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A Skinny Fairtrade Latte in the Food Court of Life - Page 3

  • Ten Years

    There are some days you will always remember, and there are some days you will never forget.  This is the anniversary of one of the latter.

    Monday 23rd August 2010 is deeply etched on my memory.  I can see and hear the moment when the consultant looked me in the eye and uttered those fateful words, ‘I’m sorry, it’s cancer.’

    Ten years ago.  A milestone that seemed beyond impossible on that day when my certainty was swept away and I feared I might be dead by Christmas.  But here I am, and for the most part life is good.  I remain NED (No Evidence of Disease) and, despite some long-term side effects, and a few things that needed to be checked out along the way ‘with your history’, I am in good health.

    There was a time when I thought I would celebrate if I made it to a decade – but experience changes how we view things, so now I am marking a decade, being thankful for all that is good, but in a way tempered by the harsh reality that I have had to say farewell to around forty women who became, to some degree, friends during that time. (A quick count says I maintain contact with around ninety others, several of whom live with incurable, stage 4 breast cancer).  The overall statistics suggest around 70% of women diagnosed as primary will still be alive after a decade; my experience bears this out.

    This time last year, I began to draw up plans for marking this decade – ‘ten for ten’ was the idea, a mix of fundraisers, fun and memory making – but of course Covid19 put paid to that.  Never mind, no-one died of disappointment, and one day, hopefully, I can do the tandem sky-dive, and if not, well, it’s hardly the end of the world.

    I have had many incredible opportunities during these years that would never have arisen had my life taken a different path.  From writing up my MPhil to presenting a paper in New Zealand to chairing a day conference on Cancer Induced Cognitive Changes on the one hand, to climbing Ben Nevis, completing night hikes, zip-sliding across the Clyde and fire-walking at the other.  There have been moments of pure joy and laughter and firm friendships made; there have been moments of heartbreak when friends died, and even medical depression linked to the triple whammy of chemical, surgical and chronological menopause.  But I am here.  I am NED.  I made it, despite the odds (I am an outlier for my starting point), and life is good.

    So not celebrating – how can I do that when about thirty women will die of breast cancer today alone – but certainly marking.  Raising a glass of alcohol-free fizz to my absent friends.  Treating myself to a large slice of bought cake.  Pausing to thank God for being with me in it all.  And committing myself to live well, laugh often and love strongly for the rest of my days.

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  • Reflections after a trip to the Charity Shop

    This afternoon I ventured to a local charity shop to drop off a few items for them to sell.  Whilst there I bought a couple of items, currently having a wash before I wear them - which would have been my normal pre-Covid practice anyway.

    On the way back, I began reflecting on why I have now decided to go to more and different shops, and also on the good and bad behaviours I observe along the way.

    At the start of Lockdown, I changed from online grocery shopping, plus top-ups locally, to going to the supermarket for my main shop.  Several times I have been to the Post Office.  And, since it reopened, I've been to Greggs a couple of times.  And that's pretty much it.

    It's not fear that has stopped me going to other shops but my own peculiar blend of rule-following, risk-aversion and other odd personality traits.

    So here's the thing - I haven't missed going into shops at all.  I haven't needed to buy many things, and those I have needed - or wanted - I've been able to buy online and have them delivered to my door.  Going to shops became an irrelevance.

    The same is true of going to cafes, and even, at the present time, riding on trains or buses... anything I needed to do I could do without using any of these.

    And, if I am honest, apart from a bit of a hiccup at Day 100, I've quite liked it and got used to it... I could all too easily become something of a recluse.  And that's not healthy.

    As I posted the other day, I finally decided it was time to get a hair cut because my hair is just so annoying... the reality is, I'd happily never darken the door or a hairdresser again, and I debated long and hard whether to do it or just to ride out the annoyance a while yet.  Having booked, though, I was really struck that the last time I spent any amount of time with another human being that involved direct physical contact was the last time I had my hair cut, in March.  A nurse sticking a cannula in my arm, which has happened twice during Lockdown, isn't exactly contact.  I'm not a huggy person, but handshakes, the occasion shoulder pat or even the passing of bread and wine during Communion, have all been very much part of my life... and I realised that I am actually quite looking forward to letting someone wash my hair (not usually my favourite pastime!) and actually giving me their (hopefully) undivided attention for half and hour or so. 

    I just checked my diary - that will be 24 weeks since I experienced non-medical physical human contact, and that was also a hair cut... And that gives me pause for thought, not so much for the contact I haven't had, but for the hundreds and thousands of frail elderly folk stuck in their homes for whom this is always the case.  Lessons from Lockdown aren't necessarily what we thought they might be.

    The trip to the charity shop also illustrated how different people are responding to the situation.  The shop was spotlessly clean, and the staff attentive and friendly.  On the way in, stood a huge hand sanitising station and a big sign.  As I cleaned my hands, a staff member called out cheerily 'thank you for sanitising.'  I explained I had a donation to drop off and she thanked me again, directing me to the drop off point.  She even thanked me when I walked to the till to pay for my items.  Then someone walked in, straight past the hand sanitising station and I saw what shop staff must see every day.  A person who had come to drop off a donation, but who, when asked to hand sanitise, refused, threw down the bag, with 'take it or leave it' and stormed out of the shop.  Customers watched aghast, whilst the staff member shrugged, smiled and got on with processing my items.  She couldn't handle the bag, she explained, because it had to be treated as potentially contaminated and she wasn't wearing the right PPE.  A colleague had to come out to collect it and take it to the quarantine area.

    To be fair, the person who stormed out may have been having a really bad day, this may have been a last straw effect, but from the chat with the staff member, it seems this kind of behaviour is all too common.  She then added, to myself and another customer who had commented, 'but the lovely customers make up for it.'  Definitely a 'glass half full' person.

    It illustrated how this extended period of strangeness can bring out the best and worst in people - it certainly has in me.  And it also reminded me that my practice of chatting to shop staff is actually quite important... It still surprises many Glaswegian shop staff when, in North West of England style, I say 'bye' on the way out!

    A bit of a ramble, and may or may not make any sense to anyone but me.  If there is a point, it is that I recognise that I need to 'get out more' not because I need to get out, but because I need to interact with actual living people, not just with boxes on a screen, which my shy, introvert self would quite happily do, even to the point of my own detriment!


  • New Experiences

    Recently I've been doing something I've never done before - I am being a 'reader' for someone who is writing a book for what I assume is the 'thoughtful lay-person' in our churches.  It's not 'popular Christian writing' and it's not 'academic theology' but somewhere in between - a challenging ask.

    It's such a joy to sit down for a couple of hours at a time, read something interesting, and about which I know a reasonable amount, and to do so semi-critically.  The book will be an important contribution to the series of which it is part, and I feel honoured to invited to play a small part in its creation.

  • In need of a chop...

    Given my past fear of, and ongoing ambivalence towards, hairdressers, the fact that it's now almost six months since my hair was cut is no big deal... except it is!  It is really annoying me having either to flick the overgrown fringe out of my face, or grip it back, or wear a hairband that doesn't stay put...

    So today I picked up the phone and booked in a for a chop... Thursday next week being the earliest appointment they could offer.  I am not sure whether to go back proper short (easy to care for and suits me) or leave it a bit longer.  Either way the fringe needs to be sorted out, and the bottom of the back, where the chemo curls still survive, needs some tidying up.

    Now, if my dentist could reopen for routine appointments, my joy would be complete...!!

    For Sunday coming, it will just be lots of blow drying and product adding!

  • Consider the Ravens

    On Sunday I used as the basis for reflection three Bible passages - all fairly well known - that refer to ravens.  I was especially struck by the text in Luke 12 that parallels almost exactly one on Matthew 6.  The key difference that Matthew's Jesus tells his readers to 'look at the birds of the air' en masse, whilst Luke's explicitly says, 'consider the ravens.'  This isn't that, it's typed up fresh this morning, but it expresses pretty much the same thoughts

    Ravens are carrion birds, throughout history and in assorted cultures (including Greek, Roman, Celtic, Islamic, Jewish and first nation North American) viewed with, at best, suspicion and, more typically, seen as harbingers of doom.  They are 'unclean' - not suitable for eating (at least before Jesus declared all things clean, but I have never come across roast raven on a menu...).  They are viewed with disdain, and in some thinking they become 'vice' to the dove's 'virtue' (one reading to the flood story in Exodus 8).

    The Hebrew word for raven smiply means 'black' a name also used for the bedouin people whose distinctive black clothing and nomadic lifestyle seemed to reflect something of these birds.  Outsiders, treated with suspicion, prejudicially seen as bad or even evil... And Jesus said, 'consider the ravens...'

    I was really struck, as I reflected on this reading, of the association of 'black' with bad/evil dating back to the poor raven who flew out of the ark and didn't think to bring Noah the gift of a twig.  We are not told it never came back, all we know is it flew around until it found somewhere to land.  It isn't judged within the text, but tradition has judged it, and not kindly.

    And because we tend to think of lovely white doves as peaceful (when they may equally have been grey pigeons) we can unconsciously slide into a 'white = good, black = bad' dualism that, taken to extreme, affects our view of skin tones and races.  Remember, the Bedouins were Arabic or Semitic, the 'black' referred to their clothes - and possibly their hair colour - not their skin tone.

    If Jesus tells me to 'consider the ravens' then he tells me to look at my own prejudices, at who (or what) I view with suspicion or disdain based on some unacknowledged or unrecognised perception.  Who are the outcasts, the strangers, that God loves and cares for, and from whom I can learn?

    The story of Elijah being fed by ravens (1 Kings 17) is one I have loved since Sunday school. I loved imagining big black birds swooping down carrying baskets in their beaks (that would be very tricky for a raven!) and delivering yummy food to a tired, frightened prophet.  I can't say I ever stopped to think how terrifying it might be to have birds swoop down on you!

    A couple of decades ago, I learned the truth of the usage of the Hebrew word - for the bird and for the Bedouin, and began to entertain the possibility that rather than birds swooping down, it might have been Bedouins bringing gifts of food and water to Elijah.  Demythologising the story could have destroyed it, but it didn't, I was struck by the wonder of this nomadic people seeing someone in need and making sure he had food and water for as long as he needed it.  It's actually no less miraculous, and possibly more in keeping with stories about widows baking bread.  Above all, it seems to hint at a story Jesus told about a despised foreigner helping an injured man.  Consider the ravens.

    I am left to reflect on who I might identify as a 'raven' and how that might affect my living.

    It's not just that ravens don't grow crops or store things on barns - that's true for all birds - but they are, somwhow, the least loved of birds, not suitable to eat, not fit for ritual sacrifice, not trainable for service - and God takes care of their needs.  Consider the ravens...