Saturday, 4 August 2012

Through the glass, brightly...

"For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face;
 now I know in part, but then shall I know even as I am known."
(1 Corinthians 13:12)

Mirrors can be funny things sometimes.You often overhear (mainly) women in changing rooms in clothes shops, complaining that mirrors make them look fat, skinny, gawky, just "not like them". Sometimes mirrors distort, more often than not they show us what we don't quite expect to see. I met a mirror the other day that answered me back before I had even said anything.
One afternoon last week, I went for a quick cup of tea in a nice breezy bar in Brighton - most pubs and bars in this city serve tea and coffee all day without the raised eyebrow that would accompany it in London. The bar's been decorated in a pseudo Speakeasy style. This only compounded my surprise when I came out of the Ladies to the washstands and saw that someone had scrawled "At least you are Free" across the central mirror, and therefore also across my midweek, world-weary little face. I think the person, presumably female, had used a kohl or other eyeliner pencil. I wondered what had prompted her to write this. Freedom may seem like a lofty subject for pub-toilet philosophy, although I've learnt that you do tend to encounter a deeper-thinking type of grafitist in Brighton.
I am indeed free. I had been mentally listing my grouches and deficits that day: not merely financial, but the demise of my career in Social Services, my subsequent apparent lack of prospects, my lack of a husband or children, that my little house is deteriorating rather faster than I can fix it, that I am probably deteriorating faster than I can fix me. I may never now get back to Australia, I may never get to do hands-on work with kids, I'm certainly never going to wake up and find I've turned into Kylie Minogue: I may never get to the ball, I may never get the happy-ever-after. I left the word "Free" scrawled on the mirror; yet the insolence of it followed me as I walked back out into the light and airy bar and a welcome day of sunshine in Brighton.
I was devastated when I lost my job in adult Social Services in London. I've worked since I left school and I felt it defined me. Now, I know that no-one should ever be defined by employment: being known by your abilities or gifts is something quite different. If I was still leaving the house before 7am and returning in the dark, I would certainly have a more healthy bank account but my own health would probably have continued to decline alarmingly. I probably wouldn't have discovered just how resilient and canny I can be; the old pots and ornaments in my garden would not be customised; I might not have considered renovating or painting old pieces of furniture; I probably wouldn't have set aside time to customise dresses or jewellery. I might not have collected and sorted through generations of photographs, so that my history decorates my walls. I probably wouldn't have started this blog! Maybe I wouldn't have been so sure that either I or God know the real me. Often, the threat of being released from tried and trusted routines and well known ways of being blinds us to a freedom of opportunity.
My house does indeed still need patching up and nailing down, but it has evidently benefited from a little TLC, and it is very much my home. And having a home, far from being tied to bricks and mortar, gives me immense freedom. It's true that I have no husband or children, but I have friends who I nurture and am nurtured by: even a concerned, caring text can be a dressing for a perceived slight or any feeling of isolation. I may never return to Social Services but if I were ever yet to work with kids, disadvantaged or otherwise, then certainly Brighton is a tarnished mecca for youngsters. I did get to Australia, several times, and the memories I have of there and of the other places I've visited are souvenirs that don't need to be dusted or explained to visitors. I'll never wake up looking like Kylie Minogue, but at least I still wake up in the morning; and hell, even Kylie doesn't wake up looking like Kylie Minogue!
Being freed from what you've been tied to before, even ostensibly for your own support, leaves you wobbly; but there's giddiness to it. My happy-ever-after may now never involve forcing my foot into a glass slipper, but that would be darned uncomfortable attire for scampering about on a pebbled beach or pruning the jasmine. The perfect fit is more about sitting easy in the niche you've whittled and finally being comfortable in your own skin. Before, it seemed I didn't have time to see people, to read things, to relax. Now, I might argue that I have the time but not the money; but that isn't relevant at all. There are interesting folk and sights all round me in this city and the library here is one of the coolest places to be. The seagulls ensure that I don't oversleep and I still have two strong legs to get me back at night from the pier in less than half an hour, with a safety that was long-lost to me in south London. Faith brings it's own sense of freedom: I know that where I've walked in error in the past won't condemn me or prevent me from getting to where I need to be, which is waiting for me as it's always been.
You have to recognise freedom in all it's reflections. It isn't always about the largess of tangible struggle; I would never be dismissive or disrespectful enough to claim that this little post was intending to address such struggles. Freedom, like God, can be in the details, the little things. One of my favourite quotes about being free isn't by Martin Luther King, John Kennedy or Nelson Mandela, but from a young, skittish Joni Mitchell:
"I want to have fun, I want to shine like the sun; I want to be the one that you want to see.
I want to knit you a sweater, want to write you a love letter, I want to make you feel better; I want make you feel free."
I hope the bar staff have left that legend on the mirror in the Ladies' loo. I'm pretty sure it will help someone else re-calculate their apparent shortcomings as they wash their hands and blot their lipstick.
On the subject of mirrors, I took two rather nice but surplus-to-requirement mirrors to give to a lovely friend of mine last week. She's a vibrant, pretty and funny young woman, bringing up her children while her young man is imprisoned; awaiting trial for something awful. I share her belief that he is guilty of being with the wrong person in the wrong place but not of what he's been charged with. Her resilience is astounding and her resolve about this situation has been an inspiration to me. John Paul Sartre defined freedom as being able to choose what you do with what's been done to you. I won't name her or her man to preserve their privacy and the children's, but this post was most definitely written with them in mind and in heart.

"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."
(Nelson Mandela)

"Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight,
Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight,
And for each and every underdog soldier in the night
We gazed upon the chimes of Freedom flashing." 
(Bob Dylan) 
"The Chimes of Freedom"  Bruce Springsteen (version)         
"Tolling for the aching ones whose wounds cannot be nursed,
For the countless confused, accused, misused strung-out ones and worse,
And for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe:
We gazed upon the chimes of Freedom flashing."
(Bob Dylan)


  1. You are in my prayers Gigi!

    1. Aw thanks Colleen - you and your husband are held firmly but gently in my own! x

  2. As we have said before, God never gives you anything you can't handle, but I sure wish he'd trust you a bit less. I can't believe that after what you've been through the past 3 years you can still laugh. If it were me, or any other person for that matter, we'd be half dead in the gutter by now. I have faith for you darling, faith in you, for better things to come, for a break in your ordeal, for things to finally turn around. Because God has to know you need it right about now.

    1. Ssshush. You'll make me cry! And as we both know, there are many people fra fra worse off than I am. I have a roof over my head and all the other things I mentioned in the post above. And you as a friend - how good is that??
      I have immense faith in you too: I know you're going to do something wonderful (and I've seen just the dress for you to wear while you're doing it!)
      Miss you, see you soon! xx

    2. ...and I can't even type "far" properly. Now that is tragic x