and floating shipping containers. A few people have died. My daughter has been finishing a song she has written about the wildfires in Australia; I try to comprehend such searing heat and terrifying destruction. Here, everything is sodden. I am grateful for living on a hill, despite the wind that never seems to stop and that brought down a fence panel on to my baby honeysuckle.

We gather again a few weeks later and this time, nobody hugs. We agree that in this time of an emerging new virus, we’re probably ok outside – fresh air and exercise is surely just what we all need. Several people cancel as they have colds or coughs. We stand again, lost in thought, and a huge bumble bee circles us; all of us turn as one to greet her, follow her path, acknowledge the sudden and vivid presence of a non-human being. Her only preoccupation seems to be navigating the trees as she presumably adjusts to coming out of hibernation and finding a nest.

As the Spring and the virus go on, the others stop coming and here I am, just me now. We have drawn in, hunkered down at home, my girls and I. The last few days before the country locks down, I spend talking to doctors about my daughter’s medical condition and stopping at shops where I buy random selections of whatever is left on the shelves. My vacuum cleaner was taken to be mended but that hasn’t happened and now the repair shop is closing; in a fit of panic I hurriedly buy another vacuum cleaner which I will come to hate.

The back garden becomes our going out, in this pandemic time. It is my birthday and we spread blankets on the grass, even though it’s still cold, and sit in coats and hats to eat cake. Friends and family pop up intermittently on the computer screen which we have to squint to see in the sun. It’s one of the busiest birthdays I can remember, with all the phone and video calls. I look around at the patch of grass behind the house; I have placed some plants in pots, overspill from my sister’s abundant garden, and the honeysuckle seems to have survived the fence impact and is shooting vigorously from its compost-bag home.

This garden becomes my work now. Slowly I start to clear grass and weeds, begin to dig a narrow earth border around the edge. In the grass there is a confetti-sprinkle of tiny plastic shards; the remains of a toy perhaps, that got caught in the strimmer when we moved in and the grass was knee-high. It takes weeks to methodically pick out the bits. In the earth, there is more plastic.

The back garden is full of rubbish; every spadeful I turn contains plastic waste, cable ties, metal wire, polystyrene – I’ve never had a garden like it. There are corners with piles of rusty metal and broken glass. It seems to be a mixture of surface waste left by previous tenants – nails, squashed cans, and a pile of what looks like bits of car engines, that have clearly been set on fire; and the underground waste, which I assume is largely builder’s rubbish from the 1970s, thrown into the garden, covered with mesh that has disintegrated and then topped with the turf that is now rough and uneven. The garden has obviously never been dug or planted. I get used to gardening with a rubbish bag next to me, wearing gloves so I can pull rusty metal from the ground. One piece is so big it takes half an hour to dig out and we use it to block a gap under the fence.

And, there is creeping campanula, there is a holly keeping guard, the birch still gently dancing, and an ash growing crookedly, and there are yellow poppies and wild garlic and roses in unexpected places. I harvest wild garlic and make pesto, with it’s utterly delicious zing. Down in the little wood below where we live there are bluebells coming out and the birds are riotous now. In the mornings I go and sit in the patch of sun by the fence and listen to the quiet. Hardly any cars, and no aeroplanes; just the occasional bus still going past. The human world, confined to home, has gone into slow motion and retreat – the non-human world is having a party, budding and mating and nesting. I discover that there are sparrows – one of my favourite birds – squabbling on the fences and dancing right up to my window. I realise that the thumping I hear in the early mornings is starlings nesting under my eaves.

I am slowly digging in compost, clearing rubbish, planting. My daughters’ father lends some muscle, as the spring turns warmer and warmer. We have finished the herb spiral and some of the beds in the front, and I have edible and medicinal herbs growing. Rosemary, lavender, lemon balm. Rue, feverfew, self-heal in the long grass. The calendula are flowering and there are strawberries ripening and salad leaves growing.

The weather gets hotter and the ground dries out; over a week I watch as a crack appears in a patch of bare earth where grass has wilted away. Slowly, a piece of polystyrene emerges from the crack; a tiny corner at first, that resists being pulled out. By the end of the week the piece is on the surface and as big as my palm. In response to my tending, the earth spews out the rubbish it has been forced to consume.

I listen to Robin Wall Kimmerer reading from her book ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’, about Indigenous traditions and relationship to plants and land. She talks about how we need to find our way back to reciprocity with the earth – a relationship of giving and receiving, rather than taking. I can identify, with what she says about loving the land. However, she brings me up short when she challenges us to let the land love us back. How do I receive love from the earth? This is a new concept to me, but one that begins to make sense when I sit, squashed between the split trunks of a young oak in the wood, letting the tree hold and hug me when I still can’t hug other humans. Back in my garden, I rest my hands flat on the soil and feel the support and the depth. I receive the calendula blooms as a gift of love.

This now, feels like sacred work; letting myself love this garden, this bit of earth – and letting her love me back. Feeling so grateful for the sanctuary of the garden and accepting and learning from what she gives me and shows me. Feeling the love of the earth.

One afternoon, lazily napping in a garden chair, I am joined by a blackbird who hops down next to me and begins to forage, gathering scraps of dry grass and leaves. He seems wholly unbothered by me, stopping occasionally to fix an eye on mine; we hold eye contact before he hops on. He only flies away once his beak is full. I feel awe at being so close to a bird. I hope that he is the blackbird who for weeks on end, was singing his heart out for a mate from the neighbouring rooftop; hope that he is now gathering material for a nest.

As the world begins to open up again, I am still in my garden. There are proper borders now; plants mostly gleaned directly from other gardens, some from market stalls. I have planted roses, giant hebes and Japanese anemones. There are foxgloves that will flower next year, a tub of sweet peas, giant sunflowers and pots of geraniums that we’ve overwintered twice already. Two of my favourites nestle near the house: alchemilla mollis, lady’s mantle, with its soft leaves that hold sparkling water drops like jewels long after the rain has stopped; aquilegia, that will self-seed and spread and pop up in unexpected colours.

In the front garden, the mugwort is up to my waist, and grown at an almost 45 degree angle due to the prevailing wind. She grows generously and guards the end of the path by the pavement, flanked on the other side by the tiny hazel sapling we planted at our house-warming last autumn. This autumn, mid-pandemic, there will be no house parties, no living room full of friends. My daughters are back at school and college, and suddenly I have time to myself again. The garden needs me, still. There is weeding, grass cutting and harvesting to be done. My mother comes to help and we find a rhythm of being together outdoors, quietly working. She scolds me to sit down after a while, to rest my back and hips which can’t manage the bending and digging. As the weather gets colder we plant bulbs in every gap – it feels like a ritual, these little things that are tucked in to shoot in the new year, snowdrops, daffodils, crocus, tulips. A ritual of trust this year particularly, that amidst deepening gloom going into the winter, I am putting my faith in these bulbs to come up in a few months time and bring colour and beauty. I know they will, and in the face of such an uncertain world, the certainties of nature feel precious. I don’t know how much longer I will be able to take those certainties for granted. Already, of course, they have changed; our veg box comes with a note about how the traditional Christmas potato varieties no longer grow so well here, and how the cauliflower crop has been poor, because of extreme weather patterns.

And finally, I stop gardening. Midwinter closes in and all I can see are the jobs I didn’t get to; the wildflowers that were late-flowering gently wither and keel over by themselves. In the back garden one of the sunflowers won’t be pulled up and stays standing; at some point, it falls face-forward on to the picnic bench, where it will stay, an image of despair at the state of the world. I stand and admire the shelf in my larder that holds a row of amber bottles, the tinctures I made from herbs gathered in late summer. I drop hawthorn elixir on to my tongue, the taste taking me straight back to May and overwhelming abundance. Rose elixir made by a good friend feels warm and light in my mouth, making me smile at the sheer rose-ness and beauty of it.

The new year brings some proper snow, and more wind that hurls the water butt into the Christmas tree. It also brings a muddle of grim death-toll milestones, insurrection in America, more floods, vaccination debates and post-Brexit farce. The supermarket has no avocados and the staff member shrugs and just says ‘Brexit.’ I remind my eye-rolling but also incredulous teenagers that I didn’t eat avocados until I was a young adult. What privilege, to be disappointed that I can’t eat them now.

It is Imbolc again, and I’ve lived in this house for nearly 18 months now. My garden is waiting and soon it will be time. During the weeks of quiet and withdrawal, a neighbour’s cat has adopted my borders as her toilet, and I look up ideas for evergreen ground cover. It will be a while yet before it’s dry and warm enough to dig and plant much, but I start to think about sowing seeds and where I could put a propagator. In the wood there is a big clump of snowdrops, and the birds have started to sing again. The garden waits for me, patiently, and the bulbs are coming up, as I knew they would.

Adagio for strings, 6th January 2021

How do I live in these times?

I despair. The world frightens me. By day my body tenses against danger, and my dreams disturb and scare me by night.

And yet. Look – people carry on, people survive, people love.

How do I learn to live, with so many layers upon layers?

I hear cellos, Barber’s adagio, rending me. Love and grief sit side by side; to know one is to be intimate with the other.

The people who scare me, I think maybe they have been severed from deep love and deep grief, numbed by life.

The music lifts me, wraps me. I breathe with it.

How do I live in these times?

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold”*

We devour the Earth and accelerate towards destruction

And yet. There are people everywhere loving and learning to live.

Look – there is beauty, and there is horror.

I watch white men rise to violence

their flags surround a government with casual references to the unspeakable.

Closer to home, the cynical repercussions of believing that we are different, they are Other.

The string that snakes back to my ancestors, part of a perpetrator nation.

I used to walk with my grandfather to the corner shop where he’d buy me chocolate; smiling sideways at each other as we made sure to fall in step.

How do I live with the unanswerable questions?

My friend tells me “noticing every bit of beauty I can, however small, is my activism”.

The people who scare me, I think maybe they have forgotten how to see beauty.

Then – after the crescendo, the pause in the music where it all disappears for a heart-stopping moment – and I gasp as the cello returns for the final resolution.

How do I live in these times?

I am scared by the other I find in me.

There is no final resolution here. Only to hold the grief and love, to name the distortions of hate, and also the small beauties which proclaim that we will endure.

*from ‘The Second Coming’, W B Yeats

Resilient vulnerability

I’ve had this phrase ‘resilient vulnerability’ rattling around in my head for a while now – what does it mean, to develop resilience when we live with limitations, weaknesses, and are ‘vulnerable’?

To be resilient has a sense of some sort of strength about it, bouncing back or perseverance maybe. To be resilient is to keep going, surviving, finding a way. Learning – there definitely feels like there’s an aspect to it of progression, and developing. (I want to say ‘getting better’, but that feels too much of a linear value judgement.) It is not necessarily robustness, which is a quality of sturdiness and solidity. Resilience feels more fluid and adaptable and also more open, more encompassing of emotion and experience.

So what does this mean when combined with vulnerability? Well, vulnerability means openness, not closing off, letting things in for good or bad. To be vulnerable, is to be fully human and to risk all sorts of things to take all sorts of risks. Resilient vulnerability, I think, means an openness to fully accepting our whole spectrum of emotions, patterns and weak points. It means to know our human frailty at a deep level, and to know also that that is where much beauty lies. And to then work within ourselves as well as outwardly to build our own framework of comfort and protection, or physical and emotional regulation, if you like. Resilient vulnerability means to go through the world acutely aware of our pain while also knowing clearly what we need to help us. It means learning to ask for help. It means learning to trust ourselves and our bodies and psyches. It means committing to sustainability, both out in the world and in terms of how we live. Seeking balance.

Resilient vulnerability means that we have a map to remind us of where we’ve been, show us where we are and indicate the way forward. It means having a network of some sort to hold us. It means radical honesty, with ourselves, as well as with that network. It means being prepared to face our traumatic patterns and find ways to change them, acknowledging that we can’t do that alone and that trauma is also collective and sits in a systemic context – and also accepting that there are no complete cures, no magic solutions. It means treading a path of living strongly with our deepest selves. Resilient vulnerability is finding our power, even when we feel weak. It’s about recognising that we may wield a different type of power to the mainstream world.

Resilient vulnerability means recognising that vulnerability is what enables connection, growth and change – and that vulnerability needs holding and safety around it to anchor us and stop us from being overwhelmed.

Baba Yaga and the quilt of memories

A story for you to start the new year…the weight of memories we carry can feel heavy sometimes, especially memories of difficult things, but perhaps there is some help available…

I walk slowly into the forest. Feeling the sounds and smells, the crunch of the snow, rustle of the branches, drip of meltwater and pungent leaf scent. What my eyes are fixed on is the house, indescribable as ever. Somehow both new and unfamiliar – and just as it is in the stories. More sombre perhaps, and yet with an air of joy somewhere.

I sit in the house with her. At some point, I forget when, she takes from an old carved dark wood box needles and embroidery threads. She chooses fabric from a pile in an ancient creaking cupboard.

“Tell me,” she says. “Tell me it all.”

And I tell her. All the memories that come flooding in; the stuff of years, washing through, deep griefs, joys, happenings, experiences. If I can’t describe something, I just name it briefly, and she knows what I mean. She takes these memories and hears them, listens deeply, her eyes burning with fierce love and attention. And as she hears and listens, she’s stitching. She stitches the memories in beautiful rich colours and scraps of fabric, making a quilt – my quilt. The colours of the threads change as I look and as she sews; from gold to silver to red to green to blue.

So I sit and tell her the things, and she nods and stitches another panel into the quilt, and I sit with the fire warmth and crackle and the darkness, and float with my body until another memory bubbles to the surface.

“Oh, and also I remember when…”

And she looks at me again with those eyes, burning with fierce compassion and utter presence. She listens and she hears and her deep loving hearing melts something. I feel myself open up and fall into that total attention. And then she picks up the needle in the fabric and starts to stitch again. When finally no more memories are coming for the moment I sit, curled in the great rocking chair, wrapped in a blanket gazing at the fire, and I feel empty and peaceful. She finishes the last finishing stitch, bites off the thread, puts the needle away and sits back with a sigh. “There. It’s done.”

And there is my quilt. I can’t ever say how big it is. I expect when she holds it up that it would be a normal single bed size enough to wrap around you or snuggle under, but somehow I can’t quite get perspective when I look at it as she holds it up and shakes it out. It could be the size of a handkerchief or it could be the size of a planet.

It shifts, and moves. There it is, in Baba Yaga’s hands. I can feel the lightness in me and see the colours in the quilt that come from all the weight being held by her. There is silence still, and then she stands slowly and moves across the room to drape the quilt over an old wooden bench that stretches along one wall, to join an assortment of other quilts, blankets, cushions and shawls covering the bench…the bench, which seems suddenly to stretch and expand, lengthening mistily. She notices me looking at the other blankets and quilts. And with a half-smile, but fierce eyes, she stops the question rising to my lips.

“Come,” she says, and takes my hand to lead me to the door and for a long moment we stand together. I feel my body’s reluctance to leave – my desire to turn towards the warmth and depth and curl into it forever.

“It is not your time,” she says softly. “These things are safe here. You are known here. Remember that.”

And so I walk out and back down the forest path, without looking back because somehow I know that the house will no longer be there. I am halfway home when I reach into my pocket belatedly wanting gloves, and find the threads. Five lengths of embroidery silk, gold, silver, red, green, and blue. I raise the little bundle to my face and I can smell the woodsmoke scent.

Saturday, 9th May, 8am

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I went out into the garden this morning

To sit on the grass and breathe the soft, sweet, heavy scent of early summer

And watch the starlings landing on the gutter to feed their babies

In the quietness that folds around before the day really begins.

 

I want to inhale

the wood pigeons call,

The first bus of the day going past while a bumblebee hums behind me

The wild garlic and Welsh poppies, and the honeysuckle twining itself around my fear,

The stillness that suggests infinite and impossible possibilities.

 

I want to bottle this and give it to my daughters,

So that in some future time of desperation

They can open the bottle and these things will come tumbling out:

 

The way the wooden fence sighs and shifts in the warmth, while they sleep on, indoors;

The way the geraniums are perfect pale pink against their leaves;

The way each leaf on my tiny rowan seedling is as clearly defined as if someone had sketched it in the air with a pencil;

The way the sparrows fill me with utter joy,

Because I thought they were gone

And yet here they are, prancing on my windowsill

As if they didn’t care about their own extinction.

 

And at the bottom of the bottle, I’ll put a note.

Forgive me my longing for, my dependance on this world-

– it is the only one I’ve ever really known.

Holding on during turbulence

 

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How do we hold such conflicting emotions? Sorrow and grief at the rising high death toll. Anger at inadequate responses and the inequality in our society which brings more suffering. Shame and guilt maybe. Stress or overwhelm triggered by the intensity or busyness of life and all we have to deal with. And, maybe extra peace and tranquility. Enjoyment of the quiet and lack of doing. Gladness at the resurgence of nature. Encouragement at the community resourcefulness and compassion of others. Hope?

This little hazel came home with me from Waterloo Bridge last April, after a tree ceremony I took part in as part of the Extinction Rebellion uprising. Tree of wisdom and magic and the bards, I planted it in front of my house in the autumn, the week after it lost its last leaf –  and it has burst back into leaf enthusiastically in the last few weeks.

Hazel, teach me how to pace myself

Last April, a bit like this one, was a mixing-bowl of states. The exhilaration and inspiration, grief, anger, hope, going through a very difficult situation in the background, an ending, a beginning.

My tendency is to question and reason and try and make sense. And, I know that the only way through this turbulence and the only way to hold such extremes of contrast, good and bad, light and dark, is through anchoring in my breath and body and looking to nature. When the anxiety rises, when I’m in pain, when I stare at a screen too long, when the hope surges suddenly, when I feel content and satisfied and then guilty…Hold on, hold on.

Hazel, teach me how to hold on

The hazel has put down its roots and with the support and sustenance of the soil and water, is just following its natural cycle. Nature keeping on keeping on. Unhurried, untroubled, yet in tune.

Hazel, teach me how to keep being

******

(How blessed, to live where I do and have the holding of nature so accessible.)

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Mindful Photography: Hands – a story

We say it’s the life line, the crease and fold of skin…our hands can tell the story of where we have been, what we have done – a series of self-portraits, an embodied autobiography.

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“These are hands that write..” you said, as our intertwined fingers danced and stroked, enacting a life of their own on the table in front of us.

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These are hands that have created, nurtured, cradled life – found strong sensitivity to comfort and hold. These are hands that have been grasped by smaller, trusting ones, and now long to keep hold as those hands move away…

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These are hands that have played notes on strings, turned pages, with delicate touch opened up and reached out, stroked and explored, clasped others’ hands strongly.

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These are hands that have grasped, hung on doggedly, survived, without noticing what else was hanging on too

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These are hands that know anger, and power, and strength – that have found their limits and boundaries. And hands that have pushed away.

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These are hands that have planted and dug, sinking in to connection with Earth, drawing in the elements, invoking the Goddess of land and soil. Hands that have lit fire, cleaved through water, danced in the air.

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These, my hands, the story of me. An edge where I meet the world. I bless my hands, these easily-overlooked records of my existence.

 

Lots of photos in this post, which is inspired by working with Look Again and practising Mindful Photography – a gentle and profound journey of looking slowly and in detail at the world, of focusing in and taking time to respond to things I might normally look past..

We protect what we love

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And then suddenly, the creamy bulk of the cathedral falling back, we are by the river. The tide is high and as ever on this particular journey, I gasp inwardly at the play of light on water, wavelets pushing together as sea and river mingle. Across the other side, in the distance, a familiar silhouette; tracing the ridge with its tree-topping my eyes find the old break in the wood, followed by a stretch of open hill. How many times have I seen that marker of home, and how many times in my life have I stood over there on that flat hill-top, with the skylarks and rough grasses and orchids, and looked out over the river to here?

Something in me lurches with tender joy as I realise how I know this landscape. All my life these have held me; the hills at my back, east and north, the river to the west, snaking and encircling.

Along next to the train track there are small beech trees with last year’s leaves still clinging on. I love this land and what it has embedded in me since childhood – how much it has nurtured me, grown me. As the Earth does. I don’t know what to do, in the face of potential environmental collapse; but I know it starts with deep connection to myself, my body and to the land, with spiritual practice and ritual and re-learning skills of plant medicine and tree wisdom and seasons and animals. With grounding, speaking truth – and love.

For now I am going West, to the sea that calls me; skirting the purple-brown mountains in my father’s land, turning from the river Goddess until She claims me again on an ocean shore, with her embrace of wild power and nourishment. I will return..

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“I picked the primroses a hundred yards from the firing trench..”

For years now, I have had in my possession a box with rolled up family trees, copies of sepia photographs and postcards, my great-grandfather’s pince-nez spectacles, copious notes in my father’s handwriting – and letters. Photocopies of letters, many of them, which I have started to transcribe as the writing is often almost illegible.

My Welsh great-grandfather fought in the trenches during 1915, received a head wound and was invalided home. Over the next nearly three decades this would slowly paralyse and kill him. Very few of my family on my father’s side are still alive, but apparently a fragment of my great-grandfather’s skull still exists somewhere, kept by his eldest grandchild, himself now an old man. My great-grandfather wrote several letters from the trenches to his wife, and many more from the various hospitals he spent time in around the UK. They are full of reflections on the people he meets, his religious faith and preoccupation with that, and his sheer relief and gratitude at being alive. The sentence that always floors me, however, is the one that I have used as the title for this piece. The primroses themselves are long gone; what remains is the juxtaposition of the horror of the ‘rather hot’ day, so briefly mentioned, when he was hit, with the tender inclusion of flowers, picked in a blasted landscape of destruction and sent home to the wife and children, the youngest of whom he hadn’t yet met.

I never knew my great-grandfather but my great-grandmother, who brought up my father as her own, lived into her nineties and held me as a toddler on her lap. Mother of 8, family matriarch, she emigrated to America and back again in the 1900s as well as negotiating pit disasters as a miner’s daughter and wife. My sister and I are named after her and I’d like to think something of her lives on in me. While her husband fought in the mud, she carried her babies ‘Welsh fashion’ tucked in a shawl, and crocheted around them, fine lace edgings for tablecloths.

Remembering is complex. My mother and her family, German, lived through the same world wars but from a rather different perspective. Here, what comes filtering down to me is trauma and horror; my grandparents trying in vain to flee a conquering, occupying army in 1945 – the close misses of the bombs – the brutal stories of that night when the town fell – the days spent with no home, no food and a toddler and very young baby, unsure if any of them would be there the next day, unsure if a desperate request to a soldier for milk would be met with kindness or violence. And then afterwards, the years of guilt and silence, the unspeakable memories and knowledge.

There are so many with similar stories, so many with far, far worse stories.

I don’t think it’s surprising that traces of this still swim in my nervous system. That I project my family’s past terrors into the future and superimpose them on to the world that might be coming. I read about climate collapse and I see visions of an apocalyptic scenario that my children might face. Brutality and horror, society descending into chaos just as it once did around my family.

How do I step back from the brink in my head, without minimising the gravity of the situation we find ourselves in? How do I find the primroses in the wasteland of my imagination?

To remember is to know the loss and the pain. To remember, surely, surely, is to realise that this has to stop? To remember war should only be to ensure that wars do not happen any more. The ‘war to end all wars’ clearly didn’t. And our world faces ongoing human-made destruction through conflicts and environmental damage.

To remember has to begin to imply change – and to find the threads that can be allowed to continue unbroken; the strength, courage and persistence of our ancestors, the acts of kindness, the love. To know that our ancestors would wish for us to be free and safe, to not have to endure what they did, to do it differently.

I know that my intergenerational trauma has to stop with me. I am the break in the line, I am where it gets processed and healed – I bear the cost of that. Every scar and wound I carry is testament to the sacrifice of my healing.

I know that the parenting I have undertaken is radical – to raise my girls differently, outside of ‘the system’, to enable them to question, to know themselves, their integrity, to think, to empathise. To be consciously present to and with them and their feelings in a way unknown previously in my family. To contain my body’s remembering of memories that are not mine. To equip them with resilience for whatever they may face. This is my act of remembrance – remembrance for change. This is my activism. This is my hope.

This morning I marched with other families to raise awareness of climate change emergency. The adults encircled the children and sang “we hold you in our circle, in our love”. This is our call especially as parents; in the face of hopelessness, consciously choosing hopeful love. Hope as a behaviour, not an emotion.

And our ancestors stand behind us in this – we are their hope and dream. From the fire of their lives we came; we are the charcoal – rich, dark, crumbly treasure.

And our children? They are the feathers of the phoenix, rising from the ashes into something new, strong, beautiful and unimaginable.

One of my great-grandfather’s letters, from a hospital on the coast, recounts how he stood on the beach; “the waves come in like great white maned horses and I was glad to be alive this morning to see and enjoy it all”. Here I start, here I stand; in gratitude for those who went before, in gratitude for my life and in gratitude for this beautiful, threatened world. Gratitude mingles with pain to become the thread of remembrance stretching forward towards transformation; the flowers in the wasteland.

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Courage or hope?

“Courage is the resolve to do well without the assurance of a happy ending”

Dr Kate Marvel

 

In such a time as this

What words can I call up?

What images haunt my dreams and footsteps

The shadows of the past and of the future

Manifest in our present.

 

In such a time as this

When hope seems dull indeed

What thoughts can I offer?

Nothing of any originality or merit

Or that brings comfort.

 

In such a time as this

Can I break bread

And without any expectation of success

Hold my hands out

To those around me.

 

In such a time, there is nothing left

Other than to be here and open and let the fire burn.

 

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