This weekend I watched on amusingly on the train as a mother walked onto the train with her four children. All the seats were taken so they stood in the space in between the seats. Three of the kids stood in front of me and I observed their conversation as the train was starting to move. Two of three children were holding onto the handrails tight bracing for the train’s movement. However the youngest child – he couldn’t have been older than six- was adamant he didn’t need the handrail to support him; despite constant nagging from his older siblings. As the train moved along steadily, I continued to watch as he beamed proudly, strategically using his body weight to stand handrail free- despite the unnecessary effort he needed to do so.
Watching this innocent scenario unfold helped a lot of thoughts I have recently been having fall in place. Why – like the little boy perhaps – are we sometimes so adamant to ask for help or accept help when it’s readily offered to us?
I think generally we can be quite proud and stubborn – often thinking we can weather hard times alone. So we suffer in silence, often isolating ourselves from others ironically when we need them most. We also tend to think to ask for help says something negative about who we are; we’re weak, naive, not independent or self-sufficient. But truthfully, it says none of those things. It speaks volumes about the situation, not you. You’re going through a rough time. It’s a tough situation and you can only withstand so much alone; seeking or wanting help is understandable, if not expected.
The Stylist published a collection of issues last year looking back over their work covering the last decade. They published 10 issues featured many of the women that had graced their covers over that time – one of them being Reni Eddo-Lodge (journalist and author most well known for her book ‘Why I’m No Longer talking to White People About Race’.) When reflecting on takeaways from the last decade she said something quite striking to me. She stated, ‘there’s no self-care without community care’; in other words caring for each other is key to our own wellbeing. But more interestingly so she quotes a t-shirt slogan that says ‘Be less capable. You never know who might help you.’
I think her self-care point speaks for itself but her second point on vulnerability is worth reflecting on as I finish this post. The pretence of capability is not always needed; sometimes it’s worth being fearlessly vulnerable. Vulnerable without the worry of judgement, hurt or mockery. If ‘community care’ is to truly happen we need to make sure this does first.
A few months ago I was standing on my doorstep one night rooting through my bag for my keys in order to open the door. As I looked up, I saw (what I assume to be) a white stray cat strolling across the street. I remember weirdly standing for a minute to admire it; stray cats I see are not usually white so it was a rare sight. It’s white stood out beautifully against the darkness of the London night.
Like that cat maybe we should start wearing what makes us different more proudly on our sleeves. I say this as someone who recently feels like they’ve been in a lot of spaces where they’ve felt so…different and out of place. Sometimes it was because I was black, sometimes it was because of my faith, other times it was simply because I felt like an introvert surrounded by larger-than-life extroverts. At times like that, it can be tempting to either shrink back to try to survive the situation by suppressing your difference so you can camouflage into your environment.
It’s definitely true that differences can be isolating. But differences can be empowering once fully owned and the beauty of them is fully understood. Admittedly, it is a learning process- and not an easy one; one that Is part of the wider journey of learning about and loving yourself. Don’t be someone who holds their differences tightly to their chest scared they might be noticed or zoomed in on. Instead, if like me, you often find yourself feeling such a way in certain social environments I want to challenge you to be a bold different from now on.
I walked passed a store recently which had a sign saying ‘free goody bags’; a sign which of course piqued my curiosity as someone who is a shameless lover of free goods. But when I paused to read further I saw that it only applied to those who spent a certain amount in the store- £60 or more.
I perceive life to be like that too; with terms and conditions (T&Cs) attached to every decision we make. Will the decision cause our financial hardship? Will it cause us mental or physical harm? The problem is- we don’t always know what those terms and conditions are until we living with the decision we have made.
This is something I’ve come to accept recently since I tend to be overly cautious with decision making. Simply because, I don’t want to live with easily avoidable regrets (but then again, who does?) But something occurred to me recently- there’s something to be learnt in every regret we have- or rather, every instance that caused a regret. Seeing regrets as learning curves changes things dramatically; for one it helps shift our perspective. Wade through the shame, embarrassment and self-resentment that your regrets have burdened you with and find a learning point you can take away from it. Maybe the lesson is to appreciate those in your life more, to leave fewer words unsaid, or maybe it’s to make more time for the things you love.
That learning curve will hopefully prepare you for a future situation and when the time comes; you will be thankful you went through that regretful situation.
I remember when I was younger I used to whack ice cube trays on any kitchen surface I could find in order to get some ice cubes out. I did that more recently with (what proved to be) a less sturdy ice cube tray and it broke, much to my surprise. Similarly, a popular science experiment kids do in school is to wrap an egg in newspaper etc. and drop it from a window to see if it breaks. Sometimes they survive the fall, sometimes they don’t.
Sometimes I feel like we’re like that unfortunate ice cube tray or a smashed egg. We seem sturdy and strong – and believe we are so – but when faced with a high-pressure situation we suddenly find ourselves crumbling under the intensity of it all.
It’s worth evaluating once in that situation, a ‘storm’ of sorts, how we can we find a way to navigate the waters much more easily. For me, prayer is key for guidance but another thing that helps is self-reflection; how can I channel this feeling of pressure into productivity? What assistance do I need? And most importantly; what is my mindset and how is it feeding into my current situation? For example, I can unknowingly be quite negative at times, so literally forcing myself whilst working to think ‘I can do this‘, works more wonders than we give it credit for.
Numerous events throughout this year have made me continuously reflect on how fleeting life is. Attending a funeral service. Reading in the paper recently of a bride that died on her way to the church to get married. Walking to the station in West London and seeing the looming presence of Grenfell Tower under the night sky.
It can be scary mainly due to the unpredictability of it all. From apps that predict menstrual cycles to apps that display weather forecasts, bus times and TV schedules – access to information that predicts things happening before they actually do is usually right at our fingertips. Death, unfortunately, has never been one of those things and can pierce through our lives like lightning- violent, nosy, sudden and always unwelcome. Another unpredictable aspect is who it will happen to. In Macbeth Shakespeare likened life to a stage- with everyone in life having cues on when to enter but also on when to exit. But how do you know when the play is finally over and it’s your cue to exit?
It sounds quite depressing to ponder on but it should actually get us thinking and fill us with urgency. I’m always reminded of Beyonce’s song ‘I Was Here’ when it comes to legacy- the lyrics appeal to the fundamental part of everyone that wants to leave a positive imprint on Earth before they die. Not necessarily so that they’re remembered because of it but rather so that they can die with the peace of knowing that just one life was bettered through their existence.
Reflecting on it all, I’ve decided I want to be known for love. For loving people fiercely. That may take different forms- since God himself is love and reflects it in different forms. From defending the oppressed and campaigning against injustice to simply just being there and listening to people; letting them know I see you. I want to be the one that embodies all those things. It’s a tall task but one I feel I’m called to. And in the end, it may not get me named after a community centre or charity foundation but a big legacy is not always the most meaningful. Holding an intimate place in the heart and minds of a few loved ones is more than enough.
Disclaimer: I write this (as with all my posts) with no malice. In fact, I may sometimes be guilty of this myself so I’ll keep that in mind throughout.
Is it only me or do people find it so hard to be in the moment nowadays? By that I mean just savouring the present moment and appreciating what you’re doing and who you’re with. I can sometimes be with people and see they’re with me but actually quite distant all at once. Distracted by their phone either pinging with messages or simply not strong enough to resist the momentary urge to scroll through social media whilst you are talking. And that can be quite a frustrating state of affairs; firstly because it set a precedent for the whole evening and secondly, it means they may not have heard something that you felt was really important or took a lot of courage to share. In fact, it can be quite rare I find to be with someone I know and just be within a moment where you’re both talking whilst filled with genuine appreciation and joy at being with that particular person. With no one else. Or anywhere else. But there. I have a friend that will always tell me off for being on my phone and insist I put it away when with her. As a true phone addict would, I used to be annoyed at that but after some reflection and observation of my own social situations in the past few months I’ve seen the logic behind what I thought was once madness on her part.
It may not be intentional but being on your phone indicates you’ve only half-heartedly pushed time aside for that person. That you’re physically present but mentally you’re only half present here and God knows where else. The greatest sign of care and love is when you’re sitting opposite each other or walking side by side and you’re friend puts their phone away and looks you square in the eyes and says ‘talk to me’. That’s the cue that says to me (supported by action) that, I’m here for you, I’m listening and I’m all yours. The exclusivity of time is one of the benefits of a relationship and should definitely be taken more seriously. It may feel more intense without your phone there to buffer the awkward moments if they arise but at the end of your time together- whether long or short- you’ll know and love each other that little bit more. Because you’ll be reminded all over again of why you love that person and keep them in your life.
You’re enough. You’re blessed. You’re fabulous. In fact, you’re pretty darn amazing. You may not see it from time to time and sometimes the negative thoughts become like a dark haze, causing your amazing-ness obscure from view. But trust me, it remains a fact- so never forget that.
I write these words for anyone who is going through a rough patch and needs to hear it. But I also write these as a note to myself. Recently feelings of self-doubt and insecurity have been slowly flooding the walls of my mind and it has honestly felt quite tiring and unbearable at times. But insecurities are like that, they can end up silently leeching your energy and you won’t even know until you have none left. A good visual image to imagine how it feels is a cliche film scene where the female character enters the bathtub and submerges herself in the water. There’s a deafening pause as you wonder if she will arise again and choose life. And she always does. Gasping for air and slightly panicked, but she always does.
In the same way, when flooded with the thoughts we have to come back fighting. It’s definitely hard, but equally as possible. I believe that for every deafening feeling of self-doubt we have God is screaming even louder the words I started the blog with. Constantly. All the time. We just have to make the active choice to cut through the noise and listen. Over the voices of society or our peers. But most importantly, over the voices of ourselves.
I was watching a K-drama recently and the male protagonist Jun-yeong said something interesting. Something along the lines of
‘Memories are scary because you can’t control them.’
The more I pondered on it the more I found it to be true. We create memories but over time they can become like muddy waters that were once clear. We see elements of what makes the original thing but can’t grasp or remember the bigger picture. On a more logical note, even things like dementia, Alzheimers and amnesia take away the human ability to rely on our brains to store our memories like living room cabinet’s store china. Untouched, in one piece and always there for reference. I’ve always thought this is what fuels our addiction to various forms of technology- we love those phones and cameras can capture moments with crystal clear clarity that will remain over time. In this way, they have an added advantage the mind does not.
I was thinking about this [the unreliability of memories] as I read Michelle Obama’s Becoming and the sceptical voice in my head kept asking ‘how on earth does someone remember their childhood with so much clarity?’ Even when I look back to when I was such an age I can’t remember everything- which saddens me slightly- as if my mind’s once-tight grasp has loosened on these precious jewels whilst life turned my attention away.
But I am encouraged by what I do remember. The shine of the sun recently for example, randomly reminded me of the Sunday evening rush to the street outside so we could be first in line when the ice-cream van arrived. (You could always hear it before you saw it.) My siblings and I would always order a flavour called ‘lemon ice’ which captured the two-sided sweet-tangy nature of lemon perfectly. And although we may obsess over the specifics, it’s the feeling of happiness such treasured memories give you which is even more priceless.