And the years go by (if you are lucky)


It’s my last day of being 42 today. I had a friend who died at this age, of a brain haemorrhage. He was on holiday with his beloved wife and their three small children. They went to bed, and only his wife woke up in the morning.

Why does it take horrific happenings like these to remind us to live our lives? We think, when we hear about such tragedy, that it will always happen to someone else. Never to us. We take so much for granted. When my sons piled into my bed this morning, tumbling and hugging each other and trying to hug me too, I hauled them off each other, and off me, because I think I have all the time in the world for wild morning hugs like these. Of course, I don’t. I feel the years passing now at warp speed, and I have three rapidly changing little boys to demonstrate the voracious velocity of the years.

Sometimes it makes me panic, sometimes it makes me feel wistful, sometimes it sends me off into long meanderings in my head about how I really need to start taking care of myself so that I don’t succumb to one of the terrifying lifestyle diseases that so many of us end up getting. Rarely does it make me stop and exist only in the moment. You hear it all the time in relation to meditation and particularly mindfulness – living in the moment, being present. Now is all you have. We all know that intellectually but it can be hard to do if you spend a lot of time living up in your crazy-maze brain as opposed to in your body – feeling, sensing, smelling, loving. And crying, I guess. If living in the present is the ideal, then it’s necessary to live the crappy moments too. They often feel never-ending, but of course they do end. Everything ends. Everything begins.

So tomorrow, a new year begins for me. I want to live in it, and not in the years before, and not in the years after. But look at me now; writing this. Thinking about how I’m going to live next year – and not today. See how easy it is to forget?

Notes on mortality


I had some conversations about death with my middle son today. Our neighbour’s grandmother had died, and the funeral is today. They love this neighbour, a young man who babysits often and plays the best, weird indecipherable superhero games with them. So the boys were concerned about him, and very interested as to where his beloved granny had gone.

I probably speak about death with my children a little too much, because there was a two-week period a couple of years ago when it seemed I was about to die. I suppose I want them to know that if I did, it wasn’t my choice to leave, and that part of me can’t die because it’s part of them. Anyway, I try to knock death talk on the head, in general.

But my middle son was on a roll today and really wanted some discussion around the idea. ‘When you be dead, are you dead forever?’ ‘When I be dead, will you be dead? ‘Can we all be dead holding hands together?’ ‘Can we be dead but then be statues in the museum?’

He sat in his car seat in the back while I answered (Yes. All things going as they should, yes. No, but that’s a touching yet incredibly distressing idea. No.) We drove on for a bit in silence, and he stared out the window, deep in the kind of thoughts that only a three-year-old can have. Then he said quietly: ‘But the heart never dies Mama. It can’t.’

On cue, we stopped at a red light and I turned to him. ‘Where did you…? Where did you get that from?’ I said, looking at him. He is as pretty as a bluebird, this child. ‘My brain told me,’ he said matter-of-factly, gazing out of the window again. These children. You think they are speaking mostly gobbledygook as they try to carve sense out of the world with their limited, lisping vocabulary – then they break out these showstopping lines that sound like something an ancient sage has come up with after a hundred years meditating in a cave.

The light turned green and we drove on. ‘I hope I die with blood bleeding all over me,’ he added, in a tone that can only be described as glee. He is a little boy, after all.

And Death Shall Have No Dominion


In her poem, The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac, Mary Oliver talks about the urgency of living.

She asks: Do you need a prod?/Do you need a little darkness to get you going? And then brutally reminds us that such a vibrant soul as Keats died at just 25.

None of us have much time. We really don’t. I’m sure most of you have been reminded of the lack of time we have on this planet. Often it happens when someone very close to you dies, or when you get a frightening medical diagnosis. For me, it was the latter. It wasn’t cancer, as prompted the urgency in Oliver’s poem, but it was something utterly left-field, something bananas, a one-in-a-million medical condition that finally explained why I had been living with intermittent, excruciating bouts of pain for all of my adult life.

During the weeks of diagnosis, the scans and the being pinged from one grim consultant to the next, there loomed the possibility that whatever it was I had would kill me (It didn’t. It won’t). It was unbelievable and it was totally unbelievable how my mindset instantly changed.

Time became distilled. I couldn’t believe I’d had a complaint about anything before – literally anything. Everything seemed like a special, priceless gift that was about to be snatched away from me. I got down on my knees and prayed every night (and during the day, and every hour) to God to let me stay alive and healthy to look after my sons. To let me live the life that until the week before, when a scan had found a gigantic growth wrapped around the sciatic nerve in my leg, I’d been a bit ‘meh’ about.

Yes, really. I dared to be ‘meh’ about my one wild and precious life, my adorable, bolshy little sons, my practical, kind husband, my sensitive, whip-smart stepdaughter, and about my tumbly tiny terraced house in the centre of the city.

I’m not going to die anytime soon. Or I might. Who knows? Any one of us, at any time, could die or become ill, or something could happen to one of our loved ones.

It is impossible to live at the intensity of ‘I might die’ every day, or even for a moment – but having experienced what it is like, its imprint is inside of me, somewhere. It’s yet another reason why I meditate. It is so incredibly comforting. When you do it regularly, you slowly start to become aware that death cannot exist.

Because there is a part of us that can never die.