“You’ll never find a better sparring partner than adversity.” ~ Golda Meir.
In 1963, the long journey across the Atlantic from the UK to Jamaica began with a long train ride from the north of England all the way down to the south coast. As the youngest in the family, my responsibilities were few, so it was one long excellent adventure for me, from getting up in the dark, to taking a taxi (a taxi!) to the train station, so many firsts. I remember the night before being with my grandmother, an old white-haired lady (she was probably no older than 75 at the time!) as she showed me how to fold shirts. She probably also told me stories of my father as a young boy, but the exact memory is gone. She had dark brown eyes that twinkled when she shared some tasty tidbit, a smile and laughter never far away.
In those days in England, trains were pretty reliable (I cannot speak to the present time, I am too far removed), but the stations were smelly, noisy places. Steam engines had not yet been replaced by sleek, smooth running, electric speedsters, and the memory of train travel is one of being rocked soothingly while the ‘ch-ch-ch’ sounds sang of the effort it took to cover the miles. We had to do some tricky transition in London itself, again hurling luggage into taxis (taxis!) to get from one station to another. My first glimpse of London was confusing, made worse by the foreign language the taxi drivers spoke (Cockney English is a foreign language to one raised in the north of England!). Eventually we were on the train to Southampton and finally boarded the ship that would take us on our meandering path across the Atlantic by way of Madeira in Portugal; islands in the Lesser Antilles; Venezuela and Trinidad, (even back then, my memory of Venezuela is of scary men in uniforms with long guns on display) and then, after Lady Flora had finished scrubbing the Caribbean and especially Jamaica, we completed our final leg of the extended journey in the torn up island of Jamaica.
The poet Robert Burns, in his incomprehensible Scottish dialect, wrote a poem to a field mouse, after he ploughed up her nest (her home) in 1875. Musing on the sudden disruption to her life he wrote the famous lines: ‘The best laid plans o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley’ (often go awry is the translation). There is the other nice saying that if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans. We have fooled ourselves into thinking we have control of our life, making plans and setting expectations for how things will unfold. Often we micromanage our time to such an extent that one thing can throw the whole day into disarray (agley?) and then we get annoyed and aggravated with those around us who did not cooperate with our plan.
When our happiness depends upon things turning out a certain way, we set ourselves up for disappointment. We also remain blind to the possibility that another alternative may actually turn out to be better than what we had planned in the first place! It is usually only in hindsight that we can say, oh, that is why that happened. If we are not careful we spend so much time complaining about events not complying with our expectations we miss those unexpected treasures.
If we are going to live our lives differently, and it would appear that we have no choice, given the current state of the environment and global weather events, we are going to have to give up some of the sleek conveniences of the 21st century. Our trash heaps are filling up faster than ever; plastic is choking our waterways and oceans; destruction of rainforests is suffocating the planet; but will we be able to change our evil ways drastically enough to make a u-turn?
For the past six months or so I have been consciously (though imperfectly) trying to lessen my dependence on plastic and throwaways. I no longer use Styrofoam coffee cups at work (in fact my workplace has eliminated them altogether!) and I carry my reusable water bottle with me. I travel with bags in my car trunk for grocery shopping, and even invested in some cloth fruit and vegetable bags to avoid using the single use plastic in the grocery store. Of course, I often forget where I put them or neglect to pack them, but I heard the other day that it takes seven times of doing something new to change a bad habit. Unfortunately, my seven times are not in a row, so I guess I keep starting over!
If we think about it, for many of us, in making conscious choices about how we shop, how we can reduce our dependence on convenient innovations, and how we can recycle our unneeded items, we are returning to the ways of our youth. We grew up watching our parents find use for everything. ‘Waste not, want not’ was the cry. I remember a kitchen drawer which was full of rolls of string, folds of wax paper, reused rubber bands and more. We never had to run to the store at the last minute to buy something, there would always be a secret stash to dig through. It wasn’t a terrible way to live, it was thoughtful, considerate and responsible.
This morning, as we watch and wait for Dorian to make up his mind about his destination, I am reminded of how little control we have over our lives. When life takes an unexpected turn it gives us the opportunity to reflect on how we are living it. We can moan and whine and wish for things to be different, or we can make the best of what we have. We can complain about a change of plans due to ill-health or an unexpected accident, or we can find the positive in what happened (there are often many worse alternatives). We can stay stuck in the ‘if only’ or ‘why’ or we can accept what is and decide to roll with it. I remember a big party that was planned once, and the guests took their time in coming. It looked to me as if it was going to be a flop, after all the expense and preparation. The hostess looked relaxed while I was pacing. ‘What if nobody comes?’ I asked her. ‘We have food, music and drinks’ she replied, ‘we will have fun!’
So, Family, on this fretful Friday morning, I give thanks for whatever happens. I give thanks for the reminders to appreciate what we have even when it was not what we wanted. I give thanks for health, happiness and good people in my life who help to keep me grounded even when things don’t go according to plan. And one of these days I am going to take a train ride! Have a wonderful weekend wherever you are, and stay safe!