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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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.

 

 

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.

To me, to you

I was privileged to have a visit a couple of weeks ago from Hannah from ‘Hello me, it’s you‘, a charity that aims to help give teenagers a voice, normalise mental health issues, and offer hope. It was a moving visit. They have collated letters from a wide variety of contributors, all of whom have experienced mental health struggles in some way or another, which give advice to their younger selves. It got me thinking about what I would say to my younger self. I am 17; this is a letter to my 13 year old self. Thank you Hannah, for giving me the impetus to write this. 

Hello me, it’s you.

You’re sitting in the toilet cubicle, in the bathroom. You’re getting changed for sport there, because you don’t want to change in the locker room, with all the other girls. They are so much thinner than you. They are so much prettier than you. They are so much better than you.  You’re sitting on the toilet, with the scissors in your hands. You are staring at them, like they are going to bring you some kind of relief. But they won’t. The tears of blood won’t weep away your pain. Put the scissors down. After a while, you will.

You might have saved yourself the physical scar. But every time you stopped yourself, you carved a deeper scar in your mind. Putting down the blade doesn’t make you feel ok just like that. You still don’t feel good enough. You are still wracked with guilt that you weren’t good enough, you aren’t good enough. You thought you had ticked every box you defined yourself by, unmatchable grades, honesty, modesty, the rest. But you told them your secret, and they punished you. You were being honest. But this was how they repaid you; not even your grades could save you. There was no seat for you anymore. They filled it with another, thinner, sportier, perfect girl. And you are the leftovers. You’re not enough.

You go back into the changing room. It’s claustrophobic, it smells, there are clothes everywhere, girls shouting, taunting, screaming, throwing paper planes, beating their lacrosse sticks against the wall. Someone has rubbed your books with rotten banana, the black skin is sitting in your locker. Your perfect books, which never had a cross in them. You feel dizzy, you feel your heart beating faster, faster, you are shaking, there are those pains in your stomach and you think you are going to fall and you know you have to leave but you can’t because that would be showing you are weak. So you are sitting,  waiting for them all to leave so you, and Mr A can be alone, and sort some things out. You want to pick up the scissors, but you don’t want to go back there again.

You see, Mr A has been in your life for a long time now. Those symptoms are Mr A’s way of telling you that he’s coming round to stay. Right now, you think you are alone with Mr A. You don’t even know he has that name. He’s just this thing that’s inside your head, and you know he’s there but you can’t really describe him to anyone. He’s like an indescribable criminal that is blackmailing you, robbing you of your smile, your sparkle, your life. But you can’t tell anyone. Because that would just make him stay. You think if you forget about him, he might go away. After three years of trying, you’ll realise that Mr A is like any guest. He’ll come and go as he pleases, and you can’t really control it. But when he comes, there are rules. And by the time you are ready to leave home (and not running away, properly leaving home), you and Mr A will, mostly, respect each other, and each other’s rules.

But for now, you and he are in a war, raging in your mind. And you think he’s about to explode, and you can’t tell anyone. It’s easy for me now to say that you were wrong. That you could tell. But I remember how you were feeling, shaking in front of that rotten banana.  You couldn’t tell someone. You were the odd one out, not them. They’d never believe you anyway. But the people who mattered already knew you weren’t right. They didn’t know what, where, when, why or how. They didn’t know about Mr A or about the bullying or about the murderous perfectionism or about the scissors. But they knew something wasn’t right. Because you used to smile with your eyes. And right now, your eyes are black voids of pain. While you are sitting there, with your eyes closed, waiting for the shouting to go away, and fighting with Mr A to shut up, they are already planning to come and save you.

One week later, you won’t have to go to school anymore. Not for another five months. And even then you wouldn’t be going back there. But you will have to go back for your final speech day. Prizegiving. Where that perfect girl will take your seat, and your parents’ seat. And you will be crammed into the back of the regimental Chapel, Mr A’s hands on your neck, suffocating you, whilst she took your seat. You will think that you will never be good enough again, no matter where you were going.

You will move school, and you will think that everything is better. For a year, you will be perfect again, the same star in a new sky. Shining brighter than everyone else, and filling every space with your light. And it is partly true, you will regain some of your light. But not all of it. And it won’t stay that way. Because you will think running away to a new school means running away from your self consciousness, and from your imperfections, and from Mr A. You will forget about him. You think he will forget about you too. But he won’t. He will come back, with the others, and his friend, Mr D, so much stronger than before. And, aged 15, you will be struck by a wave that winds you, and you will be a whale beached on the shore, unable to swim. You won’t even want to get up in the mornings. You will experience bullying for an innumerable time. You will be irritable. Then silent. Then burst into stupid tears at the smallest things. You will lose all your friends, and no will understand. The closest person to you will tell you simply that clever people are always lonely, and you’d just have to get used to it. You’ll try to keep it to yourself, the emotions clashing, and bubbling, and exploding.

But there’ll be one difference that time. You will sit at the table and you will cry and cry. You will realise you are not, and would not be perfect. You will realise that you are incredibly lonely, and you just want someone to give you a hug and tell you that it will all turn alright in the end. And you will realise that Mr A had become inseparable from Mr D, and together they are binding you. And you won’t be able breathe and you will feel dizzy, and you will almost collapse in pain. And you will touch the scissors. But she will come in, and see you, and you will say: I’m not ok. And that will be you at your most vulnerable, and at your strongest. You will say, I’m not ok. And, in effect, you will say that you need help.

And she will give you a space to talk, where you won’t feel judged. She will give you a counsellor, a support team, daily meetings. She will give Mr A his name, because you didn’t want to be shut in a box labelled ‘Anxiety’ for the rest of your life. She will help you to control Mr D, Mr A’s Black Dog. Because having a relationship with Mr A will be so much easier. Everyday you will just have to rank yourself and Mr A, 1 through to 10. Gradually, you will move from 1 to 8. Gradually you will build rules for Mr A. Even by age 17 you’ll never push yourself above an 8. But you’ll still working on it. Gradually you began to see a true light, and find a true sparkle.

And while all this bullying, anxiety, loneliness and pain is breaking you, you will be saved. Saved by your school, for sure. But saved by something all together more wonderful, indescribable and heart-wrenchingly beautiful. You have just been confirmed. You believe, sure you do. But I think you’ll really only need to test your belief, and learn to BELIEVE in the next few years. Because you won’t be on this journey alone. You’ll soon come to realise that the place you feel most at home, the Church, will become more to you than just a place. It will become that place where Mr A has been, and Mr A is, and Mr A will be, but it will also be the place where God is, and will be forever. There will be times where Mr A takes over; you’ll wobble emotionally, and religiously. But you will always find God again, and you will be able to do anything with Him.

Your relationship with Him will grow and grow and grow, to the point that there won’t be a day that goes past without you seeing a glimpse of his presence in the world. In the sunlight, bursting through the trees. In a chick as it finds itself in the wrong egg. In the soft breeze as it whispers through the trees. In snatches of music. In the comforting embrace of a warm bed. In the frost as it smokes. In a laugh. In a smile. In a tear. You will learn what it is to experience transformative prayer.

And you will be called into His service. You will live out God’s love in your own life, wherever he calls you. You will hold a hand. You will lend a smile. You will laugh and cry with people. You will serve. You will testify. You will speak. You will share. But you will be there. Because you will come to understand that the loneliness you are feeling right now is nothing unusual. And though you might still struggle, you will understand that the love you experience can make others’ lives better. You can give them the love you are searching for right now. With God by your side, you will inspire, you will love, and you will be.

I don’t know why, but you’ve never been good at talking to your parents about how you’re feeling. Yes, I’m talking to you, who still hasn’t told her parents that she’s spending her lunchtimes in the library to avoid people. You who haven’t told them that you need them. Because you don’t know how. You still find it hard at 17. I mean for goodness’ sake, you will take to writing them letters, because it’s easier than talking.

But at the Cathedral, you’ll find a family you can talk to. An angelic host. Clergy, Virgers, Stewards, Choir Parents, Choristers, Lay Clerks, Organ Scholars, Congregants. Friends. People who love you, and care about you and your family. Sure, you’ll have your run-ins there. But you will also find your voice again. You will share in their joys and sorrows. And they will want to share in yours. You will be ok with going to have coffee and talking about scary things, without feeling scared. You will be supported and uplifted. They will bump into you in random and unexpected places – on the street, at the station, at a concert, at school. They will talk with you, pray with you, light candles for you. And they will enable you to shine like the star that you are hiding away behind the facade of books.

It will all start with you saying: I’m not ok. And sometimes I wish that you would have said it earlier, because you knew it all along. But you said it at the right time for you. And so I guess that’s ok too. And every day that you continue to say: I’m not ok, I am proud of you. And every day that you say: today I feel good, I am proud of you. And you and I both know that there will be days when together, we will sit in front of that locker and fight with Mr A. But there’ll be other days when he will be visiting other people, and you can breathe.

You will still have Mr A days. Though you sometimes still get breathless and dizzy, you will sometimes just be angry, or extremely tired, or unproportionately emotional. You will feel sick, and you will get that sharp knot in your stomach. Those days will be tough. There will be weeks that test you to the maximum. You will feel incredibly lonely. But you will know that you’re not alone. You will never be alone. You have faith, friends, and family. And each day that passes, you will show your strength. One day, you and Mr A may even have a day where you will stand, hand in hand, and smile. You’ll say: we’ve got this. You and I, we’re OK today.

I know that you probably didn’t read that all. It all seems a long way off, and you don’t believe me that things will get better. So if you didn’t read anything else, remember my these pieces of advice for you, to get you through the next few years. And remember, I’m still learning too. You and I, we’ll be learning for a lifetime. And I bet we’ll never find one right answer.

  1. Don’t be afraid to talk. Talk to your friends, talk to your family, a teacher, a co-worker. Say: I’m not ok. And go from there.
  2. Stick to your own values: honesty, compassion, kindness, selflessness, modesty, fortitude, reverence, patience and trust. Learn to be ok with you Catherine-ness, and celebrate it.
  3. Take it one step at a time. Don’t try to run before you can walk. Don’t run away from the problems. Acknowledge they are there, and take each day as it comes. Try and make one small change a day and in a week, a month, a year, two, you’ll see how far you’ve come.
  4. Cherish the memories you make with family in the moments they happen. We all know families aren’t perfect, but you have a good one. When you feel able, tell them how you feel, write if you need to. Look out for them too.
  5. Don’t be afraid to try new experiences. You know that there will be occasions/weeks that trigger Mr A but don’t let that make you say no. You can try, who knows, you might even have some fun! By doing this, you will have some life changing experiences.
  6. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion, and speak up for what you think is right. Sometimes people need to hear a new voice.
  7. Embrace your inner nerd, it will make things easier in the long run. And there are lots of normal people who like Classics too.
  8. Pray. A lot. For your friends, for your family, for the world, for you. They all need your ongoing prayers.
  9. Say thank you. Give praise for everything you have got, and how far you’ve come. You’re awesome, and the world around you is too.
  10. Serve others. It’s where you find your greatest joy. Listen to others. Be there. Give more than you receive. Love.

I love you. You are enough. You matter. And I think, though you might not recognise me right now, you’re going to learn to love me too. And if you can’t quite manage that right now, put your fingers around the cross you bear. And know that He loves you.

See you on the other side of 17.

Cx

SE1 7JU

SE1 7JU. That’s the postcode for Lambeth Palace, the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Why on earth do I know that? Because it’s been stuck in google maps on my phone for the last week. Every time I put my journey plan into National Rail journey planner, some trying-to-be-clever-and-failing-miserably algorithm came up with a new convoluted way of getting from Waterloo to Lambeth Palace. Being a 20 minute walk, or a hop on the 77, I thought I had it set in my mind. But on Monday, said algorithm decided it would be better for me to go from Waterloo onto the Bakerloo line and get off at Lambeth North and take a 7 minute walk. That seemed stupid. Tuesday’s answer was to get on the Jubilee line to Westminster (which takes you under the Thames), only to then get out and have to walk for 13 minutes across the river again. If it was possible for journey planner to lose its mind any more, it just had. By Wednesday, and ever more confused, I resorted to the reassurance that I could just meet Canon J at Waterloo, and we would go together.

I had never been to Lambeth Palace before, as my frustration with Google maps and the TFL would probably indicate. Over the summer, I received an intriguing email from the Dean, asking if I would consider talking at Lambeth Palace about being a young person in a Cathedral. I said yes, of course. It is hard to say no to a personal request from the Dean. But between July and September I had kind of forgotten about it. Results day, starting school, learning to drive and all general chaos of a new school year had taken my thoughts off it.

This time last week I realised that I had agreed to speak at Lambeth Palace, and I had not a clue about what I was going to say. I received a guest list, which included the likes of Bishops, Council Chairmen, QCs, MPs, several current/previous Lord Lieutenants and spice (see here for definition), Livery Company representatives, and City professionals worth millions. What on earth could I say that was going to make a difference to such people as these? As I sat, approaching Waterloo, the thought suddenly dawned on me that I had done absolutely nothing to prepare answers to what I was going to be asked. I think I actually dropped a Tyrells vegetable crisp because my hands started to shake so much. And believe me, you don’t want to drop a Tyrells vegetable crisp. Not only are they the kind of ridiculously-expensive-but-we-put-them-in-the-cafes-at-stations-because-we-know-you’re-so-desperate-that-you’ll-buy-them food, but who wants to waste a bit of guilt-free snacking? I mean vegetable crisps – surely they can’t be bad for you…?! But perhaps approaching Waterloo shaking couldn’t have been a better situation. Sometimes, but admittedly only sometimes, it is better to feel underprepared. That way you cannot stick to the safety of some formulaic, emotionless words. What you say will have to come to you at that moment, from your heart.

As agreed, I met Canon J under the clock at Waterloo. 16:00. About 3 hours before go-time. We jumped straight on a bus, the 77, despite the journey planner’s assumed authority. I think I was probably very quiet for quite some time. I had thoughts running around in my head. How was I going to feel when I walked into Lambeth Palace? How would I find talking to important strangers? Would anxiety be my shadow? Would what I said be of the right standard, and be appropriate to the audience? Would I like any of the canapés? Please tell me they weren’t going to be soggy. When would I get time to learn a table of Greek correlative pronouns?

It helped to sit by the river, watching pigeons divebomb into the murk and resurface like doves. Watching boats trundle past. Admiring the Houses of Parliament. Catching melodies from the conversations of tourists as they walked past, awe inspired. There was a gentle breeze, it was warm. The sun poked through the clouds, the light making the soft waves of the tide glimmer momentarily. Patches of blue appeared from behind an October cloud.

Then we went to enter the place itself. A small door was sheltered in the corner of the famous façade. The heavy knocker boomed as we entered, and with us the breath of years of history. To be in a place were the past and present mingle so inextricably is an experience that will always silence you. Here was a place where you could feel God’s presence. A place that has housed religious turbulence, religious politics, religious war. But a place that guards the beating heart of the Church of England. A place which seemed to welcome all. A safehaven in a claustrophobic city. Immaculate gardens, fig trees, old wings, new wings, rebuilt wings. Intricate portraits, extraordinary light fixtures and rich hangings at every turn. The door open to a grand staircase leading to the Palace itself. It is hard to describe something so simultaneously daunting, comforting and awe inspiring. It was an inescapable feeling.

I felt privileged and humbled to be there. To walk in the footsteps of so many world changers, world leaders, world thinkers. To feel that heart beating. Walking in, I felt so small, and yet so significant. I felt so afraid, but so at ease. I felt alone, but in company. I felt so confused, yet very calm.

I could feel myself getting more and more nervous through a briefing that truly demonstrated the importance of this event. Everything seemed somewhat hinged on an interview I would do that would hopefully mean something to people. Hopefully was a key word. Who knew what was going to come out? Chatting to familiar faces eased away a portion of those nerves. And Evening Prayer waved away a few more.

It was a joy to worship in the Lambeth Palace crypt. Carved into the earth, its arches support the weight of centuries of prayer. Nooks and crannies in the stonework provide space for thought. Plain and light, it channels the intimacy of faith. Candles flicker on the altar, and through their holey casing, they cast flickering bubbles of light onto the wall. Reverence and humility as they kneel before the altar. The carpet is soft beneath the feet, the walls cold to the touch. The silence of holiness breathes its way into your lungs. A basin of holy water. Remembering baptism, confirmation, life. The cross and pain and hope. The Bible, laid open on the lectern, speaks words of comfort to closing hearts. The rhythm of psalms, the praise of the Magnificat, the closure of the Nunc Dimittis. The prayers of all, lifted to heaven, float along the curvature of the ceiling. It feels safe. It feels like home.

One by one, we trickled in. We each found a place, and took our seat. The Community of St Anselm, robed in the chaste white, bore the cross of each around their neck. The silence spoke to each in harmonies of unique frequency. Words jarred as souls burst from the confines of psalmody. But slowly we found our rhythm. The need for individualism, fears, the unknown, was blended into one single voice. In faith, we were one. No matter how fraught the day had been, how busy the tube, how dirty the air, how noisy the street, how rocky the path, the voices of all, yet one, brought us home.

On leaving the Crypt, I had my first chance to ‘eye up the opposition,’ so to speak. But I had to remind myself that this wasn’t a battle, there was no opposition. We all wanted the same thing. They weren’t ferocious lions. I wasn’t being thrown into a pit. They were ordinary people, who wanted a human story. And that’s what I could give them.

A story of a girl who lost herself, time and again. A story of a girl who was bullied into stereotypes, quotas and who never saw herself as good enough. A story of girl who was jealous, angry and bitterly hurt. A story of a girl who didn’t recognise what was around her, until she grew up. And then she saw a community who had saved her, who had found her, and who continue to bring her home. A people who care, value, love and pray. A chapter who know without knowing, give answers without her asking questions, who understand what she doesn’t understand herself. A Cathedral which harbours the best in people, which offers a place for grieving and a place for rejoicing. She saw the melody of humanity, the chords of stability, the key changes into despair, hope, renewal. She saw the coda, the triumphant plagal Amen. This was a story of a girl who’s life had been changed because of a pile of bricks on a windy hill.

This was the story I had to share. This was the story I couldn’t let die. Because there are lots of girls out there. There are lots of boys out there. At the end of the day, there are so many people out there. They all have the same story. And I can only hope that 5 years down the line, graduated from University, probably grappling with unemployment, mortgages and general adulthood, that this little girl will reflect. She will say, that is the place that brought me home. That is the place where I was found, and where I found myself. That is the place where I found God. That is the place to where I will always return. And looking around her, she will see the stories of that day, the people that will continue to be saved by a single step into God’s home. She will never feel alone there.

It may just seem a pile of bricks. But it is a community. A people. A salvation. A livelihood. It gives value. It gives hope. It gives light. Its where God speaks. Its where God sings. And its where, sometimes, if you reach out your hand into the golden light, you think you can touch heaven. Your heart is full of faith.

I sat back down on the sofa. I had felt the tears brimming pressing at my eyes as I spoke. And whilst it would have been no weak thing to let those tears fall, I held them in. I looked up and saw eye upon eye smiling. Eye upon eye filling with their own tears. Hand touched hand in an undeserved applause that seems still to echo in my head. They understood. They saw it. I felt it.

And as I manoeuvred my way around the room to the wine, I grabbed a chocolate brownie and popped it in my mouth. Unlike the spontaneously combusting hoisin duck cones, it was exquisite. The layers were defined: biscuit, cake, ganache. The firm base, the lasting taste of the middle, the heavenly sparkle on top that captures your heart. That’s what people need. Not the basic biscuit. But people want the lasting taste, and sparkle. The emotionally affecting part of a brownie. The emotionally affecting part of an evening.

Slowly I worked my way around the room, talking, engaging, debating, informing. I was overwhelmed, I still am overwhelmed, by the response I received. Everyone seemed so affected. I didn’t mean it to be so. All I tried to was to be honest. To speak my heart. I probably stayed too long, drinking wine, eating brownies and talking.

We took pictures. I don’t like having my picture taken. But it is a snapshot of a second of an evening which will stay with me for a lifetime. My memories of Thursday night will transcend a single image. The conversations I had following ranged from carved mice, to Universities, to discerning vocation. My thoughts and prayers have not stopped racing since.

As we left to hop back on the 77 to Waterloo, where to my sheer delight every single train seem to be delayed by over half an hour, I felt privileged and humbled to have been at Lambeth Palace, and to share my honest and unrefined story. I felt overwhelmed that I had walked in the footsteps of so many world changers, world leaders, world thinkers. I had felt the heart of the Church beating at its very core. Walking out, I still felt so small, and yet so significant. I felt so afraid, but so at ease. I felt alone, but in plenteous company. I felt so much more confused, yet still so very calm.

I hope it will not be another 18 years before I have the chance to step inside the walls of Lambeth Palace again.

 

 

In the shadow of the Cathedra

As I’ve mentioned before, writing poetry is one way in which I cope with emotion and pain. I’ve found it especially helpful in the last year, during which time one important place in my life has undergone a significant amount of change.

I first wrote this poem around Easter, when I was struggling with faith and the future, and have since redrafted it several times, reflecting on how I’ve changed since that point. It focusses on the point after I stepped down from the lectern holding back tears. There are moments where I still feel like I am at the destructive part of the poem, seeing everything I knew tumble and burn, feeling lonely, far from God and incredibly vulnerable.

But more often than not, now I feel more able to take a step back and turn to God in my vulnerability and not simply close myself off, but work through that same pain and destruction in prayer. The feeling that everything is tumbling down doesn’t just go away, but I’ve learnt that it’s about how we react to it that is most important.

In faith, I think we must choose not what is often the easiest option, turning away, but instead choose to turn aside, to pray and seek with God how we can be beacons of light in surrounding darkness, and how we can rebuild in love.

On reading the poem, I feel like you can sense the original anger that flowed out onto the paper when I first wrote it. It feels disjointed and doesn’t quite fit. It is quite different to some of my more lyrical poetry. It is raw and brutal and full of hurt. At the same time, it is a poem in two halves: there is a point during the poem where I saw a different way of looking at change and pain, and I began to see a more hopeful way forward with God. Whenever I read it, I find myself thinking, how am I looking at things today? With anger or with faith? With pain, or with hope?

I struggled to name this poem, but settled on the place in the Cathedral where I felt most comforted as a little girl. I used to sit up between the Quire and Sanctuary at evensong, beside the Cathedra. There, with the sun casting rainbow reflections on the marble floor, I would feel most loved and as if I could do anything with God. It is still one of my favourite and most comforting places, though I little get the opportunity to sit there.

In the shadow of the Cathedra

The walls are weeping

With the sound of our tears.

The walls are shaking

With our bitterness.

 

Foundations tremble

With our stifled cries of anger.

Bricks like tears tumble,

Becoming rubble.

 

It is like watching a car

Crash in slow motion,

Each of us failing to

Push the brakes,

As we travel blind towards

Our time of death.

 

Is the moment of

Impact is passed?

Only our carcass remains.

We wait for the

Final bones to go up in

Flames.

 

It is hard to see when

The asphyxiating

Asbestos of our minds

Will ever be chipped away.

It has already

Killed my trusting heart.

 

Love can rebuild. But

Where can love be found?

A world devoid of love

Leaves my childhood home

Flat on sandy ground.

 

My house has many

Rooms, says the Lord, my

God. But standing here,

I see no room for

Me.

 

Yet I cannot close

My Heart to you. You

Weave yourself back in.

You hold me.

 

I know there’ll be

A day, when my heart

once more will weep with

salted tears.

 

I’ll look to you again:

The Lord on high, my

God. And, alone, I

know I’ll find you then.

 

May I be penitent,

Seek forgiveness,

Be slow to judge,

Be open to forgive.

 

May I find strength in You.

May I speak the truth.

May I heal the wounds

We made for ourselves.

 

On your rock may I

Rebuild my house,

My heart, my hope.

 

Cleanse our hearts, wipe from

Our eyes the tears. Show

Us the place where pain

Is no more.

And make us once more

One in you, O Lord.

Devonshire Whispers

Sometimes going to a boarding school is portrayed as the worst thing in the world. Certainly, as a 6 year old girl who read incessantly with a torch under the blanket, Enid Blyton didn’t always portray Malory Towers as the ideal place to spend your teenage years. But it’s not as bad as the fictional trope. And the massive perk (the perk that gets you through the 10 hour days) is the looong summer holiday. The summer holiday of every teenager’s dreams – 9 weeks, 63 days, 1512 hours of freedom.

We broke up from school last Saturday (01/07/2017). Jerusalem and I vow to thee my country reverberated in the quadrangle as unrestrained (and really quite flat) boyish bellows burst the walls of the Chapel. Smiles, music, joyous tears and piles of cream cakes dissipated into an idyllic summer’s day. The last of the days.

And taking the opportunity head on, we wolfed down the cakes, bundled up our books, and waved a polite yet brief goodbye to the Masters of our houses. We bolted down to Devon, as fast as the A303 would deem possible, nodding at Stonehenge as we ambled past. Last year revealed to us the merits of a pre-season extended weekend in St Ives – this year we were headed to Torquay.

It was the first time that I had visited Devon, and it didn’t disappoint. Ice cream, scones, beaches, sunshine in abandon, complemented with a fully functional frequent bus service (take notes TFL!), popcorn fuelled films on the sofa, and a squishy double bed on my own floor (oh the luxury!) where a hairpin could solve the greatest of world crises: an unfixed showerhead. Trains whistling by the window offered just a distant memory of commotive* reality, cut out by closed curtains.

And the annual summer mini-golf championship loomed. Mini-golf: the fiercely competitive sport where only those who make friends with Moai will conquer. The courses framing our house, in Babbacombe, Torquay and Paignton, offered perfect spots to wage war. A three-day event. A summer sun beating down on us, albeit with a touch of breeze-whipped cloud, signalled that the battle to end all battles had begun. Traversing pirate-infested waters and jungle terrains, the championship reached its ultimate conclusion: I won one, my brother the other two; a recipe for retributive revenge.

But even the threat of mini-golf fuelled vengeance and the sharp sting of a lingering jellyfish scarcely broke through the golden days of page turners on pebbled shores. Schools of silvered fish jumped out of an azure sea into beds of salted chips. The horizon melted in blue surrender as a city busy with labours left untouched the beaches, inviting in the foreign four. A glassy sheen broke under a dusty foot, and at last the water reached out, sucking us deeper into the depths. Seagulls dived, creating arcs of triumph, cleansing the shore of all evidence of human presence. Twisting footpaths gave way to hidden marvels, whilst a battered wheel revolved in a steadfast silent splendour.

Enduring the sickening bumpy coastal path, I passed through village upon village, with thatched homes spiralling round a crumbling churchyard, the local inn sign squeaking on its aged hinges. But there was no sign of a crumbling community. Each man for the other, the foundations still firm below an aging surface. The flowers bloomed in boxed adornments, injecting a myriad rainbow of life. And as the coastal path veered away from a glistening sea, it remained never forgotten, the taste of sea air tickling every sense, the laughter and companionship pushing us onwards.

Onwards to Exeter, where a majestic carved cathedra sat enthroned by ornamented stonework, harbouring elephants, porcupines and owls alike. Where the whisper of a rotting man was drowned by gleeful exclamations of crowds of children following a thrilling and bloody murder trail. The briefest of prayers; a silent pause. The energy of visitors pulsing. Wonder. Awe. Excitement. An echo of plainsong. The aged. The poor. The helpless. The cold. The hungry. The oppressed. The sick. The mourners. The lonely. The unloved. The aged. The little children. Us. Together under one roof, sharing in one faith. Making our mark, buying our little brick. A miniature Cathedral in the shade of the larger, put together by the people. Insurance, ensurance, assurance for the future. People poured out onto a humming green, lost amongst stalls, but forever bound together in God.

Then back to the A303, leading now to an old sagging unmade bed, the stench of unwashed clothes swamped by piles of unread books, and a little lamp flickering over a well worn sofa. Home. The Devonshire coast faded into a London reality. But the hope, the sun, the warmth, the faith remain engrained in my heart.

Now the true summer holidays are here. The homework, the vocab, the UCAS application, the pre-University reading. But 5 nights in Devon paints a masterpiece the art of perspectivisation** and whispers from Devon linger in my mind and my heart, clearing the next few feet of a rocky path: the summer, a time for laughter, love, hope, sunshine, faith and community. A time for trying to heal that which divides us. A time for finding a warmth to purge the cold. A time where work comes second place.

 

moai

Mini golf conquerors must first win over the Moai

 


*Commotive = a mixture of commotion and commuting in an adjectival form; the typical adjective to describe work life in London

**Perspectivisation = the noun of the verb ‘to perspectivise,’ see here