Category Archives: Faith and Spirituality

Romanian A-Z: I

Today’s star of the show comes last. None-the-less, my first word has a magic of its own. It’s izbucni, which means ‘erupt’ or ‘burst out’. It’s a word that comes from the Bulgarian izbukna (meaning the same thing) and I chose it simply because I love the sound of it. No English word sounds anything like it, which is more than can be said for indirect, indiscret and infalibil!

My second word is iepure which currently stars on one of the Romanian stamps:

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It’s the rabbit (or hare) and it’s pronounced as if you were saying the i (as ee) and the e (as in bed) one after the other very quickly.

The same applies for the word ieri, which I’ve chosen for the Valerea Ierii (The Valley of Yesterday) which we visited this afternoon. Our first view of it was a few days ago, when we were on the hills above it:

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Today, we went down into the valley/village itself, where the autumn colours looked spectacular, particularly where we were able to catch them in the late afternoon sunshine:

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It’s a beautiful valley and the mountains, the forests and the colours were truly awe-inspiring!

It’s no wonder that experiences in the Carpathian Mountains are said to have provided the final inspiration for Stuart K Hine to pen these words:

When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze:

Then sings my soul my Saviour God to thee
How great thou art! How great thou art!

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Romanian A-Z: H

For H, I have decided on a single word, har, chosen because I wanted to share with you the following music video.

When I first started to learn Romanian, before we came here, there came a point where I became bored with asking for tickets for trains that I was probably never going to catch, so I decided to look into other ways of learning. That’s when I came across this song: Mărețul Har.

It’s based on Chris Tomlin’s version of Amazing Grace and it’s one of the best Christian music videos I’ve ever seen. Romanians do music well. Very well. There is no question but that the gifts of these young people have been well nurtured.

Which is interesting because, as far as I can make out (and I am no expert), ‘gift’ or ‘talent’ is precisely what the word har means in its ordinary human sense. It’s only when speaking of God that its meaning becomes much bigger; as if all that is good and beautiful finds its origin, its fulness and its perfection in God.

Amazing Grace. Mărețul Har.

Not words we hear very often these days. In fact, in the light of all that has been happening in our world of late, this might seem like a very strange choice of song. How can anyone even think of singing about God’s ‘amazing’ grace in a world such as this?

It’s a good question.

There’s a sense in which such words seem… empty… out of touch.

And yet…

As Samwise Gamgee expressed it in The Lord of the Rings film:

It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo,
The ones that really mattered.
Full of darkness and danger they were
And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end
Because how could the end be happy?
How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened?
But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow.
Even darkness must pass.
A new day will come.
And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer…

For me, it’s about hope. It’s about holding onto something that is stronger than darkness and evil and death. Ultimately, it’s about the mercy and forgiveness and justice and peace and love that have the ability to transform our world, whether we have a choir and orchestra to sing about them or not.

Mărețul Har!

 

 

 

Romanian A-Z: G

So far, I haven’t talked much about Romanian cuisine, not least because I don’t consider myself sufficiently familiar with it. However, with the letter G, comes the opportunity to talk about something that has become a significant part of our diet since we arrived in Romania:

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This is a gogoșar (go-go-shar); a short, squat variety of bell pepper that is shaped rather like the Romanian doughnut from which it supposedly derives its name. It is more fleshy and flavourful than the regular variety of pepper, a difference that apparently qualifies it to be listed separately on jars of zacuscă (a kind of vegetable spread that is very popular in Romania). Clearly, gogoșari are widely grown because, along with tomatoes, they were cheaply available in every shop or supermarket and even on street corners in the height of the summer. Traditionally, they are pickled with vinegar in order to preserve them over the winter and restaurants often serve them in this form.

The letter G also brings me to a less attractive feature of Romanian life:

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Gunoi. It’s everywhere. If you have ever thought that we have a litter problem in the UK, you should try coming here. Not only do they have fly-tipping off to a fine art, but every lay by and picnic site is littered with cans and bottles. The further you go into the mountains, the less of it there is. But everywhere we have been, we have found some.

To be fair to the Romanian authorities, this is not for want of trying:

‘Depositing of rubbish prohibited’ warns the first sign. ‘Fine £500-£2000’ (which is a lot of money in Romanian terms). The second sign threatens an even bigger fine, with an accompanying notice: Don’t drop rubbish. The whole fact that this needs to be said twice is indicative of the impact such signs don’t have. The sign also warns of the danger of death (pericol de moarte), but that has to do with it being a bear reservation!

We arrived at the bear reservation by accident, having no idea it was there. We’d missed the road we had intended to take because it was indistinguishable from a farm track. However, bears or (in our case) no bears, it turned out to be a very nice spot for a picnic and with very little litter!

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Gunoi is a word of Slavic origin, but the origins of gogoșar are more obscure. Both words are pronounced with a hard ‘g’ (as in gate). However, as with many English words, if g is followed by either e or i, it is pronounced as a soft ‘g’ (as in giant or garage). If a hard ‘g’ is required in such instances, it is written gh, an example being gheață, meaning ice.

Whilst we did have a touch of frost this morning (welcome to October everyone!), my choice for a third word is gard. This originates from an ancient Proto-Indo-European word meaning ‘to enclose’ and probably entered the Romanian language via Dacian. The very similar Norse, Germanic and Slavic words all derive from the same root. It means…

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… fence!

I’ve chosen it because the high fences and gates that ‘guard’ the fronts of the houses were one of the first things I noticed about Romania. To me, they look grim and forbidding and hence detract hugely from the natural beauty of the towns and villages:

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Their purpose, so we have been told, is to ‘keep the thieving gypsies out’. Certainly, they don’t seem to have a lot to do with the need for privacy, since the people frequently sit out in the street on summer afternoons and evenings chatting to passers-by. But all this just for gypsies? Really?

Whatever the thinking behind them, they have given me a lot of food for thought. They seem to me to be representative of something in human nature. Just recently, I have been reading ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ and I have found it more than a little frightening to note the similarities between some of the comments I have heard concerning the Roma people and those that were used to justify the slave trade.

The Northumbria Community speaks of ‘intentional, deliberate vulnerability’ and of ‘breaking down the walls’ and both ideas have resonated with me for a long time. For as long as we are building walls to keep each other out, whether real or metaphorical, we have a problem. We cease to think of each other as fully human and the world becomes a very tragic place.

Yet we continue to do it. All of us. Churches included. We continue to resist the one thing necessary to break down the walls:

Intentional, deliberate vulnerability.

Romanian A-Z: D

Even a cursory glance at a Romanian dictionary shows that a lot of words beginning with D resemble English ones. Delicat (delicate), desperat (desperate), dezgust (disgust), dispărea (to disappear), discuție (discussion), doctor and durabil (durable), to mention just a few. So my first word today is document – chosen in honour of the Romanian bureaucratic system.

In Romania, you need a document for everything. For example, to obtain a Registration Certificate (proof of residence), you need to have a Romanian bank account. But when you go to open a bank account, they want the number on the Registration Certificate that you don’t have. That’s in addition to your passport number. There are ways round this, as the bank clerk eventually discovered, but it gives you an idea of the kind of thing I mean. As EU citizens, obtaining the Registration Certificates still proved relatively straightforward for us. Buying a second-hand car, on the other hand… Well, let’s just say it’s likely to be Christmas before all the paperwork is finally completed. And I’m not joking.

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The whole thing has been complicated by the fact that the car we have bought originated in Germany, but it’s not a simple matter even when that’s not the case. This gives you an idea of the amount of documentation that is required to complete the process, including face-to-face appointments with at least two different administrative bodies. In our case, the process has currently stalled pending an ‘urgent’ appointment with the police on 7th September. Even then, the registration (if it goes ahead) will only be temporary, the first available appointment for the ‘roadworthiness’ test being in December!

My second word is drum. Always helpful if you have wheels:

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This one is newly surfaced, having been little more than a dirt track earlier in the year. However, potholes are a common sight on most of the roads in the area. In fact, they are not unlike some of the back roads across the Somerset Levels, just without the subsidence! But whether the roads themselves are good or not, the words ‘drum bun!‘ (literally, ‘good road’) are used to wish people well on their journey – similar to the British ‘farewell’ and the French ‘bon voyage’. So it’s a word worth knowing.

My third word is actually a collection of words, all with the same Latin root:

Domn: gentleman
Domnul: Mr
Domnule: Sir (e.g. Scuzați-mă, domnule – Excuse me, sir)
Doamnă: Lady, woman (polite), madam, Mrs
Domnișoară: young lady, Miss
Doamne: God/Lord
Dumnezeu: God (from Latin Domine and Deus)
Dumneavoastră: polite form of you/your (literally your lord/ladyship)

All these are important to know and distinguish between if you want to be polite. The last is used in a similar way to the French polite form, so you hear it a lot on aeroplanes and in offices, for example.

In contrast, God is addressed with the familiar form tu, just as s/he used to be in English:

Sfințească-se numele TăuHallowed be Thy name

This is a paradox that English is no longer capable of expressing in the same way; that we can be on intimate terms with the one whom Christians call Lord or Doamne.

Doamne. Not a word we’ve heard very much. For various reasons, we haven’t had the opportunity to explore much in the way of church services yet. Nor have we heard it used as an expletive. However, one evening, when we were in the city of Cluj, we heard the sound of chanting issuing from the Orthodox church; a strangely haunting melody (if you can call it that) that moved me to worship even without being aware of the words. So I thought I’d leave you with this similar-sounding cry from Psalm 141:

Lord God, I call to you! Hear my prayer! Set a guard over my mouth. Keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil…

 

 

The sounds of silence

In the months since I last wrote in my blog, I have spent a considerable amount of time in solitude. I’ve had to. An exacerbation of ME/CFS symptoms including migraine, dizziness, nausea and brain fog have made it essential. For much of January and February, I was rarely far from my bed. I struggled with any form of socialising and spent most of my days entirely alone. When my husband was home in the evenings, our conversation was reduced largely to the bare necessities.

Since then, I have seen a slow improvement, but have also weathered the relentless pain and broken nights that have accompanied the onset of a frozen shoulder. As a result, my blog has remained silent.

Silence. I’ve written about it before: https://ripplesinthewind.wordpress.com/2014/07/02/silence/

In that post, I made the point that silence is not empty. In fact, if we stop to listen to them, the sounds of silence can speak much louder than words because words so often get lost, falling over themselves in a cacophony of human jabber that communicates little and hence, paradoxically, is silent.

My words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

(Paul Simon, ‘The Sounds of Silence’)

We need true silence in order to distinguish one voice from another and hear what it has to say. Yet prolonged silence can be difficult precisely because of this. It compels us to hear voices that perhaps we would prefer not to hear. With only ourselves for company, we become subject to all the fears and distortions that can be dreamed up by the human mind, together with the worst (and best) manifestations of our own human nature.

Back in January, I picked up a book that had been left on my bookshelf a couple of years previously by a friend. I picked it up primarily because I was bored. I hadn’t the energy to write, draw or communicate. So, thinking that on this particular day I might at least be able to read, I picked up the book: Taken on Trust – the story of Terry Waite’s captivity in the Lebanon. It’s not a book I had read before. When he wrote it, I was busy having children. But the more I read, the more I became fascinated by the similarities and differences in our experiences. He spoke of the long days and nights in which time seemed to have no meaning, separated as he was from the world outside. He spoke of his attempts to exercise – walking up and down and round and round until the steps became miles – and of his sense of frustration when he was chained to a wall and could no longer do this. He spoke of living for months without books. No books! And here I was reading his book because it was the best means I had of holding on to my own sanity!

Towards the end of his time in captivity, he became seriously ill with  some kind of chest infection and it was then that he says he came closest to being overwhelmed by what he describes as self-pity. Initially, this surprised me. Up to that point, his freedom and personhood had been violated in so many ways that I didn’t expect illness to make so much impact. Yet it did.

Self-pity. I know what he means. I know it only too well. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered about that word self-pity. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is ‘overwhelmed with sorrow.’ Is that self-pity, I wonder? He asks his friends to watch with him. Is that self-pity? He prays that he might not have to face the end that he knows is coming. Is that self-pity? Or is it more about a deepening realisation of one’s own vulnerability and hence a very human need for help, support and protection? And if it’s about a human need for help and support, is having that need really such a despicable thing that we must label it as self-pity and strive to hide it?

The sounds of silence.

Voices that can echo so loudly with vulnerability and inadequacy that it becomes hard to distinguish between them. At what point does the cry of genuine human need become the cry of self-pity? Who is able to make that judgement? As a child once put it:

pain is lonleyness because know one noes what I feel

(From ‘In Times of Pain’ by Jane Grayshon)

Brian Keenan, in The Evil Cradling (his own account of life as a hostage in Lebanon), is a good deal more open than Terry about the horrors of being at the mercy of nothing but your own mind. With nothing else to occupy it, the mind can and does torture us with all manner of distorted perceptions. However, because his time in solitary confinement was limited, Brian is also able to speak of the enormous strength and comfort that he gained from the companionship of someone who shared his cell and hence could walk the journey with him.

Having someone with whom to share even a little of the pain makes all the difference. There have been times in the past few months when I have been overwhelmed to the point of tears by the warmth, kindness and respect of folks who have shown me that they care, even if they haven’t always known how to help. Just by their presence, they help hold the shattered fragments of my being together far more effectively than they know.

I wish I could be more profound in my spiritual life. I am still very much a child in my understanding of my faith. I have no deep thoughts, no great insights, no outstanding qualities. I am a very ordinary man chained to a wall and attempting to struggle through another day of boredom and uncertainty.

(Terry Waite)

To me, this says it all. Those of us who face such difficulties are not heroes and would not want to be thought of as such. We are just ordinary people living what has to be lived because it has to be lived. We don’t deserve admiration and we don’t want it. Nor do we want pity. But, at least for me, kindness and respect are like gold in a world where everyone from the psychiatrist and politician to the local quack seem to be clamouring with opinions about what is wrong with me and how I could be or should be living my life.

People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening

(Paul Simon, ‘The Sounds of Silence’)

In such a world, I am profoundly grateful for all those who have walked beside me. I would not be without them. However, I also know that there is a sense in which the journey can only be mine. No-one can walk it for me. That’s why I need the silence. Not just because I am sick or because my brain cannot cope with input, though this may be true as well. But because I need to be able to hear my own voice in order to find my way through. And because, beyond that, in the darkness, whether I hear it or not, there plays the silent music of hope, the gentle rhythm of grace, the fiery heartbeat of God inviting us to dance.

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence…

(Paul Simon)

Disclaimer: I cannot say what was in Paul Simon’s mind when he wrote the song. The above is simply one interpretation of his words.

No need to say goodbye?

‘Remember, remember, the 5th of November…’

Whether it’s gunpowder, treason and plot, whether it’s the saints of old, whether it’s members of the armed forces, or whether it’s simply those we have known and loved, early November in the UK is traditionally a time of remembrance. It’s the time of year when the veil between our world and the spirit world is said to be at its thinnest. Hence the spectres of Halloween. It’s also a time of preparation for the darkness and frugality of the winter season (in a world without air travel and supermarkets) and for celebrating the awe and beauty of…

Autumn trees

Autumn leaves

Death.

In an odd sort of back-to-front way, it’s also a time of new beginnings. However you look at it, what was is passing away. The long, carefree days of sunshine, growth and wellbeing that the summer brought us are fading into the darkness of winter. Those who celebrate the Pagan festival of Samhain often see this as a time for letting go.

This is all very interesting to me because it was at just this time of year when I caught the virus that was to make me seriously ill with ME. On 31st October 2001, I spent the day with my family on the beach at Burnham-on-Sea. That night I fell ill and nothing was ever going to be quite the same again.

Over the years since, this anniversary has faded in and out of consciousness. The first year it was particularly significant, marking the end of what had been the most difficult year of my life. I remember facing November very much in the spirit of a new beginning. I had hope that the coming year would not be as hard as the one I had just been through and a new confidence that, even if it was, I could now live through it. There was some fear of the approaching winter, because of the viral illnesses that so often come with it, but there was also a new sense of inner strength.

Three years later, I chose to celebrate the anniversary by doing something I’d not been able to do since falling ill. I went to see a film at the cinema. Since then, there have been years when I have marked it and years when I have not. Last year, for example, the day passed without my even noticing. On the whole, however, the movement from October to November has come to have far more significance for me than January 1st has ever had.

This year, for some reason that I feel unable to fully explain, I felt an overwhelming desire to go back to Burnham and say goodbye – goodbye to the Ros that once was. It’s not the first time I have felt this. Our church holds a memorial service at this time of year to remember those who have died. Two or three years into the ME, I remember having to fight the temptation to write my own name in the book of remembrance so that it could be read out during that service. It wouldn’t have been appropriate, of course. I knew that. But I so wanted to do it. If I could have held a funeral for my old self, I would have done. But I didn’t know how and there was no-one to help. On the rare occasions when I voiced such feelings to others, I was met with complete incomprehension: ‘But you’re still you. You haven’t become someone else…’ or ‘But this is not forever. You will get better…’

Well, 14 years on, it’s looking pretty much like forever to me. Even if my health were miraculously restored tomorrow, I wouldn’t be the same person that I was back then. My body has aged. My children have grown up and moved on. My life and my relationships have been changed irrevocably. In that sense, the losses have been very real for all of us. Of course, there have been gains, too. But the fact remains that I will never climb the mountains, build the sandcastles, watch the films, share the hugs, or do any of the countless other things with my children that perhaps we might otherwise have done, had I not been ill.

So, this year, I decided to do what (in face of such complete incomprehension from others) I had never quite dared to do before. I decided to go back to Burnham and say goodbye. Properly. Perhaps it was the fact of not having been so well that triggered the desire? Perhaps it was something much deeper? But one warm, sunny afternoon towards the end of October, I went.

I drove myself there – a route I haven’t driven for 14 years. I wasn’t even sure that I could do it safely. These days, I rarely drive more than 30 minutes from home and this journey was to take me 50 minutes each way. However, I felt relatively well – better than I’d felt for some weeks – and the inner prompting was so strong that backing out just didn’t seem like an option.

When I arrived, I drove down to the lighthouse end of the beach and parked on the sea front. I don’t remember much of that last fateful day, but I do remember that we walked out to the lighthouse and that I was carrying my youngest daughter because she had come down with a fever while we were out. We didn’t know it at the time, but I would never do this again.

This time, I walked down on to the sand and looked at the lighthouse for a few moments, remembering. Then I stooped down and wrote ‘Goodbye Ros’ in big letters in the sand. As I wrote, it occurred to me that the real meaning of those words is, ‘God bless you, Ros’ and that seemed like a fitting parting. I thought again of that last day on the beach in the autumn of 2001 and remembered how, that summer, I had run with a friend’s dog for a mile across a beach in Northern Ireland – running just for the sheer joy of being able to run.

Suddenly, to my complete surprise, I was sitting on the beach sobbing. Not with pain, but with joy. I was overwhelmed with it – a deep, deep thankfulness for all that those 37 years of good health had given me. It was a powerful moment. A liberating moment. A moment of pure grace. For 14 years, I had not been able to remember those days without pain. Indeed, I had learnt not to remember them for precisely that reason. Suddenly, I was remembering them with joy. It was a special moment. I had not come expecting such a gift.

After that, I wrote two more words in the sand: ‘Thank You’. Then I sat for a long time just looking out to sea. And then I wrote, ‘Welcome to all that I can now be’.

Remembering.

I used to think loss was something that one was supposed to get over. Why do we punish ourselves with that thought, I wonder? Anyone who has ever been there knows it’s not true. As I have discovered, learning to live with loss is learning to live with just that. Loss doesn’t go away. Rather, he’s like the most annoying of good friends. You know the kind of people I mean. The ones you get to know really well. The ones who think they can turn up on the doorstep quite unexpectedly – often when you least want them.

On Burnham beach, as on many other occasions in the past 14 years, I discovered that it’s only when I open the door, welcoming him in and even embracing him, that I find Grace, smiling broadly, sitting at my table, too. That’s why I needed to say goodbye.

How are you?

People who know me well will have heard me say that this is a question I have long hated. The reasons go something like this:

Friend: How are you?
Me: (Actually, I’m ill. Still. In fact, this week, I feel crap. Do you want to know this or don’t you want to know this? If you don’t want to know this, why are you even bothering to ask?) I’m OK. How are you?

I hate it because, for me, it’s a question that lacks honesty. From time to time it’s been suggested to me that I’m reading too much into this. It’s a polite greeting. Nothing more. So why don’t I just treat it as such?

Well, that’s a good question. Where I live, for example, it’s quite common to be greeted with “Alright?” to which (or so I am told) the correct response is “Alright?” It’s an essentially meaningless exchange along much the same lines as “Hello”. We might as well say “Fluzbot” or something, except, of course, that “Fluzbot” is not a word any of us are familiar with, which makes it slightly risky. After all, it might mean “You swine!”. You never know! Usually, however, expression and tone tell us all we need to know. It’s like two dogs wagging their tails:

A: (Smiling) Fluzbot? (I’m friend not foe!)
B: (Smiling) Fluzbot! (Me too!)
A and B: (Good. That’s settled then.)

The intent is simply to put one another at ease.

So far, so good. However, it seems to me that the “How are you?” question, at least among friends, doesn’t operate on quite the same level as this. Rather, it has a range of acceptable responses from “Fine, thank you…” all the way through to “I’ve had a rotten cold this week…” That’s why it’s problematic. Whilst there are a range of acceptable responses, a response is acceptable only in so far as it is perceived to be “normal”. It’s “normal” to be well. It’s “normal” to have a cold and get better. It’s “not normal” to live in the shadowy lands of bereavement or chronic illness. These are not the stuff of polite conversation. They are disturbing places. Places we would rather not go. You can tell this by the way the question may change when a person is known to be recently bereaved. Those who want to show they care will ask it differently. It’s as if the inhabitants of this shadowy land need special acknowledgement. They are “not normal”, so they must be specifically invited to speak. Even when they do, they still risk dismissal and they know it. It’s a risky business emerging from the shadowy land.

The shadowy land. In depth psychology, the “shadow” is representative of all the things about ourselves that we would rather not acknowledge, but instead seek to hide or destroy. In its worst form, this is seen as being worked out in events such as the Holocaust, where the alien, the sick and the criminal were systematically dehumanised and destroyed. Rightly, we are shocked by such events. We dare not believe that we are capable of such things. And yet… yet there is a very real sense in which we continue to push those “other” from us into the shadows. The “migrants” are just one example. LGBT folks would be another.

Back at the beginning of my illness, the very first time I went out in my wheelchair, I had the following conversation with someone I knew:

Me: Hello!
Friend: (With apparent concern) Hello! What on earth has happened to you?
Me: I had a virus and now I can’t walk.
(Short silence)
Friend: (Looking at wheelchair) Well, don’t get too used to it!

It’s a conversation I’ve always remembered because it underlined for me the reality that I was now facing. In her world, people with viruses got better. Hence the only plausible explanation for my use of a wheelchair must be that I was getting some kind of kick out of it. In other words, that there was something not quite right about me. Hence in just those few brief words she informed me of my future place in the world. Life in the shadows had begun.

Interestingly, it was only this morning that the full significance of the words she used struck me. The fact is, I have “got used to it”. I have had to “get used to it”, as has my family. Not getting used to it has only ever been an option for those the shadow has not touched.

How are you?

The question invites and expects answers that fit in the safe, comfortable world of normality. When most folks say, “I’m fine, thank you”, the chances are that at least some of the time this will be true. However, when I say it, it’s never true. So, effectively, the real me disappears into the shadows. Repeatedly. On the other hand, if I do reply more honestly, I risk the averted eyes, the shuffling feet or the cheery brush-offs that tell me that the shadows is actually where I belong. That’s why I hate the question. Day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year it acts as a continual challenge to my right to exist. And if that sounds overly dramatic, I don’t care. I am weary of it.

So what’s to be done? Well, frankly, I don’t know. No doubt, the question will continue to be asked and life will continue in the shadows, where those of us with chronic illnesses will plot and scheme for the destruction of the rest of humankind… 😉 Alternatively, we could try the court jester approach and attempt to reclaim the question through humour:

Friend: How are you today, Ros?
Me: (With an evil grin) I’m sorry. My brain is a bit slow today. Could you repeat the question?

More suggestions welcome…