I've written a book. You might like it, it's a collection of seven short stories. They share a theme of mysticism, there are some miracles too. I decided to publish it on Amazon just to see how it goes and so that you can buy a copy of my first book if you want to. Here's the link: http://tinyurl.com/pms3hhu
You can download it to your kindle or if you don't have one, you can also read it on a smartphone or PC.
It all began with the story below which I posted here as a tribute to my Grandad a while ago.
If you enjoy the book and would like to do me a massive favour please share the link on Facebook or Twitter or wherever you share things, or leave me a nice Amazon review.
A car is pulled up at the side of a small road that winds around a West Country hill. The long grass of the verge sprinkles the tyres with water droplets from a recent shower. Two men are standing conversing by a gate which cuts in two the thick lush hedgerow. In the bushes the wildflowers grow truly wild, blooming impatiently and out of turn. One of the men is old and stately, talking to the middle distance, his voice hushed with gravity. The younger of the two, black hair just beginning to turn grey listens intently with both eyes and ears. When it is his turn to speak he is louder and more enthusiastic, encouraging. Three gangly children are in the back of the car, usually noisy and pre-occupied, they are now straining to see and hear the conversation. They have heard the story before.
Unaccounted years earlier, on this same spot (even though they are not sure of it) a man and a boy passed through the gate. The boy was barely six years old. His fair hair was almost white, he had a round gentle face, and he gazed intently at his father through palest blue eyes. His father, the sturdy man in a white shirt and black waistcoat holding the child’s chubby hand, was striding at a pace which caused the boy to trot to keep up as they travelled up the narrow grassy path between the hedgerows.
The child had not paid attention and didn’t know where they were going, but it felt like an adventure, climbing the hill out of the village, and taking the mysterious path away from the road, so he didn’t complain. Presently they were approaching a tumbledown cottage in a clearing - the kind that belongs in a fairy tale. Creeping shrubs climbed the walls, at one corner a spray of elderflowers leaned out from the house. It was a summer’s day, but smoke was rising from the chimney in swirls. A lady, stooped and trembling with age emerged from the front door, apparently to tend to her plants in the garden, but upon seeing the approaching visitors, she rose to her full height and extended a hand to wave.
They arrived and were shown in.
“Hello Child,” the old lady began, “your pa finally brought you ‘ere. I ’as been looking forward to meetin’ you.” Her voice was soft, but strong with authority. The child was silent with wonder. Father looked down at the boy, prompting him. The child searched his memory and discovered what his mother had told him to say,
“You have a lovely home.” He said quickly and, thinking about it, began to look around. There were dark chests of drawers lining the walls; a fireplace, where a kettle was warming. The room was lit by the pale sunlight drawn through the windows which casted shadows upon the cobwebbed corners. Despite the fire, on that summer day the one room cottage seemed cold.
“Oh, it ain’t my ‘ouse.”
“Whose is it?” answered the boy, beginning to find his voice.
“It belongs to Rosie. Do you know who Rosie is?” She didn’t wait for him to shake his head - with a twinkle in the corner of her eye she continued “she’s your great, great,” as the little boy brought his grubby fingers up to his face to count, a secret and almost imperceptible grin spread across the wrinkled face, “great, great…great grandma.”
The Father caught her eye and turned away to tend the fire.
“Is she very, very old?” asked the child, now inquisitive.
“Oh, o’course, she’s very old. Even older’n me. She was born a very long time ago. I’ll tell you about ‘er. She’s a wise woman. She knows every plant and flower in the forest, and she knows which ones’ll do you good and which ones’ll do you ill.”
“How does she know?” asked the child.
“She’s tried ‘em all. She’s made ‘em into medicines and poultices and draughts and the like, and tried ‘em all on ‘erself.”
“Why didn’t they make her ill?
“Because she knows when to spit. If it smells evil, or tastes evil or looks evil, then it probably is. Mind you it migh’ not be. A little migh’ do you good if you’re ill. She knows. And she wrote it all down in a fashion, e’en though she can’t write. She’s got lots of drawers an’ a system, an’ if you know the system and you ‘eard all ‘er stories then you know what will cure and what won’t. An’ that I do and that I did and that I know.”
“Is she magic?”
“No she ain’t magic, and don’t you go lettin’ ‘er hear you sayin’ that, she’d be mightily insulted.”
“Well how has she lived so long?”
“I’ll tell you that. She never did no magic. She’s making a point. When she were young, a long time ago, there was those who thought that women like ‘er - wise women o’ the forest - was magic just as you say, and that they consorted wi’ demons in the night, and that they cast spells an’ made potions. And they hunted them, an’ a lot of women was killed. You see now ‘ere she is livin’ an’ she’s makin’ ‘er point.”
The boy was bewildered, too much so to answer the old lady. He continued to stare up at her, as she stared down at him, with her back hunched over in a perfect curve. Her once white apron covered a faded blue cotton dress, and her large feet protruded rudely beneath. She was a singular character and had ignited the boy’s curiosity.
“Don’t you think it’s about time you met ‘er? You came to see ‘er didn’t you?” He consented with an unblinking gaze.
“She’s upstairs, careful on the ladder, I’ll follow right behind you.”
The boy emerged into a loft space, stark and dusty and sprinkled with flecks of light coming through the spaces in between the tiles. There was a figure a few paces away, near a small window in the gable end. He turned back to the old lady following,
“Should I call her great, great…” She almost chuckled as the chubby fingers emerged again from behind his back.
“Rosie’ll do just fine. She likes a child quite enough for ‘is own sakes, doesn’t care much ‘ow you’re related. She’s old enough and ‘ad enough children an’ grandchildren not to worry ‘bout that any more. Call ‘er Rosie, sure she would’ha had another name when she were born, near enough to your own I’d ‘azard a guess, since we’re all family together. But she made a name for ‘erself round ‘ere and that name were Wild Rosie. There’s people come from the village whenever they get ill, an’ they know I got all the medicines and poultices and draughts, but they won’t get well will they? No, they won’t get well ‘til they seen Wild Rosie.
“You know why that is boy?”
The wide eyed boy shook his head in the gloom.
“It’s because they think ‘emselves better. Many of ‘em thought ‘emselves ill. One day they didn’t want to work so’s they found a little niggle and let it grow to a big one all until they find out it’s better to be well, so now they want to get better again. The medicines and poultices help some, but it’s thoughts that help the most. Go on. Go over there, she can’t see you ‘ere.”
The child walked with measured footsteps towards the thin figure. She sat in a squeaking rocking chair. Bony knees dented the flow of her tired nightgown, delicate with wear. Her wispy hair, matted in places formed an ethereal veil around her face, translucent in the dim light from the dusty window. Deep wrinkles contoured every feature of bony face. Her countenance was grey and sharp, but she had kind eyes; the gleam of life shone out of them.
The little boy approached her and stood boldly, his stomach protruding and little fists by his sides, like only a six year old can, by her chair,
“Hello Rosie” he said.
Her pale blue eyes rested on the shining round face as if noticing him for the first time. Her gaze softened and she slowly nodded. A slight smile disturbed the papery wrinkles around her mouth, communicating the familial affection of someone very old for someone very small. She continued rocking slowly in her chair, and in her bony fingers, two knitting needles moved in slow motion. She was knitting, there was no yarn.
“What are you knitting?” The bold little boy asked her.
The very old lady replied with a slow, knowing blink from her tired reddened eyelids.
“What is she knitting?” he asked turning to the other lady.
“Dreams, son. Imaginin’s.”
“Who knows boy, maybe yours an’ mine.”
He watched her for a while, and she watched him. The other old lady’s footsteps approached behind him, and lifted him up to kiss the delicate ivory cheek. He was afraid he’d hurt her. The skin was dry and he thought he felt a cold bone beneath. She seemed to blush a little, and her smile broadened.
He descended the rickety ladder again asking,
“How does she get up and down here?”
“She don’t, not on ‘er own. Most o’ the time she likes to stay up there. Then when she’s needed down in the village, someone comes up an’ we lower ‘er down in a chair. Then the strappin’ lads carry ‘er down to the village. She don’t go much anymore. Only for the dyin’. She’ll always be there if it’s for the dyin’ particurly if it’s one o’ the old ones. She’s known ‘em all from birth, remembers ‘em from when they was babies bein’ born. I tole you some won’t get well ‘til they seen Wild Rosie, I tell you now, there’s some as won’t die ‘til they seen ‘er neither.”
“What does she do when they die?”
“She sits with ‘em, stays with ‘em. They used to say she said spells over them, or she enchanted them to sleep but that ain’t it. She keeps ‘em company and she praps prays for ‘em as they go, an’ it helps ‘em die properly.”
“When will she die?”
“What do you mean by that boy?”
“She’s so old.”
“Hundreds of years old, quite righ’.”
“Will she live forever?”
“I tole you boy she migh’ be a wise woman, but she ain’t magic. Sure she’ll die one day. When they don’t need her no more.”
The boy’s father had brewed some nettle tea over the fire, so they sat with him, the boy sinking into a woollen cushion, dull with repeated use and ash from the open fire. Father told the old lady all the news from the village. He gave her the basket of bread and meat he’d brought, which she promptly stashed away a creaky cupboard.
When the visit was over, and they left the house, the little boy waited until they were a short distance away and whispered to his father.
“She’s magic isn’t she?”
“Why do you think that?” he replied,
“She’s hundreds of years old and she’s still alive, and she can make medicines to make people well, and she’s tried all the plants that make you ill but she never got ill, and people come to see her and they get better, and she knits my dreams.”
“She knits your dreams?” His father repeated, ever so slightly surprised.
“Yes, she knits with invisible wool to make dreams.”
“She must be magic then” his father said, turning his eyes again to the path, and they descended to the village.
The old man and the younger man get back in the car. It’s too wet, and too late to try walking the path, the old man says. The children’s imaginations stir. Is he scared that she won’t be there, that the story was just too fanciful, or the village no longer needed her and she died? Or is he scared that she will be there, still rocking in the dim light of a rainy day, and the story will continue?
It's dark. I'm sucking my thumb but it's not helping, everything is hazy, I'm not quite awake. My throat makes little groaning noises but I'm concentrating on my thumb so I don't listen to them. I hear a rustle of fabric and a yawn. I hear a click and there is light. My eyes close a little but I relax. Mummy is coming.
Her hands slot under my arms. Firmly, she pulls me up and out of the cot. Everything is still misty. It might be a dream but I smell her. She holds me and I am warm and safe.
I am nestled in her arms. She brings me close to her. She is soft, I burrow closer. Then the milk comes - too fast to begin with and I come up gasping and spluttering. She lets me try again, I drink it in with long draws, it is clear and refreshing at first and then rich and creamy. It is warm in my mouth. I can feel how it travels down to fill my stomach. I feel as though I could drink all night and still want more, I pull in more.
I hear breathing. I look up. There is Daddy's back. The covers have fallen down past his shoulders. I watch. Perhaps he will move. Mummy is looking at me. She brings me back and I remember the milk. I drink quickly, hurrying to take in as much as I can.
Her arms surround me again. I don't remember where I am. I lean into her shoulder as she picks me up. I see the room moving around us. We walk a few steps and then she swings me around and down. I land softly in the cot. She arranges my blankets and tucks the fluffy bear in beside me. Her face pulls away and she stands to leave me. I feel her hand pat my tummy. I feel safe. Where is my thumb?
The dark comes back with a click. My thumb finds my mouth. I watch the blackness disappear behind my eyelids. I can't remember where I am. My thoughts fade, I hear breathing, I remember Mummy and Daddy.
I saw a conversation recently on a mums’ internet forum that
asked contributors ‘What makes you feel like a Mum?’ A lot of the answers were
about the little things like finding toys or snacks at the bottom of your
handbag – as annoying as that is, it does send a warm glow through you! For
many though, the most poignant moments of motherhood come when their child
looks to them for comfort - when they are hurt, upset or frightened and it is
Mother they turn to.
It is only very recently that my son has developed the habit
of crying when I pass him to someone new for a cuddle. As bad as I feel for the
poor people whose affection he rejects so cruelly, there is a wonderful sense
of satisfaction in being the person he comes back to, the one who can stop him
crying. That is what makes me know that I am a mother. It makes me feel wanted
and needed, in coming back to me every time, in seeking me out for reassurance
he distinguishes me, sets me apart from everyone else. In fact, to me, it is an
honour to be the person that he needs. He honours me just by wanting me; thus
in a way he fulfills the commandment to ‘honour your father and your mother’ without
even knowing it. I know too that my own parents would hate to think that in my
hour of need that I would hesitate to call upon them. They recently impressed
upon me exactly how quickly they would rush to be by my side if the need arose.
I hope that they would be honoured to know that they will be my first call if
my husband and I are ever in need.
What does the commandment to ‘honour your father and mother’
really mean? Before I was a parent I always imagined it meant to obey them, but
now I think there is more to it than just that. Parenthood is a wonderful state
but also one that is scary. Scary because there is such responsibility
attached. The physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of my child now lies
entirely in my hands and those of my husband. To achieve in any of these areas
I need one thing from my son. I need him to recognise my parenthood. As he
grows up that recognition will take many forms. As a toddler and young child he
will need to learn to listen to his parents and do as they say. When he is
older he will need to discover how to trust our judgement and our care for him.
Older still and he will have to respect
our values. None of this will come without trials and difficulty, patience will
be required on both sides, of course. One essential element, however, will remain
the same through it all. If I live to one hundred, and he is seventy-five, I
will still want him to come to me when he needs comfort. I believe that that is
the very simplest and most fundamental way a child can acknowledge and give
honour to a parent.
Natually, this idea finds a parallel in the Christian
relationship with God as Father. It is not only when we sing his praises that
we give God honour, but also when we, like Christ at Gethsemane, bring our
deepest fears and most painful experiences to him in prayer. In so doing, we
recognise that it is God who can truly offer comfort, who can enable us to
shoulder the burden, who can refresh our thirsty souls. Here, prayer and
worship are again intertwined. As with God the Father, so with Mary the Mother
of the Church, we do her honour not only when we proclaim the scriptural
greeting ‘Hail Mary, full of grace’ but right through to our humble request: ‘pray
for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.’
So we are called to honour both our earthly and our heavenly
parents by acknowledging and respecting their parenthood. By valuing our parents’
opinions, by respecting their judgements, by acknowledging their care and by
seeking them out in times of hardship.
There was a particular feeling that came with falling in love
with my son. I held him close to me, as close as I could and I told him that I
loved him. But I knew that I would never be able to hold him close enough or
express perfectly enough how much I loved him. That feeling has happened once
before in my life, the object of it then was my husband. For me though, love
has always been less of a magical feeling than an active choice. I love my baby
when I hold him and sing to him, I love him when I change his dirty nappy for
the seventh time in twenty four hours, knowing that I will have to do it again
soon, I love him when he has been screaming at me for an hour and all I can do
is hold him and talk to him and cry - because love is doing those little things
for someone, even when I don’t feel the love. Devotion and attachment are the
lovely feelings that we crave, and they’re amazing but what they really are is
just the fuel that feeds this active love.
Right now my baby is living off love. He needs his
parents for every little thing from food and shelter to reassurance when he has
the hiccups. Most of his clothes have been bought or made for him by people who
have never even met him, people who care about our family and who were glad to
know that he was born. He is a labour of love.
And so am I.
And so, on a grander scale, are we all. We are not only the
product of the intense love of the creator, who begot the whole of creation our
of the love relationship of the trinity, but we are redeemed from our sin by
the sacrificial love of Christ. And here we learn what is the greatest love of
all - why it is that I can’t express enough love for my child or for my
husband in hugs or words. “Greater love has no man than that he should lay down his life for his
friends.” I cannot hold him close enough, because only in personal sacrifice
can I truly love as deeply as the perfect love of Christ.
Perhaps I will never be called upon to imitate Christ in the
ultimate sacrifice, even if I did, I can’t wait my whole life to be martyred
before I begin to offer sacrificial love. What I can do now, is offer my body
and my life willingly as a servant to the child who needs it so fundamentally and
to my husband to whom I have vowed myself. I offer them my time and my talent
and I sacrifice to them my ambition, and in so doing, I offer all of that to
the Lord, for it is in serving others that we are able to serve him.
And I realise that there was a time when I held my child close
enough to express the depth of my love for him. When he was in the womb, I
surrounded him, I sheltered him and fed him from my body and I longed for him
and did anything I could to protect and nurture him. In pregnancy, the mother’s
body is sacrificed for the needs of the child. Her vanity is checked as she
changes in shape. She is unable to live in the way she did before, she takes
fewer risks. The pregnant mother accepts discomfort when it indicates that her
child is healthy. And all of this is the least that the child deserves.
Sacrificial love is written into creation in parenthood.
Love is not easy, it is draining, truly draining, deliberately draining oneself of 'self-love' and choosing to live for others. It must be rare to find those people who have learnt to love completely, some of them we call Saints.
In writing about love, I have realised that I am a long way from mastering the art of loving, I am merely practising.