Monday, July 21, 2008

Crunching gravel

Lauren and I were out walking, single file on a narrow gravel path in the forest. We stopped every half dozen metres to listen to the sounds around us: the wind rustling the leaves of the trees, the sparrows and honey eaters squawking, the quiet busy-ness of nature. Then we'd move on.

I watched Lauren's feet shift and crunch the gravel as she put them down, one after the other. "How do you suppose all those people in books and movies move so silently?" The question was out of my mouth before I could think about it.

Lauren, bless her, didn't hesitate. Within half a second she'd bent her knees, slowed her stride and begun placing her feet carefully on the path, rolling heel to toe, trying to be as quiet as possible. I followed suit, but we still made too much noise. I changed my stride to match hers, only putting a foot down when she did. That helped, but nothing we did made our passage silent. After a couple of minutes the absurdity of it all struck me and I giggled. Lauren turned and we all but fell about laughing.

"This is the sort of thing my friends and I do when we're drunk," laughed Lauren.

"Who needs to drink?" was my reply. "I can be an idiot any time."

We were both still grinning when we finished our walk an hour later. I'm still smiling. Those few precious moments sharing joy are lasting a long time. I have a lot of moments like that with Lauren.

I must be the luckiest woman on earth.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Do not go gentle

The father of a friend of mine suffered a massive stroke a couple of days ago. Prognosis isn't good. How I hate this. The lives of so many people are turned upside down, pierced with pain and uncertainty. For them, the grief starts now, even though he's still alive and they suddenly have to deal with the horror of his illness and care. I wish there was something I could do to help them, to make things easier for them, but this is a time for family and holding it all together, dealing with things, because if you don't, you'll succumb to the quiet terror and never be able to cope with anything again.

I remember the day my father died. The call to say he'd been taken to hospital came at 11pm. At 11pm the next night I was standing in the grounds of the hospital with seven year old Lauren, telling her that the newest, brightest star was her grandfather; that people we love never really leave us even though we might never see them again. It didn't work then, for either of us; it doesn't work now. The grief never ends, it never diminishes. It just gets easier to hide, easier to pretend that it doesn't hurt all the time anymore.

Dylan Thomas's "Do not go gentle into that goodnight" lives with me at times like this:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Sometimes I think it would be better not to fight it, but to just gently slip away, then those who loved can begin their raging sooner, come to terms with it sooner. Hide the grief sooner.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My sound of choice

My sound of choice is silence - well as silent as I can get in my little part of the world. It annoys me when I wake up at 3am and can hear the trains go by. I don't live anywhere near a train station but the prevailing wind at 3am seems to be in exactly the right direction to bring the sounds straight to my bedroom window.

I'm always the one who turns the tv off if no one is sitting in front of it actively watching (that includes the times someone falls asleep in front of the tv). What's the point? You're either watching it, or you're not. Using it as white noise is irritating.

This week I got a little more silence than I usually ask for. I lost my voice. I'm not talking croaky or husky, I'm talking no volume at all, not even a whisper. It's amazing how much difference it makes to my world. Because I'm silent, most people around me become quieter. A lot of people even whisper at me - I can't make a noise therefore my hearing must be acute. Other people come right up close to me and speak slowly like my hearing has been affected along with my voice. My sense of humour is having a ball.

It's not the first time this has happened. I spent most of my 20s losing my voice three or four times a year, then in my 30s I had 12 months without a voice. I had no volume at all for nearly five months, then had to use a portable voice amplifier for another eight months before my voice was back to normal volume. I've had to do voice exercises every day since to maintain easy volume.

With all this difficulty I have even getting a speaking voice to work, you can imagine what my singing voice is like! It's not that I can't hold a note - I'm just never sure which note I'll get or how long it'll last.

Lauren was 11 or 12 during that year and very quickly learned to respond to a click of my fingers. We developed our own sign language and had quite involved conversations with me not saying a word and her talking in shorthand. She can still say an awful lot to me just by raising an eyebrow. It actually fitted in really well with the dog obedience techniques I used throughout her childhood. I know it sounds odd to say I used dog obedience to raise a child but I did: lots and lots of praise when she did something good and growled at her when she did something wrong, just like we learned when we were training our dog. Of course I didn't realise until we took the dog obedience classes that that's what I was doing.

Now I have a few days of absolute silence inside my head. It's come at the most inconvenient time of the semester - right at the beginning - but there's nothing I can do about that. I'm scared if I don't take the time to rest and get it all working again I'll have another year with no voice. While it was an interesting experience, it's not something I want to repeat.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Walk like a dog

My daughter walks like a dog. I'm serious, it's not a joke.

The last few months Lauren has been getting some work done in her yard - major earthworks. She's still waiting for the digging to be finished so she can lay a lawn. She misses her grass and plants. She's the kind of person who will spend a couple of hours a day sitting in the grass destressing, and she hasn't been able to do that for nearly four months. It's driving her crazy.

Yesterday we went to a native forest for a long walk, just so we could get close to some trees. Today we visited a friend who lives on a mountain that has a significant national park, and went for walk around the neighbourhood.

I realised today that Lauren walks like a dog. We'll be walking along and she'll suddenly deviate from the path a few metres to sniff a flower or feel the texture of a particular leaf. Then she'll return to the path only to slide off the other side after a few metres to press her hand to the bark of a tree to feel the roughness and the warmth left by the sun. She'll get down on hands and knees to watch the dappled sunlight under the fronds of a tree fern. That was the pattern for our walks yesterday and today. If something catches her eye, Lauren will go and investigate, just like an inquisitive dog would.

It's a beautiful thing to watch and to be part of. I remember similar walks when she was a child. I always loved the way she saw the world - as a thing of peace and beauty, to be nurtured and enjoyed. I no longer have to field the never-ending questions of 'why' and 'how', but she still retains that same joy of nature around her. Spending time with her has reminded me of the simple joys in life.

Looking at the world the way Lauren does really works. I haven't felt so relaxed and happy for a long time.