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Who am I? Where am I? Part II

11 Jun

What did the clever man think? He liked it.

And I liked that he liked it. It felt redemptive somehow. Redemptive – yet confusing.

What should I do with that which has been salvaged? Plucked out of the dark and brought into the light? For that is how it felt – as though part of me long locked away was being released, allowed to re-emerge. “The failure” may not, after all, be the end.

Can failures be rescued, re-imagined, resurrected? What can we do with the remnants?

In Mozambique, several years ago, I visited a rubbish dump known locally as the bocarria. There lived the scavengers, those who made a living from others’ waste. Those who were so poor, so desperate, that the unwanted remnants – discarded by fellow human beings – became their livelihood.

These entrepreneurial rescuers knew instinctively that worthless things may actually be deeply valuable. That life is often found amongst waste, that hope often dwells in unusual places – and can be buried within a smelly, forsaken mountain of shit.

Many of us in the West never get anywhere near the shit. We live complacent, comfortable, there-is-always-enough (or there-is-always-too-much) lives. We throw away that which is valuable – both literally and metaphorically – because it’s easier, more convenient, than salvaging from the rubbish. We put the rubbish in the bin automatically, and we lock our failures in the cupboard in the same way. We discard that which may, sometimes, need to be salvaged.

And so we miss out. On redemption. On hope-restoration. On real-life resurrection.

We miss out because salvaging is hard work and costly. Painful. It takes time. And it rubs your hands (and heart) raw.

I – like many – often make the easy choice: sanitized living – clean, safe and predictable. I prefer order to mess. Hygienic surfaces to those strewn with waste. And yet, occasionally, in the midst of my need-for-order, the unexpected occurs. Scavenging – whilst terrifying and confusing – becomes the best choice. And so I choose it. And there, if only for a brief moment, is the sweet aroma of redemption.


Goodbye (gone too soon)

16 Feb

This morning was a very sad one. One of the saddest I have ever known. It was the funeral of a baby – a baby who died two weeks before he was due to meet us all. He died before he had a chance to live. His arrival on earth was greatly anticipated, surrounded by the usual excitement of new life and the joy that a much-wanted baby brings. I cannot fathom or imagine the suffering of his dear parents at this time.

The service was beautiful. Poignant. Full of tears yet full of hope too. Hope that comes from a belief in a God who comforts those who mourn and weeps with those who weep. As I sat there, tears streaming down my cheeks, I realised that – at these times – we mourn both the present loss and our other losses too. Whether the loss of other loved ones or the loss of hope, the loss of certainty, the loss of control, the loss of an easy-to-understand life. We often fail to take time to grieve that which we have lost.

Our hearts may be aching – sore and battered by loneliness, disappointment, disillusionment – yet we “soldier on”, “putting on a brave face” and “keep going”. We tell ourselves this is for the best. We listen to our heads and ignore our hearts. We do not take time to say goodbye to the hopes and dreams that once stirred our hearts and now linger in a rarely opened box. We do not like going to funerals and so we fail to mourn these losses.

A few years ago, I spent some time at an orphanage in Maputo, Mozambique. One of the projects run by the orphanage was in a local rubbish dump – a huge expanse of smouldering, stinking rubbish. A huge expanse around which homes were built, where many of the poorest people I have ever seen struggled to make a living out of other people’s rubbish – children, adults, mothers with babies strapped to their backs, teenagers. The day before I went to visit this project, one of my fellow volunteers spoke to me, “I hear you are going to the boccaria (rubbish dump) Becca. Tomorrow you will need to hold a funeral for yourself”. I didn’t really understand what he meant, I just knew it would be a heart-wrenching, life-defining experience.

And it was. Filthy, smiling children jumped on me and wouldn’t let go. Mothers with hungry children sorted through the mountain of steaming rubbish, trying to feed their hungry children, now immune to the horrendous smell. I met a teenager who had lived on the boccaria his whole life who told me that he loved reading books, especially Shakespeare (incredible). I came back to the orphanage different to when I left that morning. I understood now – I had seen and experienced something that no human being should ever see, people so poor that the crap and refuse of others had become their daily bread. Children playing in the rubbish, children who know no different.

I had seen the whites of the eyes of those living in this hellhole and I would never forget. Part of me died that day – that was why I had to hold a funeral. Innocence was lost. I felt both privileged – to have been given access to this world – and, understandably, devastated at what I now knew.

Since that time, in 2006, I haven’t held any more funerals for myself. It feels weird even writing that last sentence – perhaps the concept is so at odds with the way we live that it just sounds plain odd to make such a statement. I hate saying goodbye. I get upset watching others have to say goodbye in their grief. Yet would we inhabit a deeper, richer experience if we took some time to say goodbye to all that we have lost? Would being encouraged to say goodbye, to mourn, lead to less estrangement, depression and unhappiness in our society?

As those of us at the funeral today continue to mourn the loss of this precious child, we join countless others around the world in the shared experience of gone-too-soon bereavement. These earth-shattering deaths sit in the foreground amidst the backdrop of little deaths we face far more regularly. If we learn to mourn both the great losses and the smaller ones too, we will, I think, become those who know how to really live.

Food glorious food

27 Jan

This is one of those “I’m-going-to-have-to-press-‘send’-before-I-change-my-mind” posts. When I started this blog, I wanted to create a (cyber-)space of honest conversation about some of the things we find difficult to talk about, hence the title A Story Of Failure. I wanted to write stories of “failure” to help us all see that “success” isn’t all it’s wrapped up to be, to challenge the taboos that stop us talking about our own personal “failures”, to write honestly and, at times, vulnerably about my own failures, struggles and flaws.

It was, if I am honest, quite hard to press ‘send’ on the posts about depression – yet they have been the most viewed, which makes me feel it’s worth it… I am not interested in lots of “followers” but am interested in being able, in some small way, to encourage others and help you – the reader – feel less alone in your own life-struggles. All of which brings me on to today’s thoughts.

I am thinking about food. That life-necessity which we all need in order to live. That which we, in the West, tend to have an abundance of, while others around the world die due to its lack. Yet my thoughts today are not about famine of inequality, but instead about the oft-complicated relationship many of us seem to have with food.

I know I am not alone in finding “food” a complex issue. It’s somehow never been straightforward. A few years ago, I was very underweight – more to do with smoking than not wanting to eat, but I look back and realise I didn’t eat very much at all. As a teenager, I was slim yet constantly “on a diet”, constantly watching what I ate, constantly wanting to be thinner than I was. For a while, I was on a really restricted nutritionist-guided regime where most things were off the menu. And today, I face a different struggle. Somehow, in the last couple of years, food has been a friend and enemy, a voice in my ear, a battle to be conquered, a demon to be exorcised. Either I am “good” or I am “bad” (that should read “really bad”). Either I am in control or I am scarily out of control. And I fluctuate between these variables, day to day, week to week, month to month. Sometimes I am “on top of it”, eating healthily, not thinking about it too much, feeling good about myself too. Other times – often when I feel sad/stressed/overwhelmed – I just want to eat anything I can get my hands on. I want to eat away the pain and stress. I want to forget for a moment the anxieties and feel, for a fleeting moment, better. There – that is my confession.

And I know I am not the only one. I have chatted to too many friends to believe I am a one-off. Chatted to friends with similar battles, friends who struggle to eat enough, friends who strictly regulate all they eat (and so are not free either). Why are so many of us trapped in these cycles of self-damage, shame and loathing? Why do we – so privileged to live in a society where there is an abundance of food – end up becoming enslaved by our privilege? Why do we end up, so often, feeling like failures when it comes to food?s

I have been in supermarkets in Mozambique where the shelves are practically empty. I have spent many hours with streetkids who beg for food, who creatively find ways to feed themselves every day. I have seen “life without”, true poverty – yet still my logical self cannot always convince my emotional self to “get a grip”. For, if it were that easy, we could all rationalise our fears and flaws, and “get on with it”. But, as we know, life just ain’t set up to work like that. The human heart is not so easily coralled.

It’s so easy to judge those who face different struggles to ours. To judge the one who drinks too much/works too hard/spends too much or little time with their children/finds themselves facing mounting debts/battles with depression or suicidal thoughts. Easy to judge when we don’t understand, don’t try to understand. Easy to judge when we don’t know someone’s story, when we judge them by our own criteria and expect them to match up to our “standards”. It’s much harder to allow someone to be themselves, to share their darkest thoughts and feelings, and then still be there for them. Harder because it might complicate our own lives for a while, might feel like a burden, might challenge our own secret-keeping tendencies.

My battles with food have mostly been in secret. Yet I sense that – unless some of us are willing to talk about our struggles – we will all continue to live in darkness and fear, hiding our shame away and remaining captive to our struggles. I certainly do not have any easy answers (sometimes I wish I did, then I could apply them in my own life!), but I do have hopes – that others may join me in “outing” themselves (if and when then feel ready); that we can all be more honest about the pressures we face to look a certain way/behave a certain way/present ourselves a certain way; that there will be less secrets, less secret suffering, less judgment and more support.

Right – I need to press ‘send’ quickly, or this blogpost will simply remain yet another secret.

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