Monday, 27 October 2008

Just Murmuring.

For many years now I have been a most inadequate and shame-faced Oblate of 'Stanbrook Abbey'. An Oblate is someone affiliated to a monastery and its community, and who tries to live according to the spirit of the Rule of Saint Benedict.

I struggle.
I struggle with many things, but I firmly believe that the ancient Rule of Saint Benedict offers wonderful guidance on attempting to keep some sort of balance in life.

Saint Benedict did not like 'murmuring'.
It sounds all right, doesn't it? Quiet and peaceful? Saying things very quietly that you're not really prepared to say out-loud? But the trouble with mumuring is that it, by its very nature, goes on and on. A continuous low-level disturbance to peace.
Murmuring is likely to be otherwise called moaning, grumbling, complaining, worrying, nagging and, as my sons would say, 'banging on and on'.....which is what mothers do, of course.

Saint Benedict liked peace, but he knew it was not easily attained. You have to struggle very hard; you have to work on it, discarding grudges, trying to be positive, trying to be honest and straight-forward and to hang on to some sort of vestige of another ancient concept called 'purity of heart'. You have to be remarkably self-disciplined, and you must have other, positive types of reflection, action and thought to fill the void which will inevitably be left by not murmuring. No one ever said it was easy - especially Saint Benedict- but you at least have to try!

Living alone should be peaceful. For the first time in my life I am free of the demands and restraints of work. The dog and I can do what we like. I can wear my dressing gown in the garden at ten in the morning. I can read all night (if I can stay awake). I can go for a walk, dig out some bind-weed, run up the phone bill with long conversations with my long-suffering friends .... do anything or nothing. But what do I so often do?
I murmur.

Internal, solitary murmuring is just as destructive as vocalised, social murmuring.
'What if the pension fund collapses? What if I fall downstairs in the middle of the night? Have I got mice behind the fridge? What did he mean, when he said that? Should I take cash out of the Bank and hide it under the mattress? Can I pay the next gas bill? Am I becoming introspective? Oh no! Am I?''
Banging on and on - the small, relentless, damaging voice of disquiet.

Saint Benedict said, 'Do not murmur for any reason whatever', and he was right, because people do not change, and it was as completely pointless in the 5th century as it is in the 21st.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Love Letters

I mourn their demise.
Instant, entertaining, sometimes almost unthinking contact by e-mail or mobile phone is useful, but it cannot replace the gentle, measured, thought-filled exchange of letters, on paper, in an envelope. An envelope which says, 'Private - this is between the two of us'. An envelope which may be carried and held and opened again and again, and which could, in the old days, even be kept overnight under the pillow.

I love letters.
I have none from my sons. I have funny and touching cards, lots of e-mails, telephone contact and sometimes we manage to meet. I'm not sure I would recognise their hand-writing. Can they do joined-up writing yet?
My husband and I wrote long and frequent letters before we married, and after his death I re-read those we had kept.
It was not as I remembered. I was more nebulous (Oxford Dictionary: a clouded speck on the cornea, causing defective sight), he was more sensible: 'Where do you think you might have put the shed keys?'
After marriage our roles reversed. There are notes from him saying, 'Remember it's the Feast Day of Saint Ignatius of Antioch?' and from me saying, 'Please get two litres of semi-skimmed while you're at it.'

Old, old letters have resurrected people and times I thought lost forever.
There was a time when I worked in the Middle East. I wrote fairly regularly to my parents. There was no e-mail, and telephone contact was virtually impossible. After their deaths I found all my letters to them, carefully kept in their exotically stamped envelopes.
Reading them brought me face-to-face with myself, forty years ago, a kinder person than I realised, more protective of possibly anxious parents '...the weather is beautifully warm, and the skies are indigo...' when it was actually well over 40 degrees and the vultures were circling in a brassy sky.

It would take me then, as it still takes me now, several days to write a proper letter. Several days of thinking, drafting, altering, softening certain comments which seem hard on reflection, firming up others in an attempt not to obscure.
Love letters - all of them.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Just Crusing.

As pohanginapete thinks crusing is confusing, here is some more about Cruse, a UK based organisation which offers a range of support in all types of bereavements.

The origin of the term is Biblical. Elijah had been sent off into the desert, where the ravens brought him bread and meat morning and evening, until such time as he was sent off again, under Godly command, to find a widow to supply his needs. Accordingly he met the widow, out there gathering sticks, as widows do, and requested water in a jar....'Oh, and some bread while you're at it'. The widow explained to this stranger that she had only a small jar (a cruse) of oil and handful of flour, and a son to feed, but Elijah was having none of it.
'Go home and do as you're told,' he said. 'But first make me a cake out of that flour'.
And the widow did as she was told, as widows are supposed to do, and because of her diligence and obedience, the pot of oil and the jar of flour became inexhaustible. Elijah stayed on, and he and the widow and her son ate from the jars for some unspecified time. (The diet may actually have been better and more varied when the ravens were in charge.)

It's good to be inexhaustible, to spread the oil and flour as far as possible, and, of course, you don't have to be widowed to do it.
Lots of us do it all the time.
But for those who are bereaved (no matter how long ago), and whose supplies of oil and flour are in danger of running low, Cruse is there to help.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Learning to be a Widow.

It's a strange word, 'widow'.According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, it may be defined as a woman who has lost her husband through death, and not married again. A widow's 'cruse' is a supply that looks small, but proves inexhaustible. A widow's 'peak' is a growth of hair in the middle of the forehead, while 'widow's champagne' is one of the most expensive and exclusive brands, (only not in this house, where it's cava on a good day).
A widower is much more straight-foward. That is a man who has lost his wife through death, and has not remarried. Nothing about inexhaustible supplies, or odd hair patterning or champagne. Just loss and death. No one, as far as I know, has written an operetta called The Merry Widower.

It is essential to learn how to be a widow, and the first time that one is introduced as such, or addressed in written form as such, it comes as something of a shock. People may not know how to treat you, and you certainly don't know how to treat yourself.
To 'lose' one's husband implies a great deal of carelessness. I did not 'lose' him. I did not put him down somewhere with the car keys and promptly forget where he was.
He died.
It's better to say so.

When you meet me, or someone in my situation, please remember, I am still me.
Please don't avoid me because you are embarrassed and don't know what to say.
Say hello. That will do nicely.