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Posts Tagged ‘hope’

Where the shadows stretch so long and deep and linger well into the night, that is where I sit in silence waiting for the night owl flight. Upon the misty winter breeze an echo carries wide and far, until it echoes never more muted neath a sky of stars. Life and death like night and day so far apart yet one the same, captured now together held forever more in tight embrace. To close your eyes and drift away and find a peace so few will know, one day to see beyond the veil into that other world will go.

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The little girl climbed the tree rather tentatively as it had been a long while since her small hands had clasped the rough branches. She was not truly frightened, but some days she wondered whether she had somehow forgotten the strength and agility needed to ascend to the lofty heights of the familiar branch which had borne her weight so many times in the past. After such a long absence, everything seemed so strange and familiar at the same time, and that in itself seemed very strange.

The boy was not here, but everywhere there was evidence that he had never been far away. Glittery blue dragonflies dangled from odd lengths of string, not just from one branch but in fact from them all. She smiled then giggled as she brushed past them; how her imagination set them free from their strings and sent them into frantic, blissful hovers, each wing moving in a different direction to achieve their magically perfect stillness, like falcons riding the rolling wisps of wind, suspended from distant clouds.

Yes, the tree was full of dragonflies, their gossamer wings glistening in the tranquil sunny haze. It took some time to spot any butterflies at all, and when she finally found them, they were somehow dull and faded and tattered from neglect. They looked like lost whispers, like tired, grubby napkins. Like a child’s toy – once cherished, now almost forgotten. Yet somehow the small child’s presence in the tree filtered soft rainbow prisms of light onto their tired paper wings, spinning ever so softly so that one might think they might almost twirl back to life. She took a breath, and exhaled slowly, savouring the air, the light and life itself.

The next time the young boy climbed, the magical breeze blew against his skin like a whispered secret. He brushed past many twigs that scratched his arms and legs as he searched for what he knew he would find. He darted between the dragonflies he had suspended from every hopeful branch. He scanned for shimmers of colour amongst the myriad of worn butterflies, but everything was old and nothing was new. Disappointed as he had been so many times in the past, he lowered his back against the tall trunk, one foot upon the branch, the other barefooted leg dangling like lost hope.

Idly, his fingers played along the rough bark of the branch that held him. The tree that once had been so young and vibrant had now grown to ancient wisdom; every furrow of bark was familiar. The next moment, something felt strange to his touch, small and soft, somewhere between the feel of bark and leaves. Careful not to dislodge the tiny unseen mystery, he bent down carefully to see whatever secret his branch now held. The magical breeze blew again, and with great care the wide-eyed boy made his way back down to the earth’s thick carpet of leaves.

Though excitement flickered through his thoughts like a ripple, he knew he would need to be more patient than he had ever been before. It might be a very long time before the chrysalis would transform, but when it finally did, the stained glass mosaic of butterfly wings would bring a new flush of colour and renewal to the tree’s ancient branches. He had already waited a very long time. And now as he looked back over his shoulder to the silhouette of the tree in the fading sunlight, he knew he could wait just a little longer, and maybe even forever, for a new butterfly to emerge.

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Can you see the little girl in pink overalls with eyes wide and full of wonder, almost hidden in the garden? She used to explore this secret space every day but she hasn’t been here for many months, and now she marvels at its transformation. At this moment, she is totally transfixed by the stunning, still, silent woman standing against the backdrop of hedge like a monument to some past era, serene upon a sandstone platform. Surely she has been carved overnight by the gentle hands of faeries and sprites! The stone folds of her long dress flow like fabric, eternally unaffected by the breeze that blows. The large stone basket she carries is filled to overflowing with invisible violets. How the child’s face floods with a flush of delight!

Slowly, she draws herself away and deeper into the garden where more secrets and surprises are certain to unfold. A tiny tear rolls down her pink cheek as she makes her way along a short, straight length of path, its pebbles punctuated by defiant weeds. Where did all the pretty purple cat-tail grasses go that she used to caress gently as she walked? And when and why did they die? Will they ever return to their sweet softness, swaying gently in the magical breeze? She laments what is lost, but hiding deep inside her tiny heart is a seed of hope that – one day – what has been lost might somehow be restored.

The child skips then ambles as children do down the path as it starts to wind towards the old metal swing, creaking on its badly rusted hinges. Just before she sits, she detects an unexpected echo of the exquisite statue she had seen before. Ashen grey compared to the other, large breaks are evident throughout her motionless body. There are enormous scars where she has been shattered by circumstance beyond her control, snapped at the waist and wrist and shoulder – so utterly broken. Yet someone had seen past her brokenness and decided that she should not be discarded. Carefully and kindly, they had searched the undergrowth and found her missing pieces, then taken time to fix each fragment meticulously back into place.

And now here the silent woman stood, scarred but intact, disfigured but somehow more noble and beautiful because of all she had been through and the value she now held because she had been saved from the scrap pile and been restored. Her imperfections spoke of the kindness, grace and mercy of another, and this proved that mankind was truly capable of honour and goodness. The child shed a tear and smile simultaneously at the sight and the revelation, then continued her ambling way down the secret garden path.

Again, the lesson repeated itself. At the very end of the garden path, flowering bushes had once stood strong, providing solitude and seclusion for anyone wishing to delight in the garden’s secrets. The child remembered a time when violent winds had blown the tall, flat-faced, purple lassiandras to the ground, exposing the garden entirely to those who would never otherwise be invited in. Then tiny magnolias, sweetly called ‘Little Gem’, had been planted to replace them, with a hope and a dream that one day these would fill the space and protect the garden’s secrets once more. The last time she had seen these little ones, her heart despaired at how overgrown they had become with weeds, how overrun they had become with other lesser plants that seemed intent on their destruction.

But now what was here? Not a weed to be seen, and the lesser plants themselves had been removed, destroyed. And here indeed were the three magnolias, not overcome, but carefully transplanted to fill the space, without threat or competition. The child’s heart leapt inside her. Like the broken statue, she had not doubted that the little plants would have been surely doomed. But here they stood, proclaiming all the strength of their potential to become even more than they were before, to grow past what had tried to kill them and to transform the small, secret world that surrounded them with all the strength and beauty that only hope and resilience and recovery can bring.

And though the girl with pink bows tying back her hair was only a child, that was all she truly ever wished to be. A Grown Up might walk down the garden’s weed-strewn path, only to think ‘Statue. Missing plant. Another statue – broken. More insignificant plants.’ But the eyes of the child could see that everything in this secret garden had been dreamed from nothing. When it had been broken, it could be repaired, to have even more value for having been lovingly restored. And she saw something of herself in the three Little Gem magnolias, once doomed to be overcome, now destined to feel the sun kiss their supple stalks, empowering them to soon become all that they were truly meant to be.

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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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    Angelica sat upon the large, dark, damp circle not too far from the water’s edge. She had expected to wade into the water to find the glistening treasure box of shells again, but here they all were, gathered strangely and almost dry, as if waiting for her to come and sit quietly, to seek and sort and sift. This time, the sun did not sparkle onto the tiny jewels, bringing out of them the radiant fire of colour and the sparkling illusion of life. The sky was grey, a reflection of her own dimly lit soul, for she had just learned that she was very sick again and fat drops of rain threatened to fall in the place of the self-pitying tears she refused to cry.

    The tiny shells, thousands of them, formed a cushion around and beneath her. She unclasped the silver chain around her neck, with its shiny Friendship Tree medallion, diamond butterfly, sparkly pink rose and the long dragonfly charm set with small square pink stones, all reminding her of the dear friends who had so often been within arm’s reach, those she cherished the most. But today she sat on the beach alone, searching for those shells that were special, pretty and strong enough to be threaded onto her silver chain.

    ‘When I am trying to recover, to beat this illness again,’ she explained to herself, ‘this will be my way of keeping the ocean close to my heart, giving me life and strength.’ She knew that it would be a very long time before she would be well enough to dive again beneath the nearby pier that seemed now to fade into a distant fog before her. ‘No, I will not be here with you,’ she sighed to the ocean, ‘So I must take part of you there with me,’ and she searched and sorted and selected those tiny, treasured trinkets that would carry all the fullness of the ocean inside them around her neck.

    ‘Did you think I wouldn’t come?’ a sweet voice spoke softly behind her. And looking up she saw the beautiful girl in the flowing red dress move like a dream towards her, an unexpected sadness in her eyes. The girl was older than she had ever been before, full of elegance, grace and understanding that had somehow come through transcending all the trials and suffering of the past. ‘How she inspires me,’ Angelica breathed, rather than whispered, and instinctively she held out the silver chain, asking the girl to ‘Choose’. Carefully the girl with rubies for eyes perused the small collection on the chain and selected a pearly shell with a soft pink hue.

    ‘I will take this one to remember you by,’ the beautiful girl smiled, ‘But in its place, you must take these two.’ And she threaded onto the chain a long, dark spiralled shell and one that was tiny and almost perfectly round, like a child’s plastic bead. ‘The first,’ she explained, ‘reminds you that your path will be dark and windy, but that you will never, ever walk it alone. The second – ‘, she paused, as though hesitating to find the words, ‘will remind you that life is simpler than we sometimes think, and that when you see it through the eyes of a child, you realise that there is nothing to be feared.’

    A magic breeze blew gently across the water and up onto the shell-strewn circle, and with it the girl in the red dress carrying the scent of roses vanished and Angelica’s most magical friend, the white haired boy, appeared. ‘Please give me that shell there,’ he pointed to the chain, ‘For it is small but very strong, the same colour as my hair. And in its place, I leave you this – ‘, his eyes threatened to swell with rain, and indeed at that moment, a cold rain began to fall steadily and the boy in the long blue cloak dissolved from sight. Angelica looked down into the palm of her hand where he seemed to have placed an intricately folded note on pale blue paper.

    Her first instinct was to open it, to see what magical words would be written inside, but then she knew without doubt that this paper must never be unfolded. Standing carefully, for it pained her now to lift her body up from the dark, shell-encrusted circle on which she sat, she moved with all the courage she could muster down towards the water’s edge where she sent the tiny paper boat out on its unfathomable journey. She watched as it bobbed, threatening to be overcome by the smallest wave, then surfaced again to travel the length of the misty pier, almost disappearing from view.

    ‘What’s that?’ she heard the smallest voice beside her, then felt a tiny hand reaching up to hold her own. Here was a child she had never seen before. A true child – maybe five years old, with long dark hair and kind, mischievous eyes – not just a child in spirit. ‘I’m Autumn,’ the child explained, and as she spoke, her words smelled like the sweetest rain and falling leaves. ‘You are very sick and I have come to bring you joy.’ And despite the pain that gnawed at her body like a towel being wrung dry between one’s hands, Angelica reached down and lifted the child high into her arms, and they squeezed one another tightly that they might give each other strength that would last each of them their lifetimes.

    Setting her gently down again, their eyes locked them deeply together into tiny waves of laughter, like the ones that carried the paper boat off into its happy journey. Hand in hand, Angelica and Autumn ran from the water’s edge, the sound of the shells dangling around Angelica’s neck chiming like the ice in a sweet summer’s drink. Together they skipped away, away, up onto a rolling green hill where they collapsed together in a delightfully messy pile of the sweetest giggles. Angelica wrapped her arms around the child, feeling the strong, young heartbeat pounding blissfully against her own. Yes, she was tired and sick, and when she closed her eyes, she could almost believe that right now she was just a step or two from heaven.

    Angelica sighed, breathing in the crisp Autumn air, the nearby sea breeze and every sign that, at this very moment, she was still quite fully alive. It would be many months before she would be strong enough to return to the water’s edge, to search once more for tiny shells or to slide again beneath the long, misty pier like a bright fish, full of energy and possibilities. But for now, this one moment of life was enough, and she would take it like the shells around her neck with her into whatever the next moment might hold. She felt herself float and disappear like the tiny blue paper boat. It was no longer within her view, but she knew that it was still on its adventure into unknown waters and she determined, with everything within her, to see her voyage through to its mysterious, unknowable end.

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I sit in this tree, legs dangling, eyes blinking against the brightness of the sun. A thick blanket of shiny green leaves hides me from anyone who may try to find where I hide. Most days I can be found here with my two closest friends – the white-haired boy with the sweet pirate smile and the rosy-cheeked girl with sweet sad eyes – perched on nearby branches. Their words bring me to life. Without their thoughts, dreams and stories, I do not exist. Their existence nourishes mine. The boy always moves close to the girl and tenderly wraps his arm around her shoulder. Their love for each other keeps this tree alive and strong. Their love is water drawn up from the ground, sustaining every branch, including mine. But today they are not here, except for the sweet memory of my time in their company yesterday, which still hangs like an intricate charm on a silver chain around my neck. Today there is only me in pink overalls, hair tied in pink bows, hanging more shiny, pleated paper butterflies with glittery string from leaf-laden branches.

I hang the next butterfly with a short piece of string and think of the boy with his eyes that are younger than he has ever truly been. Sometimes he giggles like he has only ever been a child, and a child is all he will truly ever be. His smile is kind, his eyes are full of daydreams, and his words are never complicated. He never had friends before he climbed here, but somehow he understood instinctively what friendship was in all its fullness – no more and no less. I used to think my butterflies were just worthless pieces of paper. But somehow the boy saw the value and beauty in even my earliest attempts and encouraged me to find and develop all of their potential. His eyes sparkle as the breath of his kind words powers my butterflies into gentle, swinging flight. I fold another one and hang it, then another, and realise that with each butterfly I add to my mobile tree, the shiny green leaves from nearby branches turn red, then orange, then brown – then flutter their way wordlessly down into the ever-growing blanket at the base of the Tree’s trunk.

The next butterfly I fold is so delicate and fragile, it makes me think of the beautiful girl who is now also my friend. My heart warms at the thought of how she has grown more than any of the branches in this strong, tall Tree. When the white-haired boy first brought her here, her eyes would glisten with frightened tears. Although at first I didn’t know why, slowly I came to understand that she had loved the boy her whole life with her whole heart, and though she was scared to climb the tree herself, the thought of him disappearing high into those branches and out of her sight made her precious heart tremble to be left alone on the ground. So slowly, gently, we taught her to climb with us and she learned to trust, usually taking his hand, sometimes taking mine, as we guided her higher – one step at a time – to the special branches where the sunshine of joy always dissolves the shadows of fear. Soon she became the strongest climber of us all, eager to explore the tree each day, to see the baubles the boy created to adorn his branch and the pink butterflies that dangled from mine.

I fold the final pleats into another paper butterfly, then tie a small length of glittery string into a bow across its tiny waist. I am slow and by now a little tired, but finally I am ready to suspend the last of my butterflies with the many others I have folded while climbing this Tree, both with my friends and alone. I rise slowly, finding my foothold on the rough bark. My arms stretch skywards to attach the final embellishment to the last remaining space on the branch above my head. My mobile is complete. The gentlest of breezes kisses my face, magically breathing life into the kaleidoscope of butterflies, now shimmering, dancing joyously into the dappled sunlight. And in an instant, the Tree’s last green leaf falls to the ground, leaving every branch as bare as bones, as smooth as stone, as white as light. Not a single leaf remains – but when did they all disappear? While I folded butterflies, they must have lost their hold without me even noticing, transforming the Tree into little more than a skeleton of its former self, reaching naked arms with empty, crooked hands into the darkening sky. I thought it was still early afternoon, but now the setting sun paints an eerie silhouette above me, brushing my bare skin with a sweet, haunting chill.

Now I am a Child, but the day shall come when I will be like this Tree. My true essence gone, somehow I may still cast a dim shadow onto the ground where once I too grew sweet and strong. Though the leaves crumple and fall, the branches remain solid and strong, proclaiming the legacy of a lush life that vigorously drew the water up through deeply embedded roots. And I shall leave my legacy of butterflies, dangling from one hundred glittery strings like softly-spoken words, whispered once but never forgotten. But that is not today. For now, I shall climb down, hoping like only a Child can hope that tomorrow when I return to the Tree, the leaves will be shiny and green once more, and that my friends will be waiting for me, hiding somewhere deep inside my mobile of butterflies.

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