Updated: Mar 27
In 1987 there was a great storm in England. 15 million trees blew down- and in Chelsea Barracks, London, our little caravan was blown away. That was the end of our caravaning holidays! At my boarding school in Sussex the world was topsy-turvy- thousands of trees fell, power lines snapped. They shut the school and we were parceled out to local families. I was sent to the Scott-Gauls. They lived in Haywards Heath, beside the village pond. Their Dad was a lawyer and they lived in an old house with wooden beams- to me they were fabulously wealthy and sophisticated.
Their house smelled different- wood-smoke, homemade marmalade and flowers. They used unfamiliar words- words like 'myriad'. A notice on their microwave read: "If metal into this box you ply, a myriad sparks will fly." I puzzled over this notice. The words fascinated me. It was a secret language I didn't understand. I finally plucked-up the courage to ask their Dad the meaning of this exotic message. Barely glancing from his paper he replied: "Don't put metal in the microwave- it will explode."
One day our children will look back on the current 'Lockdown'- it will be remembered as a time of excitement- when the world stopped- when for a time everything was different. In Venice dolphins swam along the canals- everybody bought tonnes of toilet rolls. Macdonald's shut! Children will look back fondly.
But for parents of young children- who also have elderly and vulnerable relatives it's scary. Being locked up with children all day can be exhausting. I was a school teacher for 15 years- I know. I have an odd habit that I'll share with you. Each morning, before breakfast I take a cold shower. I'll let you in on 'My Remarkable Discovery': the fear of the cold is worse the reality. When I hesitate, worry and anticipate- I tense up. The more tense I am- the worse it gets. This sounds obvious- we all recognize that fear is worse than reality. It's much better to take the plunge.
There were days when I dreaded entering the classroom- when I didn't know how I'd cope: the noise, the constant bickering, the endless juggling and balancing. But when I took the plunge- the reality was different. An Italian Clown once joked with me about performing in front of difficult crowds: "all that's necessary is a little effort. I just show up- the universe does the rest." In the classroom, or in the hubbub of family life we can get swept up and carried- life will carry us. But when we fight against 'looking after the kids', it's much worse. We end up fighting against the momentum of family life. And this life is bigger than us. It will carry us, if we surrender, if we take the plunge. But it's foolish to fight.
In 'The Pearl', John Steinbeck's fable about a family torn apart my greed- Steinbeck tells of The Song of the Family. When I read this beautiful little book, this idea plucked my heart strings. When my daughter was born in our little flat in Edinburgh- I was woken up to a new kind of music- her cries, my wife soothing her- the rhythm of family life. New to Patrick the young Dad, but old to Patrick the man and father- standing in a long line of fathers- stretching back to the beginning of time.
Behind him he heard Juana patting the cakes before she put them down on the clay cooking sheet. Kino felt all the warmth and security of his family behind him, and the Song of the Family came from behind him like the purring of a kitten.( From Steinbeck's The Pearl)
When I was a school teacher I made home visits to families. I was nervous- I felt awkward entering people's homes. But for the young children it was a big event- the teacher visiting their house! To see them! I agree with Steinbeck, each family has its song, its flavour, its 'hum'. It hovers around us as we cook, clean and struggle to pay our bills. The song wafts about us as we care for each other in hard times. It has dignity, power and strength. Each of us, no matter who we are comes from a long line. We are much bigger than we think. As the Ojibwa Song puts it:
“Sometimes I go about pitying myself when all the time I am carried on great wings across the sky.”
Take the plunge. It will be good for your immune system.
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