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Archive for the ‘Mortality’ Category

The small boy clasped the clear round crystal between the tips of his tiny fingers and he raised it to where it sat balanced before his deep blue eyes. Its polished surface glistened like starlight as the rays of the sun reflected upon it and penetrated to its core. The sun’s rich light sent tiny rainbows radiating out and bathing him in colours that danced like faeries wings across his face. As he stared past it’s etched surface to deeply within, he caught a glimpse of his reflection with his flowing white hair flicking in the breeze, and the twinkle that had not shone in his eyes for some time now. As if by magic words he used to know began to flow once more through his mind. It was like a dream of old where all the imaginations that he had ever known had begun to seep through his body and like a thousand paper boats, they now glided effortlessly into the pale blue distance in search of that place, that special place that only a true child could find or understand. A smile formed on his face and at the same time a tear ran from the corner of his eye, and as he wiped it gently with the back of his hand, he knew now that what he thought had gone, what he thought had left him, had never gone away at all. It had all just lay deep inside like a dream waiting for that moment where waking merges with sleep and carries you in its arms and into the place where those dreams become visions all so true.

He closed his eyes and listened intently to all the murmurings around him, hearing at first the soft beat of his heart, ‘pom – pom, pom – pom’, then the breeze as it carried the sounds that now drifted from the magic forest in the distance. There was a faint echo of laughter emanating from its deepest reaches, down a darkened winding path draped with deep green vines that formed a tight canopy where sunlight would not penetrate. It was here that the children lost so long ago would play, watched over by the future, the spirit of the old man that was yet to be. It was a truly magical place, a place of dreams where a child could hide and choose never to be found. Where lost was a choice, not something that happened to be. As the sounds grew louder, he felt himself lifted from his feet as if in the grasp of something even he could not comprehend, like he had invisible wings that had unfolded to stretch out glistening in the late afternoon sun, like those of an agile bright blue dragonfly. Below him the wheat field swayed as if in time with the tune that now inspired him to believe like he had never done so before, in the magic of the child that he was. The deep green leaves of the nearby tree rustled like tiny violins as he was carried through its canopy with them brushing against him, and as he was taken to that all familiar place where he had been so often before, he stood once more staring at where it all began, the ‘Book Of Dreams’. Behind him there was a whir of sound as the dragonflies and butterflies that were suspended from the branch above came to life in his presence, spinning from their silken threads at a heady pace, whirling and twirling almost out of control as he now watched on in awe of the glistening menagerie.

The dappled light that filtered through the leaves of the tree danced upon the gnarled finger like roots that radiated out from below as if themselves in search of something lost. The light had begun to fade, with the last of its warm orange tones now bathing the undulating hills that stretched across the land into the distance, to where the fine fingers of light could no longer reach, and the darkness had begun to take hold. His grip on the round crystal object had never faltered, like his belief in life and all it had to offer, and as he stared into the sky above where the dark velvet veil had begun to form, where the faint twinkling of tiny stars had begun to peak through the curtain of night as if peering at what lay below, his imagination came to life. Fireflies began to dance, suspended in the lead lit lanterns nearby, and the soft whispers, like lasting echo’s reminded him of all that he had known, and all that he had been. Where once stood a man, there now stood a child, lost to this world and all the intricacies that threatened to fall and shatter like crystal teardrops on the rippled ground below. He had reclaimed his life, and at the same time, he had maintained his greatest strength, his resolve to believe. Not just because it was the thing to do, but because he truly believed, and just as the stars would always sparkle in the sky, so it would be that he would always remain a beacon of hope for all that sought to find that little something that had been lost.

Today as he stood silently contemplating all that had flooded back into his tiny mind, he realised that for all that he had thought had been lost, now more than ever he knew that this world he had created was more alive than ever before, and no tears, no pain could ever take it away or tear it apart. This was a special place created in a dream and forged within the deepest realms of time and like time it would never fade, and it would never be forgotten. He thought for a while and then he understood that we all lose our way, and at times we look so hard to find ourselves again, we look so deeply inside the complicated world in which we have lived, that the simplicity of the child goes unseen. Like the crystal ball he held, life is fragile, but also transparent if we look beyond what appears opaquely upon the surface. Who you are is important to you and you alone, and how others see you, well, in a world where so many ideals exist, does that really matter and do you really care? He understood now that he must enjoy life for what it is, because tomorrow is never far away and may never come at all, and sometimes the darkness closes in so quickly that we just don’t get the chance to say goodbye before that light of life is extinguished forever. Dream big, dream loud, for a dream is but a wish to be made in world so complex yet so simple, where the boundaries of reality sometimes cross into the imagination in those times we let the mind slip beyond the known.

Remember that just as the sun shines bright in the big blue sky, or as the stars twinkle in the darkness of the night, with their voices, their laughter calling to be heard by the child in us all, so our life unfolds. It is forever a mystery of where it is going and where it may end. We are born into this world with nothing, and when we go we take nothing with us. But we do leave the memories that may linger and then fade, or even better still, last forever with those people that we have come to know, those we have touched so deeply with who we are and for what we will therefore always be remembered for.

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Within my mind sits a haunting vision,

One that mingles with countless dreams,

No matter how long I search inside,

There is little of nothing that is what it seems.

 

Ghostly voices are calling my name soft and low,

Memories flood in as if the dam has been burst,

Words like the story of the life that we lead,

Treading briskly but softy at first.

 

Now looking out as the colours abound,

I shout at the top of my voice,

As the breezes they blow like a whisper,

My echo returns as if it had no choice.

 

Now in the darkness of night as it falls,

The sweet silver tinkling of smiling stars,

And now and again as one falls from the sky,

We make a wish from where ever we are.

 

Clasped all so tightly in childlike hands,

The light that is life sends out it’s glow,

Radiating on all that may care to see,

Challenging all that we know.

 

The past and the future are one in the same,

Then the vision appears a familiar face,

Tell me your tales of the wonders you’ve seen,

As I sit all alone in this quiet place.

 

 

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And just when the boy was certain that all was lost, a small, ethereal barefooted figure in a lavender dress with violet eyes faded from nothing into luminous reality before him. The small section of path over which she floated seem to sparkle dimly, as though lit by distant starlight. He had always been certain that faeries existed; he had felt their ever-present magic as he had wandered through the woods and explored the intricate, winding path of the secret garden. Though he had seen paintings and statues and many pairs of tinsel wings dancing across the enchanted woods of his daydreams, he had never seen one suspended in flight with his own eyes before. Now finally as he had always hoped, one had appeared before him, possibly because before now, he had never truly needed to move from faith to certainty.

‘Do you know what it is you have lost?’ she asked him in a shimmering voice unlike any he had heard before, and instantly his heart filled with hope that she would be able to help him find it. ‘Life has become so … difficult,’ he stammered. ‘Where there was once the purest joy, now there is the heaviest sadness, and it has taken over everything. And even in the brief moments when sorrow seems to fade, there is a deep void. I am still a child, but each moment I feel that I am growing very, very old.’ 

She nodded, and a lilac tear threatened to form in those spritely, bright eyes that had already spied his pain from where she had sat hidden, nestled amongst the flowers. She had seen this boy many times before as he had wandered through the woods, and of all the people she had watched intently, making their way down the winding path, she knew that his heart was the fullest with belief. When he reached the leafless tree adorned by long, strange pale pink tassels, she knew that he wondered whether they were faerie feathers, and that he would be both totally surprised and not surprised at all to learn that indeed they were. 

She could see other questions that now rose to the surface of the boy’s deep blue eyes that looked more like the ocean on an overcast day than the eyes of any child. The heart within her pounded as words from long ago echoed inside her mind, replaying the moment that the ancient faerie wisdom had passed into her possession: ‘Cascadacia, you must understand that every faerie has one special mission that she must fulfil in order to earn her Eternal Shine.’ And so she had sat amongst the flowers each warm Summer’s day and golden Autumn’s day and brisk Winter’s day until the first crisp day of Spring when the white haired boy had appeared upon the path. He had looked so deeply troubled, and before she could even make the choice to fly, she found herself hovering over the path before him.  ‘Tell me what has brought you here today and what has put those clouds into your eyes …’

The child sighed, not knowing where to start, but tracing his thoughts back carefully to his loss of levity. ‘I once had a friend – a little girl with pink cheeks and cheeky eyes that danced like fireflies. We played like only true children can, racing every day to a magical tree to dangle paper butterflies and dragonflies from its branches. How the magic breeze would blow through the leaves of that tree, making our mobiles dance like wind-chimes! How the chaos of smiles littered the heavens like comets, transforming the darkness into blissful, childlike, cosmic splendour. But then …’ he faltered, his voice trembling in the shadows of unfolding revelation.

The faerie sensed the pain of the story before the boy could tell it. ‘Then, something happened. I watched my friend … grow old before my eyes …’ His tale was one of pure lament, but as his voice faded into the background, Cascadacia knew that she must disconnect herself from all the boy said to help him understand the truth that would unfold. As though from a distance, she saw his fiercely guarded tears fall to the ground, sensing that it was somehow the loss of his own youth that caused his devastation. 

And as his story became infused with even greater sorrow, she felt the strongest urge a faerie can feel welling up inside her, subsuming her entire frame. It was several moments before the boy could disconnect from his discontent enough to notice the purple faerie begin to shake violently over the path before him. He found himself disarmed by the intensity of the unlikely sound that bubbled up from the depths of the faerie’s soul. Her irrepressible giggle grew into an overwhelming cascade of laughter, and for a moment the boy felt utterly betrayed. How could she laugh with such abandon in the face of his deep suffering? How could something as lovely as a faerie be so heartless when childhood had been so utterly lost?

The sound of the faerie’s laughter resounded throughout the woods; and with every moment, an unfamiliar joy sang into the shadows of the small boy’s mind. Though he could not form words to explain what was happening, he surrendered like dry ground to the relief of rain as all sadness dissolved completely, and he knew that sorrow would never again darken his thoughts. He had known traces of childlike joy before, but now he absorbed it to the deepest core of his being. And as he grappled with the exchange of suffering for joy, he barely noticed that while the sound of lavender laughter intensified and filled him with unquenchable strength, the outline of the faerie was slowly fading in the air before him.

Only moments before, she had been a bright and delightful confirmation of all that he had believed to be true. Now as she faded from the view of his eyes and back into wherever it was that faeries disappeared, her endlessly echoing laughter had become a golden promise that all sadness was forever banished from the recesses of his heart. He remembered the question she had asked him, ‘Do you know what it is you have lost?’ 

He tried with all his soul to remember, but the sorrow of what he had once lost was now lost to him forever. No, he had not imagined the lavender faerie or the delicious joys of eternal childhood – they were equally real and true. But what of the sorrow he once felt at the loss of his little friend, who had slowly turned in his mind from pale pink to ashen grey? Or the sadness that he felt as his eternal youth proved little more than a momentary delusion? With one final lavender laugh, these vanished completely from all recollection, completely unreal and untrue, nevermore to be entertained, even in moments of absent distraction.

In the next moment, he saw his little friend with the pink ponytails in her hair running towards him along the forest path. ‘You found it!’ she squealed with delight. ‘Found what?’ he asked, the old, familiar sense of silly fun forming a broad smile across his brightly beaming face. ‘Your sparkle!’ she giggled, ‘It’s back in your eyes – just like magic!’ And he realised that she had not grown old and neither had he, and he knew with absolute certainty that neither of them ever would and that the sadness that once consumed them both had been dissolved forever. And as they ran laughing in the direction of their favourite tree, the faerie dying in the nearby flowers smiled to know that her mission had been fulfilled, and that her shine would live eternally in the undying laughter of the children.
 

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She lay sleeping, her dreams carrying her from scenario to scenario, at times in a nightmarish form with faceless people barking instructions and demands without any thought of what was humanly possible. With all its wonder, the world had become a confusing mess and once again she had been torn here and there by those that knew her and had wished for the best. She had sought opinions from many, and each time the same sounds reverberated but still gave no comfort, and even if they did, they offered no answers to the complex questions that now posed themselves each and every way she looked.

Whilst she slept the deepest slumber, a small boy walked the darkened path that she had feared to tread earlier. In his hand he held a lantern that burnt soft, with the warming glow lighting his face in a ghostly way. The yellow tones flickered as the flame danced precariously on the end of the wick, at times threatening to leap away, but at the last minute taking hold once more. He was just a distant form and the path he trod had become brighter for all that he had done, yet it had been made no clearer. His hands were small and within them he held the clues to the answers of many questions, with the words he scrawled upon the coarse textured paper joined to make sentences, then paragraphs and finally stories that offered some sort of dim hope where before no hope existed.

He had heard the gentle sobbing earlier in the evening and in the silhouette of a tall tree he had stood, contemplating the many thoughts that flooded into his mind. He had looked deep into the starry sky and marveled at what was unknown, at the same time seeing all that the child could see, the shapes that had become amazing visions that only a child’s mind could form. At the same time he had realized that what the child saw was only a glimpse of what once was, and that now the reality of what was needed would challenge everything that she had ever known. In the distance the sobbing had subsided, replaced by the gentle breaths of a sleeping child with the intermittent murmur as she battled the dreams that played in her tired mind.

As the lantern illuminated the path before him, the darkness filled in each of the footsteps that he had already taken, so that what was ahead was all that was really clear, and even then for only a short distance. He knew this was much like what confronted his friend, and he also knew that it was much of what he had faced for a long while now. This gave him a different perspective on much, but then the child in him still believed and held onto that belief as if it were the air that kept him alive. He stopped momentarily mid way along the path, and he lowered the lantern for a moment. He looked once more to his beloved night sky and all the stars that smiled upon him, and as he heard the laughter from above he realized that no matter what, they would always be there, and that regardless of what lay before him, the child would still always be able to reach for his dreams if he should so choose.

He turned to where he had come from, and he raised the lantern, and in doing so he realized that in the darkness the path looked much the same in either direction, but the difference was he knew what lay behind him, because he had been there already. He turned once more to where the forest lay and he continued, with the softness of the daisies that lined the path melting like a watercolor bathed in the ethereal glow. He reached where the small girl lay, curled up with the remnants of a tiny tear still on her cheek. He thought about the things that had crossed his mind in the short time since he had left the security of the Tree. Then he reached into his coat pockets with his tiny hand and within it he held those simple words that would become sentences, then paragraphs. He held the lantern above her so that the life-giving glow would warm her, and then he carefully sprinkled the magic of the words upon her. She stirred slightly, but did not wake and as the morning light began to paint the sky with the wonderful colors that brought life and clarity to the land, he disappeared into the night sky, now joining the stars, laughing and smiling as he would for evermore.

She woke from the strangest of dreams, and as she did, she thought for just a moment that she could hear familiar laughter. She looked into the sky just in time to see the final blink of the brightest star she had ever seen, just before it disappeared into the soft hues of pinks and reds that now filled the sky. As she sat there, staring down the path, she could see the silhouette of her favorite tall tree bathed in the wondrous colors, silently waiting. She remembered the night before, and the fear that gripped her, the confusion that had consumed her into a desperate tear filled slumber, yet now it was clearer. She remembered a dream, so vivid it was almost real. The familiar flash of blue bathed in light, like a dream she had had so many times before.

The sweet sounds of birds singing reminded her that she was alive, and that she had been given a chance, maybe for one last time. She remembered her nightmare, at the same time remembering how it had stopped suddenly and how it was then that words began to form in her mind. Now one by one those words fell into place, and as she listened the story they told gave her hope, gave her strength, and the courage to believe.

The future is in our hands, guided by the wisdom of all we learn on the roads we travel. You know above all else where it is you have been for you have seen that clearly, and the question you need to ask yourself now is are you truly prepared to leave that behind, so that it never ever consumes you again. The path you now travel may be daunting, but the person you are knows without a shadow of doubt what it is that you must do. If you take control and be true to who you are, you will navigate the challenges that you now face, and you will be who you need to be. If however you succumb to the temptations that have riddled your past, then the darkness will wrap you forever more and as quickly as you go, you will be forgotten.

She thought carefully about the words and she believed that she understood their meaning. As she sat there in reflection, some final words played within her mind.  The path ahead is clear in the light of day, and all we know will be laid out before us on a canvas that was created from the dreams of one. Times will come and go, like so many things in our lives and in the darkness we may all find fear and confusion once more, but if you look into the night sky you will realize it holds the dreams of a child. You must know that through those dreams you can believe, and the fears will disappear in the familiar twinkling of the stars with the distant echo of childish laughter.

She looked along the path to where the Friendship Tree stood tall and strong, now clearer in the light of day, and she wondered. It had been a while since she had climbed there as a child, only visiting from time to time to hang the butterflies that had helped her process the many questions that had consumed her over the last months. What is it that she would find there now?

 

On a closing note.

 

A story, ‘The Little Prince,’ speaks of many things and if you have never read it, then it may just benefit you. If you have read it, then do so again. There are lessons of friendships formed and the responsibilities that come with those, and there are lessons that remind us that sometimes we do become so consumed in the matters of consequence that we lose sight of the importance of what life truly is. When you are finished reading it, ask yourself, are you the prince, the fox, the rose or the pilot, or are you one or all of the people that the prince visits on his journey. Most of all, ask yourself, does the child inside you see the elephant, and can you hear my laughter in the stars at night.

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The child was more terrified than she had ever been before. Though to most she had looked like a little princess – and little more than a diminutive damsel in all-consuming distress – she had proved herself a warrior, stronger than any princess could ever dream of being. She had navigated the darkest forest with its coarse, cold blanket of nightmarish shadows and confronted her own death face to face, before defeating it as she had done before. She had not vanquished her formidable foe alone, but had been equipped with arrows of the love and support of the many who had rallied their thoughts around her in some distant world, whispering words of encouragement into the air that somehow reached her ear, filling her soul with strength and light and life. They had hoped and believed, and she had clung to their far-off words and thoughts with all her might, knowing that she must somehow keep herself alive, if only for the sake of those who had made her the object of their worried wishes and desperate prayers.

Slowly, the child had lifted herself from the dank forest floor, running her hands mournfully over the bruises and scratches that covered her arms, leg and shoulders, clawed and torn by the sharp branches of indistinguishable, sinister trees that lined and spread themselves with malice across the forest path, covering it from her view almost completely, causing her to stumble and crash into the jagged bark of their rough trunks. These were nothing like the beloved tree she had known before the darkness had come, the one that reached skywards into the sunshine, beckoning her to flit her way from branch to glorious branch til she landed like a butterfly on the one from which a dazzling mobile of delicious dreams and sugary words fluttered in the magical breeze. That was the tree of Infinite Childhood. These were trees of Inevitable Death. 

And though she knew that death could not be fought forever and she doubted herself for more than a moment, she came to remember with all her heart that she was truly only a child, and that this was not her time to die. Exhausted and broken, she had searched within the curls of rusty brown leaves and found within them an extra drop of strength each day. Some days she could not drink them in at all, her dry throat struggling to swallow anything that might hope to sustain her. Days and weeks passed before finally she had completed her transformation from vanquished victim to pale, frail princess to the triumphant heroine of her own fantastic fairytale where darkness had been defeated once more. Somewhere, in some far off land, those who had hoped and prayed and wished and believed for her recovery sensed her growing strength and rejoiced for her in their streets.

Now the child stood at the final edge of the forest that had threatened to devour her, and nothing in her compelled her to even think of looking back. She only desired to move out and forward, leaving the darkness behind her. But from where she stood now, there was no discernible path to lead her out. The dark, familiar path she had travelled over the past few months seemed to have dissolved entirely beneath her feet, and stretched endlessly before her now was the absolute desolation of unimaginable nothingness. In moments of prior delirium, she had dreamed that at this point clear paths would reveal themselves, presenting brightly-lit choices by which she would navigate herself either back to the life she knew, or onwards in a better direction. But the distant, dimming horizon held no clues how she might traverse the barrenness spread before her. 

And even though the battle had been won, for Death was now banished into the indeterminate future, the future that spanned between this moment and death had become so absolutely unknown, and this frightened the child more than death’s former certainty. She had reached the edge of the path, but her heart was overcome with the fullest fear of the infinite nothing that seemed to lie before her. A brief moment tempted her to take a few short steps back into the forest, which for all its savage darkness offered some familiarity. Instead, because she could not figure out what else she might do, she slid down onto the edge of the darkening path and wept herself into some sort of confused, distracted sleep. In the gurgling mubble of slumber, she dreamed that when she woke, some path might unexpectedly present itself to her in the morning’s gently filtered light. 
 

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Losing who I am, who I was and who I could be
Drowning in the infinite deep sorrow that confounds me.
Some days I dangle lifeless from the limbs of this great tree,
Succumb to all the tumours that have set up camp inside me.
‘She always smiles and rarely cries’, is what they think about me,
But there is so much pain inside that they can never see.
‘You must stand firm,’ I hear their voices urge me,
But there are days when I could sink to the bottom of the deepest, darkest

Sea, the sea – please take what’s left of me
And carry it far from this place where I’m no longer me.
The darkness falls, the moon hangs high over
The sea, the sea – the song that cries her every night to sleep.

Closed eyes now blink, she finds a new dawn waking.
Pain dissipates, her soul no longer aching.
There’s light and hope, deep fears are now abating.
Then one more step she finds the strength to take into

The sea, the sea – please save what’s left of me
And carry it back to the place where I am truly me.
The sun shines bright, my soul feels light under
The sea, the sea – restoring dreams of who I’ll one day be.

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‘You’re too heavy!’ the little girl in pink overalls hollered to the Adult sitting vaguely on the downside of the see-saw. The bright sun glared into the Child’s wide blue eyes, blinding her into even greater frustration. “I-can’t-get-down!!!” she wailed. By now she looked as frazzled as she felt, pink cheeks hotly flushed and pink bows coming loose, long sweaty strands of dark hair spilling onto her warm forehead.

The woman was utterly distracted. She couldn’t hear the Child screaming frantically above her or see her legs kicking wildly. Angelica’s mind was saturated with the news of her diagnosis. How could she possibly process all that was happening to her? A thousand medical appointments. A million medical professionals, each one wanting her to read this, sign that, test for this, decide that, start this, finish that. Now this. Then that. Panicked, she had begun to run, desperate to escape all that this illness had begun to take from her and suddenly demanded of her.

All morning, her feet had pounded the ground: left-right-left-right-this-that-this-that. But when she passed through the thick forest and neared the bright playground, her long adult strides slowed into small, simple, child-like steps. For the briefest moment, she was no longer a cancer patient, but a healthy, blissful child once more, dancing in the sun. Relief washed over her, and Angelica eagerly scanned the playground to find the little lost girl – a younger, healthier version of herself.

Past the slippery slide. Past the swings. Past the flying fox. What Angelica needed desperately was something that would help her to find her balance again. Finally she saw where the Child sat expectantly on the old wooden plank. Her eyes sparkled with anticipation, longing to be raised high into the air. But the very moment Angelica had thrown one leg over the see-saw, her tired mind retreated in despair. ‘This MRI, that biopsy, this chemotherapy, that radiation …’

“No!!!!” the Child screamed. “You only just got here!” And while Angelica’s body was on the see-saw, the little girl knew the Grown Up’s mind was already elsewhere, spinning wildly on the round-a-bout of this-that-this-that-this-that. Panicked, the Child closed her eyes and began to chant a desperate prayer of colours. “Blue-red-blue-red-blue-red.” She squinted through long lashes and spied a faint flash of blue, then a bright blur of red, moving through the forest that surrounded the playground.

Angelica was beyond exhaustion. Overwhelmed. She closed her weary eyes, tempted to pray for some kind of miracle, but found herself too depleted to open them again. The Child glanced quickly down at the Adult, then began to chant once more: “Blue-red-blue-red-blue-red.” She kept her eyes scrunched closed but knew in her heart that the colours were moving closer. Her feet no longer flailed wildly but began to swing lazily in the gentle, magical breeze.

“Blue-red-blue-red-blue-red,” she began to giggle, the fear leaking, then pouring, out of her heart. She could see the colours starting to glow brighter than the hot sun through her closed eyelids. And as Angelica issued a silent prayer like a petition to some distant physician, she knew in her heart that all she could do was just sink down into the fullest depths of her despair. Just slide off the see-saw and into the dirt. Just disappear into the mud she would make with the million tired tears that promised to drown her. There was no point fighting it anymore.

“You’re here,” the Child whispered, slowly opening her eyes to see a strong boy wearing a long blue coat and a beautiful girl with eyes like the clearest rubies, balancing their way with arms outstretched up the plank towards her. The three children straddled the high end of the see-saw, their weight still insufficient to raise the almost lifeless adult. The girl in the red dress smiled calmly while the boy reached deep into his pocket. Something seemed to flicker softly in his hand. Then just as her darkest thought prepared to consume her, Angelica felt a soft breeze brush against her face, then another by her ear as though something lighter than a snowflake had landed on her shoulder.

Though her eyes stayed closed, she knew she was being flooded with colour and she sensed the sequence strongly. ‘Blue-red-pink. Blue-red-pink,’ she whispered over and over again. The colours felt like butterflies, hundreds of them, landing on her shoulders, opening and closing countless wings again and again to cool and soothe her troubled soul. “Blue. Red. Pink,’ she intoned even slower still, breathing into her lungs each colour’s unique magic: ‘Strength. Clarity. Hope.’ Angelica’s heart had never felt lighter, and the lightness began to lift her off the ground.

When she opened her eyes, they were dazzled by the intense mosaic that covered her shoulders, arms and legs like sunshine streaming through a cathedral’s stained glass windows. Her disbelieving gaze followed the exquisite creatures in their thousands up the full length of the see-saw, now splashed with bright splotches of colour. The decaying wooden plank had become a living rainbow, a blissful bridge between adult illness and child-like awe and wonder.

When Angelica’s eyes reached the end of the bridge, she found herself gazing into the faces of three small children who sat in perfect balance opposite her on the see-saw. She watched as the boy released endless butterflies from the pocket of his long blue cloak. Strength. Clarity. Hope. The words did not spin round and round inside her head like this-that-this-that-this. Instead, they soared blissfully up then delightfully down, then blissfully up again.

From that point, Angelica’s feet only ever touched the ground for the briefest of moments before being carried skywards by the gentle rainbow of butterflies. Yes, she would come down to earth for this surgery or that chemotherapy session, but the butterflies would always lift her again. She surrendered herself completely to the mosaic of life and light and hope balanced delicately on her shoulder, as it lifted her weightlessly skywards once more.

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Today I saw a paper boat afloat upon a stream.

The sight of it transported me inside the sweetest dream.

It carried me from where I stood, on muddy banks nearby,

Towards the bright horizon that divided land from sky.

 

The soul inside me lifted from the dark place I had been,

Cool water washed over my mind, and all that I had seen

Was now infused with life and light where turmoil once had reigned,

And at that point I knew my life should never be the same.

 

Where once each thought was plagued with doubt, now certainty had come.

I watched now as the paper boat turned slowly for the sun.

It sailed its course relentlessly, whatever waves may crash,

And I too set a forward course with no more looking back.

 

How can a boat of paper navigate the ocean wide?

How can a fragile child like me find courage not to hide?

A dim and distant silhouette gives me the hope I need

That paper boats can surely float across the wildest seas. 

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Angelica turned uncomfortably in the bed, but without the sense of disorientation that had steadily dissolved the longer she had been confined to sleep in this plain room by herself.  Twenty one long days and restless nights had somehow started to feel ordinary, and whatever world had continued to spin without her outside the hospital seemed nothing more than a faint, sweet dream between the endless, unscheduled meetings with doctors, surgeons, nurses, pathologists, specialists, counsellors, dieticians, physiotherapists and more.

In the haze between asleep and awake, Angelica became vaguely aware that some distant light was just starting to bathe the landscape painted on the other side of the large window, well beyond her reach. Today would be no different. The endless stream of nameless faces would soon begin to flow through her room to remind her of her poor health and utter helplessness.

Slowly, as though stepping from one level of consciousness to the next, she woke more fully to realise, no – this day was NOT just like every other. She could not find any words inside her tired mind to explain how today would be different, but the dawning day somehow seemed  infused with greater anticipation than Christmas morning.  As Angelica’s eyes focused and refocused from the ascending steps of sleep towards greater clarity, a surprising addition to the bright mural on her hospital room wall commanded her attention …

Of course, there were the massive tree with its widely outspread branches – stronger than ever, thanks to an amazing friendship  that could survive even life’s darkest hours – and the silhouette of the three children whose unique joy gave the tree its life and colour. Angelica and her friend had painted this mural with their words over the past three weeks, a fanciful escape from the banality of the stark walls that had become her prison.

But now the mural was made of more than words and daydreams. It seemed to have transcended the realm of imagination, and now it appeared to be painted permanently across the long wall that had  previously taunted her with its stark, mind-numbing bareness.

Brushing her fringe from her eyes, Angelica sat herself slowly up in her bed, (for she was not yet completely strong or quick), donned her soft dressing gown and made her way gingerly towards the mural. ‘What kind of dream is this?’ she wondered, as the sterile stench of antiseptic evaporated, giving way to the lush smell of moss and bark and freshly fallen leaves that filled her lungs with promise.

Angelica ran her hand across the tree trunk in the centre of the mural and marvelled at how the wall’s flat matt paint transformed now under her palm, filling it with a solid, round metal handle. She turned it slowly, feeling the trunk door creak slowly open, inviting her to leave the confines of the hospital room, to enter a world infinitely more inviting and familiar.

Peering through the door into the dreamworld beyond her room, Angelica felt a glowing warmth against her cheek, infusing it with a pale pink flush that had not been present for some time. Yes, she could feel the sun on her face, and she inhaled the fresh air greedily as though it was hers to breathe for the very first time.

But the warm glow was layered. Somewhere between Angelica and the bold, bright sun, there was a small, square table covered by a bright blue cloth. The table was adorned with a large metal tree, beautifully sculpted by some master craftsman, each of its sturdy branches showcasing a small leaf-shaped candle.

‘This is exquisite,’ she whispered to herself, ‘I wonder how it came to be – a tree within a tree?’ Then there was the subtle smell of fresh cut roses, and a gentle hand rested upon Angelica’s tired shoulder. ‘Don’t you know what today is?’ the kind, familiar voice whispered back. ‘This is no ordinary day, my friend.’

Then somehow – in a way that can only happen on the most blissful days when one is filled with the most potent sense of hope and belief – the cobalt cloth seemed to transform itself into a long blue cloak. And there he stood before the two girls – the magical white-haired boy. His face beamed towards his friends in the flickering light of the candles that glowed upon the metal tree.

‘This is no ordinary day,’ the boy spoke, echoing the words his love had uttered only moments before. ‘You found the handle I painted for you on the trunk of the tree. But you haven’t yet realised that the door only opens in one direction. Now that you have left your hospital room, there is no going back my friend.’

The beautiful girl who smelled like roses sighed gently. ‘We  lit these candles to keep vigil for you until you could return. See how they have brought you back to us?’ Her smiling eyes sparkled like rubies as they always did when she felt things deeply.

Angelica’s mind flooded with a wash of wonder. Was any of this real? Somehow, everything had the quality of the sweetest dream, and for a moment she shut her eyes, fearful that she would awake back in her hospital bed if she dared to open them.

But moment after moment, this world became more real, and Angelica’s heart filled with a potent certainty that the hospital room she had inhabited for the past three weeks had begun to decay into little more than a dusty delusion.

She opened her eyes, and immediately they were drawn to the shiny silver tree with its small collection of glowing candles. She counted them curiously. Eleven. And recounted them – eleven again. Why did this feel so … strange … as though there was something she must somehow fix?

Perplexed, she pushed her fringe from her eyes again, then rested her hand deep inside the pocket of her long dressing gown, only to draw it out again quickly in an attempt to determine the nature of the object she had unexpectedly found there. She rubbed her fingers again and again over the small, waxy object before understanding what it was and why today would truly be no ordinary day.

Slowly, she discerned the reason the room that had contained her for close to a month had dissolved this morning with the tentative turn of a tree trunk’s handle. She made her way towards the metal tree on the table, finding the one solid, silver branch she had not noticed before which was not yet aglow. Resting the tiny, leaf-shaped candle upon the small flat of the final branch, Angelica began to remember the significance of the day – June 13th – and closed her eyes, preparing to make a wish.

No – it was not her birthday, but she drew breath and blew gently towards the twelve candles, finding them all now lit and glowing brightly rather than extinguished when she opened her eyes again. The faces of her two friends appeared before her, magically luminous in the light and warmth of the twelve glowing leaves, now burning with all the intensity of Angelica’s relief that she had managed to free herself from the stark, sterile hospital room for such a momentous occasion.

‘My friend,’ Angelica addressed the boy in the long, blue cloak, ‘ Today is no ordinary day. Yesterday you were eleven, but today you are twelve. I light this candle to honour you on your very special day.’ A rare tear began to form in her eye, as she realised that her confinement had prevented her from finding a suitable birthday gift from her friend. The lovely rose girl standing nearby squeezed Angelica’s hand gently, reassuring as always. All that she said to the white-haired boy was also true of the beautiful girl who now stood so closely beside her.

‘My friend,’ Angelica continued, ‘You have given constantly to me in my time of need the things I needed the most. Loyalty, encouragement, inspiration, wise counsel, a listening ear, positivity and strength – in summary, you have offered the truest, purest friendship I have ever known. You have been there beside me in the darkest moments of my life, and have always been there to celebrate with me in better times, as you are truly here even now.’

‘I can never repay your friendship,’ Angelica sighed, feeling slightly inadequate as she sometimes did. ‘All I can do is offer you my deepest friendship in return.’ Her two dearest friends smiled at each other, knowing that sometimes she felt a little overwhelmed by all that she had been through and all that was still to come. Like trees, they each reached their branches towards her, filling her with their compassion and strength.

‘I do not quite know how to leave the bare walls of that stark room on the other side of the tree trunk behind me. I do not know how any single moment of my path will unfold as I reenter this magical world of colour and life and light. But the two of you have taught me many important lessons, and this is one that I shall never forget.’

‘Today is unique and tomorrow will be too. Each day will present challenges that may threaten to overwhelm me, but when I lack strength, you two will lend me your strength and help me to climb. This I know with certainty and is something I shall never doubt. I only regret -‘ Angelica lowered her eyes momentarily from the warm gaze of her friends, ‘that on your birthday, I could do no more than add the final candle to your birthday tree.’

‘You still don’t understand, do you?’ the boy in the blue cloak spoke gently, moving towards the twelve tiny candles that danced like tiny, shiny stars from the silver tree on the tabletop. ‘When you awoke this morning, you saw the mural I had painted for you, and you found the handle on the trunk to leave that other world behind you for good.  I don’t need to blow these candles out to make my birthday wish. That was my wish, and see how it has already come true?’

Angelica felt her courage grow stronger within her, coursing through her veins like strong, milky sap through the sturdy trunk of the tree. She knew that she had sometimes worried too much and perhaps at times even worried about the wrong sorts of things. She closed her eyes and felt the warmth of the twelve tiny candle leaves glowing onto her face once more.

And though the candle wishes were not hers to make, she knew that her friends would understand. One by one, she blew each of them out, wishing for peace, courage, acceptance, patience, strength, laughter, health, lady bugs and dragonflies. She wished for friendship that would never falter and that her precious, eternally young friend would have the best twelfth birthday he had ever had.

Angelica counted and recounted these wishes in her mind. Eleven. There was one more wish to be made, the most powerful wish of all, saved until last. She closed her eyes once more and wished with all her heart that this would truly be no ordinary day.

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Just two days after having the largest of her five tumours removed in surgery, Angelica was ecstatic to finally pull herself out of her lumpy hospital bed and into a soft chair beside a window, looking out across the nearby rooftops in the direction of some distant grey  mountains. She was not comfortable, but she was satisfied, just to know that she had somehow found a small reserve of strength to lift her body and her spirits and to know that her recovery was truly underway.

The past forty-eight hours had been little more than a blur to her. There were conversations and visitors she could barely remember at all, and other vaguely whispered questions that echoed inside her clouded mind like a carousel of dusty dreams, like ‘Have I had surgery yet?’, followed again and again by the exact same question only moments or hours later. She was relieved to feel a scrap of colour return to her paper-white cheeks with just a few licks of a cool icy-pole, and now finally, dressed in her own nightshirt instead of the rough, hospital issued wrap-around, she felt that she was finally returning to and reclaiming some small part of her own pre-surgery self.

She smiled at the small nightstand in the corner of the otherwise dull private room, covered entirely with orange and yellow lilies, peach gerbras, red carnations and glittery apricot singapore orchids. Then there were the helium balloons that always followed her to lift her out of her darkest moments – a pixie flying with wings and wand outstretched, pointing beyond the window, inviting Angelica to fly outside. A second bright balloon, rounder than a bubble, was adorned with happy golden fish and coral and a treasure chest, cheerfully emblazoned with the words ‘Hope You’re Feeling Better’. And every moment, she did feel better, and stronger, and somehow more alive.

Her eyes moved across the nightstand to see a small teddy bear dressed like a bumble bee, a pink dolphin and a purple octopus, a magically scented cloth rose and a life sized cut-out of a Disney mermaid, smiling with enormous blue eyes back to her where she sat in her chair. A large canvas artwork formed the backdrop to this all, hand-drawn by her best friend, Langley, representing all the characters in all the stories they had written together over many months past. There was the magical white haired boy in the long blue cloak, with the girl in pink overalls with pink bows in her hair on his left and the beautiful girl in the pretty red dress on his right, all staring far into the picture towards the enormous Friendship Tree. From its branches dangled an empty swing  and the delightful ladybug, dragonfly and butterfly mobiles the three children always loved to decorate the branches of their beloved tree with. Nearby, a ladybug, a butterfly and a dragonfly sat quietly perched atop of their respective flowers. A red  rose sat sheltered inside a glass dome beside a golden path, and the ears and tail of a red fennec fox could be spied just slightly emerging from a golden field of wheat.

In the far distance, there was an Ivory Tower, threatened by clouds but decorated in rainbow paint by some rescuers who knew how destructive that tower could be to the princess trapped inside it. A sheep cloud, a candle and a Book of Dreams appeared to be suspended in a vast blue sky that hovered in stillness over a white paper boat that floated past the Island of Lost Children, governed by a Little Prince, the hero of yet another magic-filled story. A starry night sky filled the final top corner, glistening with stars that were full of wishes just waiting to be wished. Each nurse and visitor to Angelica’s hospital room would gravitate towards the canvas, asking ‘Who did that? And what does it all mean?’ ‘This is the tale of the mighty Friendship Tree,’ Angelica would reply, her eyes sparkling with the knowledge of many stories told and many still to be written. ‘This is a Tree rich with the fruit of imagination, a testament to the fact that True Friendship is one of the strongest forces that can be imagined.’

Outside of this canvas, Angelica knew that the days, weeks and months ahead would present her with a myriad of challenges, the like of which she had never faced before. Yet for her, the treatments to come – the many months of recovery, radiation and chemotherapy that would put her life on hold and challenge her to the fraying edges of her courage and strength, were abstract and ephemeral compared to the world that came to life now on the canvas on the hospital nightstand. This world was vibrant, magical, powerful and whimsical. It could never fail to restore her faith, hope and delight. There was powerful medicine here that could completely bring her tired body back to life.

The light that shone through the hospital window and onto the canvas was filled with promise that one day – soon – every aspect of life would be vibrant and colourful once again. Now here came the orderly with her free-fluids dinner: some bland pumpkin soup, red jelly, lemon sorbet and a small tub of custard. Today, she had begun to eat again, even if the bites could only be tiny ones, and tomorrow she would begin to write again, crafting passionately magical, whimsical words to hang like butterfly mobiles from the branches of her beloved Friendship Tree.

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