‘… and never regret anything that makes you smile.’

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'The Kiss' (full size) by Burke Heffner

 

‘… and never regret anything that makes you smile.’ I emailed that to a lovely man who spoke of the back pain he experiences from degenerative discs and the time he’s had away from work to manage that pain. DB’s cute description of ‘anything from picking up a pair of socks to coughing will see it chuck a wobbly’ made me smile and I hoped he’d had an opportunity to smile that day given his suffering.

That was in the morning.

In the evening, I discovered an old friend’s sister who I’d grown up with, had made another attempt at taking her life. This time she’d succeeded, whether she meant to or not, and her children had to make the decision to turn off their mother’s life support. Gut wrenching. It made me think of the rest of Mark Twain’s quote –

‘Life is short. Break the rules. Forgive quickly. Kiss slowly. Laugh truly. Laugh uncontrollably and never regret anything that makes you smile.’

I wondered about my old friend's sister and whether she had a life that was full and meaningful to her. I believed she did. While I was sad that she was gone and for the family and their loss, my sadness was for the anguish my old friend's sister must have endured through her life. Or had she? Her life was what she knew and who was I to judge it as one of enduring.

Mental ill health is growing by the minute. I see it in people around me and what I consider ‘extreme’ actions they can take. But to them, those actions aren’t extreme. It’s a way of coping with the daily torment they live with. It’s their reality. Their life. It may not be one of torment that I understand torment to be.

Some take ‘extreme’ actions that make perfect sense to them. I’ve seen what I consider most irrational actions being taken where the person taking the action believes it to be perfectly rational – the shaving of eyebrows because it looks good, talking to Lucifer and the dodging of cameras in every corner of their own home and in the streets, following their every move. The spying that occurs from being followed, to the point where holding up a 711 store at knife-point to distract those spies from following the family, to protect them, is the only answer, and the swallowing of pills, because that’s the only way.

Years have taught me to not inflict my biases onto those actions and the reasons behind them, to accept them as actions relevant to the person. I don’t have their experiences so how can I know. Truly know. It’s not easy or straight forward for anyone experiencing mental ill health to understand the effects of their thoughts and actions on others. The illness is all consuming, and a reality onto its own.

Someone said to me yesterday that if the friend's sister could see the hurt she’s caused, she wouldn’t have taken her life. While that may be a ‘Christian’ view, it’s not one I hold.

There is almost always commentary about the selfish act that suicide is. But what of the person experiencing the pain to the point of having no alternative but to take that action? I’m not sure they could see past their torment to understand the impact of their action. To me, there’s a selfishness in those that hold such beliefs that those experiencing such torment should act in ways that are appropriate, as appropriate in their eyes. I’m trying to be kind here!

Every day is a reminder to live life in a way that matters to me - Mark Twain ensures that, with his quote sitting on my desk for me to read each morning. He’s done that all year.

‘Life is short. Break the rules. Forgive quickly. Kiss slowly. Laugh truly. Laugh uncontrollably and never regret anything that makes you smile.’

While I work hard and may not take on each of those elements every second of every day of my life, I do aspire to them and make a solid attempt at achieving them. I can’t have everything all of the time and can’t always fit everything into a day that I might want. Life’s too short too for regrets and each mistake is a learning from a new fork taken in my road.

I found myself commenting to one of my boys last night on something similar: don’t do things because you feel you should. Do them because you want to. Go out with that friend because you will enjoy it and not because you feel it would make them happy. There’s a level of deceit in that to them and you. It’s a balance of self-respect versus being selfless. Be happy to do that something for someone else.

Standing beside DB the day after we emailed, wearing what my mother calls my grandmother’s bright pink floral, flowing dress, his grimace was all pain. He commented that his back probably threw its current wobbly because he’d been busy balancing work and finishing off his study for the year. I replied to his asking of how I was with being good and sometimes not knowing what day it was. What I wanted to say was sometimes I leave the house and am driving to work or University and I look down at my legs to make sure I’m not still wearing my pyjamas as I rush around trying to do so much in the morning that I don’t remember changing! (But I didn’t want to embarrass myself saying that in public so I’ll say it here instead.) He acknowledged the need for slowing down and taking it easy. Perhaps I should have sent him the whole quote.

I’ve been called many things over the years – queen of clash, being too gung-ho or aloof, asking too many questions or never doing anything ‘normal’. It's probably all true but I'm pleased I have a true appreciation and understanding that life is short.

 

Time is lost in all ideals of time, where the cocoon has toughened as tungsten steel.

Diamond tips tap to tunes of break free, seeking to escape to a place of new. They sometimes grow as clashing bangs that smash through a weakened fissure into sun shining onto fields of sunflowers waking in the heat of summer. The scent of new life intoxicates to an exhilarating trepidation.

Sometimes those taps are barely auditable whispering feathers and no amount of push can break free. Eventually, the trap secures. The trap becomes all that's known: the norm.

 

 

 

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He's in his head

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He strides into the supermarket, his head and eyes fixed on the beige, lino floor in front of him, sometimes shuffling to avoid standing on a join that connects the laid sheets. His heart quickens. He glances up to read the aisle-end signs, searching for the confectionery. He walks the most direct route to aisle seven, turns in and heads down, appreciating the intricacies of the lino floor again. He looks up for the chocolate and standing there, is the sister. She smiles. He forces a smile back, more a painful grimace.

‘Hello,’ says the sister. ‘You’re shopping?’ she asks, a surprised inflection in her tone.

‘Yeah. For chocolates. For after our dinner tonight,’ he says, forcing a chuckle that sounds more like a grunt. ‘These ones.’ He snatches the box nearest to his hand. It shakes as the wild tremors of alcohol or drugs withdrawal.

‘Look at your hand,’ says the sister. Her own hand is spread open as if ready to catch the box that may fall from his unsteady. ‘Why’s it shaking so much?’

He nods, signalling an acknowledgement to an invisible someone. ‘They’re watching me. I didn’t want to come you know. Because they’ll get me,’ he says.

The sister smiles. ‘I know. But you came and no one’s watching you. Look around, there’s no one here.’

He scrutinises up and down the aisle in eyes of a rabbit startled by headlights on a dark, outback road. He doesn’t answer. His eyes are fixed on searching.

‘You know it’s all in your head. It’s not real,’ says the sister.

‘Mmm, that’s what Mum says.’ He draws in close to the sister. ‘Don’t you think they’re watching me?’ he asks. ‘I mean, really? They’ve got cameras everywhere, hidden.’

The sister smiles. ‘No. It’s in your head. It’s your reality but it’s not real. You’re a good person.’ The sister smiles. ‘You know I'll always look after you and I’d tell you if you were in any harm.’

He nods. ‘I know.’

She kisses his cheek. ‘Now go home before your hand shakes off.’

He giggles as a tickled child, revealing a glimmer of his old self. He pecks a kiss good-bye on the sister’s cheek and dashes to the checkout, paying without lifting his head from his wallet and almost skirting off without collecting his change. He marches to his car parked out of the way, with a string of frazzled peeks around him. He unlocks the car and bundles in, tossing his bag on the seat beside him to expose the box of chocolates.

He’s home in record time and once there, heads for his studio. He shuts the door behind him and draws the blinds closed. He sits alone and paints under artificial light, while the sun and all its rays dance outside.

*An excerpt from ‘Sadie’.

 

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