Tuesday, 27 September 2011

A (Harley's) Angel At My Table...

Now I know that some of you are going to find this post a little bit strange. And I don't blame you if you do, because it is. And before I start, I feel that I need to convince you that I haven't been knocking back the tequillas, nor have I just ingested a generous handful of class A drugs and am now experiencing the hallucinogenic comedown or cold turkey or whatever they call it in the movies. Because today, dear reader, I have to declare that I believe I met... an angel.

There I've said it. And now that I've written it, I feel that I need to explain. And fast.

You might be wondering where in one of London's grimy inner-city boroughs could I have possibly been visited by such a heavenly being ? Well, it was in a park, it wasn't after dark and he didn't have wings or was called Gabriel. In fact, he was the most unangelic man I've ever seen. He was tall, gangly, bald, rode a bicycle and ate a bag of chips that were so drenched with vinegar that the smell hit the back of my throat and for a moment I was transported back down memory lane - to my old school days where I once stood with friends, giggling outside the local chip shop and wondering which boys fancied us the most (which was usually a disappointing 'none of them').

Angel Clare (which I've now christened him, not because he bears any similarity to Thomas Hardy's character but because at first, I did indeed find him to be if not other-worldy, then certainly obscure) decided to sit next to me on a park bench while I sat, soaking up the last few rays of a warm September evening. I remember him shouting from his bike, would I mind him if he shared the bench I was sitting on ? Nothing wrong with this, I hear you innocently say. But you have to remember that we're talking about London here, where the only real conversations that normally take place on a day-to-day basis between strangers are 'what great weather we're having today !' and 'how rainy it is for this time of year !'. It is rare for a strange man to willingly sit next to a strange woman and spark up conversation. But this is what happened.

And after we got over the duty of well, talking about how beautiful an evening it was (well, what did I just say?) we very quickly moved on to talking about psychics and spirituality and being possessed by spirits. Now look. Hold on. I know what you're thinking. Yes, he sounds like a quack and I probably sound like a quackee for listening to him and you're now thinking of getting the hell out of my blog. But hold fire. There is method in this apparent madness. Really there is.

You see, I say this because just before we met, I was sitting on that park bench admiring the view of the London Eye in the distance, the smart Edwardian terraces which overlook the park and the sun which was casting a warm glow on my skin. I was feeling good, but maybe a little sad inside. I guess I was just feeling a little empty. I'd just left my partner and baby A back at the playground, but I was longing for more than just a bit of company. I guess I was feeling a bit tired of feeling so alone and disconnected. And while I sat there thinking, I began to berate myself for the mistakes that I'd made in the past which had somehow caused me to be sitting here all on my own examining my thoughts. If I'm not making sense here, then it's because it's a little complicated to explain. It wasn't that I was just wanting company. I was sitting there searching for answers. I was having another one of those blue days and I couldn't seem to shake off my mood.

Angel Clare started to talk and while he talked I listened. He told me that he thought I looked very spiritual because not many people could sit in such a quiet, serene way and stare at the sun in the way that I was doing. I told him that I wasn't sure whether I was spiritual or not and I asked him what he meant. He then proceeded to tell me his life story. He now had a very simple job driving and looking after kids but in his past life, he had been an engineer who earned good money and whose career had taken him to California where he'd lived a great life and had had nice things. But he hadn't been happy. He'd always felt that he'd always done what had been expected of him and what he'd thought would make him successful. Then a very serious motorbike accident changed his life. The accident had been so bad that he'd spent 6 weeks in hospital. In that time he hadn't been able to walk, or hardly move or even been able to use the toilet by himself. He had hit rockbottom and he was depressed. He prayed to God that if he survived with all his limbs intact, he would change his life. He wouldn't spend another day doing something that he didn't enjoy. And as it happened, he survived with his whole body intact. The day that he walked out of the hospital he felt euphoric. He was once again a free man. But now a traumatised one. He quit his engineering job and took a job working in a men's hostel where he ended up talking to men experiencing trauma. The talking turned into counselling and the counselling turned into working with children. And he realised that he loved it. He also realised that he'd wasted so many years doing a job that he had tried desperately to fit in to instead of just doing a job that felt natural to him. And the feeling was so different, that he couldn't understand why he hadn't realised this before. He also realised, through working with children, just how wonderfully precious it is to enjoy the present moment.  Not to just enjoy it, but to really experience it, to get to a place in your mind where you stop thinking of what you should have done in the past or where you should be going in the future. But just to enjoy where you're at. Right now.

Does this sound too self-helpy to you ? Too much like hippy-dippy new-age claptrap ? Too 'by-the-way I'm-also-a-Jehovah's-Witness-so-how's-about-giving-me-a-donation-and-I'll-see-you-this-Sunday-down at-the-local-Kingdom-Hall ?  Well, I'll admit to something. I'm the mother of all cynics. At first I wasn't sure about him. I even checked his hands for any shakes while he was talking to me. But what he said struck a chord with me. Because, of course I have just experienced trauma. I have spent more than six weeks recovering from my operation and during this time I have relied on the help of others. And during this time I have felt low. And ever since then, despite the positive news, despite the good recovery, I've been struggling with how to stop my mind from ricocheting between the past, present and future. I have been finding it hard to just enjoy and be grateful for the present moment. At times I have resented not having enough time to reflect on my thoughts. At times I have even resented being a mother.

I'd also read this article recently and had questioned the simplicity of the interviewee's response to his imminent death. Angel Clare knew nothing about any of this. He knew nothing of my inner turmoil. To him, I looked calm, serene and spiritual. But in talking to me so candidly about himself,  he made me in turn gaze into my own self and realise where it was I was going wrong. As we sat there admiring the trees, the beauty of the plants, the sunshine, the feeling of having all the time in the world, I realised one thing. These moments are rare. When a stranger sits down and talks to you about something that is already swimming around in your head, these are moments when you should sit up and take notice. It all sounds crazy I know and perhaps tomorrow someone will wave a magic wand and I'll be turned back into a cynical old frog again. But that conversation lifted me. It felt like someone giving me a kick up the backside. Today, well I'm actually fine and well and have a lot to be thankful for. And I should remember that. Today, I also learned two things. Never ever judge a book by its cover. And sometimes, the answer to your questions are staring you right in the face. All it takes is a different way of seeing things. And perhaps a visit from a chip-eating ex-Harley's Angel.

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