I was born old.
My nickname as a child was Granny because I would walk around with a serious look on my face, observing, with my hands behind my back, twiddling my thumbs.
Being born old is a hard thing to be saddled with as a child. People, even family, look at you oddly. You get classified, slotted, picked out as being unusual.
Children should be learners, not look like they were born knowing everything. I didn’t say much, but when I talked it was apparently flooring.
So you could say it took a long time for my body to catch up and to finally reach a point where I was no longer unusual, where I could finally fit in with society and flow with life. Well, so I thought.
The trouble was that no matter how ordinary one looks on the outside, no matter how ordinary your tasks and roleplays can be, and no matter how much you smother yourself in order to fit in, the spirit still finds a way to rise and shine.
It took me a long time to realise it, but now I am finally glad it does. It is that spirit that connects me with the deeper truths of life and the cosmos, that helps make sense of destiny and purpose, that allows me to transcend the difficulties and express beauty and positivity in even the darkest moments and through the mightiest challenges.
Yes, as this ordinary human, I do fail and I am flawed. I have lived long enough to make many mistakes and to not always live up to others or my own expectations or ethics. Yet this spirit inside me can’t be quenched. Even when I falter and doubt, or find myself set back, it keeps bubbling up to find its own level like a spring spilling out onto a hillside of green grass, flowing away to fill the pond below.
Every time I should be defeated, I stand up and keep on keeping on. Every time I find my way is blocked, I take a detour and keep on going. When troubles assail me and my guts churn their mightiest eddies, I redistribute the energy into a creative task that makes my heart sing and leaves me smiling as I go to bed.
My mother was a smoker and liked to have a cigarette when she sat on the toilet. Her husband was a sailor who spent long months at sea. On one of his trips to foreign lands, he’d bought her a lovely metal lighter that had a flip top and she was so proud of it. It was special because it was a gift from him and she loved the way she could just flick it open, click the metal wheel with her thumb, and watch the flame flare up. Yet one day, during a long session in that small room, she came hurtling into the hallway yelling that she’d dropped the lighter into the toilet. (I suppose that’s what happens when you can’t put your ciggies and lighter down long enough to wipe your bum).
I must have been ten when I saw her standing there, distressed. There was no one else in the house to turn to. She’d tried to fish the damn thing out of the bowl with the toilet brush but now the water was a pea soup of manure and the lighter could no longer be seen.
That ten year old girl stood looking down at the brown pea soup in the bowl and made an instant decision. Quickly, I dove my hand deep into the murky sludge and fished the lighter out.
My mother was flabbergasted. She lived on the story for years, telling all our friends and family. No wonder I was marked out as an odd ball!
The thing is that in that moment I realised ‘shit happens.’ I thought, what was the worst thing that could happen to me if I fished the lighter out, and I knew my hand and arm would be coated. So I thought, what would I do about that? I would wash it.
I’m a quick thinker and very decisive. My mother didn’t even know all that went through my head. I fished that lighter out, took it to the sink and washed and dried it for her, and then lathered and scrubbed my hand and arm until every bit of sludge and smell was gone.
That’s the story of my life. I deal with things on practical levels. I observe, assess, and do.
When bad things happen, I deal with them, and then get on with living. I may not be all sweetness and light but I get a lot out of living that way.
Someone put a huge hole in my front door one day. The door had been specially made large to allow my adult disabled son easy access to the house with his scooter. So it wasn’t something that could be easily replaced, and at the time I didn’t have much money to outlay on a new door.
I am an artist. I looked at that door and panicked, thinking that if anyone saw the door like that they’d know it was easy to break in. I wanted to fix that door before anyone saw it. No one else was home at the time to help me. So I set to work.
The door was not particularly solid. It was one of those packed doors that wouldn’t take nails even if I had wood to put on it. So I grabbed a roll of plaster bandage from my art room and set to work. I filled the hole, and I smoothed the surface, and realised that I had to make it beautiful somehow.
By the end of the day, as my husband arrived home, the door was almost complete. I’d laid the bandage over it to build up layers, added squiggly worm spirals to make it artistic, colored the whole lot in rainbow tones, and was halfway through gluing glass mosaic tiles to the bottom by the time he walked through it. He and my disabled son helped me finish those last elements on the door, so the work became a family affair.
The next day I added the blessings of the om mantra and namaste in gold writing. You can see a photo collage I made of the door, above.
I knew it was a hit when my grand-daughters arrived for the weekend. We usually enter the house from the garage because we drive straight in, but they jumped out of the car before the roller door closed, and demanded to be let in the front door. They said they wanted to go through the ‘rainbow door’.
So now our front door is a talisman. It says, enter with love and peace, or stay away!
This is what I do with challenges, even frightening ones. I deal with them. I turn negatives into positives. I make the best of every moment.
Small things always count in my life. Small things add up until they are big things. I reckon that if you deal well with the small moments, you’ll get enough skill to manage the big ones when they happen.
For me, all life is an artwork. I believe we are all authors of that art. Ideas are important, even little ones. Concepts can enable evolution. I believe in finding beauty and empowerment everywhere. Anything you find inspiring can be a tool for that, even the most mundane.
Life is gifted with everything we need. All we have to do is see, take on what we see, and do something with it. That’s easier said than done for many, but for me it’s something I naturally lean in to. I rarely give up even when I should be walking away. Even if I’m forced to give up, I still hold to the hope of future change. I hate throwing things out if there is some possibility of repurposing them. Even my kitchen scraps feed a possum family in my garden.
Until the age of eight, I grew up with a stoic Nanna who always told me, ‘Waste not, want not.’ Of course, she lived through the years of the Great Depression, when they had to make the most of whatever there was. I can’t say I never waste anything, but I certainly try to never let go until it’s obvious I’m not the one who can recycle it. Over time, I’ve learned to let go of some things, though. Which brings up another of Nanna’s sayings – ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.’ Or, in memory of my mother’s plight, don’t stand there losing what you love just because you’re afraid to deal with shit.
When ‘shit happens’ I dive in and salvage what is beautiful and needs to be kept, and then I wash the rest away and move on.