Category Archives: Community

People- and the way they touch our hearts and minds….

Meeting someone pivotal in your life is often not greeted by cymbals and drum rolls. Sometimes they just slip in unnoticed and non-assuming, yet they can subliminally change how we think and act in quiet and unobtrusive ways. People like this are like jewels. Colorful treasure in a sometimes grey, monochrome world that can make us sit up and take notice of the beauty and sparkle that is inherent in life.

I met a man twelve years ago who changed me, fundamentally and quietly without his knowing. We met weekly and exchanged thoughts, philosophies, visions and ideas. He was older than I was and had a broader life experience and education than I had at the time. He spoke to and listened to me, and encouraged me to believe in my aspirations, beliefs and hopes. He supported me as I took the first tentative steps to thinking beyond the person that I was at the time, and he shaded my dreams with pencils of colour and substance.

Looking back, I recognise that I was at a crossroads in my life. My children were in their late teens and were on their own paths of discovery. My job at the time was well paid but I hated it. My husband had his career and was working hard at it. I was approaching my 40’s and I truly didn’t know who I was or where I going to. My life was predictable and mostly enjoyable, but it was lacking something that I couldn’t articulate or name.

This man encouraged me to read the works of great philosophers and writers, and to think deeply about the things that produced joy and happiness for me. He believed in the power of silence and self-reflection and taught me not to feel afraid in the quiet of my mind. Through our weekly discussions we explored what the universe had to offer us as humans and what we could give back.

We debated and argued back and forth about what was meaningful and relevant in a world gone mad with consumerism and greed. We agreed that it was people and how they felt that mattered most when it came to actual living.

I looked forward to our meetings and I was rarely disappointed. We were in a work environment so not all the time was spent chatting, but I loved having time out with this wonderful man learning something new in almost every encounter. He made me think in a way that I had never done before.

Trying to help my husband and children understand the monumental shift that was occurring inside me was difficult, as I was learning to think, to do things differently, and to reflect on where I was on my life’s map. I was also menopausal at the time which may have contributed to their lack of engagement with me as they all thought I was going nuts anyway. My new “Airy Fairy” way of thinking and my constant quoting of this man’s viewpoints made them laugh and dismiss me a lot, although they were never deliberately unkind. They just didn’t get what I was getting.

They didn’t understand the effect that this man was having on my consciousness. Although they listened to me, they didn’t really hear me or understand my new way of thinking. I knew that he did and I simply loved him for it.

I eventually emerged from the menopause mentally intact (although my family may disagree on this issue) and began to slowly build a new individual way of being, hugely influenced by this gentle man.

My thoughts and practices are different now and have been since I knew him. His gentleness continues to affect me in how I view the world and his wisdom will never be forgotten.

I do not see him now and have not for many years. Our paths diverged and we are not in contact. He has absolutely no idea how he influenced and changed my life.

I remember him with fondness, thankfulness and a deep and abiding love. He provided me with a space that allowed me to express my feelings, my doubts, worries and dreams. He listened to me and never judged me. He encouraged me to be quiet in myself and to appreciate the silence that lies within us all. He taught me to accept people with all their frailties and vulnerabilities and to recognise that I have those feelings too.

He has been a kind of guru for me in how I live my life although he would hate to have that title. He believed in the sharing of life’s philosophies, education and knowledge, with the implicit acknowledgement that we have no ownership of them as they were never ours in the first place. I learnt from him that wisdom, kindness and understanding that is passed on is the greatest gift that we as humans can share.

Destiny can teach us about people and the unconsciousness power they have to individually shape our lives.

Kaleidoscopes.

Life is a kaleidoscope of colour and texture. It is filled in and mixed up by the people that we meet and the experiences that we share. Stories that take us outside our own lives and invite us into other parallel worlds can be the ways in which we live and learn about life.

Actual living is relative and subjective, and the social interaction that we have with other people can add to the myriad of colour that make up the complicated versions of individual lives.

I believe that there are great stories to be told and I am going to attempt not be so inward and narcissistic in the future. Other peoples lives are much more interesting than mine is.

In conversation tonight with a man, I listened to his philosophy on life. He is a true poet (although he has no real idea of his eloquence or the simple beauty of his words and how he relays them.) He has suffered hardship and addiction and has found his way through. His honesty hit me like a bomb. He is stripped of all falseness and pretence. There was no boasting of how he recovered, just a searing honesty of how he lives his life now and how he sees the “inside” of people who he can relate to because of his previous addiction.

He prescribes no solution to people that he meets as equals, he just relates his own experience, and speaks eloquently and coherently about finding his own way. He searches out the joy and goodness that he believes lies at the core of all human beings, and he acknowledges that this is the way that simply works for him. He believes that most people are kind and loving although they may have lost their way, and he tries to “tap” into that inner core in his exchanges with people. He looks you straight in the eye. He owns his feelings and beliefs.

I looked straight back and found myself in awe of this man and his direct gaze. If I wasn’t honest in my own exchange I would have had to look away, such was his gentle power.

When meeting people in social settings I believe that we are conditioned to behave in a particular manner. We chat, exchange pleasantries, and rarely disclose matters that are of importance to us if the people that we meet are strangers.

This man did not observe the “rules” and I am so thankful that he didn’t. I will remember this encounter and sincerely hope that I will meet this wonderful man again someday.

Life can make you look again more closely when you least expect it in the most humblest of settings. Is this how destiny is shaped?

New Year – New Beginnings…..

Like many other people I embark on the New Year with a raft of promises to myself and the wider world. “ I will eat healthier food- I will lose weight- I will be kinder to my loved ones- I will learn something new”- etc. etc. etc. Each year begins with heartfelt promises and determination to see these endeavours through to fruition. Some years have started better than others and some promises have been kept. Others have fallen by the way side, but I don’t beat myself up over not keeping them. No one is keeping an eye on me and my promises, they are mine to keep and I am in sole charge of me.

Simple things please me and some of my promises to myself are easy to keep. I always try to remember to say “thank you” to people and to look them in the eye when I am saying it so that they know that I really mean it. It’s a very small thing and takes little effort but I believe that it’s important to acknowledge when someone does something for you that you appreciate and a simple “thank you” is sometimes all that is necessary.

People who work in the service industry are bombarded by rudeness every day, so taking a moment to thank someone and to tell them that you appreciate their kindness is something that I try to do every day either in face to face transactions, on the telephone or via email. There are obviously times when situations do not go according to plan and where difficulties can arise. When speaking with people on telephones who are dealing with queries and the outcome is not what I expect or want, I try to remember that they are only doing their job and may be restricted by particular company policies or rules. I always try to remind them that if I get angry that it is not with them personally but with the restrictive rules/policies of their particular organisation. I think that this is important and I believe that many times it has produced a better outcome than if I had been ranting and raving blaming that person on the phone for not giving me what I wanted/deserved/was entitled to.

We humans are simple creatures. We respond to kindness and love. As children we blossom when we are praised, and with encouragement we strive to be the best that we can be. Telling someone that they have been kind or attentive can produce a feeling of appreciation and an acknowledgement of the effort that has been made for you. This small action can change how we interact with people and can make every positive exchange a better one.

My continued resolution for 2012 is to remember to say “thank you” and mean it, and to tell people how much I appreciate the things that they do for me. This includes my family, my friends and anyone else that I may meet on a day to day basis. I will acknowledge when they are kind and tell them so and I will endeavour to communicate to them how their love/help/assistance/expertise/ has made my life that little bit better.

The American poet Maya Angelou once wrote “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

We can all effect change in ourselves but we can be truly altruistic in how we acknowledge others and how we communicate our thanks to them. Simple words that carry a wealth of meaning can make the difference.

Destiny may be shaped by our own hands and hearts…….

Emigration – Ireland & Me….

Reading newspaper articles on the emigration of Irish people in recent times, I have been caught up in the many tales of heartache and separation that occur when such a drastic step is taken. Many of the stories are about economic emigration because it can be difficult to see a future in the harsh landscape of Ireland in the post Celtic Tiger gloom of the present. Other stories are about bravery and vision and a belief that life will be better away from this small Island that has a huge history in shipping out its talent and youth and sending our best to the far flung corners of the globe.

When I was engaged to be married a life time ago, I had the opportunity to go to Chicago in America with my fiancé. He had an uncle who would sponsor us and we were assured of good jobs, accommodation and a loving family member who would be thrilled to watch over us and to help in any way that he could. My fiancé wanted to go but I didn’t. I loved living in Dublin at that time and being a young and naïve 19 year old, I didn’t want too many challenges or to be separated from my family and friends. My argument was that we would go, work hard and have a life, but would never be able to afford to come home for our parent’s funerals if they died. Travel was expensive in the early 80’s and this was a valid argument in my mind. We didn’t go and the dye was cast on our life in Ireland.

We stayed here, married, raised a small family and lived a small life surrounded by the people that were important to us. We educated our children and hoped that they would eventually acquire the skills needed to become independent and to continue to live here and not to be included in the statistics of people who emigrated and had to leave Ireland’s shores. We wanted them here with us and I believed that I was rearing them to become the new generation of Irish people who were going to continue into the new century with pride and a skill set that was worthwhile and valuable. Sustainable living in Ireland was our hope for them and I never gave a thought to them leaving this country.

My children are grown now and are independent and working. They are maintaining their own lives and homes against a backdrop of savage austerity and hardship. Tax cuts are biting deep and there are harder days to come. There are Increases in the cost of living, health insurance, fuel and other day to day products as well the introduction of stealth taxes on property and other items that reduce their disposable income every day. There seems to be no good news on the horizon for Ireland and for this new generation of citizens the emigration figures are climbing higher and higher.

Looking back at my own opportunity to emigrate, I realise that I was young and scared. I was afraid to take a step into the unknown, afraid to take a step into a different country, afraid to leave behind all that was familiar, afraid simply to take a step. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t been that way, and I really admire the people who have taken the plunge and have gone on to make lives for themselves and their families in so many places far from this land. They possessed the courage that I lacked.

As an Island state, Ireland cannot continue to sustain its population indefinitely and so will continue to provide the rest of the world with educated young people who will search out better places to live and to settle in. I will always want my children close by, but I am beginning to see myself as being selfish in not wanting them to go where life offers better possibilities. They have not mentioned emigration, but it’s something that I may yet have to face.

Home is somewhere that you carry in your heart and distance cannot change that. I always want them to be happy in their choices and not to be scared like I was when I was their age. If emigration calls them I don’t want them to be shackled to me or to the past, I want them to look to their own future and to find that special place that they can live and prosper in no matter where in the world it is.

I will also have a few bob put aside for them just in case they need to fly home for my funeral!

Destiny can be about evaluating the past and reshaping the future……

New View…..

When I was recently having surgery to insert intraocular lens into my eyes I was worried about my eyesight. Would I see things differently afterwards- would I see colours as I remembered them- would this surgery restore my sight to what the experts promised it would be? These questions were the biggest things on my horizon when I embarked on a journey that was frightening and uncertain. My distance vision has been impaired since I was about 15 years of age and so I’ve worn glasses all my adult life. This has never bothered me at all.

In the past few years however my near vision has deteriorated rapidly, and as I was not suitable for varifocal lens more radical steps were required. I have since had the surgery and have had a revolutionary procedure that has resulted in my distance vision now being better than 20/20 and my near vision being restored. I can now see the world in a sharper and clearer way.

I still had the bandages on one eye when my mother got the news this week that her cancer is terminal. Her breast cancer has spread to her lungs and as she is a frail 82 years of age, her surgeon sees no point in putting her through the trauma of the originally proposed mastectomy. She will be treated with oral chemotherapy to try to contain the disease to her lung and breast in the hope that it will not travel further.

Bravely- she asked the question about how long she had to live- and unhesitatingly her Oncologist answered. Two years.

Facing an uncertain future is something we all live with but we push it away and pretend that we have years ahead…. My mam is now faced with a finite date on her life and is determined to be as strong and upbeat for as long as she can be. She is wilful and stubborn and I realise that she will do it her way and not mine or my sibling’s way because she is an independent strong woman and despite a million and one rows that we have had over the years, I wouldn’t have her any other way.

Thinking about my own eyesight fears seem so petty and small compared to the struggle that my mam is going through and I wish that my new eyes didn’t register the worry and uncertainty that I saw on her face today. I wish I didn’t see the tiredness and I wish I didn’t see the effort that she was making to chat and remain upbeat.

I collected her and her sister to bring them to lunch and I kept an eye on her through the drivers mirror as I drove along. She was in the back seat of the car chatting with her sister when she leaned through the seats and said “I never realised how beautiful your cheekbones are- I never noticed them before because you wore glasses”.

Compliments from my mam are rare and treasured. Today we both saw each other differently and I wonder how that view will change in the coming weeks and months ahead.

Destiny is a path that changes all the time….

The circle of life.

I have recently embarked on a new adventure and although the ride is bumpy, I am loving each and every corner that I turn. I am currently taking a Post Graduate H Dip in Adult Education & Community Development and part of my own learning is getting ‘out there’ to get the experience of working with other new learners in a teaching environment that I am supported in.

I have been so lucky to be included as a facilitator/lecturer on a programme that is being delivered at a local level to new learners who are taking their first steps in Adult Education. This programme is accredited learning from the National University of Ireland on the National Framework of Education and carries weight and distinction.

Meeting the new learners on my first night was nerve racking and throughout that day as I prepared for my new class I wondered if I was cut out for the job. Would I appear stupid, would I get things wrong? Would they all see through me and realise that I hadn’t a clue and demand another person in my place? These were the fears that I had as I drove to the venue where the classes were being held.

Meeting these lovely people who were all there for different reasons was a wonderful experience. They had decided to ‘sign up’ to make a difference to their own lives and to the lives of their families and communities. During break time I met several who told me personal stories about themselves and what had prompted them to embark on this new Adult Education programme. Each and every person had a story about adversity, inequality, bias, marginalisation- and some more extreme. Like the new immigrant who was finding the cultural shift between their own country and this new Irish one so difficult to embrace and to feel a part of, and the person who was campaigning vigorously to establish addiction services in his local area to eliminate having to travel miles to a needle exchange.

Delivering material and being a part of the group during that first class was one of the best moments of my life. I looked at the eager faces sitting on chairs around that room and realised that only a very short time ago it was me in one of those chairs with that hungry look on my face. It was me who raised my hand up with questions about things that I didn’t understand. It was me who gazed in awe at the lecturer and wondered how he ever learned all that he knew. It was me who joined in group discussions and was vocal about the subject that we were tackling that particular night. It was me- It was me!

Speaking with one of the lovely new learners at the end of the night, she told me that she wants to go further in education and that this course is her stepping stone to her future. She is sure footed and knows the steps that she has to take and is determined to succeed. I was humbled to hear her speak about how tough life has been for her, yet her sparkle and intelligence shone through her words and I believed her sincerity in wanting to make a difference to her own life and to those that she loves. Telling her that I was in her chair not long ago and that I too had started my return to learning in a similar fashion broke down any barriers that may have existed between us, and she reiterated her belief that this experience was going to be life changing for her.

“The circle of life” is a cliché that fits in so many ways to my thinking, and it was reinforced for me that night as I realised that the very first steps I took on my own personal path in Adult Education are being repeated by the people in my group of new learners. They in turn will go on and continue to bring education back to the people who constantly seek ways of wanting to make this world a better place to live in.

Education is a powerful thing and I am so glad to be able to share my own learning and experience with this new group as I have no ownership of the knowledge and material that I have received throughout my own educational journey. It has been a life changing experience for me and passing it on is the greatest gift that anyone can bestow on another.

Destiny is often shaped by others when we least expect it.

Living life facing death…

Mam, me and Bernie my mother in law. 2010

Mortality or death is something that surrounds us every day. We are faced by the brutality and sadness of it in every news bulletin and newspaper that we read, and although it is a part of our daily lives, it is usually about someone that we don’t know. Someone distant who we might think about fleetingly but are not connected to. We may feel momentarily sad for their circumstances and for the people who might mourn their loss, but really their deaths don’t touch us, as it is about someone else- someone unknown to us.

Facing death with someone you love is altogether different.

Ultimately we all know that we will die, but while we are young we manage to put that notion of death on the long finger. The Grim Reaper is not for us! Most of us imagine that we will grow old and die a peaceful death (if and ever we have a moment in our busy lives to even contemplate it).

The reality of living with mortality is heavy and dark, and I believe that we never really consider it until we are faced with losing someone we love or have actually lost.

Coming to terms with a life threatening terminal illness is an indicator of how powerless we really are as humans in the face of disease. We may have the will to live, but “fate “can decide otherwise.

I am currently facing uncharted territory with two special wonderful much loved women, my mother and my mother in law. My mother is 82 and has terminal breast cancer, and my mother in law who is 93, is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s .

Watching these two wonderful women cope with their disease’s while hoping for a positive outcome humbles me as I realise that they do not want to die. They struggle every day to hang onto life despite their pain and suffering.

They are on their own particular course and I am on mine. They will ultimately die, and in time they will be gone. I will have to cope and get on with living although my heart and life will be bereft without them.

This is my tough future.

Loosing someone that you love unexpectedly is horrendous as you have no warning –like the sudden death of my darling younger sister Annie, but loosing people that you love dearly day by day, little by little is tougher still.

Having to be emotionally strong and to pretend that somehow death is within our control is exhausting, and providing reassurance knowing what the eventual outcome will be, is heart breaking at this moment in time.

Cliché’s about ‘living life in the moment so that you will not feel regret in the future’ are easily spoken or read. They are harder to live by when time is taken up by the day to day management of hospital appointments, shopping, meal making and other mundane repetitive household chores that have to be completed.

None of these things really matter in the grand scheme of things, and although it keeps a semblance of order in the minutes, in the hours, in the days, in the weeks that go by, it is all meaningless in the context of what lies ahead.

At the funeral, will people remember that the house was clean and that the dusting was done? Will it be noted that the carpets were vacuumed and that the kitchen towels were matched?

I don’t care about this and I am sure that the people who will come to mourn with me in the future do not care either. In the time that is left I want to tell these lovely women to forget about the house work and all of the stupid household tasks that are rendered useless and meaningless in the face of death.

I want them to embrace sunshine as the day dawns, and to smell the sweetness of summer flowers. I want them to rejoice in the simplicity of living and to enjoy if they can, the wonder of a star filled night. I want them to enjoy ice cream dribbling down their fingers as they try to catch the last bit, and to do all the things that are possible in the time that they have left. These are the things that I think are important, but I realise that what I want may not be a part of their thinking as they struggle towards an unknown future.

Living with their uncertainty has changed my own perspective on life, and the clichés about living in the moment have never held more resonance than they do now.

Living life and facing death is not just my destiny, it is universal to us all.