Saturday, September 12, 2020

Dreams

Everybody has a dream, whether it is to be an astronaut when you grow up, or a bucket list to complete before you die.

Some people will tell you that People Like You have No Business having Dreams Like That. They might know you—sadly, they could be a teacher, or even a family member—but they don't care about you. The best thing you can do is ignore them; don’t even waste your precious energy proving them wrong (and yes, I know that is easier said than done).

Some people will tell you to Pursue Your Dream, may even be your cheerleader. But if that is all they have to say, then either they don't care about you any more than the haters do; or, they do care but no-one ever taught them what to do with dreams (and, sadly, this is commonplace).

Your dreams don’t want to be pre-emptively buried, or relentlessly chased; they want to be interpreted. And here, I’m not talking about while-you’re-asleep dreams and psychoanalysts (helpful though they can be). I’m talking about the way our waking dreams speak, and the way that we are made to speak into one another’s lives.

The ancient poetry of the Bible imagines us as being a fusion of clay and the breath of God. Of the mundane, and the magical. The poet Lucille Clifton described her life thus, “this bridge between starshine and clay”. Your dreams are the conversations between those two poles, about what they—you—want to experience in this world, which contains more than any one life can bear. Yet, because we are created for connection—for communion—with others, our component states don’t speak the same mother tongue. Hence, though we might learn to ‘get the gist’ of the conversation, we need others to help interpret the nuances, to follow the conversation fully. That is why, even though on the surface it may look a solo endeavour, Clifton’s words quoted above are from a poem titled Won’t you celebrate with me: though having no model to follow, this is a celebration shared with, and in part of, those who helped her shape a kind of life.

So, start asking clarifying questions of your dreams; and pray for the gift of people in your life who can help you understand what you hear. And though the kind of life you shape will not correspond with the dream, within it, we will celebrate.


Friday, September 11, 2020

Talk more

Stand in front of any urinal in any gents toilets in any motorway services in the country, and you will come face-to-face with an advert for either van insurance or erectile dysfunction.

The common denominator is a sense of loss, in forms targeting men. To be a man is to drive (and used to be—another loss—to fix your own engine). As for our penis, that is explicitly referred to as our ‘manhood’—though my internal jury is still out debating whether this is a false construction of manhood, or whether manhood itself is a false construct. In any case, the encouragement is for a quick fix: if your motor is stolen, we can get you going again. It is the same impulse behind (the success of) populism, the promise of making Britain Great again.

I don’t think men talk about van insurance much. We sure as hell don’t talk about erectile dysfunction. But the underlying taboo is admitting and navigating loss. Yet loss is a recurring part of life for all of us, and something that we can work through but could really do with not having to do it on our own. Help, not to find a fix, or a distraction, but to express appreciation and gratitude for what was good; to acknowledge the legitimacy of our grief; to articulate relief at the unhelpful baggage that has been lost with/in the loss; and to embrace the possibilities of a new season.

It seems to me that the mare that is 2020, and the occasion of Suicide Awareness Month, are good reasons to encourage men to talk more about loss, in all its forms. We’ve got this.


Thursday, September 10, 2020

Heartache

You’ll hear people tell you to “follow your heart.” It is bad advice. The Bible tells us that the heart is the seat of our decision making, our capacity for free will; but also that it is unreliable. Don’t follow your heart, lead it; train it, according to wisdom.

With my heart of hearts, I want to go running. Because I love being with the people I run with; because it indirectly improves so many other areas of my life; and just because it is a joyful response to any glorious autumn day. With my heart of hearts, I want to go running.

But with a heavy heart, I need to say no to running for a season. To say no to the wanting to say yes, when my friends say, “we’re going running—who’s in?”

I have damaged something in my knee. There is a lateral weakness there. Last night, I was a looong way behind a pack I should, ordinarily, be right up there with; pushing through pain I ought to be listening to.

Today, a friend who has just torn his meniscus got in touch. Another friend, who ran with me last night, got in touch, to say I’d been on their mind all day. Everyone needs people like that in their lives.

With a heart so sad it is in my boots, I need to put my running shoes in the closet and walk away. For now, and for as long as it takes. If I’m lucky, my body will regenerate itself (they're brilliant like that). If not, I might need to seek professional help (they’re brilliant like that).

But, if you catch me flirting with going for a run, please help me to not follow my heart.