Another year over…

The winter solstice passed by ten days ago and in the northern hemisphere, slowly but surely, daylight hours are beginning to increase. Tonight we usher in another New Year and in doing so set this one behind us. Another year over. In less than 6 months the summer solstice will mark a return to darker nights and the cycle – birth and death, growth and decay, dark and light – will continue. That is how our planet works.

At two points in my lifetime our family had five generations to celebrate Christmas and New Year, something of a rarity even in days when families were very large and women typically had children in their late teens or early twenties. Today very few of us remain and those who do are scattered over long distances across three continents.  Family is important to me and I would happily forgo all worldly goods for the opportunity to spend an extra year with lost loved ones, though a year would be insufficient because some were lost at a very young age. Young or old I know that parting again from those held dear would be far too difficult, something I would not relish for a second time so memories and photographs must suffice.

My oldest living relatives, my great aunt and great uncle, are 86 and 89 respectively. I was unable to visit during cancer treatment because I was chemo-pale and sickly, doing my best to avoid infections. They had experienced all that 17 years ago, immediately before they lost their only daughter and I couldn’t countenance this elderly couple bearing witness to the ravages of cancer treatment yet again.  A couple of years on and I’m largely recovered, pass for near-normal and have a functioning immune system. The Christmas break offered a good opportunity to visit and I found that Aunt and Uncle wear time well. They remain largely independent though they’ve both faced many personal health challenges in the last few years. They continue to live in the house they moved in to over half a century ago, the first house to be occupied on their street of brand new houses at the time.  Uncle tells me they are the last of ‘the originals’ on the street, they have seen many people come and go and he has lost his oldest friend in the last few months. Great aunt remains a country girl at heart, the Welsh lakes and mountains are never far from her thoughts and I am sure if she could, she would return there.  Though they’ve been married for 63 years I noticed Aunt continues to call Uncle cariad; he calls her cariad in return. Darling or sweetheart in Welsh. We talk of many things, of our lost loved ones and of those who are still here, of modern times and days gone by. Uncle gives M a bottle of beer and they discuss their favourite brews, he has a J2O for me because Aunt has told him I’m doing my best to take care of my health. We pet their dog (who is also very old at c17 but no-one knows his age for sure – he was rescued). We drink tea and remind Aunt and Uncle to keep warm in the cold weather, stay safe indoors.  The visit passes quickly and when its time to go Uncle takes my hand and says “keep looking after yourself, once there were lots of us but now there are few. We don’t want to lose any more.”  So true.

I wonder if there’s a point in our lives when we come to realise time slips through us quickly, more quickly than we might appreciate? If so, does the realisation change the way we view the world and go about our lives? Perhaps our experiences ordain when that point might be and make it dawn earlier for some than others, if at all?  As ever there are so many questions that seem to have so few real answers. 

Another year over and I think perhaps I have reached the point where I appreciate the value of time, how fleeting it is and how far beyond our control it lies. I also realise, and have done for a while, that I am free. Free from worrying about my pension, what other people think, how I look, whether my health will stay stable or my joints will ever improve.  I realise there is no time to waste which means enjoying the time there is, all of it, in whatever shape or form it takes. That is my mission for 2015, nothing more and nothing less.

To everyone who has followed Fecthis, liked and commented, thank you all – your encouragement and support is truly inspiring. To those who are facing cancer afresh or continue to live with it, I send fortitude, love and compassion. For everyone, I send wishes for happiness, well-being and peace in the year ahead. You are all amazing and you all deserve more time than human form allows.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

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Monthly Peace Challenge – Party On Garth!

This is the final B4Peace challenge of 2013 and before getting in the party spirit I want to reflect on why Bloggers for Peace captured my heart so easily. I want to live a peaceful life, one where compassion, understanding and acceptance prevail. But I’d like more than that. I’d like amity, kindness and tolerance for all humanity.  It may be a big ask but we’re in the 21st Century, allegedly ‘civilised,’ so we ought to be able to achieve it. Recent re-runs of Star Trek (I’m a geeky sci-fi type) drew my attention to an ongoing unpleasant truth about humankind. Whilst some of us are kind many are not. 200,000 years worth of evolution has yet to abate all our more primitive, combative and intolerant behaviours. We still abuse, torture and kill a variety of other animals as well as members of our own species. That’s not a great advertisement for humanity.  An alien visiting today would find we haven’t improved much since the 1960’s when Star Trek’s aliens thought humans were too aggressive and dispassionate to play any role in the wider universe.

We can change this. If more of us say no to violence, oppression and ignorance we will have a kinder, more supportive and understanding society. We can change this if we want it badly enough and accept 200,000 years of fighting isn’t something to be proud of. We can change this if we educate our children to love themselves and one another, irrespective of differences whatever they happen to be. If  we don’t stand up for peace, compassion, tolerance and understanding who else will?

OK, so now it’s time to party. This party can be a rave or casual dinner party, a picnic or a peace-walk, celebrate in whatever way suits you best because everyone is invited and we’re going there virtually.

Our location is an arboretum, to remind us we are just one of many species on this planet with a right to live life fully, compassionately and peaceably. The words of the great peace-makers of our world whisper from the branches of every tree and if you listen you’ll hear songs like Imagine, Get Together, Peace Train and Love is All Around. You’ll also hear laughter, lots of laughter, because people from all walks of life are celebrating.

We’ve given peace a chance and it’s paying off, travelling around the world faster than stories about Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.  All the dollars we used to spend on war (or protecting against war) have been redirected to humanitarian causes. So we’re closer to ending poverty, curing cancer, dementia and other degenerative illnesses, and we’re about to solve the problem of homelessness for all those sleeping without shelter this winter. We’ve made more progress than at any time in our history because we stood up for peace. Join the party, make it happen  🙂

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B4Peace ~ Love Thy Enemy

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A belated post for November’s Bloggers for Peace Challenge, courtesy of Kozo 🙂  Go check out the other posts, ’tis the season of Peace and Goodwill.

B4Peace Monthly Peace Challenge: I have a dream…

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It’s hard to believe that these steps were once the haunt of privateers, pirates who preyed on French and Spanish vessels stealing their cargo and murdering their crews. That was almost 700 years ago and times have changed though not as much as we might think. Almost 70 years ago in June 1944, four hundred and eighty ships sailed from this port to the Normandy beaches. Operation Overlord saw 160,000 soldiers land at five points across a 50 mile stretch of the French coastline. They were supported and aided by over 195,000 allies and merchant navy seamen.

It is estimated that 60 million people, nearly two-thirds of whom were civilians, died in World War II.  The equivalent of the entire populations of the Bahamas plus Iceland plus French Guiana plus Qatar  plus Lithuania all lost their lives over a seven-year period. If every person in these five countries was to suddenly lose his or her life the rest of the world would proclaim it a disaster and rightly so. Fighting for peace by killing ‘the enemy’ is victory by disaster, death and destruction.  Life is sacred yet in times of war we forget that all and any loss of life, ‘them’ or ‘us,’ is a tragedy.

I have walked the WWII cemeteries many times, seen row upon row upon row of brilliant white crosses standing silently amongst the lush green grass. This war was before my time and I did not know these men yet my sense of loss is palpable. I try to remain detached, a quiet observer paying respect to those who lost their lives so that I could live in freedom today.  I try and every time I fail. I cannot walk among these graves devoid of emotion. I cannot detach myself from the pain and fear and suffering even though I was not here, not even born, when disaster came to call.   A deep and mournful sorrow constricts my heart squeezing so hard that I think it might break. Tears stain my face as the silence seeps into my soul. These are soldiers graves. I do not know where the many millions of civilians lay in the dark, dank earth. No doubt their bodies are strewn in graveyards across three continents, or lost along with some of the soldiers whose remains were never found.

 

Ardennes American Cemetery

 

 

 

 

Massicault War Cemetery

Massicault War Cemetery (Photo credit: stevie.gill)

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so I have a dream…

 

I dream that my child, his children (if and when he has them) and his children’s children’s children never bare witness to loss of life, whether one life or millions, simply because humanity is insufficiently evolved to settle its differences through peaceable means. My child, of course, has already borne witness – to Iraq, 9/11, 7/7, Burundi, Nepal, Kosovo, Ethiopia-Eritrea, Congo, Chechnya, Gaza, Afghanistan, Syria and countless others. I wish it were not so and I hope that by the time he is my age this feuding will have ceased.  I dream that our children and their children’s children’s children live in a world where differences are accepted and valued, prejudice is long since forgotten, wealth is not hoarded by the rich, food is not withheld from the poor and where religion serves only to forge a common bond, preserving our faith in the sanctity of all life on Earth.

 

 

Bloggers for Peace: Monthly Peace Challenge – Quote This

Every month Kozo at Everyday Gurus inspires a new B4Peace challenge.  This month’s challenge is all about quotes. The quote below is my own, it’s my mantra and I hope perhaps it is something that strikes a chord with you too.

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You’ll find more beautiful B4Peace quotes here, here and here 🙂

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Bloggers for Peace: Belated Post – One good thing about music

I hear the phrase is “better late than never” and hopefully that’s the case with this belated post for the August Bloggers for Peace challenge.

A lot happened for me in August including: more hospital visits; a holiday in Dorset designed to aid recuperation but in reality an opportunity to assess how resilient and capable my body is despite well over a year of vicious medical interventions; the complete absence of any mobile or mobile internet signal for two weeks; preparations for my new career; and everything that happens when you try to buy a house…  Each of these things deserves a post or two in its own right but today the topic is music and peace.

This challenge has probably been the most difficult to date because music is as much part of me as my freckles.  Thinking about music that inspires peace in my life has taken me back through experiences spanning almost 40 years.  The music I’ve trawled through includes songs from the 70’s right up to today and every single piece has something significant attached to it.

One of my earliest and happiest memories is accompanied by The Carpenters ‘On Top of the World.’ I think I’d have been about 5 years old. I remember my Mother singing along to this on the radio while she prepared food for us. My Mom brought a great deal of happiness to everyone around her; her positive attitude and placid nature meant that our house was filled with peace and love.  It was usually filled with music too because she loved the radio and records (no digital wizardry in those days) and would frequently sing along while doing the housework or baking cakes.  We didn’t have a lot of money – in reality we may well have been classed as poor – but we didn’t need it because the simple things in life were far more valuable to us.

I gained a lot from my Mom’s approach to life, her kindness to others, joy in nature and the serenity she brought to our home.  I still think about her every day and I  wish she was here, singing in the kitchen while baking lemon meringue pie.  The Carpenters certainly left a lasting impression because I associate them with a safe, secure and loving home.

Having had almost a month to think about this challenge I decided The Carpenters are in the running but they don’t bring the greatest sense of inner peace.  Those songs are ‘Don’t Give Up’ by Kate Bush and Peter Gabrielle, and ‘Wild Wood’ by Paul Weller.  Here are the lyrics – if you haven’t heard these songs before you can find them by clicking the titles below.

Don’t Give Up

In this proud land we grew up strong
We were wanted all along
I was taught to fight
Taught to win
I never thought I could fail

No fight left or so it seems
I am a man whose dreams have all deserted
I’ve changed my face
I’ve changed my name
But no one wants you when you lose

Don’t give up
‘Cause you have friends
Don’t give up
You’re not beaten yet
Don’t give up
I know you can make it good

Though I saw it all around
Never thought that I could be affected
Thought that we’d be the last to go
It is so strange the way things turn

Drove the night toward my home
The place that I was born, on the lakeside
As daylight broke, I saw the earth
The trees had burned down to the ground

Don’t give up
You still have us
Don’t give up
We don’t need much of anything
Don’t give up
‘Cause somewhere there’s a place where we belong

Rest your head
You worry too much
It’s going to be alright
When times get rough
You can fall back on us
Don’t give up
Please don’t give up

Got to walk out of here
I can’t take anymore
Going to stand on that bridge
Keep my eyes down below
Whatever may come
And whatever may go
That river’s flowing
That river’s flowing

Moved on to another town
Tried hard to settle down
For every job, so many men
So many men no-one needs

Don’t give up
‘Cause you have friends
Don’t give up
You’re not the only one
Don’t give up
No reason to be ashamed
Don’t give up
You still have us
Don’t give up now
We’re proud of who you are
Don’t give up
You know it’s never been easy
Don’t give up
‘Cause I believe there’s a place
There’s a place where we belong

Forest

Forest (Photo credit: wackybadger)

High tide, mid afternoon
People fly by in the traffics boom
Knowing, just where you’re blowing
Getting to where you should be going

Don’t let them get you down
Making you feel guilty about
Golden rain, will bring you riches
All the good things, you deserve now

Climbing forever trying
Find your way out, of the wild wild wood
Now there’s no justice
There’s only yourself, that you can trust in

And I say, “High tide, mid afternoon”
Oh, people fly by, in the traffics boom
Oh, knowing, just where you’re blowing
Getting to where you should be going

Day by day your world fades away
Waiting to feel, all the dreams that say
Golden rain will bring you riches
All the good things, you deserve now

And I say, “Climbing forever trying”
You’re gonna find your way out
Of the wild wild wood
Say that, you’re gonna find your way out
Of the wild wild wood, of the wild wild wood

Both songs infer a sense of being lost, facing tremendous difficulties and finding a way back from desperate situations.  When I think about the last 40 years (and to be honest I try not to dwell in the past too much because some of it is pretty bleak) there have been too many desperate situations, too many desperately unhappy times and very significant periods of inner turmoil.  Of course there’s also been very happy times but I cannot recall one period in my life that I could call truly care-free.
That, perhaps, is why these two songs more than any others stand out for me. They serve as reminders that no matter what happens I never give up, I might get kicked and battered but I find my way through. Somehow peace and I walk hand in hand away from the chaos.

Peace begins with a letter

PEACE!

PEACE! (Photo credit: snapies_gi)

This month’s Bloggers for Peace (B4Peace) challenge encourages us to write a letter for peace and send it out into the universe.  Like Kozo I love the art of letter-writing, the convergence of emotions, thoughts and spirit that turn a collection of words on paper into snippets of hopes and dreams, tales of love and friendship or convivial greetings from afar.  Times have changed; anytime, anyplace, (almost) anywhere connectivity coupled with short-form communication such as SMS, IM, snapchat and the like seem to have condemned the writing and sending of letters to a bygone era.  I think that’s a shame. Letters convey so much more than clipped comments or c u l8r type abbreviations and when it comes to peace I’m sure clear and meaningful communication is key when conveying understanding, respect and camaraderie…

Dear Universe,

A few days ago I saw a young man with many, many IV tracks
on his arms. I wondered what had happened to him, how he
had come to have so many scars. I wondered how much pain
the young man had endured and why. Some people turned to
stare. Others glanced and whispered to each other.
On seeing him everyone made up their own story about the
type of man he was and the kind of company he kept.

I smiled at him. Whatever had happened, the young man
had experienced trauma. I understand trauma. 
I noticed he was younger than I'd thought, perhaps 
22 or 23. He caught my smile and smiled in return,
pleased that someone might see his humanity instead
of gawking at the maze of scars. The man and his
companion came to sit nearby and I knew then how he
had come by his wounds. He had no legs. Metal
prostheses began somewhere near his hips. 

The back of my nose tingled, a sign that tears might
ensue even though I'd never met this man before and
knew nothing of his plight. Compassion is a gift, it 
may be given freely between humans even when they're
complete strangers. I learned that the man was back
at home. The remains of his legs were somewhere in
Afghanistan.

I wonder, dear Universe, whether you might now hear
this call for change, for the furthering of compassion
and the end of conflict and strife. Humanity has been
here long enough to accept that there are no winners
in any war. Death, disfigurement and despair are all
that come from fighting.

I wonder, dear Universe, if it might at last be
possible for peace to prevail? Sufficient time has
passed and more than enough blood has been shed. I 
would very much like it if no more young men or women
face a life without limbs. No more families are ripped
apart by grief and no more pointless deaths arise
because we continually fail to live in harmony as one
human race. It is surely not that difficult or 
beyond the collective wit of all humanity?

Although I can be idealistic I suspect I am not
alone in this thought. I wonder, therefore, 
if now might be the time to give peace a chance?

With love and hope