Reflections and observations on life in general.

Month: September, 2012

Sighs of Autumn

Turning leaves

Green becoming gold.

It began as a typo on my Blackberry, the keys are very small and my thoughts ran faster than my thumbs, a quick text to share a fleeting experience with somebody too far away right now.

I meant to say “signs”, but “sighs” fits better with the bitter-sweet feeling of
change in the season; the threshold of a new phase in the life of this year’s plants, loss and gain dancing together.

The air is crisp and cool, today, with bright, clear, sunshine and blue skies with intensely white clouds above rich green-leaved trees. At the same time it appears to me that the greens seem a little darker, as if they’ve reached some limit of greenness and have no choice left but to jump abruptly to the opposite side of the colour wheel.

Even the people here appear about to change their clothes, some walk through the cool air in short-sleeved shirts as if it were still early August (earlier this year doesn’t count, given our rainy ‘summer’). Others are already wearing warm fleeces and jackets and talking about the cold. The clothes shops are, as usual, ahead of the game in their endless struggle to get us to prepare for the next season early and give in to the sense of unease and dissatisfaction that keeps them profitable.

I love this time of year, almost as much as the early part of the Spring, perhaps it is because of the feeling of new possibilities, of a more profound set of changes beginning: green becomes gold, just as around Easter, brown-grey becomes bright green. Perhaps it is to do with the fruitfulness all around, the sense that things are ripening, reaching a point of fulfilment, achievement, the culmination of a long period of effort and construction; we often hear of a “flowering”, would it perhaps be better to speak of a “harvesting”, of creativity? I know that I have often felt that things are starting again at this time of year, in the same way as I feel this
in the Springtime. The sense that my life has within it a series of cycles, of
seasons, is strong right now.At the same time I feel a sense of loss, or maybe it’s a little less intense than that word implies, more one of moving forward and the inevitable leaving behind of some familiar landmarks; one cannot after all make progress on a journey without leaving something behind – things, places, people, beautiful views, sounds and so on.

The trick is really to learn to accept that all these things are temporary in the literal meaning of that word – existing in a certain period of time – to develop the habit of fully aware appreciation of them during that time, without trying to hold them in place as if trying to catch eels by hand (I’ve done that… it’s very difficult!).

I find myself thinking of riding waves on the sea, sitting and letting some pass, unridden, swimming for others that pass me by, finally getting the
time just right and sliding – flying, almost – along a smooth rising face of water, reaching out to touch the silky flow,then out again and waiting for the next one, the moment enjoyed and past. That wave is gone now and the next is no more than an idea in my mind, only the one under me now is real, to any extent, the rest is potential.

“The time is up / the song is over / thought I’d something more to say..” goes the song (Pink Floyd, ‘Dark Side of the Moon’, ‘Time’) and here my coffee’s finished, the shadows lengthening in the street outside the cafe, new people sitting at the tables around me. Time for me too to make a move, head back home and leave behind this pleasantly busy public place for private thought.  I’ll go through the park, to see the ducks and geese and late afternoon busy squirrels, beginning now to stash acorns and beech nuts for their Winter rations.

A small sigh, of contentment, a farewell to Summer green and greeting Autumn gold.

First sighs of Autumn are in the air.

Conversation ‘in Absentia’ … and “Things My Father Taught Me”

It’s over a year, now, since my father died.  The process of becoming accustomed to that is a gradual one, for me; less ‘bereavement’ and more a sense of occasional conversations on a one-way line with no direct reply.

I find myself having moments in which I suddenly wonder what he would think about something, another step forward in scientific research on the human brain, a comment made by panel members on a radio discussion, headline-making moral debates; things he researched, thought and wrote about so much in the last fifteen to twenty years.

Or a question arises about something in the past which I didn’t think (or wasn’t ready) to ask in the few short visits I was able to make to him in the last few years, before he went into sudden, but drawn-out, decline.  Questions about his general life experiences, his time as an Officer in the Royal Navy, how and when he met my mother… that kind of thing.

There seems to be nothing unusual about this, it appears to be a common situation, things I wish I had said or asked but could not have done at the time because I did not have the view of things that I have now.  So I don’t experience it as a pang of regret, rather a resigned acceptance of the fact that, during those visits, I had a different perspective and was too involved in the dynamics of the situation to allow deeper, probably more personally useful, questions to arise.

It’s not as if conversations with my father were always easy either, single-mindedly absorbed as he was in his  project of research and thought on the issue of the human brain and the nature and mechanism of consciousness.  He had indeed chosen a road “less travelled” and, whatever other issues arose from that choice, I respect his commitment to asking some difficult questions and being willing to attempt to be unsentimentally consistent, at least in his line of reasoning in this area.

Things My Father Taught Me

I wrote this as I reflected on my Father’s life, through my personal experience of being his son. My father died just after my sister Kate had finished reading this to him; I think there’s a good chance he was conscious enough to hear it. Thank you, Kate.

(January 2011)

So I found myself thinking, what have I learned from Dad?  Here are some of my thoughts:

You taught me that “there’s no such thing as ‘can’t'”, at least, if you really want to do something, it is possible.

You encouraged me to explore and gain experiences and knowledge, rather than be obsessed with gaining things and stuff.

You always encouraged me to think critically and freely, boldly even.

You taught me not to hit girls.

You taught me that it is wrong to inflict needless suffering on other beings.

You taught me to value food and appreciate it. You also taught me to use alcohol in moderation and to enjoy it, not abuse it.

You taught me how to use a knife, saw and axe safely from a young age.

You made some wonderful toys for me, that kindled my imagination, and showed me how to make things for myself.

You taught me how to appreciate classical music.

You taught me to do a watercolour wash so I could paint skies, and how to look after the brushes.

You never, ever, said to me “you’re useless at that, you might as well give up”

You encouraged me to be creative and to make art.

You taught me the importance of good manners.

You taught me that war is a bad thing and that it is better to avoid using violence unless there is really no other option left.

You taught me how to light a fire.

You told me some useful stories about your own experiences that helped me be a better manager of myself and other people.

You encouraged me to read widely and deeply, and to think likewise.

You read good stories to me, as a child, which expanded my language and introduced me to the Jungle Book, Edward Lear, Pooh Bear and Thesiger, many others too.

You encouraged me to write letters, and wrote me many more.

You never talked down to me.

You taught me the value of looking after my body.

You encouraged me to swim and climb trees.

You introduced me to the eternal wonder of the sea, which is in my blood and which I love to this day.

You taught me to care for injured or abandoned animals.

You taught me to help and listen to strangers.

You never tried to force a religion upon me.

You taught me the main constellations, and inspired in me a love of the skies and a wonder at the Universe.

You taught me to appreciate the wonder and beauty of the World.

You showed me how to find North, using the stars.

You allowed me to learn by experience, even if that meant I cut myself.

I have learned more than I realise from you.  Sure, there were also problems on the way but, overall, the balance is very positive for me.

Thank you for being my Father, better than many are.  I think I have learned a lot of important things about how to be a good father.

Perhaps most of all, you encouraged me to be ever curious, and to try to find out.

Thank you, Dad.

May you be well and happy and free from suffering and the causes of suffering.