Friday, 16 March 2012

Snapshots of the sublime in fire and ice...

It is the simple things that bring the most pleasure. Sometimes you wake up one day feeling much lighter than you did yesterday. As you drink your morning cup of coffee or tea; that moment before you take your first sip, when you inhale deeply that lovely scent and you feel instantly relaxed. Or the smell of salt and sea, to the sound of seagulls and waves.

After a period of gloom, a tiny ray of sunshine pokes through the curtains and blinds you in its brightness. It's those unplanned moments of fun that take you by surprise; allowing you to remember who you were before the pain - who you still are underneath it all.

Even better, is when you can't keep the grin off your face and your cheeks hurt from all the laughing. When you listen and all you can hear is the music; Pain only an irritating buzz next to its power, and not the siren or lightning it was before. This is it! Fun times work like magic; laughter makes light of the days of darkness.

Believing in magic, in the special things that happen in life can show you just how much there is to live for. You can see this in anything really, in the small gestures; someone who smiles when they speak to you; seeing a lovely sky or sunset; or hearing from an old friend. Or even something bigger...

I never felt it was my choice to live here in Europe. It was Europe who chose me. I love where I come from, I sing all the songs!! But I have been drawn to Europe for a long time, each time I felt like I was coming home (from home - home is everywhere!). I have a love-hate relationship with it, just like all the other Europeans; but I felt more "me" surrounded by different languages and cultures. I am well and truly the odd one out, but for the mere fact of being literally from the other side of the world.

The cold has always fascinated me, coming from the beach. Ice, snow; takes on a whole new meaning when it falls from the sky and isn't just the frost buildup in your freezer. I spent 6 weeks or so in Sweden some years back; utterly enthralled by that white stuff!! Sweden also taught me the importance of dressing appropriately for such temperatures. My gloves hardly leave my hands in this sort of weather; my compression sleeve under fingerless gloves, inside the outer gloves. I often feel colder in 5 degrees celsius than I did in -5 degrees!

Snow remains exciting, though I don't verge into the ludicrous when it happens anymore. Don't get me wrong, I still love it! I get that spark of excitement when I see it. It is just as magic as it was the first time; only now it's just more normal. I've bicycled in the snow, gone to work in the snow...

But February, saw a cold snap here in Northern Europe. Amsterdam saw temperatures of -15 degrees celsius overnight, -8 C during the days. It was bitterly cold for weeks, after a relatively mild Christmas. Every bit as intense as last year during the two-week heatwave in Australia; the complete polar opposite of 44 C and nothing below 36 C. While everyone grumbled about the cold and the dirty snow, my excitement was growing to extraordinary hights. Temperatures like that could only mean one thing here in Amsterdam. Ice....

Ice can be a pain in the bum, especially when you slip onto your bum running for a tram! The ice I cursed on the footpath grew to be my one true joy; the most excited I've felt about something in a very long time. Ice skating on the canals!!

You see, I can skate. It is something that I have done since I was young, beginning on roller skates; but ice always held that magical quality about it. The frictionless gliding, less hurts when you fall (properly, I might add - it is very important to know how to fall properly, without injury! I also wear wrist splints to protect my arms in case I fall). But more than anything else, it is something I can STILL DO! Something that the pain has not taken from me; something I don't need to compensate for, or modify. On a more level-playing ground; something I can do naturally without thinking or planning.  

 It wasn't the Pain skating, I was ME again and I slipped off the Pain at the same time I slipped off my shoes. I carried my shoes and Pain in my backpack; but it was me and me alone, skating on that ice. It was pure joy! I was flying as I skated up and down the canals on ice more pure, cleaner and the most glassy than I have ever seen in my life.  

Sheer bliss, skating one leg after the other. You get into a rhythm as you glide. The ice was so smooth, but the texture changeable because this is natural ice. The ice taking on the natural forms of the warmer water underneath. There were some ripples, frozen in time; the bubbles from fish, deep under the ice, frozen into the black glass of the canal. Here and there a crack, where the ice has moved or settled over the water. I felt at one with nature, with myself. I didn't fall, but I skated so much that my muscles ached in that wonderful way when you know you've achieved something. It was a "good" pain that I was willing to have, a "normal" pain that other people get. There were times I was on the canals as one of a few diehard skaters out there; it was our own private rink.

It's hard to put into words. You must remember, these are canals that people travel by boat. In the years I have lived here, I had not seen anything like this. How very strange to be standing in the middle of the water, gliding on skates over thick ice sheets, knowing that there are fish swimming under your feet.

It was the spark for life that I so desperately needed; at a time where I was losing my strength to keep fighting. The magic I needed to find again in the world.

Now I have a wonderful moment of joy; a snapshot in my brain of that moment of utter freedom and bliss. When I feel I am not strong enough, or that I want to give up; I have this moment - this feeling - this incredible knowledge that I can fly. And the magic keeps coming when you have lit the welcome lamps. I can find it in even the simplest things... such as the achievement of doing my exercises, or going for a walk, brushing my teeth without swapping hands... or posting here again!

Now the ice has melted and the canals are back full of boats and ducks. It's a little sad, but I am grateful for that slice of joy that the universe handed me. It has done wonders to helping me pick myself up again from the darkness; to put myself together again and regain that fighter within.

We have to live day by day, but sometimes it is hour by hour. If you have one good hour in a 24 hour period, then congratulate yourself and keep that memento for tomorrow; so you know what you want to achieve again. If you don't get that hour today, there is always tomorrow - maybe you'll get 3 hours to make up for it. Just maybe, you might exceed it totally and have a great day!

It's so important to take a quiet moment to stop and take a "photo", to stand there, breathe deeply and take in everything in that very moment. The smells, the tastes, all the things that make a memory vivid. Keep that warm memory as a lit candle to help you navigate through the darkness. 

"Please pain let me have a break for a few hours so I can do something fun and good for you. I will pay attention to you later, but just be quiet for me for 4 hours. After that, I will be happy to take care of you again".

Sometimes if I'm lucky, I can squeeze a few extra hours out before I have to give in to the Pain again. If I've done something fun, or had a good time; I don't really mind the increase of pain later because it is worth it.

I know they all say that: "you have to accept the pain..." blah blah. Sure... but I think it is too simplistic. I feel that you have to accept that it can be hard at times, but ultimately you need to live as best as you can, as much as you can. Live with the pain as though you are living without it. You can't be too hard on yourself for the bad times, you have to give yourself a break. I haven't "accepted" the pain in as much as I have learned to co-exist with it. I don't care if the Pain is there or not; I'll give it some concessions but in the end, I am the boss.

"And today/this hour/this minute is MINE and MINE ALONE Pain, so let me get on with it and I'll listen to you later!!"

Where do you find that joy? That simple pleasure that makes all the worries float away for a period of time. What can you do, to make those snapshots in your mind; your private nirvana to escape to when you need a break from it all?

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