Extraordinary in Ordinary

Three things before we start –

Apologies for the stupidly excessive amount of times the words ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’ are used. I hope you don’t get lost. I admit, I lost myself a few times. So please “bear with,” as my brother would say.

And huge credit to Canon J for reminding me of the jigsaw analogy – it is one I seem to be using a lot at the moment to explain life. I will never forget the bobbing conversation we first had after sabbatical when you explained it. It really helps, and not just me.

Finally – thank you to all those special people who make my ordinary extraordinary, and who share with me in extraordinarinesses day by day. You know who you are. 


We’re back in ordinary time. Though I missed it in somewhat spectacular fashion (I don’t do things by halves!), Easter is over. Pentecost has been and gone. So it’s ordinary time again. It has the capacity to sound rather bleak. Ordinary, in fact, or how the word ‘ordinary’ has come to be used. And whilst it is principally a measured and numbered time, it definitely has the capacity to drag on. When you get to the 21st Sunday after Trinity, there is no doubt you feel older. Or I do anyway. But ordinary time charts an extraordinary life. So ordinary time has the capacity to be a time for learning, growing, appreciating. And for every individual, the ordinary might just have the power to become extraordinary.

As much as the last few months have shown me that every day we are gifted is extraordinary, it’s difficult to remember. Now as I settle back into life, back into school, into exams, and slowly back into myself, I find that I am slipping into a new ordinary. I have new routine into which each day fits and becomes ordinary. It’s different than it was before Easter, it has to be. But it’s still kind of ordinary. And it certainly feels like it will become more natural as each day passes. I find it harder each day to find extraordinariness.

So I woke up yesterday to what I thought would be an ordinary Saturday. I hit the alarm at the luxurious time of nine o’clock – it is, after all, finally, half term. And I rolled out of bed and into the shower, not quite literally, but close. I checked my bloods, gave my first dosings of medications, and about an hour after waking, finally got around to eating breakfast (don’t tell my DSN!). It was Shreddies, if you’re interested. I told you this was going to be a pretty ordinary day.

I settled down to work and my desk soon turned from a blank canvass of a space into brain flow carnage. Paper covered every inch of wood, and, of course, decided to take flight onto the floor, into the garden and under the sofa, as soon as I opened the door to get some fresh air. Highlighters merged colours with bleeding ink. Arrows, asterisks and splashes of colour showed my exploding thoughts, linkages and patchy knowledge. I stepped back when I finished for the afternoon and was quite astounded by the chaos I was able to create. I am ever close to trusting in my family’s belief that ‘every space I inhabit is messy.’ Being legal types, they made me sign a document in 2015 that affirmed it. But I guess they can’t complain. Under the proviso that everything I am currently doing is ‘revision,’ most things seem to pass familial scrutiny, including eating a square of dark chocolate every once in a while: cocoa was a key export in the triangular trade originating during 17th century Stuart Britain, so it definitely counts as sensory immersion in the Stuart economics course. That’s my argument at least. Don’t you agree?

An ordinary day. I got in the car to go up to the Cathedral (it’s technically down geographically, but never mind), and it was a pretty ordinary drive, dodging weekend drivers and enduring my father’s regular exclamation: “what did he do that for?? Look where it got him… nowhere!” Suffice to say he’s not very good at channelling road rage. To be honest, hitching a lift was really just an excuse not to get the train, since my Dad had to be there anyway. So I suppose enduring road rage is sort of part of the package. And who knows – maybe I’m as bad when I drive…

I don’t know why, but I didn’t talk at all whilst we drove. I guess I just wasn’t really in the mood. Going back to places where I felt more than comfortable ‘before’ is even harder with an ‘after’ identity that’s still piecing itself back together. I hate that divide, but it’s sort of the only way I can think of to describe this. Whatever this is. It’s like before there was a jigsaw puzzle that before was almost complete, and so you could see life’s picture coming together. But now the jigsaw puzzle has been mauled, or trampled on, or broken up by someone frustrated that all the pieces of sky were the same colour. The edges are still roughly there, or at least they are the easiest bits to put back together. The boundaries of life are roughly in place. It’s the rest of the picture that’s missing or jumbled up. All the pieces are lying topsy-turvy on the floor. The picture isn’t clear anymore. You hope all the pieces are still there. But you don’t know – there could be one that’s missing. You don’t know when or if the picture will be complete again. It’s the feeling that the world has shifted under you, and you’re not quite sure where to stand, or if you are about to embarrass yourself in a spectacularly un-elegant mudslide. They are the same places, but you’re not quite the same person. I’m still trying to find where the ‘after’ person slots back in. I’m still piecing back the jigsaw puzzle.

I needed space.

So as soon as we parked up I headed to the gardens, sheltered by the body of the Cathedral itself, and shadowed with the wooden cross, the golden angel flying high above. They are the same gardens I used to play in in the transience of past summers, hoping desperately that the choristers would take 5 extra minutes, so I could have 5 extra minutes chasing the other siblings round and round, with the final strains of evensong just ever so slightly lingering as the sun slowly waned and the night crept in. The tufts of grass find a beautiful luminescence at this time of year, trapped daily between bouts of sweltering sunshine and scattered showers. It was the same grass where I would sneak a sandwich, or picnic with the other families enduring a three-service extravaganza of a Sunday. It doesn’t happen anymore, but the same gleaming grass is still there. And it harbours the same attraction to the child inside of me.

And, with an hour to spare before evensong, I took my books. Rather ordinary. It’s exam season, so I’m rarely anywhere without a book and a pad of paper to jot down any unusually inspired ideas, plans or thoughts. In fact, think my consultant was a little surprised when I came for my bi-weekly assessment this week accompanied by a hefty volume of Tacitus. But you never know about hospital waiting times, and I’ve found that a historian who is characterised by his ability to politically psychoanalyse is a great match for the joys of sitting on an inconveniently placed plastic fold-down chair that is unimaginably uncomfortable (who designed those things?), waiting for a delayed appointment to be drained of yet more blood or infused with some new IV goodness, watching doctors, nurses, paramedics, patients, assistants, relatives, children, the elderly, wheelchairs, beds and trolleys trundling past down clinically sanitary white corridors, long, maze-like and dingy. And when other spare time allows, the ducks and the adorable golden and fluffy goslings in the local lake are becoming ever well-versed in Ovid, Propertius and Tibullus. It is somewhat less awkward learning the erotic Amores in the shaded woodland than in a public space. The ducks don’t seem to mind anyway.

But whenever I go to the Cathedral, it’s normally Greek. Rarely anything else strikes me as having the right gravitas. And if I want to work on my translation, the Greek Bible feels very at home there, as I hide, tucked out of sight in the library, beavering away to the sound of organ practice, or tourists wandering and wondering what lies beyond the solid door. But I wasn’t in the library yesterday. It was too claustrophobic, too dark and too serious. Besides, Thucydides was charting the battle of Pylos, with its precipitous headland and rocky terrain. It was much more fitting to be out in the gardens, atop the hill with its views down onto the town below.

And I needed space.

And I hadn’t been feeling anything particular all day. And it would have been a completely ordinary hour to anyone else. But suddenly, sat there, on a bench in the garden, a bush shading me from the sun beating down, but still feeling the all-encompassing heat in all its glory, and with the blue sky traced not a single whisper of cloud holding my gaze, dreaming to the strikingly familiar soundtrack of children racing down the hill below, and the students sunbathing, and the birds singing joyful hymns in the budding branches, a wave of extraordinariness struck me. I can’t really describe it in a way that it merits. Except that this was a moment I wanted to capture forever. Just a single moment with all the sounds and heat and scents of summer. A perfect and extraordinary moment in an ordinary minute.

I felt so grateful to be in that moment. Grateful to be alive. Grateful for summer. Grateful for faith. Grateful for the chance to have a moment of silent solitary stillness. Grateful for hope. Grateful for youth. Grateful for strength. Grateful for survival. Grateful for the world’s beating heart.

Those moments are truly extraordinary. When you feel like all the darkness and the light and the pain and the hope just align for a single second. When you feel like the world is yours to share in. When you feel like there is a split second of ultimate peace. When you feel like all you can do is love.

Slowly, the moment melted. It dissipated before my eyes, as another dog walker turned my gaze, a child’s shriek struck me unaware, and the pages of Thucydides started to flap incessantly as the breeze picked up. And I too seemed to melt back into the ordinary routines of working. But that feeling of extraordinary power didn’t seem to leave me. And it’s still there, locked away in my heart or mind.

I can tell I was still in a haze even 10 minutes later, despite returning from dreaming to studying, since a gentle and quiet “hello” half-startled me and I jumped, much to both of our amusements. But I think the unconscious haze that followed, as I held that moment close, is indicative its beauty. It was a moment that shrouded me so completely; I was so perfectly in tune with my own thoughts to the extent that, for that one moment, I could transcend the earth’s pain.

It is the extraordinary moments like that one that you come back to when the world throws you, knocks you back and winds you. Moments which change you. Second by second.

But change takes many forms. Sometimes it comes all at once. In fact, I left school on Friday, a time tinged with so many bittersweet emotions. I’m ready to leave. So ready. But there is a part that tugs me back. It’s certainly a big change, and therefore overwhelming. Yet it seems pertinent, since, as I write this, it is my headmistress’ departing words to us that echo in my mind, that we shouldn’t feel the pressure to have to be glorious, and live an extraordinary life. “There is nothing wrong with living an ordinary life well.”

For me, it’s definitely not about living an extraordinary life. I’m about the most ordinary you get, with rather ordinary hopes and fears. But living an ordinary life well, that’s more like it. And I think it’s not always the big changes that make the difference. It’s the ability to discern the changing extraordinary second hidden in the ordinary minute, and cherish those extraordinary moments, that make a day lived well and that make an ordinary life extraordinary. In that sense, there is no better thing than living an ordinary life well.

And sometimes there are those rare hours and days when there are so many extraordinary moments that you just want to capture them all and hold onto them in your heart forever. So, what had been an ordinary studying Saturday became an extraordinary one. For that moment was just the first.

The second was like, namely this. The same bench, the same shade. The same sun, the same breeze. The same golden angel and same shadowing cross. The same blue sky, the same striking green. But two people. Two people who chose to cast books and stress aside for a few hours of just being, and enjoying living (and pizza 😊). The picture was quite ordinary: two people sitting on a bench in the sun, quite alone in that part of the garden, but not really alone at all, talking about the weather, the week and the future, laughing, and commiserating. Yet however ordinary, there was a similar wave of extraordinariness to the feeling I had experienced alone. Although, this time, the moment seemed to harbour a greater profoundness. Because it was not divine for me alone. It was the extraordinary shared.

I lay in bed later. In fact, you won’t be surprised to hear I lie in bed most nights. It is distinctly ordinary. But somehow this, again, was extraordinary. It was characterised by thoughts different to my usual angst-filled reflections on A levels, or mental essay planning. None of my usual cares seemed to cross my mind. The window, cracked half open, let in just a subtle coolness to the overwhelming heat of the room. The curtains waved, and beat ever so softly against the pane. The birds were still singing though night was swiftly dragging at the sky. But their tune was no match for the music the day had brought. I closed my eyes from the ticking of the clock and just listened to my breath fade into nothingness, arms wrapped round me in a sure embrace. I wished I never had to leave that moment.

Ordinary time is measured. It drags on. Watching the clock is a reminder of how, in the grand scheme of things, there is so little time we have left to spend together. I have lived for 9,672,480 minutes up to this point. That’s 580,348,800 seconds. I’ve roughly spent 2400 of those writing this. And probably more by the time you read this. So how many of them have actually counted? I don’t know. Ordinary time drags on.

But sometimes, in ordinary seconds, extraordinary time is found. It doesn’t feel measured. It is both ephemeral and lasting beyond the confines of time. It changes you. It counts. It is what we hold to. It is how we move through the pain. Everyday, we must try to search out extraordinary time in an ordinary second. To hold onto it. To cradle it. To come back to it when there is no one to turn to.

Though I share something of this with you, deep down, in my heart, I know no words, no language, or music will ever be able to describe the true sense of extraordinariness. Maybe it is foolish to even try to write it down. I can only ever go part of the way to acknowledging the love of it. The rest you’ll have to feel for yourselves.

This ordinary time, find the extraordinary moments. Share the extraordinary. Make the decision to live, and love living. Hold onto the extraordinary in the face of the ordinary. Look to the extraordinary when the ordinary overwhelms. Who knows, this ordinary time, you might just see for yourself the extraordinary person I know you are, and continually called to be.

cathedral

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But I felt nothing.

As you may have noticed, I’ve been taking a break from writing. In fact, I’ve been taking a break from more than just writing, to focus on my health and my studies as I approach exam season. But I also needed to focus on my faith. I want to talk about some of the emotions I went through over the Easter period. It was a period which I found emotionally far more difficult than I had ever expected. For me, therefore, it was important to take a break and work out why I felt so broken at what should have been the most assuring and renovating of seasons. I had to take a step back and perspectivise. For the first time I had to actively seek to find the Easter mess-egg-es (excuse the pun!) that I had always taken for granted: hope, renewal, forgiveness and identity.

And I dug right down to the bottom of my soul
To see what I had inside
Yes, I dug right down to the bottom of my soul
And I tried, I tried…
But I felt nothing.

So wrote Edward Kleban in his lyrics for the musical A Chorus Line. Not, of course, that I am comparing the Cathedral life to a chorus line, though unfortunately it is a comparison I have, though unwittingly, made before: apparently the Spanish sentence ‘mi hermano es una corista’ does not only translate as ‘my brother is a chorister’ but also ‘my brother is a showgirl…’  What Kleban was getting at, however, about the pressure to feel something in a moment where one feels nothing, puts into words the detrimental and enclosing effects provoked by the mind’s consumption by such nothingness. He puts into words how I felt over Easer.

This year’s Easter will be forever characterised by one of the biggest spiritual lows I have had in a long time. As with any low, it was preceded by one of the best periods that I have gone through in a long time: I spent 5 days in Athens. Now anyone who actually knows me will testify to the fact that I am a bit of a Classics nerd. Maybe not the Classics nerd you think of, with the hand knitted cardigan and broken glasses who spends every spare second translating everything that he says into Latin. No, I’m a bit more fun than that. But equally I have just spent the last 10 minutes trying (though failing) to find Thucydides 4, the Battle of Pylos, inspiring. My mum would definitely call me nerdy. She often despairs at the fact that my brother and I, sitting at the dinner table, argue about what the aorist past participle is of πιπτω is, for example. She does not think such to be appropriate dinner time conversation. I disagree. But I digress.

Going to visit Athens was probably the highlight of my year so far. It was wonderful to escape the stressful life of London, and fly away to a sun-filled, ice-cream-fuelled city surrounded by every iconic Athenian monument. As with any tourist, we visited the Parthenon and the Forum, went shopping in the Plaka, and ate a ton of ice cream. We walked in the footsteps of those about whom we learn every day. Now as I turn to my Thucydides, I try imagine my bedroom walls dissipating, and me sitting on top of the Acropolis, looking out to the sea, awaiting news from Pylos, as Nicias did.

Our last full day was Palm Sunday. Part of me was sad to miss Palm Sunday in England – the small child inside of me yearned to see the one day of the year when moody lorry drivers on our bypass were stopped by police, making their distemperate (another one for the ‘my made up words’ dictionary – to mean the opposite of temperate) presence known by honking their horns vociferously, in order to allow a donkey to pass through to the Church.

But Palm Sunday in Greece came with its own unexpected beauty. Though we did not brave it into a full Greek Orthodox service, we poked our heads round in time to see the priest (complete with full length beard, of course) begin his chant whilst dousing the congregation in copious amounts of incense. If people in England complain about incense, they should try even standing in the doorway of a Greek Orthodox Church. The scent is choking. And suffice to say, I was too much of a germophobe to even touch the icons at the entrance, let alone kiss them, as one ought.

But was unique about Greek Palm Sunday was the sense of boundless community that went alongside it. Despite clearly being foreigners in our t-shirts, shorts and sunglasses (though we are not, as we were frightfully often mistaken for, American), whilst the Greek citizens bundled up in their coats, scarves and jumpers – it was only 27 degrees of course- we were part of their festival. Throughout the day people gave out palms (bright green fresh palms, not the dried dead ones that make their way to England) and orange blossoms, as they heralded the arrival of Christ into Jerusalem. But somehow it seemed they were welcoming our arrival too. We felt one in Christ, though our denomination separated us.

So returning to bleak grey England at midnight on Holy Monday was not so pleasant. Memories of cocktails in a rooftop bar overlooking the Acropolis, as the bleeding sun set into the blackest of skies, were long gone. It was rainy grey England, 13 degrees, and miserable. The question lingered in my mind over why I could not have stayed in beautiful Greece…

Life clicked back into place almost unrecognisably. Though restored and rested, the routine clicked back; it felt like we had never really gone away. Back to work, meetings, people to see, revision to do. The reality that the summer term was actually in two weeks, and that meant AS levels in four weeks struck. I had no idea what the difference was between βραδυς, βαθυς and βαρυς, and in four weeks I was meant to be translating unadapted Lysias. Things were not looking good.

From Good Friday to Holy Sunday, we hosted my mother’s twin goddaughters, aged 19. They had never been to London before, and so Good Friday was spent visiting all the major sites of London: Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey. We ate pizza and tried to embezzle as many free samples as possible from those outside Euston station who had clearly been told ‘one per party.’

When the sky turned black, I was sailing down the Thames on a Clipper. I didn’t even stop or notice.

And anyone can tell you that a day trawling round London as tourists is tiring. We got back and flopped into bed. Jesus’ death didn’t make an obvious appearance in the day. I didn’t have time to process it. I just slept. And I woke up on Holy Saturday with no sense of grief, emptiness or despair. It was just a normal Saturday, spent, I am ashamed to say, braving the doors of Hollister for the very first time with two teenage girls.

Until the evening. I was Stewarding at the Cathedral. I was reading at the Cathedral. A quick change and a fast run down the A3 and we were there. The nonchalance with which I had regarded Easter up to this point was brought crashing down to earth by a brutal building that bore the scars of all conflict, anger and distress. A building stripped bare to its core, to bricks and mortar, to its beating heart. A building shrouded in tears and which screamed of the pain of Christ’s sacrifice. And I felt ashamed. I could have done more. I could have committed myself to God over the Triduum. On the fast flowing river of life, I could have taken the time to stop and listen, to reflect, to notice.

And so perhaps it was of little surprise that, when the words ‘He is risen,’ were proclaimed, and the flickering construction lights blinked on to fill the darkness, I felt nothing. I stood up and read about living in Christ. But I felt nothing. I felt like the showgirl I had once described my brother to be. I was saying one thing, and feeling the opposite. I was looking out at a crowd with whom I felt as if I was in a constant battle. And I felt like I was losing. I didn’t know where I stood anymore. Surrounded by confirmands, amongst whom 4 years ago I sat, I felt incredibly lonely. I was calling to God to help me see, to help me listen, to help me feel. But I felt nothing.

Perhaps it was because I hadn’t had time to process death, I could never process resurrection. But even recognising this, I still felt adrift, and I couldn’t put my finger on why. Bishop Jo spoke of restoration, renovation and resurrection. In that moment I could see was desertion, desperation and destruction. I saw more goodbyes, more pain, more loss. I couldn’t find tangible hope. I couldn’t see myself.

But, although initially I could not recognise it, although momentarily shrouded, my strong faith was still there. I hadn’t faltered as I thought I had. Others could see the light of faith shining within me. And such reassurance from those around me meant little by little, I began to piece myself back together. I’ve had to learn all over again what it means to give yourself to faith, to trust, and to love. I’ve had to turn aside. And it’s only now, a month or more after that day that I can say I’ve re-found what I thought I’d lost.

It was partly to do with the busy-ness of the period that I failed to see the faith in my heart, and the faith at the heart of society. I was so busy that I didn’t have time to notice all that was going on. But as much as I blamed myself alone for how I felt, I now don’t think it was all down to that. If we define ourselves by what we didn’t do, we cannot see a way forward. I expect I had been subconsciously closing my heart to God for a longer time previously, as one thing after another brought unforeseen blows to my trust in my community. Over time, I had grown into an armour that prepared me for inevitable battle. I needed to let it go, and to fight with faith.

It took the lowest spiritual low to make me see my faith again, and to make me understand that neither I, nor society, can afford to lose faith. But perhaps most importantly, the lowest of lows made me see that neither can I lose faith, however hard I might try. It is a part of me which brings me life and hope, renews, restores and resurrects me. My heart is open to God, I can see, and I can hear, and I’m not ashamed.

If there’s one thing I could tell those confirmands I was sitting with, it would be that being Christian is rarely easy. People assume that with God everything is made easier. But sometimes trusting in God makes everything so much harder. And sometimes you don’t have the answers to why it seems so hard. You feel quite alone.

But even when life is harder than it ought to be, even when you cannot feel Him, God is still working within you. It might take you a while to see it, but it will be there. You are never alone, even in deepest isolation. Sometimes you can find faith for yourself, and sometimes it is those around you who show you who you really are. You will experience guilt and regret. But you will also experience love, support and hope. You will go through highs and you will go through the deepest lows.

This faith thing, it’s a massive journey. But you’re not alone.

Mail from Maryland: its more than Maltesers…

It’s coming to the end of Diabetes UK Awareness Week. And that’s something I never thought I’d have to talk about on here. But here I am. And this is now a part of who I am. And as much as I find it difficult talking about this at the moment, I refuse to lose my voice, or submit defeat, or try to hide. This post follows my internal thoughts as I reflect on questions or statements that I have received, many daily. All these are true. It’s hard to share, but it also feels good to share, not for pity or sympathy, but merely for awareness.

And if it helps you understand me a bit better, or perhaps give you an appreciation of anyone who is chronically ill, then I’m willing to take the chance, because I don’t want anyone else newly diagnosed to have to think these dilemmas over and feel like they are alone. And I would hope that society can change to be more sensitive, and more understanding. But equally, I realise they can’t do that without us being honest. And, fittingly, this year, Diabetes UK have called on people to share their stories, talk about Diabetes, its perception and its complications. So here we go.

Warning – this is quite long… but this is because this is also a record for me, to work through some of the emotions and difficulties. So feel free to skip and skim, I don’t mind at all 🙂  If you would like shorter, more literary or more abstract reflections on chronic illness, you’re probably better off here and here.


1. “I didn’t know you had Diabetes.”

Well, to be honest, neither did I until very recently. I am now at the 75 day, 2 and bit months mark. It’s still new. From my HbA1c results, blood tests which show Diabetes control over a 3 month period, it seems I could have been developing it for well over 3 months. A good HBA1C will range from 48-58 mmol. Mine is currently 99, though when I was first admitted, it was 123. So yeah, I have Diabetes. But we didn’t know. Before you say it – I didn’t experience any of the normal symptoms: increased fluid intake, increased urination, dramatic weight loss. I was just tired. But at that point, I was in the middle of studying for 4 A levels in amidst all the other chaos of life. I was allowed to be tired. We didn’t know.

It all changed on Easter Sunday. I was away, trying to escape A levels for just a quiet weekend in the country, walking with the family, eating roast dinners, ticking off another Cathedral on my list, and celebrating the resurrection in a tiny parish Church, fulled to the brim with the faithful, the strains of ‘Jesus Christ is risen again, aaaaaaaaalleluia’ accompanying the background moo of the cows in the next door field. That was how it was supposed to be. It didn’t quite go to plan.

I’m not professing to be the fittest girl on the block. Not by any stretch of the imagination! But standing up to sing hymn is well within my regular abilities. In fact, I do it pretty much 8 times a week. On Easter Sunday, in that idyllic little Church, where the Lady of the Manor stands with a basket of foil wrapped Easter eggs to follow Communion, I could not stand to sing a hymn. I couldn’t even stand, let alone stand and sing. My breathing got faster and faster, and then I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t do anything but collapse in a heap. I don’t remember much of what followed, until I woke up in intensive care in hospital on the Tuesday morning, in bed 1, labelled ‘Critical condition,’ with only a hazy recollection of being poked, revived and jabbed in a resuscitation room. Two Doctors, Dr James Orr (Dr Jim), and another affectionately labelled ‘Dr Chirpy Cheeks’ by my parents (heaven knows what his actual name was), sat me down, looked me straight in the eyes and said: ‘your life isn’t going to be the same again.’ Ward Round always carried a sense of fear from that day onwards. That’s when I found out.

More thoughts on this experience and diagnosis are found here.


2. “But you don’t look like you have Diabetes”

Really? Well I guess that’s a compliment? Or not. What should a diabetic look like? Are we supposed not to look normal? Or do you mean that I don’t look like how the media portrays diabetes? The media makes diabetics feel like a failure. They make it seem like all diabetes is caused from over-indulgence in sugar and a lack of exercise. Obesity is pinpointed. It’s just not true. And it’s not fair. 90% of Diabetics are type 2, sure. But type 2 equally has a range of causes, not just obesity. It’s not fair to judge someone like that just because of their diagnosis.

I’m one of the 300 000 people in the UK who make up the other 10%. The Type 1s. Type 1 has no one known cause. It’s triggered by an autoimmune disease that no one can quite pinpoint. It is more likely in people who suffer from a virus simultaneously to a period of stress. There is 0.8% chance there is a genetic predisposition. But it is not hereditary.

So yes, I don’t look diabetic, because I refuse to let ‘diabetic’ define me. But also, no, I would contradict you and say that I think I do look diabetic. Because diabetics look just like you.


3. “But it’s just an eating thing, no big deal”

Actually it kind of is a big deal. Especially at the moment when it’s all so new. I woke up on that Tuesday in the hospital and it felt as if life had come crashing down. Yes – I am so grateful now that I have a condition which is manageable. But it has no cure, and comes with many complications.

So it is a big deal. A lifelong deal. And a deal that there is no answer to. My blood glucose changes day by day, and not just on what I eat. I have had two pieces of buttered toast with marmite and a cup of tea, basically every single morning for breakfast since I have come out of hospital. I don’t think I have ever had two readings 2 hours post breakfast that have been the same. It varies on the weather. It varies on my activity level. It varies on my mental activity. It varies on my stress level. It varies on how I’m feeling. It varies on how much sleep I have. It varies on the time of the month, on the time of the day, on the time of year. It’s impossible to predict. You just can’t. I have to check it at least 8 times a day, and mostly more.

And it’s not just about eating. For sure, I count carbohydrates, calculate an insulin dose accordingly and give it. I test my blood sugars and ketones daily. There are safe ranges and unsafe ranges, and it feels a bit like walking on a tightrope to try and keep within range. Most days I start off low, and by the end of the night I’m soaring high. I have to treat lows and highs. That’s the bit that most people are aware of. And most people are aware that I can’t just eat whatever I want whenever I want it. I have to eat meals, and really nothing in between. I can’t let anything pass my lips without considering counting the cost. And last night, all that I could have for dessert were 5 Maltesers. They looked pretty meagre in that tiny bowl. And it was really hard to watch my brother measure it out on the scales. This isn’t just changing my life, it changes everyone’s. It hit me a bit, but maybe that was also because of the wine..! But this is also so so much more than Maltesers.

It’s about the time it takes. 10:30 every Saturday morning, you’ll find me in the surgery, having a weekly check up.  It takes about half an hour to walk there and half an hour back, and I usually spent at least half an hour there. My blood pressure is low. I’ve lost more weight. The checks go on. Over half term, I spent two days in hospital. I have meetings with DSNs (Diabetic Specialist Nurses), Diabetic Consultants, Dietitians, Ophthalmic Consultants, Podiatrists, and for the last few weeks I’ve spent time in Phlebotomy getting drained of more bloods, and I have had to have IV fluids of Potassium and Magnesium Sulphate.

It’s about the complications, though much of it is precautionary. I am at risk of developing a loss of sensation in my hands and feet. I am at risk of a form of blindness. My eyesight has deteriorated so I wear my glasses permanently.  I lose approximately 1kg of weight every week. I am a lot weaker, and get tired more easily (though the plus side is lots of naps!). I have low blood pressure, and my electrolytes are having a heyday, revelling in the chaos they are causing. I may be developing Coeliac disease, and I am anticipated to develop thyroid problems in the future.  I am losing my hair at a stupidly excessive rate. I bruise super easily, partly due to my pre-existing blood condition; you would have been forgiven for supposing I had had a tattoo when I came out of hospital, had you seen my left arm, dark purple with green tinges around the edges, from the elbow downwards, an effect of all the cannulae and injections.

My long acting insulin (I have two types) is currently not working as it should, and I am developing insulin resistance, but I can’t change until after my exams are over (2 more weeks…) which means I am gradually experiencing great pain when injecting, and a sharp stinging response to my insulin which lasts about 10 minutes after each injection. I have to up my insulin by two units every two nights to counter resistance; I started on 8 units, and I am now on 33 units. But every time I increase, there is a risk that I will hypo during the night. So most nights, I have to wake up at 3am to test my blood sugars. Once a week I should do it more often at night. It’s exhausting.

And for everyone who asks me ‘does it hurt?’ when I inject myself, I’m lying when I say ‘you get used to it.’ At the moment it still feels very unnatural to jab myself with a 6mm needle 6 times a day. And yes it hurts, whoever only felt ‘a sharp scratch?’ There are more bruises to prove it…

There’s a lot more to this than eating. And that’s just the practical side.


4. “You’re ill? But you look so well, better even!”

I guess so. Who tries to look actively ill? Some days are better than others, I grant you, but I don’t try and look ill. Truth is, I’ll be ‘ill’ for the rest of my life. I don’t want to be. But I don’t get a choice. So I choose to look well, even when I feel down.

There’s an outside, and there’s inside. There are a few people who see glimpses of the inside. The me when I’m so angry and frenetic that I don’t know where to turn and I sit and cry in the middle of a concert. The me that breaks down on the sofa, surrounded by my revision notes, frustrated that I’ve lost so much time. The me that is struggling to come to terms with the fact that this doesn’t go away after a bit of treatment, that this will affect every ounce of my life henceforward. The me that wakes up at 5:30 am on a Saturday with a hypo when I was angling for a lie in, is forced to down food when feeling incredibly nauseous, and then collapses on the chair in the living room, just staring out the window because she can’t get back to sleep for fear that next time she won’t wake up.

The me that doesn’t always know me anymore. Because the me I saw myself as in my final few weeks of school, enjoying A levels and summer concerts, and ending my school career on a high, is far from me. The me of today has to be in separate invigilation, take enforced rest breaks and spent the last few weeks of lessons desperately getting through as many lessons as possible before going home to sleep all afternoon because I was exhausted. The me who eventually admitted defeat on a 100% attendance record, and only did 3 days a week. The me whose university offer, once more than achievable, is now thrown into question, and for whom deferring by a year is increasingly recommended. I don’t want to, but I’ve lost control. Who sees that me, so frustrated, so angry, so confused, questioning why me, questioning why now, questioning what I did wrong? Nothing, I know, could have stopped this. But that doesn’t stop the confusion.

Maybe only myself knows me. Because I have a strong outer person that knows how to say ‘it’s fine’ or ‘I’m doing OK’ or ‘yes, I’m better now.’ A strong person who doesn’t want to burden other people with all the inside stuff. And I’m only beginning to get there, though I know one day I will. But as far as it goes, I will never be ‘better.’ Or at least, ‘better’ takes on a new definition. I may look well. Most days, now, I even feel vaguely well. But please don’t tell me that “I know you’ve been diagnosed with Diabetes, but you look well, better even!” Because you don’t always know what’s going on inside.


5.”Can’t you just forget about it”

Oh boy do I wish I could. And sometimes, just for an hour, or an afternoon, with particular people, or doing particular things, I do. I feel absolutely myself again. And that’s how I know I will get to a point eventually, where this isn’t such a big deal, and can just be another part of me. But it will take a while to get there.

Right now, it feels like there is a big before/after divide. And I hate describing it like that, because it really doesn’t help. But that’s sort of the only way I can think of to describe it, or via the jigsaw puzzle explanation. Places I go to regularly are now fringed with new dangers, and it’s difficult to go back to somewhere where you’ve always felt comfortable, and now don’t. My independence is challenged. I can’t just do things that, before, would not have been an issue. I have to re-learn how to drive. It stops me from going out to certain places alone, taking up opportunities my way, travelling in certain ways, and staying in certain places.

And, at the moment, the times when I think I can forget are the times when I am most vulnerable. If I don’t check my blood sugar, I don’t know how close I am to being hypo, or hyper. If I don’t give my insulin, I will go hyper and be so fatigued that I will just sleep all afternoon. If I give too much insulin, by even a unit or two, I risk my life. My insulin cannot get to over 25 degrees, or below 0, or else the hormone doesn’t work. So it’s quite important I don’t forget the practical stuff.

And it’s hard to speak about, but what I went through in hospital classifies as both medical and mental trauma. So there’s a lot of mental stuff that I also can’t forget.

It’s hard to forget lying on a bed, in intensive care, being told that you are in a critical condition. It’s hard to forget a Doctor covering your face with a sheet, closing you in and coming at you with savage looking equipment to cut open your neck and insert a line to give you fluid, because ‘if we use the wrist cannula, it will be too late.’ It’s hard to forget being moved from the ‘critical’ bed into the regular intensive care unit, but being told that ‘you’re by no means out of the woods yet.’ It’s hard to forget the first time someone tells you that you’ve got a condition that’s got no cure, and you will have to learn to deal with it because otherwise you will die. It’s hard to forget coping with that, and then someone telling you that there are no real answers. It’s hard to forget seeing your parents cry and that they butter and feed you your toast and send texts on your behalf because you don’t even have the strength to hold a piece of bread. It’s hard to forget lying there, quite conscious, whilst the man in the bed next to you passes away. It’s incredibly hard to forget that it could have been you.

So no, at the moment, I can’t ‘just forget.’ And actually, whilst I’d like to manage how I remember, I don’t think I want to ever forget completely, because knowing how frail life is has made me cherish it all the more these last weeks.


6. “I wish I could lose weight as fast as you have.”

Well I wouldn’t wish it on you for all the world. This is not how you want to lose weight. And I know maybe my weight loss is all you see. But it’s not glamorous. It’s having one pair of jeans that fit, and everything else vigorously pulled in with belts. It’s suddenly having your school suits not fit, and being safety pinned into your skirts and drowned in your jacket.  It’s losing muscle strength and it taking a lot more energy to open a door, or lift a heavy book. It’s not being allowed to do strenuous exercise or go on long walks. It’s being advised to use a wheelchair for the week after I came out of hospital – I didn’t, but I should have done. I am building up my strength, but this is never something you want to go through.

And who says I should ever have wanted to lose this much weight? This weight loss is not desired at all. It’s a result of medical trauma. So why are we, as a society, constantly pressuring people to lose weight, and congratulating them when they do, when it’s not always something to be proud of? (More on this here) Just think about it – could that person be struggling, or is there something else going on? Is this their choice? Is what you are about to say going to make them feel self-conscious, or uncomfortable in their body, either how it is now or was before? Just think it through.


7. “At least it’s happened to you. I mean it’s bad timing, but A levels were always going to be a breeze for you, so just chill”

Thanks. I guess that’s another compliment, that you think I’m smart? Once I might have agreed with you, that with all the two years worth of work beforehand, and at least a month of concentrated revision, A levels shouldn’t have presented an insurmountable challenge, though I don’t think you can ever class them as a ‘breeze’ for anyone, no matter how well they perform on a regular basis. But now, well now it’s different.

Now I have missed out on approximately the nine preceding weeks before my A levels. Much of what I am relying on to get me through each paper is the initial work I did in Lower Sixth, and a morning or afternoon of massively crammed revision prior to the exam. And don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I put in the work then, and that I have it to fall back on, but this is not the only thing that I should be relying on.  It’s not fun. And this would not be how I would choose to do it. It makes the whole experience so much more stressful. It’s frustrating to look at a question and think, ‘if I’d been in class in those last few weeks, I would have gone over this’ or ‘I’ve actually never done a history source question of this type before, because when they did practices, I was in hospital.’ It’s frustrating. It’s certainly not a ‘breeze.’

And I can no longer just go and sit an exam. I have to eat directly beforehand. I have to be in a separate room, with a separate invigilator who sits and watches me for any sign of descent into hypo. Within 10 minutes of my first exam I had to be stopped because my hand was shaking. Even if I exhibit no worrying signs, I have to stop at least every hour to check my blood sugar, if not every half hour. Stress and mental power uses up a lot of sugar. I have to take with me a whole box of different types of acting glucose, meters, insulin, needles, lancets, lancing devices, ibuprofen and drink lots of water. 3 hour exams tend to take at least 4 hours. My invigilators and I have a red phone which has the nurses and 999 on speed dial. I get home and collapse, without the energy to carry on for the next exam. The process is isolating, and it’s frustrating. But I need it. And I’m halfway there now.

But what’s also stressful is not knowing how it could turn out. We have absolutely no idea what my grades will be. My predicted grades were based on me working as I would have done, flat out, in the last weeks. That didn’t happen. Grades are up in the air. I can apply for special consideration, but it will only up me a maximum of 2%, and I can only apply for it to apply if I have a hypo or exhibit signs of deterioration during a specific paper. As a lifelong illness, Diabetes doesn’t qualify under recent illness or bereavement, since you should have been managing it forever. It doesn’t seem take into account what happens if it’s all new. We have no idea what is going to happen in August. And although I keep telling myself it will all be fine, it’s not exactly breezy.


8. “When does it stop?”

Easy answer: it doesn’t. Charities like JDRF are researching to try cures for Juvenile Diabetes Mellitus. But there is no cure yet. We wait.

We can manage it for the moment, with subcutaneous injections, IV fluids and blood glucose monitoring via finger pricks and monitoring strips. I carry these, and my hypo treatment with me everywhere. I have a medical ID wristband to identify me should I pass out alone, or be treated as drunk when I am having a hypo alone and in public. My insulin has its own passport, which I have with me all the time, and especially when I travel. It doesn’t go away.

My specialist team are hoping that I will qualify for some new whizzy devices that continually monitor glucose by having a sensor permanently on your arm, which you can swipe with a reader and it will not only give you a reading but show you a graph, and see whether you are trending up or down. I may yet transfer onto a pump system which can calculate your dose and administer insulin automatically. But that’s all the future. And it still won’t stop it; it’s only about management and control. I’m Diabetic 24/7. There’s no escaping it.

People usually remember that I’m diabetic only when I’m eating. And then they think that’s all it is – a food thing. But I still have diabetes when I leave the dinner table. I’m diabetic when I wake up and when I’m sleeping. I’m diabetic when I’m stressed and disappointed, excited or in love. Angry and ashamed or lonely and hurt. It doesn’t go away when I put the cap back on the syringe. It does not retreat once I fall to sleep.   ~An anonymous T1D


9. “Stop eating that, diabetics can’t have that”

Ah – this is a fun one. I can, technically, eat anything I want. So please don’t try and make decisions for me; I will tell you if I can’t eat anything. Some ‘diabetic’ food can also contain chemicals which act a bit like laxatives…so is best avoided, though Boots’ ‘no added sugar’ chocolate and shortbread have been life savers in the last few weeks, with half the carb value of normal brands. But I just have to be careful.

And sometimes it is harder for me if you try and avoid carbs, because at the moment I do need at least a small amount of carbohydrate with everything I eat to help me calculate a dose, as well as to keep at a stable weight. I have a book with lots of fun pictures of different size portions of food, which is helping me judge quantities without having to weigh all my food and on a day to day basis I work with a specialist dietitian and my school catering team to eat food that is both healthy and enjoyable! The only advice I’ve had and heeded (!), is that I should avoid chocolate, ice cream, and cake. But once in a week, and maybe twice, it’s ok – and whilst I can’t just snack freely or eat with no restrictions, if I want some chocolate, and believe me, there are times when all I want is a square of chocolate or 5 Maltesers, I will factor it in!

It often makes me feel more self-conscious of what I am eating, and makes meal times generally more stressful than they already are, if you stop me from eating what I feel comfortable eating. So trust me, although it is new, I do vaguely know what I’m doing, and fear not – I will speak up if something’s not right, or ask for a bit of bread with my salad 🙂


10. “You’re a bit of a mess, then, huh duck?”

Yep, someone said this to me. It was probably a side comment, and I’m not going to get mad with people because they don’t understand. But telling me I’m a mess goes to my head. It makes feel messed up. Different. Alone. A problem. It brings everything back. It makes me remember the things which are hard to process. It makes feel like I’m going to a mess for the rest of my life. For if I’m a mess now, so shall I be in 5 years. In 10 years. In 20. And who wants a mess in their life?

Maybe I am a bit of mess. I am still trying to learn, trying to process it all mentally, and trying to talk about it in a way that is helpful both to me and those around me. I don’t want to be a mess. I don’t want to cause mess. I don’t choose to create mess. But this me. And maybe it is messy right now. Maybe it still will be in a few weeks, and in a few months. Maybe even in a year. But it won’t always be messy, and I won’t always be coping like I have to now, with everything colliding at once. I’m stronger than mess.


11. “It’s a bit of a pain to be around you at the moment.”

Tell me about it. I feel guilty every day for feeling like a burden to those around me. It’s really hard to feel like you are responsible for someone else’s heightened fear. Or to feel like you are bombarding them with a load of information that they might not understand. It is hard to know that there is the chance that you might not wake up every night you go to bed, and there are people out there who are also trying to cope with knowing that. To feel awkward before going into the canteen every day, because I have to slip out to test and medicate, and count my carbohydrate intake before I eat. Their food gets cold, and so does mine.

Most of those around me day to day tell me that they don’t feel like it is a burden. And as the days go on, we settle into a new routine where there is a trust that I will say when and if things go wrong, but that I have enough independence to deal with day to day management. But it doesn’t stop me from being struck by guilt if I am out alone with my friends. The thoughts run through my mind: would they know what to do if I started acting like I was having a hypo? Would they recognise it? And the worst of all: with all this going on, I hope they can see that I am deep down still myself, even that I am trying to grow to be a better and bigger person because of this, trying to understand and develop the compassion to help and reach out to others in a similar position. I hope they don’t think, with all this going on, it would just be easier to continue gradually walking away. Because that would break my heart.

It’s hard. But it won’t be like this forever, and I would trust you with my life.


13. “But your Mum has Diabetes, so it’s not really an issue for you.”

This is something I get a lot. And it’s actually quite a rational argument. My Mum was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when she was 15. It could be that I have a genetic pre-disposition to the condition. But as I said, there’s hardly any evidence to suggest it is directly hereditary. Anyway, it’s happened, we can’t change it.

In some ways it’s great. She knows what it can feel like to be in hospital and diagnosed. She knows what it can feel like to have hypo, and what the balance is between a hypo treatment that works fast, and a hypo treatment that doesn’t taste absolutely foul. At the moment I’m on a mix of Cadbury ‘fudge’ bars, and full sugar coke. It’s pretty disgusting, but has to be done about once or twice a week. She can also look at a plate if I’m struggling, like when we’ve gone out sometimes, and mouth across the table ‘approximately 50g,’ to help me calculate my dose.

But it can also be really hard. We are completely different people, and we lead different lives. We’ve been diagnosed in completely different ways: hers was what you might call a pretty regular diagnosis. She experienced all the regular symptoms and they caught it earlier on. I went from seemingly healthy and active, to bed-bound in ITU in the space of 24 hours. She can bend the rules, and feel when things go wrong. I still rely fully on my meter to know where I am. She has different insulins to me.  She has been dealing with it for 35+ years. I have had it for just over 70 days, and she can’t impose her Diabetes control, both practical and mental, on me. We work in different ways. She is a lot more matter of fact. I get a lot more emotional.

And knowing what is like probably makes it a lot harder on everyone in the house, because there’s now twice the worry, twice the fear. She knows what it’s like, so she can be more anxious about the things I do and can get up to. She has her own experiences which affect how my diagnosis is processed. As one of the first endocrinologists I saw explained, it’s like how often when you learn to drive, you use a driving instructor, and not your parents. The same is true with your DSN and your parents.

So as such, we made the decision early on that my Dad would be my chauffeur and waiting room accompanist at all my Doctor’s appointments. I’m actually old enough to do it all by myself. But I need someone to at least drive with me at the moment, and it’s him. In fact, it’s easier because Mum’s at work during the week anyway. But we tend to keep our Diabetes separate. Because it has the potential to actually be worse, rather than mutually beneficial.


14. *Orders ice cream* “Haha – Diabetes here we come!”

This is quickly becoming one of my pet peeves. So just a quick note. Please don’t joke about getting Diabetes. As I have explained, Type 1 has no known single ‘point-your-finger-at-it’ cause. There are a huge range of causes of Type 2. I don’t take offence too easily, but this is hard to hear on a daily basis. If you don’t know, just don’t even go there.

You won’t get Diabetes from eating ice cream, or chocolate, or sweets. And it’s not funny to joke about, so enjoy everything in moderation. I do too, and I’m diabetic.


15. “Seems like there’s nothing good about it.”

So here’s where I make the counter argument. Maybe a lot of this has been a rant. But I hope it’s also been educational, and made you a bit more aware of how much more to this there is than Maltesers.

I don’t want to end on a negative. So here I share the positive. I am gradually beginning to realise that Diabetes may be a sort of blessing in disguise. Let me explain. I don’t want anyone ever to have to have Diabetes. But if you have it, you can’t escape it, and it really is a life or death thing, so whilst it’s super hard, and there are rough days, and it takes so much time, you do begin to come terms with it, and even begin to find little glimpses of silver lining. I’m just at the beginning of that journey.

Diabetes sucks. But there’s a whole community out there. One of the first things my housemistress did when I was diagnosed was send an email round to all staff on site. Having been a boarder, is was important that everyone knew, so if I was found at any time of night or day, someone could help out. So many members of staff have come up to me and offered their support, understanding and stories about people they know with Diabetes who have gone on to do amazing things. “It might not feel like it now,” they say, “but you will go on to achieve just as much, or more, than you would have.” And week in, week out, I am overwhelmed by so many members of other communities I am part of  who come to, or reach out to me, and just say “hello” or “are you ok?” Sometimes I lie and say “I’m fine” when I don’t feel at all. Sometimes I absolutely mean it. But either way, I know they care, and that means so much.

And one of the best things I did for myself, was reach out to the community. There is an absolutely fantastic charity which is America-based, called “Beyond Type 1”. It is a community of people of all ages and genders across the world, who have type 1 diabetes. You send them your name, age, diagnosis date, and address, and preferences, and they match you with a similar Diabuddy, or someone else who has Diabetes, and for free, send you a starter pack of postcards, notelets and stickers to start a pen-friend relationship, called Snail Mail. That’s how I met JM. A training nurse who lives in Maryland, USA. Diagnosed at pretty much exactly my age, 2 years ago. It’s so good to have someone who understands, and whilst our medical systems are completely different, I don’t feel so alone. Thanks JM for everything, and for everything you will continue to be for me; I have a feeling our letter writing will last a long time. You make me feel a bit more normal.

It’s also been the most amazing concentrated time of prayer and support from my closest friends and extended family. I have felt alone, but never alone at the same time. I have received so many messages, so many letters and cards, the most beautiful flowers, pens to write my heart out with, books to write in, books to read whilst I’m stuck waiting for appointments, or hooked up to IVs, pictures of baby elephants from Sri Lanka to make me smile, and countless hugs, chats, phone calls, texts and many instances of “I don’t know what to say, except that I’m here for you, and I’m thinking of you.”Countless “my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family at this time.” Immeasurable love.

And I have also felt like I’ve understood another part of the world. Much of this I can’t understand. I want to know why: why me, why now, why this, why not that. I can’t. But what I can now understand is a bit of everyone’s life who experiences pain. A bit of those lives where you wake up in the morning and think “I can’t do this today.” A bit of those lives where you wake up in the morning and think “Yes! I’m going to smash it today.” A bit of the lives of the chronically ill. A bit of lives of the dying. A bit of the lives of those who love unconditionally and freely. A bit of lives of those who are scared. A bit more of the lives of all of us. And I have felt moments of absolute extraordinariness in the ordinary.

So I guess, this isn’t all bad. And it will get better. Everything, as M would say, is going to be fine.


If you’ve got this far, you 100% deserve at least 5 Maltesers. Thank you for all your continued support. You can watch this slideshow for a more pictorial idea of life!

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Behind each face, a soldier

I received so many positive comments about my last poem, that last week I decided to pursue the imagery of soldiery, especially with the background of chronic illness, and in Mental Health Awareness Week. Having an invisible illness has shown or confirmed to me so much over the last few weeks, notably that you might not know what battles someone is facing from the outside, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t fighting. It doesn’t mean they aren’t fighting with everything they’ve got left in them. It doesn’t mean some days they don’t wake up and think: I can’t do this today. There are victories, there are losses. There are good days and there are bad. Sometimes it feels like a battle, sometimes a war. But you are not alone.

But I don’t think these words need much explaining. Just let a music speak to you, lie still and the seconds wash over you. Sometimes more words are surplus. It might mean something unique to you – receive it, don’t push it. Just be, and rejoice at where you are, be proud of whatever you are fighting, take strength from what you’ve overcome.

 

For all who fight. For all who stand but want to fall. For all who need a comrade tonight. For all whose mental strain is too much. For all who cannot see the light. For all.

 

When each week is a war, each day is a battle.

Can you hear the drums, and the clashing of metal?

The day is beginning, and the standard flies high,

While the soldier, wounded, utters a deepening sigh.

O how he would give to stay, sleeping, in bed! So

Why does he fight with darker darkness ahead?

Because he is a warrior, called to the fight, and

Even in sheer darkness, he holds victory in sight.

 

To be that soldier, in greatest fear to stand,

It’s a choice we make when we hold life in our hands.

Do we fight for a chance that we might live and survive?

Or do we surrender to darkness, and thus, suffering, die?

Humanity’s truth is that we shall all fall. But

When, where, and why, are never the same for all.

When the pool of bitter blackness tugs at our feet,

It is life, and its fullness, we must turn and greet.

 

When plunged into warfare, trembling, and afraid,

Little to guide you, and no one to call “friend”

O you’ll fight and you’ll fight and you’ll fight to the end.

Within, there shall be light, and it your fear amend.

Where there are mountains, towering high, o’er the valley

And up into the sky – there light shall also, beside you, fly.

With light you’ll find mountains can melt into plains,

A power almighty which loosens shackle and chain.

 

In this day I call battle, in this week I call war,

The soldier will fight, and not win, but o’er death soar.

And tomorrow, when the dawn winds her way back again,

The standard shall fly, and the trumpets refrain. But

The soldier shall stand, wounds his deeper strength,

And say – “Life I choose you. I hold death at arm’s length.”

He shall fight to the end, with light by his side,

When dark comes around, to light he’ll confide.

 

And he is fighting his battle, but is not alone,

Comrades beside him echo the harrowing groan,

Of conflict on the inside, but radiance without, the

While knowing the enemy they can never truly rout.

They’ll be strong for each other, they’ll share the pain,

Rank upon rank, fighting snow, wind and rain.

For though the outcome of war might be changed by will of one,

When war builds on war, it is only together outrun.

 

When each week is a war, each day is a battle.

Do you now hear the drums, and the clashing of metal?

A new day is beginning, and the standards rise high,

While the soldiers, still wounded, utter sorrowful sighs.

O how they would give to stay, sleeping, in bed! But

Today they’ve chosen to fight with the darkness ahead.

For they are the warriors, called to the fight:

In prolonged darkness, they hold victory in sight.

 

 

Composing: Onwards, Soldier

Thank you – to everyone who has reached out to me and offered their support. To those I know, those I’ve lost contact with, those I am yet to meet. To my friends, my family and M. To the world that inspires me. To the music that lifts me up, tosses me around and makes me cry. To crying and being OK with it. To words, and their potential power. To escaping this world through composition. With you all, I am doing better every day. 

It won’t come as a surprise to you that reading and writing are my refuges when times get hard. There’s nothing I like to do more when in pain, physically or emotionally, than to curl up on a sofa with a blanket and a cup of tea and read or write. I can stay there for hours and hours and not know it until I happen to glance at a clock. It’s a realm of worlds to escape to, to find yourself in, and to learn from. There are days when I feel like I’m reading about myself. There are days when the text seems so foreign I find it hard to relate. I laugh. I cry. I’m inspired. I’m frightened. I escape.

But it’s often writing I turn to when things are hardest. I didn’t have much of a chance in hospital. In fact, I couldn’t even hold a pen to try to write. But that didn’t mean I didn’t write. There were lots of words going round in my head – too many, I was told. “Why do you look so pensive?” one of my Doctors asked. I didn’t have a reply, because I know when I’m writing, it sort of becomes a state of being. A sort of all encompassing energy that fills the soul and provokes, encourages, and makes you pensive. I’m probably an awful bore when I’m in a writing mood, sitting or lying somewhere, and messing about with words in my head until something seems right, like it perfectly captures a specific mix of emotions at a specific moment. Sometimes it doesn’t fit. Then I tweak, and try again, until it’s perfect. Then it’s transcendent. Then it hits the paper, and becomes real. It’s hard to describe if you’ve never experienced it.

I have always found music powerful. Anyone who has sat beside me regularly at concerts and services will account for my spontaneous tears during works that hit me somewhere I wasn’t expecting. There is always some melody, some harmony that binds me so intensely to the music. So I’ve always thought that words were inferior. They could never have power alone. But a conversation I had a couple of months ago made me realise that words can have power too. A different power, but one nonetheless. Words in a line can be like notes on a stave – each is placed specifically, with purpose, with precision, to give a special emphasis. Each line, each stave, contributes to a work that introduces itself, builds, reaches a climax, fades away, reflects upon its themes, and comes to a conclusion. Both have the art of composition.

It seems first wrote about this at the end of March, but it was only on clearing out the notes on my phone earlier today, having just spent a while writing, that I came upon it, a musing I had profoundly (!) entitled ‘Composition’ :

I’m watching you and the notes spinning around in your head

Until one stops you, and holds your attention. I see it in your eyes.

Like the key in the lock, it’s the one that fits.

I don’t think you can see me standing here. Or maybe you just don’t want

To talk today. That’s OK. I understand.

The strands of music floating in your mind almost seem to sing before you.

I can almost feel the joy of your music before you even reach me.

We don’t need to talk to feel it.

Now – your anger, the desperate beat of the drums, like thunder in the night.

Now – your pain, that distant violin. It’s far away, a secret voice.

You’re trying to hide it, but struggling to keep in tune. It’s OK. I understand.

Now – a hint of joy, a skipping flute, climbing higher and higher into a bubbling of laughter.

And now – the righteous organ, steady, steadfast. The assurance of your love. Powerful.

Each phrase is just one thought, in one second, in one day.

Will you sketch out your daily symphony today?

Not today, I feel. But maybe tomorrow, today’s loose thoughts will weave together,

Into a music that will stir up a whirlwind inside every longing heart.

 

And I? Well I think my composition is less measured than yours.

There’s nothing official about it. No rules. No bars to confine my notes.

Just the pen in my hand, growing sickly warm, and the paper,

Scrunched up to hide the truth. It’s my pain, raw and bitter.

It’s my hope, lasting but renewed. It’s my faith, constant yet terrifying.

Maybe somewhere you’ll find my love in my words.

I’ve just scribbled them down, words streaming out like screams or laughter or tears.

It’s done for today. Too painful to carry on. Maybe I’ll also try again tomorrow.

Do my words have melody and harmony?

Do I consider each one as you do your chord?

Is there contrapuntal movement or fugal themes? I don’t know.

Maybe you can see something I can’t. But for me, well I forget what I’m writing.

I toss words about, no structure, no plan.

They’re special because they’re the words written on my heart –

Streams of words, each one just one thought, in one second, in one day.

 

But maybe you feel like that too. Maybe you and I are more similar than we think.

For we’re both composing, you and I. We both sing.

We give it our joy, our pain, our stress, our anger. We give it our love.

It helps us to love in return. To serve. To appreciate. To grow. To learn.

Words and music, they can dance alone. They can dance together.

So I’m standing here, thinking about my words, and your music,

And knowing the gifts that they are, and the gifts that they’ll bring.

And I’m hoping they’ll change the world, recompose how things ought to be.

Clearly, written word as having the power, like music, to convey something that is beyond the spoken is a preoccupation that my mind has been dealing with for quite some time without me realising. And it’s a preoccupation that has not left me since leaving hospital.

One of the hardest parts of dealing with my diagnosis and life since, has been knowing how close I was to dying. They told me, when I left, that if I had left it another hour before being taken to A&E, my chances would have been far lower. When ketoacidosis takes hold at critical level, it takes hold fast. And indeed, I wrote about Graham, and his death in my last post. To see someone die is horrible. To be surrounded by death, and feel it close, is something I never want anyone to have to experience.

I had to find a way of writing about it, dealing with the ‘what ifs’ that have been bothering me. What if I had died? What if I had left the people I love behind, some without ever telling them I loved them? How could I bear the pain? So I wrote. And since, I have better escaped the thoughts. It will take a lot longer to put this behind me, if I ever can. But I’m hanging on, surviving through composing. I can only hope my words are some way to be as powerful as music. They made me cry, at least. But then again, I find tears are quick to my eyes today.

Onwards, soldier, to the end.

At last, Night is come. How softly, sweetly

Her footsteps tread upon the earth

Which was my transient home! And O, how

Tender her voice, singing Peace, and proclaiming that

I am come through the wilderness, the darkness

apprehended, though yesterday I knew not where to turn.

For here is the Way; I trace it, written on my heart.

And I am heading onwards to the heavens, to the height of

Those gold tipped mountains, sustaining the

Last remaining rays of light and calling me home.

My tears flowed fast when I slipped away, as

Dust through your fingers, too terrified

To stay to hear the anguished cry when you saw

Life’s heaving breaths shallow into stillness.

But here is the Truth; a sting oppressed by comfort:

There shall be neither death, nor sorrow, nor crying.

So, it is time now to go onwards, to the stars, to the radiant

Stars, to bathe in celestial light, relieving me of

My tired breast, heavy laden with day’s

Cruel toils. And so, I walk, placing step by step,

Gaining strength from some invisible spring of life. And

I perceive how great a war life is to be fought; how I was marked

To fall at the very height of battle. And oh – how I have fallen!

But somehow, I traverse the valley, by a gentle breeze

Lifted beyond the weeping grey clouds that at present beset

Your heart. Do you see, my love, that here I am

Free? There is no longer need to mourn; it is

Here, with Love, that I am called to be.

For here is Life; I know Him well.

Like a balloon with no air

This was incredibly hard to write. It is a collection of thoughts that struck me whilst I was in intensive care over Easter Weekend and the following week. It is incredibly hard to read, now. Thankfully, I am doing much better now. Today I am proud to say that I have not cried – not even one tiny tear. I have smiled today. Today I am doing better. There is a long way to go, and I’m definitely not the same as I was a couple of weeks ago, but today, for the first time, I’d be OK with saying that I’m fine. Not great, but fine. 

But sometimes life throws a curveball at you that’s completely unexpected. It winds you. Leaves you flat on your back. Destroys your confidence. And leads you to rebuild yourself, changed. And it is ok to feel angry. To feel powerless, guilty, upset, destroyed, broken. But you’ll get better, with time. It takes time, faith, and a lot of people that you love. Together, you’ll find a new way of living. And the sun will slowly come out again. I am confident that I will live every day to the full, knowing that no day is ever taken for granted. Life will be different, but it won’t be any less worth living, and loving.  


How are you today? They ask as if everything’s normal. Like they expect me just to say that everything’s fine. Because that’s what we do in Britain. We say everything’s fine. We say everything’s fine, but inside, nothing is really fine at all.  So I say I’m OK. And instead I ask whether it’s still raining outside. Because I can’t see the sunshine anymore, the streaks strained through the dust onto the sanitised wall. Yesterday there was a bit of sun. Today, they say, there’s none at all. Black clouds.

I could have told you that. Because I wasn’t really commenting on the weather.

Today I’m not fine.

I feel like a balloon without any air. A dying balloon, a mockery of its former self, sagging away in some dark corner, the life slowly seeping from it. The symbol of a joy that once was. Because everything was going great. The balloons were out in life. The spring time blossom was in full bloom. The sun was shining. I had just visited the University where I hoped to go in September. I had healed a broken friendship. I had made new friends, found new love. I was performing again. I said yes. I felt optimistic about my A levels. I could see a vague shape to the next months. It was like my life was full of shoots emerging from the soil, each on the brink of bursting into a new flower.

But it’s not the same anymore. Now those shoots have withered. Now I am like a balloon without any air. Now the black clouds are overhead. Thrown by a violent storm off the mountain I have climbed, I feel crushed, crumbled, curled in a ball in the pit of mud at the base. Winded, struggling to breathe, I stand and fall. I don’t have the strength to climb any way back up today. In fact, I don’t know when I’ll be able to take another step. My shadow laughs at me from the peak, veiled by the dark night. Ignore it. Move on. She’s just the shadow. The last remaining bit of who I was. Where I was. On top of the world. But she is laughing at who I’ve become, a withered drooping plant. She’s stirring up a storm. I cannot face climbing the mountain again.

How are you today?

Today I am struggling to be fine.

Would you not feel the same, if they told you that you had been dying? If they told you that your body had been eating itself for weeks? If they told you that you were in a critical condition? If they told you that your life would never be the same again? It’s critical ketoacidosis. You’re in intensive care. And you’re not going anywhere. When you do, you’ll be in chains.  Going back uphill. It would be easier just to give up now.

The nights are the worst. They bleed me. Poke me. Measure me. Drain me. Revive me. Feed me. Pity me. They look at the TV above my head. It tells them more than I ever could. I can’t move my head. I don’t have the strength to pull up the blanket, but I can’t stop shaking. Please help me, I scream. But no one can hear the screams. They’re trapped, circling incessantly inside my head. I can’t reach the call button. It mocks me. I’m thirsty, but I cannot drink. I can’t speak – the words don’t come. The nights are the worst. Alone. Dark. Scared

I don’t know who I am anymore. Why me? Why now? I am defined by numbers, units, doses, needles, carbohydrate counts. She’s the girl who almost died, they say as they walk past. Ward round. Judgement. They all stand there. Looking at me. Like an animal in a cage. The only one under 65 in intensive care. It shouldn’t have happened to her, they say. I look away to hide the tears. Because the pity doesn’t help. They can’t change it. They can’t do anything. The pity in their eyes kills me.

Today I’m not fine.

I’m the one who’s angry. Angry that I can’t break free from it. Angry that it’s me, and it’s here. Angry that I can’t seem to see past the night. That I will have to fight to survive every day. Angry that my entire future has seemingly been defined with the blink of an eye. Angry that I didn’t see it coming. That I don’t remember anything. That I will face medical complications for the whole of my life.

I’m the one who’s sorry. I’m sorry this has happened to me. To us. That you will always be worried about me. That every night there is a chance I might not wake up. That you will always have to ask ‘what if?’ That you lay awake last night, not knowing. That we will never be able to escape this. That I cannot eat without counting the cost. That life has to be planned to the second. That my life is like a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows, and that I can’t stop screaming.

I’m the one who’s scared. Scared of what could happen. Scared not of if, but when. Scared where I’ll be. Scared who I’ll be with. Scared that they won’t know what to do. I’m scared of going home, because then it’s just me and the monster all alone. Scared of going back to school and facing all the music. Scared that everyone will walk away. Scared of coping with exams and medication at the same time.

How are you today?

Today I refuse to pretend I’m fine. Today I am like a balloon without any air.

And I’m so sorry. I’ve been so caught up in my own whirlwind that I haven’t seen that you’re hurting too. This makes you angry too. It makes you scared. And yes, it is different for you. You can’t understand my fear. I can’t understand yours. But deep down, maybe both our hearts are grieving for the girl that was. She’s gone, we both know that. It’s a new girl who’s lying here, on this bed. They’re similar. But something’s changed. Hold my hand, please. Let us be together, alone in our fear. This is all my fault. I am so sorry.

They say I can do anything, I just have to find a new way. They say there’ll be light eventually. They say September is a long way away. I might still get there. But they don’t know that the man in the bed opposite me died last night. His name was Graham. They don’t understand that Death was here last night, so close I could have reached out and touched him. Right here. There was a sustained bleep and the anguished cry of his wife and children. That’s how I knew he’d been taken. It could have been me. Do you see? I close my eyes. The darkness can hold me for a bit longer. It seems fitting for this morning. Shut the curtains please. I don’t want to face the people today.

Do they realise it could have been me? They don’t know. You didn’t see. Whether you live or die here seems equally possible. It’s like walking on a tightrope with your legs shaking badly. Like you’re waiting to fall. And you don’t know who is going to be there to catch you. Or if there’ll be someone to catch you. No one could stop Graham from falling.

Darkness please hold me a little longer.

How are you today?

Today I am like a balloon without any air.

T1D

Adieu

Today has been hard. But I have found hope through words. The poems I have written reflecting on grief can be found at the end of this post.

As the school day drew to a close last night, the last rays of the sun burning a red hue onto a darkening sky, the school body was gathered together. We waited in silence, knowing that whatever was coming, it couldn’t be good. Unfortunately, the sickening foreboding was all too just. One of our young members of staff had suddenly died.

Grief takes many forms.

There’s the initial shock. That it can’t be true. There’s the pain. The tears. The realisation that you will never that face again. Or hear that laugh again. Or watch him gallop down the hallway with a hockey stick doing his best impression of a Jabberwocky. There’s the sharp stab of the understanding of mortality. There’s an appreciation for the frailty and fragility of life. There’s the mask you put on, saying I’m OK, when deep down there’s a storm of hurt brewing. There’s madness. Anger that the world is carrying on when life has been cut short. There’s irrational guilt. There’s silence. Nothingness. Emptiness.

Grief takes many forms.

Over the last 24 hours grief has swept a shroud over the school. It has felt subdued. Like the world is turning in grayscale. There has been a sense of unease to hear laughter, laughter that isn’t his. To see smiles in a sea of sorrow. But there has been a solidarity, compassion and selflessness that has helped to ease the news. I think grieving as community is easier than grieving alone. Everyone is sharing memories, smiling behind tears, and reaching out a hand. Everyone is understanding. Everyone stands together. And if we listen closely, we can just start to hear the soft tones of peace.

It is times like this where a community founded on faith finds its strength. Evensong last night was bittersweet. The music had been chosen a long time ago, but its words, known to all, were comforting, and the introit seemed a plea from the depths of our heart.

When I lie within my bed,

Sick in heart and sick in head…

When the house doth sigh and weep,

And the world is drowned in sleep,

Yet mine eyes the watch do keep.

Sweet spirit, comfort me. Comfort me.

Litany to the Holy Spirit, Herrick (1591-1674)

This morning, we gathered for a difficult service of reflection, exploring Christ’s sacrifice and pain in death. Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani. My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me. We prayed. We sat in silence. We knew that we were not alone. And he was not alone. I have no doubt that, whilst elements of pain will last, over the rest of the week, the community will build itself back up, find peace, reconciliation with anger, stability, and renewed strength, in the knowledge of God’s presence amongst us, lifting the darkness of grief.

There was no better man than he. A friend, a tutor, a pastoral adviser, and an inspiring teacher. His wit, humour, confidence and energy were infectious. He never stopped giving of himself. And there is no greater testimony to that than the grief we are sharing today.

But one day grief will pass. We will find new life.

Yesterday afternoon, before I heard the news, my Director of Music came to me with a box, saying that he needed me, as Librarian to the Choirs, to help him and take care of a project. I was curious, the box stating on the side that it contained 36 x 50g worth of Digestive biscuits. I was all too keen to relieve him of it. Then he disappointed me by saying that it wasn’t biscuits. Perhaps, I thought, it was the Stanford in A I had been looking for earlier. No, it wasn’t that either. Sit down, he told me and open it carefully.

It was a blue tit, lethargically blinking at me, incredibly confused, cushioned in a whole load of clinical roll. What on earth was I meant to do with a half-dead blue tit? Well of course, he said, you have to nurse it back to life. His clearly competent veterinary experience had led him to the conclusion that it was concussed. Or maybe that was because it had just flown straight into his window. And somehow he thought I had the necessary credentials to make it fly.

So 15 minutes later, I was to feed milk to a blue tit with a pipette. I did not see this happening in my day. Nor, was it, to my belief, part of the job description. I spend most of the time photocopying or trolleying 60 choir folders around sight. But here I was, with a bird. And you bet I was going to see it fly again. And sure enough, with some TLC and warmth it flew away, after about half an hour tentatively pecking at the box.

I didn’t know it at that point, but I don’t think that little vulnerable bird came into my life incidentally. That bird was a little spirit that needed to be set free, a reflection of the soul of the departed. The moment he took flight kept coming back to me last night. I can’t help thinking that my little blue tit was God’s way of telling me that his spirit too had flown into a higher place.

We all cope with grief and sorrow in different ways, as an individual, or as a community. In community, I stand with my fellow pupils. As an individual, I channel my pained hope in composing words, like those below.

I am grateful to all who support and uplift me, and help me see the light in darkness. Today I take care to hold those I love a little deeper in my heart, to pray for God’s love to heal and comfort, and to give my prayers with all those who mourn. May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace, and rise in glory.

If you grieve today, let me grieve with you. If you see hope today, may I see it too.


A SONNET FOR HIM 

Soft as the wind that dries a dewy grass,

Gentle as the sun that thaws an icy snow,

So shall your soul, smiling, pass,

And our eternal love shall you know.

Grief shall be but a transient state,

For us who know that your spirit is sure,

Safe in a paradise, through a golden gate,

Where your soul eternally shall endure.

So, as the stars shine, you among them bright,

So, as the shadow of choking darkness melts away,

Supplanted by a blinding holy light,

May we feel your present soul each and every day.

You, who shared the burden of our every pain,

May you help us to see there shall be hope again.


OH LITTLE BLUE TIT 

He’s dead, they say.

It can’t be true.

But he passed away.

And in you flew.

A fragile thing,

Yellow, green and blue.

Oh little tit,

How feeble your coo.

But oh little tit,

I’m so glad I found you,

Cradling you in my tired palms,

As you survey an unfamiliar view.

Can you fly, little tit?

Can you struggle through?

Are you the spirit

Of the man I knew?

Fly little tit, fly so high,

Fly free, oh spirit, as you used to.

Ah! So you’ve found your wings,

Now settling beneath the crooked yew.

Oh little tit, oh spirit of man,

Adieu, Adieu.

Weaving together the threads of life

This may be just a little abstract! But stick with it… if you know, you know.

The way I see it, life is composed of different threads. The work thread. The school thread. The home thread. The family thread. The friends thread. The thread that no one else sees. The holy golden thread.

On our worst days, the threads fall apart. We might only be able handle one thread at a time. We hide the other threads, lose the other threads or forget they exist altogether. We can become so preoccupied with the thread in our hands at that moment that we cannot even contemplate dealing with the others.

On our best days, there does not seem to be different threads, but a kind of tapestry that is composed of all the threads in some glorious technicolor harmony, reflecting the composure of our being. We feel able to take a step back and wonder at how the individual threads complement each other, creating light and shade, height and depth, and a brightness that sings to create the depiction of the truth of the heart.

But most days, we see the threads of a tapestry that once was, or is to come. We are in a liminal phase of craftsmanship, where the edges are frayed, tired, or the individual threads are more visible in their uniqueness than in their complementation. We might want to tear the tapestry apart, destroy the picture and start again, or perhaps weave a new patch to replace an older, and we always await the coming of the golden thread that will tie the piece together and make the threads shine.

There is a risk, in seeing the world as composed of threads, that we will forever fail to see the picture that is being created before our eyes. There is a risk that we see all the threads coming together and are complacent, and do not add our own threads to the picture. But in a tapestry each individual thread is so important to the whole. We would be fools to jump in awe at the picture, without recognising the role of each thread. Each has its place. Each is important. We cannot regard the whole without acknowledging its constituent parts. And we must recognise that the tapestry will be forever incomplete, without the threads of our own life. So we must become our own weaver, preparing our thread for its place in the tapestry of life, restoring it, renewing it, finding new colours.

Each day, each week, each month, each year, we find our threads in new parts of the tapestry. Some days we might struggle to see where they surface, drowning in the pools of loose ends hidden behind the beautiful picture. But on one day, when we don’t expect it, the threads that define the constituent parts of our life will knit themselves together, and surface in the most beautiful stitch, forming a new part of a new picture. But we have to allow them the chance to do so. It is tempting to hold on to the end of a thread, too scared to let it go. It is tempting to say no, even when our heart compels us to say yes. But when we find the strength, the threads will find their place, find a rhythm and a voice.

I have felt my world changing during the past few months. The different threads have diverged so completely that I’ve not known where to turn to knit them back together. The threads have frayed, snapped or been soiled. The colours have faded. I was so scared to say yes to the faithful golden thread that heals, restores, and makes shine. The golden thread that knitted me together. So I hid the it in the corner of my picture, almost ashamed to let it shine for me. I didn’t know what to think of it, how to deal with it, how to weave it in. Because everyone notices the golden thread; it’s too transcendently beautiful, too indescribable, too unimaginably perfect to ignore. It was easier to pretend that the tapestry didn’t need it, because I couldn’t find the words to explain how that golden thread was inflaming me from the inside. I didn’t have the strength to weave it in. I didn’t know how to cope with saying yes.

But without it my colours felt grey. So I sat and closed my eyes and held all the threads that were drifting apart in the depths of my heart. And I took the golden thread in my hands and sat in the stillness for a while, waiting to hear what it felt like to say yes. And every night I would sit there with the golden thread, until it weaved its way into my heart. And slowly I found the strength to share the fire started by the golden thread. Now my picture will never seem complete without it.

Over the past few months, saying yes, I’ve see the different threads of my life coming together. I think I’ve reached the point I’ve been yearning for, for a long time. Parts of the future seems tangible. The threads are beginning converge and new colours emerge. It’s a turning point with my tapestry. Each day I find a new confidence, a new smile, a new friend, a new laughter, a new opportunity to let the light shine. Every night I sit with my threads and look back at the picture. I’m ready to let some threads go, to pick up some new ones, to let the tapestry flourish and grow. I know the picture is going to continue to change. In fact, there will never be a single completed picture. The weaver will need to carry on listening, carry on talking, carry on praying. But this little weaver is trusting in the golden thread, walking with the golden thread, and knows that the golden thread can never be hidden again. It has a place in her heart, in her soul. And she is ready to see how the golden thread will knit together all the other threads of her being, in the tapestry that she has come to accept and inhabit so fully, so readily, so passionately.

 

 

Represent.

An article written for the anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, for ‘The Eagle,’ a student magazine giving teenagers a chance to voice their opinions on politics. 

It is 10th January 1917, and a biting frost hangs over London, freezing the moment in time. The sun dawns through the dank cloud, in time for the closing days of the 1916 Speakers’ Conference; a new hope dawns. Today, having “endeavoured to push off the burning question of women’s suffrage as long as [he] could,” James Lowther, the Speaker, opens up the discussion of female political representation for the first time since 1884. 

Women have been chained to the domestic sphere for too long, have been trampled by technocratic horses for too long, have starved from lack of representation for too long. It is time for things to change. It is time that women have a voice.

And this is a ‘burning’ question for the representatives gathered at the 1916 Speakers’ Conference, having listened to the politique petition of Millicent Fawcett. Lowther has tried, “on the issue of Women’s Suffrage, to obtain an equal division of opinion.” But the question is perhaps not whether women will be granted a vote, but how far reform will go.  For the country has changed since the war. Women are an immutable part of economic, military and financial efficiency. Men are sparse, but politicised.

So, it will be proposed that ‘any woman on the Local Government Register who has attained the age of 30, and the wife of any man who is on that Register, if she has attained that age, shall be entitled to be registered, and to vote as a parliamentary elector.’ This will fly through the House of Commons, alongside reform within male representation, on 6th February 1918, with a majority of 385 to 55. This will be the 1918 Representation of the People Act.

A momentous day. For the first time, all men over 21 have the vote, and those 19-21 who had served in the First World War. For the first time, women have the vote, so long as they are over 30, own property and members of the Local Government Register. The size of the political electorate has tripled since 1912, from 7.7 million, to 21.4 million. Women now account for 8.4 million votes.

You might say that this does not go far enough. Indeed, the age for women to vote was set at 30 for the very reason that should women vote from 21, they would convincingly outnumber the male electorate. But, in the words of Millicent Fawcett, “We would greatly prefer an imperfect scheme that can pass, to the most perfect scheme in the world that could not pass.”

And, at the least, this Act is a start, a spark that will lead to further reform. In 1919, the first female MP will take her seat. In 1929, the first female cabinet minister will take on the role of Minister for Labour. It is a spark that will light a fire in the hearts of women, that will allow them to have a voice in this age, and the ages to come. It is a spark that will go on to show that women can, when men believe they can’t.

And it is a spark for what may happen on 6th February 2018, when hundreds will gather and join in a public hunger strike outside Parliament. When we will remember the women that went before to give us the tender political voice with which we scream today. And when we will once again question electoral policy.

Will we, 100 years on, maintain our fight for political equality? Will the transformative legacy of the Representation of the People Act of 1918 live on? It’s up to you.

Just keep going.

If you asked me 10 years ago what would make my perfect evening, I would have said that a perfect evening consisted of at least 2 hours of swimming training, followed by a packet of crisps in the car, waiting for J, secretly listening to the final strains of evensong echo in the car park. Then going home to bed.

Swimming was my physical outlet. It was cathartic. I remember thinking that it was perfect, because no-one could tell if I was crying. The tears pricking my eyes merged with the stinging water of the pool. Some more strokes forward, and tears were just another drop in an infinite number, through which I swam furiously. You had to be strong to swim. Just keep swimming, and everything would be ok.

But it wasn’t. Soon after that, my health meant I had to stop. My way of dealing with the stresses and pains inside my mind was ripped out of my hands. I felt impotent, and my relationship with any kind of physical activity deteriorated. When I started year 7, I decided fervently that I hated all kinds of sport, because they were a reminder of what I could not do. I was awful at lacrosse, gave up trying in netball, and took to deliberately hitting the tennis balls over the fence into the town park, so that I would spend my sport session walking out of the school grounds and through the gates into the park, to pick up all my wayward balls. The worst of all was cross country, when we were made to run round the same park in a t-shirt and shorts in the middle of January. All the best girls were at the front. They ran with ease all the way round. And I walked, bringing up the rear.

It only made problems worse. If you weren’t sporty, you weren’t cool. If you weren’t cool, who were you? Why would they talk to you, unless it was to jeer at your inability? I wanted to scream to them to say that I could do it. I wanted to do it. But after 2 years of not trying, I became so unfit that by the time I tried, it was painful. And then I gave up completely. I developed an infallible strategy of persuading my male sports teachers that I had severe period pain, every time we had sport. I just didn’t think I could do it.

As a result, I became very self conscious about my body image. It was the worst in gym class, dressed in leotards, and being instructed how to do flips and tumbles. Everyone else was tiny, and I had this podge of fat. We were told in biology aged 11 that we would all put on weight in our early teenage years, affectionately termed ‘puppy fat.’ But in an all girls’ school, the notion of the ‘thigh gap’ became much more important, and seemingly everyone around me, aged just 12 and 13 was stick thin, and was taking measures to ensure they stayed so. I was sure that I was not thin enough because I didn’t do sport, when in reality, I was of a perfectly normal 11 year old weight. I was sure that all my problems, bullying and anxiety, could be put down to my weight. And I bottled everything up in my mind, with all the anger and hatred whirling around and around. I had no outlet for it. It was like a Molotov Cocktail just waiting to explode. I had given up swimming through it all. I wasn’t strong enough to swim anymore.

When I moved school at 13, my self-consciousness was debilitating, and the first thought in my mind whenever I met someone new was: do they think I’m fat? But soon afterwards, I made the conscious agreement between my body and my mind that I was not going to let this define the rest of my school career. I couldn’t face being with the girls, on the hockey pitch. It brought back all the fear. So I joined the boys’ recreational football team, and sustained my first sports injury, a broken wrist. Because if you were the only girl on the boys’ team, you were obviously the only choice for goalkeeper. But I didn’t mind so much, because I enjoyed it. I could run around on the pitch, and the boys didn’t make snide comments like girls do. In the summer, I played cricket.

Gradually, over the 5 years I have been at my ‘new school’ (it’s not so new anymore!), I have got back into girls’ sport, and played some netball and rounders. But I have always struggled with fitness, and feeling comfortable enough to wear a t-shirt and skort. Last year, when I finally got an all-clear to swim again, I was so uncomfortable wearing a swimming costume that I wrapped myself up in a towel all the way from the changing rooms to the diving blocks. And then the bleeding started again, and once again, just keep swimming was no longer an option.

But I realised that I had to find another way out. I couldn’t spiral downwards again. I didn’t want to leave school with a self-consciousness about my body image, and I needed a physical outlet for mental pain. So I started running.

Over Christmas, J received a fitness challenge as part of RAF training. 30 days. And he forced me to go with him. It was my worst nightmare at first. Dressed in clinging leggings, I was sure that everyone could see my weight, and running in public, through town, I was convinced they were laughing at my red face. When I got back home, I shut myself in my room, and collapsed on the bed. But although I was drained, it felt so good, and I felt more confident about myself. I had believed that I could, and I done it. For the first time in 10 years, I had voluntarily gone out on a 20 minute run. It felt amazing. I felt so happy.

Everyday, my brother and I have done at least half an hour of exercise, and the minutes have slowly increased to the point where we are now running for an hour, once a week. Last Friday, we were running at night for the first time. J is strict with the days of the challenge, and so whereas I suggested we might swap ‘100 squats, 80 sit-ups, 30 press ups’ we were due to do on the Saturday, with Friday’s run, he insisted we went, equipped with head-torches and reflective jackets. I’m so glad we did.

There was something very powerful about running together in the dark. It was a clear night, and the stars were super bright, the brightest I’ve seen them for a long time. On the left of the road, there was a purplish streak, and it faded to black on the right. The moon gave everything a hazy glow, and made the raindrops on the trees shine ephemerally as we sped past. The sound of our feet, landing in time together on the pavement, was like the beat of a drum spurring us onward. It was biting cold, but I felt so warm, and not just because I could feel my legs burning. I could process my emotions in a physical escapism that I have not felt for 10 years. Even when the stitches kicked in, we carried on, and felt the pain melt away. And by the end of the run, I felt as if we could conquer the world. There was no self-consciousness, but a self-awareness and sense of self-acceptance.

So, though, 10 years ago, I would have told you that swimming was my sport, and running was the worst thing in the world, I would now tell you the opposite. I have become a runner. This week, burdened by so many stresses, coping with mocks, and competitions and music auditions, and university decisions, and friendship dramas, I have found so much comfort in thinking and praying whilst running. They seem to go together.

Over the course of these 30 days, I may have lose weight, I don’t know, I don’t check anymore. But what’s more important is that I have become able to tune into myself, and listen, and see. I’m so much happier. I’m so much closer with my brother. We’re a running team. And I’m sure that as we move into month 2, I will become in tune to so much more.

Each day, I take step one. It’s just me and my thoughts, following the beat of the drum, feeling a glorious pervading love for the divine world around me, and sense of appreciation for myself and who I am. It lasts until the final step.

Even if you think you can’t go on, if you are drowning in self-consciousness, self-deprecation, and a distance from your self, you can, or you will. Just keep swimming. Just keep running. Just keep going. Believe.


Every time I reflect on this, I feel so so sad that the state of our society is such that there are 12 and 13 year old girls, and boys, who are forced to be so preoccupied about their weight. It makes me so angry that often bullying stems from issues of size, and that so many children and teenagers are suffering from self-consciousness, and a lack of self-confidence. And the problems that arise from such a culture are not just short-term, but can cause mental health struggles into adulthood. If you know someone who is struggling, with weight, with bullying, with low self-esteem, or is just having a bad day, please be there for them, and point them in the direction of help.

Someone who smiles, who gives a hug, shares a story, runs or walks with you, holds your hand, or just sits and prays with you, is someone who will change your life, and change the world, one small action at a time. I have learnt that you are so much stronger than you originally conceive, and if you believe, anything is possible. It’s often the believing part that is the hardest. In sharing our belief, we help others to see a light, when so much the world around them is dark.

Perhaps in doing so, we can be that bright star in the night sky, that voice of God’s glory here on earth. We can show another runner that they can.


I don’t think it is a coincidence that as I wrote that final line, this song came on my iPod. If nothing above resonates with you, just give this a listen.

Ready to be 18?

Written on New Year’s Eve… and posted today because these last couple of days have just been a bit of a blur with family, New Year appointments, travelling and facing the reality of work!  

Today is the 31st of December. New Year’s Eve. And tomorrow will be a New Year. 2018. Today is also interesting, because it is the only day that scientists reckon in history that everyone who is an adult was born in one century (the 20th), and everyone who is a child was born in the following (21st). Random fact, I know.

But that fact hits home for me, because it means that I am nearing the end of my childhood. In just a couple of days, this millennium baby will be 18. A scary thought for me as well as you. Adults have always been who I’ve looked up to. And now I am going be one, and for a while I’ve struggled with the question of whether I will capable of the burden of wisdom, assertiveness and self-belief that seems to magically be present in the adults in my life.

At the end of the school term, this was really worrying me. I was sat in my House, probably looking a little forlorn, in the process of finding snippets of the Christmas story in the Greek NT for translation later in the day, when my tutor came in and asked me what was wrong. Nothing, I said. It’s not important. But it is, he said. You are worrying about something. And I just said it: I’m not ready to be an adult. I don’t want to let go to the innocence and protection of childhood. I want more time.

And he said: So let’s make it stop. For two minutes. Let’s think about your last year of childhood. And let’s think about whether you’re ready. And so we reflected on this last year, what has happened, and how it has changed me.

Learning to drive: At the beginning of this year, I couldn’t even contemplate getting in a car. When we had been in America in 2015, staying with our friends from Mississippi, I had been scarred by them physically pushing me into the driver’s seat of the hire car and telling me to drive around the driveway of the property. I couldn’t do it – I was shaking and terrified that I would kill someone. They said I’d be perfectly safe. Their son, one year older than me, was driving by himself aged 16. So could I. But I couldn’t, and there were tracks through the grass to prove it. So suffice to say I was terrified that I would be learning to drive. I did want to, the freedom afforded would be worth it. But getting in the car for the first time was scary. And so it went on. Each time I learnt a new procedure, I was convinced I’d hit someone. Then I passed my theory test first time. And my driving did get better. And I became more confident on the roads. And I drove to school every day, and home again. And then I failed my first test. I was ok about it – 1 major and 1 minor. My driving was safe, I just made a stupid mistake. I’d try again. I failed again. And that time I was mad with myself. Old thoughts of failure came raging back, and I could feel myself getting more and more agitated, and frustrated and angry. When I got home, both my parents were out and just sat in my room and cried because I thought I had failed. I had failed myself, and I had failed my instructor, and I had failed my parents. It would be 2018 before I had any chance of passing with the new test regulations. And I didn’t know what to do to stop myself from drowning in this dangerous thought whirlpool I recognised so well.

I remembered that when I failed the first time, I read a book that one of the Canons at the Cathedral had sent me. JK Rowling’s Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure. And so, I took a deep breath and opened it. Unlike the first time, I don’t think I read much of it. I just had to look at it. I knew that someone had sent me that book because they believed in me; I wasn’t a failure. And I knew I had to get back in the driving seat. I’m going to take my test again. Of course I hope I’ll pass. But if I fail, I’ll find the book again, and I’ll be OK.

I was changed because I saw that in the grand scheme of things, people love and appreciate me for who I am, and not whether I can drive or not. I was changed because I picked myself back up. And I have been changed, because I am beginning to understand what it is to succeed in failure.

Being operated on: Being operated on was a big thing for me (background to the operation is here). I had never had an operation before, and I was very scared, because the operation I had did carry risks, not only that, with my blood condition, I could have had a dangerous bleed, but also that it might not stop the nasal aspect of the condition, it could actually make it worse, especially as by working on both sides of the nose, they left me with a very thin dividing cartilage which might collapse or be easily perforated. And to save you more gory details, the operation wasn’t going to be as easy as it should have been. In the pre-op meeting, the nurse could tell I was nervous, as we went through all the major risks of surgery. And I just broke down and said: I’m scared. I took down that barrier of pretending that I am not afraid. And it has let me live for 6 months without being admitted to hospital with major blood loss.

And I was changed, because I admitted I was scared, and I let myself be vulnerable.

Athens: In April, I was able to go to Greece for the first time. As an aspiring Classics student, this was AWESOME. I was soo excited. We visited all sorts of Classical monuments, from the Parthenon (obviously), to the Roman forum, Hadrian’s library, the temple of Olympian Zeus, Sophocles’ prison, the Panathenaic stadium and more. We ate lots of ice cream, wandered all over, and even had cocktails on the waterfront at Piraeus, and watched the sun set behind the Acropolis, painting the sky with flaming pink. What more could you want? Well, this trip didn’t just confirm to me that my UCAS application would not be in vain. This trip showed me the cross-cultural community that exists in faith. The last day that we spent in Athens was Palm Sunday, and to be honest, I missed being at the Cathedral, despite the eternity that is usually spent singing All Glory Laud and Honour whilst trudging around the entirety of the Cathedral, only then having to do the awkward side swapping to get back on the side you were seated on as you approach the nave. And I wasn’t in a very good mood. But it is evidently a custom in Greece to hand out orange blossom and real palms to passers-by on the street. Christ’s coming was everywhere. And throughout the next few days, and the rocky emotions accompanying them, I was repeatedly struck by the inescapability of faith, and the wordly body of faith that transcends a single heart, Church or country.

I have been changed because I realised that I couldn’t escape God however hard I tried, and that He would never escape me.

Ypres: Just after we went to Athens we were lucky enough to tour with our school Chamber choir to the Ypres Salient, notably singing masses at Ghent Cathedral, in St Martin’s Cathedral Ypres, and St George’s English Church Ypres, and performing at the Menin gate, and at various CWGC sites. It was a great opportunity to see the world with friends, meet new people, perform and hang out. Ice cream and chocolate featured heavily; unfortunately we were too young to join the staff in Belgian beer. We were also able to go to the cemetery where my great great Uncle, who was killed in the First World War, is buried, and leave a cross and wreath. It was a personally touching moment in the frenzy and chaos of a choir tour. But for me it was a difficult couple of days, coping with the emotions of being in a place that evokes so much sorrow and yet so much hope. It was difficult to share a room with 5 other girls with one bathroom. And it was difficult to get up there and perform, often very exposed, in buildings I wasn’t familiar with to larger audiences than we ever have when we sing in England. I have always been a nervous performer, but the tour took nerves to a new level. But I got through every performance, and by the end our conductor even said that I smiled sometimes. And at our last performance, singing at the Menin Gate Ceremony, I was able to sing with strength for the men we were representing, to smile and to talk with pride with visitors who had come to the Ceremony from across the world. One woman burst into tears when I was able to converse with her in French about our school and why we had come to tour. It was a very special evening.

Coming back to England, the performances that stacked up were more high-profile and exposed than I had ever done, with an evening at St John’s Smith Square singing Duruflé’s Requiem, soloing the Pie Jesu, followed by performing alongside Tenebrae and playing in our quartet for weddings. But each time, despite only being able to think ‘I can’t mess this up. I can’t mess this up. I can’t mess this up,’ I survived, remembering that night at the Menin Gate. And each time I got a little bit more confident. It was a massive achievement to be able to sing Darke’s In the Bleak Midwinter at Nine Lessons and Carols in December in front of the whole school. And for once, I am excited as to what the New Year of music making holds, especially upcoming performances at the Cadogan Hall, and competing in the Barnado’s Youth Choir of the year competition in March.

This year the nerves didn’t beat me. This year I was changed, because I learnt how to channel nervous energy into music that captured people’s hearts.

Doing the impossible: Two years ago, I was told that taking an A level early would be impossible. Taking AS Greek would also be impossible. I would have no lessons, no teachers could fit me in. I would have to juggle the work on top of 4 other A levels. I would not be given compensation, I would not be given curricular help. I wouldn’t get study leave. And ultimately it wouldn’t be worth it, because I couldn’t give it the time. But I wanted to challenge myself.  Whilst taking my GCSEs, I took French AS. In September, I saw the head of MFL again. What can I do, I said, to convince you to let me take the A2 in June. Nothing, he said. It’s not possible. So I took my timetable to the Head of Academic Studies. I want to do this. Show me how we can fit in time, to make 5 A levels possible. She did it, warning me to stop if it got too much. And slightly nervous, I knocked on the door of the U6 French class, and said that I would be joining them for the year. And so it began. That afternoon, I went to the Head of Classics, and we started Greek. Let’s do this, she said. And so my Lower Sixth year was characterised by never-ending lessons, my free periods occupied by French, and with Greek lessons before and after school. I was so tired, most of the time. But it was worth it, in August, when I received the results that proved everyone wrong. I did it, and I am now taking a second year in Greek. Looking back, I probably did cause myself a lot of unnecessary stress, and I sacrificed a lot of myself and my energy to working late into the night for two exams. I should have taken my Deputy Head’s advice, and stopped when it got to much. I would sit on my floor at night and ask why I was doing it. I would pray for guidance and rest. Looking back, I probably should have thought a bit more about what I was letting myself into before I jumped in headlong. I should have taken more time for rest. But, having often leant on God, I had managed it. And even if I hadn’t, my attitude to results had definitely changed.

And so I was changed, because I realised that with prayer, motivation, and lots of hard work, the impossible is always possible.

Becoming a prefect: In May, I was made a School Prefect. It’s a job that involves many menial tasks, running around the school, as well as managing behaviour in lunch queues, tuck shop queues, rugby matches, in corridors, and during breaks, and acting as a secret spy network for the Head. Someone’s been feet away from a plate being dropped from the third floor window of one of the male houses, we know about it. Someone’s suspended, we know about it. Someone’s being bullied about it, we’re their shield. Someone’s looking under the weather, we’re there. Someone needs someone to talk to, we’re the closest shoulder to cry on. Someone looks sad, we’re a bit of sunshine. Someone is jeopardising their livelihood by not crossing at the zebra crossing, we have eyes in the back of our heads. And that’s why it such a rewarding role. You are daily on the front line of issues, disagreements, break-ups, inappropriate behaviour, successes and failure. You’re the link between pupil and teacher. You lead the school, but you walk with the school. You share in laughter and tears. And I’ve been able to hold people’s hand and say I’ve been there. This happened to me. I’m here today. I got through it. And they squeeze my hand back. Thank you. It’s so simple. But it can be hard too. When I first got the role, I sat down with my Housemistress. We talked through what I would find difficult being a Prefect for the School. I said that I would probably find time commitments hard. Sacrificing lunches and breaks to stand in freezing weather, in the snow and rain, to shout at 16 year old boys who are jumping on each other in the canteen queue wasn’t exactly something I was looking forward to. I liked to have every minute possible in my control, either to work, or to take time out. She acknowledged this but said she didn’t think it would be a problem. You have a gift for giving of yourself when you have nothing left, she said. I think you’ll manage. Here’s what I think you’ll find toughest. Giving too much. You are too compassionate. You bear everybody’s problems, and sometimes you forget that there will be problematic times for you too. And she was so right. It is such a privilege to stand beside pupils through the good times and the bad. But I have had to learn to say no sometimes. I can’t humanly cope with stretching myself between 5 places. I have had to prioritise and put my health, work and primary duties first. And say no to things that other people can, and are willing to do. And in doing so, I’ve been able to spend more time doing the things that I love within the school, acting as Librarian to the Choirs, serving in Chapel, leading Debating, singing in choirs, playing in quartets and orchestras. I do as much as I can, and say no to things that don’t matter. But my door has always remained open.

But I have been changed, not only because I have learnt the joy of sharing in compassion, and being a face of light in darkness, but because I have had to recognise the balance between giving freely to others, and giving too much of myself.

Community Holiday: This week was probably the stand out week for me this year. It is one of the greatest things that our school is able to do, to host 20 children with disabilities ranging from high functioning Autism, to Cerebral Palsy, ADHD and Down’s Syndrome, and to provide a team of student volunteers, assisted by medical and teaching staff, to care for them 24/7. I use disability in the loosest possible term. Because although some of these children were wheelchair bound, partially sighted, provoked by the smallest movement, or the slightest change in environment, had no verbal capacity or no concept of social conventions, they were some of the happiest and most able people I have ever had the chance to work with. Each of us was paired with a child to care for overnight. I had no idea what to expect, and I was in for a tough week. My night time child was mid-teens, with ADHD and Asperger’s. She came from an incredibly difficult social background, and arrived  with little other than the clothes she came in. For a week with activities ranging from high ropes, to muddy trails, swimming, the beach, a theme park and a boating expedition, she had one spare shirt, and a towel. It was heart breaking to see how scared she was of the shower, revealing to me that she has a bath once every other week. And when we tried to bathe her, she wouldn’t let anyone touch her. She was a runner, and I spent a large portion of my week chasing after her down the corridors, as she sprinted away from medication, meals and bedtime. And during the night, she would wake up, screaming. I ended up having to take three nights off, just so that I could get some sleep. It was certainly difficult. But seeing her smile in the morning made it worthwhile. And whilst of course I remember the big moments from the week: ice cream on the beach, seeing Aladdin at the theatre, the pirate ship at the theme park; it is the smaller moments I remember most fondly: after spending an hour in the dining hall, successfully managing to coax a child into eating a single meatball, followed by an empty plate 10 minutes later, or getting a child to sit in the sing-song ring for the first time. It was a week full of smiles, laughter, and the greatest joy. To see the children’s faces light up was incredibly special. By the end of the week, I had built a connection and a sense of trust with all the children. It was incredibly hard to say goodbye. And whilst the week faded into joyous memories, the abiding peace that I felt having sung Kumbaya to the children at the end of each evening is something I still hang onto.

I was changed because I was forced to lost myself and my inhibitions in giving of myself for a week. I was changed because I could make a little girl who had nothing experience everything. I was changed because I couldn’t communicate through words, but had to communicate through showing love. And I was changed because my appreciation of the value of life, and what is to truly live, was transformed.

Lambeth Palace: In the middle of July, I was lucky enough to have just come back from the beach, had taken a shower, and was just contemplating the bubbles in the boiling pot of spaghetti, when my phone flashed with an email from the Dean of the Cathedral. I can remember that moment vividly; I think because that email, and everything that has happened since, was completely unexpected, completely humbling, encouraging and so completely scary, it has become imprinted in my mind. I was invited to be interviewed and speak at Lambeth Palace about my experience of being young and in a Cathedral. I have to admit that, at first, the stubborn part of me thought about saying no. I didn’t want to be dragged out again as the ‘token young person.’ But I knew this was an amazing opportunity, and something made me reprimand myself for thinking as I had. I had to go, and clearly, from babbling on here too much, I have a lot to say. And it was a day that I will never forget.

But what was perhaps more affecting for me than actually what I said, or what my heart said, was the response I had following the evening. I remember being on the bus back to Waterloo, and I did feel slightly in awe of what I just had the opportunity to do, and I had a lot of thoughts and prayers buzzing around in the back of my mind. But what I was not expecting was the torrent of messages, tweets, hugs, calls, emails and letters that I received, and all the conversations that arose. I felt such divine love. I was so completely overwhelmed. I didn’t realise that people had been so touched and affected by what I had to say. In sharing my experience of faith, and my journey, I could spread the word of how faith has saved me. In faith, I could touch people. I know that the conversations and opportunities that have arisen from that one night are not over. I keep receiving new reminders of how transformative sharing and serving can be. My thoughts are continually racing. I don’t think it would be so far to say that whatever indescribable glorious thing I experienced that night, and the ongoing friendship and fellowship,  has been utterly life-changing in how I see the future unfolding. And I know there is so much more to come.

I was changed, because I allowed myself to openly speak from my heart and share who I was, and who I have become in faith. I rejoiced with those around me, and have felt such connection to so many more. I acknowledged the indescribable glorious thing.

And somewhere in the midst of the speaking, in the frenzy of the following days and weeks, I was changed because I heard God calling me.

This year I was changed. In so many different ways. In ways that I could never have predicted at the start of the year. Changes that arrived on unexpected days, in unexpected places, with unexpected effects.

My tutor and I sat there. Me in tears. His eyes gleaming with his own appreciation of the significance of everything I just told him. And he said: I think you know what I’m going to say. You are already adult. And to be honest, what I’ve learnt is that the secret of adulthood is knowing that you’ll never really feel like one. You’ll never want to let go to the protections of childhood, because the nature of adulthood is incredibly scary – you are getting ready to venture into the world alone. And you need the strength to be able to thrive. But since I met you, 4 years ago, you have continued to grow in strength and love. You’re continually changing, you’re learning to find that strength. You’re ready to take on this world, and fly.

As I watched him leave the room, still clutching the Greek NT, I sat in silence. It was a profound movement of stillness and self-awareness. I realised that I did change this year. I grew in resilience, in openness, in wisdom, in empathy, in perseverance, in failure, in success, in leadership, in trust, in vulnerability, and a lot in faith. And so, sitting here on New Year’s Eve, I’m not so scared anymore. Adulthood is not about perfect wisdom, life-experience, maturity. Adults still fight battles with self-belief. But I think adulthood can be about taking your childhood, and, acknowledging how you have been changed, finding the courage to fly.

“We are both the authors of our own stories, and the heroes of our own destinies… A new year is just another day. And the dawn of each and every day brings equal hope. We never know which change we make will be the one that will twist our story for the better, but I can bet you that it won’t always be the change you make at the beginning of the chapter, at the beginning of the year, but the one that comes on an unpredictable page, on an unpredictable day. So take every second, every word and relish it. Have courage, faith and make changes each and every day, even when you are afraid to do so, and you will live your life to its full capacity. You never know – perhaps your story will be read for eternity.”~ Me, one year ago, A New Year Hope

When I wrote this a year ago, how little I knew that it would come so true. The best plot twists this year have been unforeseen, shocking, scary, and emotional, but all utterly life-changing. And so, with myself as my own author and my own hero, I am once again ready to take each day as it comes. I can’t wait to experience more unexpected life-changing moments in 2018, and I’m so ready for all that this next crazy year is going to throw at me – from finishing school to leaving home.

And although I never thought I’d say this, I’m so ready to be 18. Bring it on!


My thanks go to all of you for supporting me throughout this year. It’s been one of up and downs, but I have been so touched by all your prayers, emails and messages. You are all amazing, and the love I have felt has been so overwhelming and has lifted me up in darker days. I give my love back to you, and wish you too all the best for this new year ahead. May you continue to love, laugh, and live.