The Seeds of Healing
Today was colder in the house than out. Colin has been removing our big sliding sash windows, fettling them up and draught proofing. The front door is open so he can use the saw bench outside and a fair cold breeze blows the spattering rain into the hall. I stand in my coat at the kitchen table with a pile of long strawy stalks from the rocket plants in the back yard and strip the seed pods into an old envelope. Pods split and the tiny black and gold seeds lose themselves in the crevices of the tabletop. I look out through the festoons of last ripening tomatoes at the window into the grey doldrums of a winter morning and feel - the year is dying.
On my laptop the picture of a young woman smiles out, “our lass” sixteen, last day at school, beautiful. She’s not ours, of course, but in that northern way we claim her, because we loved her, the daughter of friends. She died a year later on the day the clocks went back. So this week there have been silences and tears and my partner has made his yearly ride in the grey evening to where she died, to leave her pink flowers. But she was a fighter, not an angel, who daunted her friends so much by her opposition to Nestle that they ate their Fruit Pastilles in secret, the girl who went to watch a Morecambe edition of Any Questions and cried all the way home because “They didn’t answer any serious questions about the state of the world.” Maybe we can never be made whole from such a loss but we honour the seeds she sowed in the world – and every year female cyclists battle their way up the Jubilee Tower Hill Climb for a silver cup in her name. Fitting tribute.
I count myself lucky as someone who has not often had to face tragedy and never in the way my parents had to in their lives. Possibly for me the worst time was just two years ago - being made redundant when my school closed. Undoubtedly the two year off/on closure process was very difficult but far worse was the emptiness of a sudden and forced retirement. I lived for bells that were now silent, for the sound of children’s voices and their feet now in other corridors, the insistent telephone and the banging of office doors. Bereaved of a place, of people, of a family, everyday I marked the hours of assembly, morning break, lunch and going home time. Thus bereft, I brought not much more than a brave face to my first Transition meeting, six weeks later. In Transition City Lancaster I found a welcome, a friendly community of like minded people who gave me an opportunity, a place of expression, a role and I began to put the pieces back together, to become whole again.
We often see health as a matter of being without illness or injury, of being well. But "health" comes from a Germanic root word which means literally "to make whole," In Old English they had the word "haelan," with the added sense of "to make well," ultimately it gave us the English verb "to heal." My dearest, oldest teaching friend was diagnosed with Motor Neurone disease a year ago. Unable now to speak or swallow he communicates through his ipad, is fed through a tube. It is not a situation in which we speak of health. Yet through all the difficulties he has achieved a role and a community. Asking himself, “What am I being called upon to do?” he has lived out his situation through a daily blog, a poem usually, generous and courageous. His words are celebration of the journey, an expression of hope, a way of finding healing, wholeness in the midst of all else.
His situation is extreme but the feeling of being powerless, unheard and facing a frightening future is something we often share. Inner Transition is a strand that I have always found very difficult. I don’t do the “just be” sort of stuff, but today, writing this blog trying to understand what the word “health” really means, I find a new perspective. The easy part of Transition is all that attractive busy-ness about food and energy, local currency and sustainable business. The other side of it is darker – as Rob put it in last month’s Resurgence:
“The harder bit is supporting each other through times of great change, and ensuring both community and personal resilience."
The days are greyer and colder, the rain blows in, people we love must sometimes die. But through it all, in that community of friends we call Transition, we can find wholeness, and we have the seeds of a different future.
Colin at the window, young woman races to the top of the 2010 Hill Climb