Hullo patient and precious Noodles,
August, September, October…it’s been exactly three months since I last blogged.
Here’s one of a few stories I’ve been wanting to tell.
When I was little, or maybe a school- going girl, I never took the trouble to watch for the sun. Or the moon, for that matter. It felt to me as though each day and each night was virtually the same. The sun rose in the same place and we could navigate our way with light and warmth to varying degrees. Some days were colder than others, some cloudier. In the summer months, (in Johannesburg) the clouds would build up in the late afternoons until, heavy with rain and charged with electricity, the thunder would roll around the sky and release sheets of water. The soaked jacaranda blossoms were slippery underfoot as I walked home from school. I remember that clearly.
The thing about those days, is that they were pretty much the same. For years it seemed. I never considered that each day was unique or a once-off: that it could never be repeated, would never come around again. Days came around a little like a tumble of waves onto the shore. Secured, guaranteed. No end.
Perhaps it was daily count from our first lockdown in March that has brought the phenomenon of time into perspective for me. Perhaps combined with the peripheral fear, unconscious uncertainty of this seemingly endless and ever- present pandemic, and the losses, the universal grief, that accompany it. Aging parents. Perhaps that I’ve seen more people dying (people I have known) more than ever. Whatever.
All I know now that unless I acknowledge a day – in full- I am wasting time. Precious time. Naturally, some days I am (as I’m sure most are) more present than others. Of course. We can’t have the same kinds of moods every day. We sleep better some nights and just wake up worse on others. Circumstances arise beyond our control that dictate and determine the way a day pans out. And so, our reaction to it. Oh, do I wish for the calm and peacefulness I feel on some days every day. Why am I even feeling so blissful I wonder sometimes as I stare in the mirror while I brush my teeth? (Not that often, unless I’ve just returned from an early morning swim.) And on others, I feel my gums wearing away with the roughness of the brush.
How are you coping ? I read online. Give me your techniques, your secrets they ask.
It’s all so random, I answer quietly to myself in my head. There’s harmony in the home today. The teens are feeling upbeat about their lives, their school- work, their social connections. The older ones are buried deep into their final exams, starting to sense a life different from the one they’ve known for so long: home and study. (Not that this necessarily all comforting) But when there’s harmony at home, and good communication happening amongst us all, it’s good. Luckily, we have food on the table, comfortable shelter, a chance to escape a little sometimes. Not so for all. For so many in fact.
But time is the one standard for us all. Days are the same length of time for us all ( Okay, in the some countries (more Northern Hemispheres?) there’re more daylight hours in some places and less in others) .
But I’m only now beginning to realize that they are not infinite.
I used to think I needed to do BIG things. IMPORTANT things. Achieve, perform, make a difference. I remember so well pushing my pram, with baby number four in it down the same road, wondering how much longer I could be doing this. I phoned a friend and said, ‘guess what I’m doing?’ She laughed. ‘Well, you wanted to have so many children!’ I so badly longed to be doing something else. It didn’t seem worthy enough. Fifteen years ago, that was.
And now? I wish I had just one of those days back again. Just one. To push a pram down the road, watch a toddler play, help an older one to read, shout on the side of the school mini-rugby field.
(NO! I’m ready to be a granny yet!)
So, how do choose to live from now? Like, from today? I want every day to count, damnit. I get mad with myself when I miss seeing the sun come up (because I’ve gone to bed too late, or just not feeling energetic enough when the alarm goes off). I feel better after plunging into the ocean or walking on the mountain. I feel whole and wholesome.
But I also feel nicer. And I feel I am softer.
It’s a funny thing this. This attempt to shift to ‘tenderness’. Because most of one’s life – as a woman trying to fulfil the fiercely feminine role- being equal to men, better than men, as good as men- isn’t tender. That sense of competition, of being BIG, of being important doesn’t make you warm and tender.
Every Monday morning, I get the newsletter of Maria Shriver emailed from a treasured friend. I could quite easily subscribe myself, but I don’t want to. I love the connection of an email from her on a Monday morning, the one or two lines she sends with it, so that I get to see how she’s feeling, what’s happening in her world.
Some resonate more than others. But tenderness has been her theme for the last two Mondays and it stuck with me too.
Here’s an extract from her first one:
At the end of my mother’s life, I tried tenderness on her when everything else had failed. My mother was a warrior. She was tougher than any human I’ve ever encountered. She was intimidating to the most powerful people on the planet, and she was a towering figure to me. Yet when I mustered up the courage to treat her with tenderness, she melted before my very eyes. I regret waiting so long, but I didn’t know tenderness was ever an option.
My mum is not at the end of life quite yet, but she turned 82 yesterday. She spent it in hospital having an op on her ankle, poor thing. Dad turned 88 last month. No-one lives forever.
The realisation that I am the age now that she was when she left her BIG TOUGH LIFE seems so odd. She seemed so old to me at that time and now, at the same age, I am still so young.
Here is some more from Maria Shriver that stuck with me:
Now, I didn’t grow up with tenderness. I didn’t hear the courageous people around me even speak the word. But I have felt tenderness in my life and I know that it can be life-changing. Bestowing tenderness on an individual allows a person to feel seen. It allows them to soften and feel their worth.
That’s very different from just being told you are worthy. When you actually “feel” worthy—when you feel seen, valued, and understood—you feel as though you belong. You feel as though you can stand up, put your shoulders back, and speak up. Tenderness bestows courage, and it requires courage to bestow tenderness. Once you become awake to tenderness, you can see how much more powerful it is than rage.
This week, Maria’s Monday newsletter continued the theme of tenderness. It rang so true again.
Women of my mother’s generation were not seen or valued, much less understood. If they had an idea, they were passed over or silenced. If they wanted to compete, they had to be a warrior 24/7. They had to bury their tenderness and femininity and show they could out-men the men. And even then, they were often invisible to the people around them.
I thought a little more of this today. I remembered how that generation of women even dressed like men- the tailored jackets and suits even. To give the appearance of a man? The strength and prowess?
But I think Maria is right. It’s now time for tenderness.
And not only from middle- aged women like me.
Stay safe all.
And make the most of your days.