Remembering a Friend

A year ago today someone very special was taken from this world in the worst possible way, leaving a deep chasm of grief in his wake. For his family, his girlfriend and his friends life would never be the same again; there would forever be a Paul-shaped void. Of course life does, inevitably, move on – it has to, for despite its power even grief can’t stop the world from spinning on its axis – but time, though a healer of sorts, can never erase the pain of such a shocking and untimely loss.

I only knew Paul for a short time, but he made a big impact on me, as I know he did on all the many others that he met along the rollercoaster ride that was his life. Yesterday I was so happy to be reunited with his girlfriend Sarah, for whom the past year has been difficult beyond words, but who has shown such admirable strength of spirit in the midst of her grief. Nothing will ever make up for the loss of Paul, but one thing is certain: He may be gone, but his exuberance, charm and joie de vivre will never be forgotten.

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Rejecting Stasis and Embracing Change

sta·sis

  1. motionless state: a state in which there is neither motion nor development, often resulting from opposing forces balancing each other
  2. state of no change: a state in which there is little or no apparent change in a species of organism over a long period of time.

“He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.” – Harold Wilson

“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” – Henri Bergson

As you might have guessed from the above definition and quotes, in recent days I’ve been ruminating on the nature of change. This is, I suppose, unsurprising given that my immediate friendship groups are currently undergoing a lot of it. Some people have had babies, others are moving abroad, and it’s all a bit, well, unsettling if I’m honest. Which is only natural. If we weren’t scared of change we’d be robots. Anything that alters the comfortable stasis of our lives is inevitably going to wobble our foundations a little. But surely being wobbled is a good thing?

I’ve always said my greatest fear in life (besides being attacked by a shark or waking up with a tarantula on my face – those two remain the greatest fears of all) is waking up one day and realising I’ve been doing the same thing for the past twenty years. Why? Because there is SO much to DO in this world; so many places to live, so many jobs to try, so many hobbies to take up. Why wouldn’t we take every opportunity that’s offered to us? Why not make the most of every moment? It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut, to fall into a career that doesn’t grab you and to follow that trajectory to the grave. Making fundamental changes IS terrifying, but sometimes it’s the only way to pull ourselves out of the slough of despond so many of us reside in for our entire adult lives. As Mark Twain said, “twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did.” I don’t want to look back on my life with regrets about the things I didn’t do. And whilst change does scare me, I’m determined not to let it hold me back.

I’m also determined to stop worrying about the effect of change on my relationships. Just because a person moves away doesn’t mean your friendship will die. If they’re a good enough friend in the first place, that relationship will thrive no matter where you are. Sure, you might see or talk to that person less, but that just means it’s all the more important to make the times you do see and speak to them count.

Life is too short to spend worrying about change and what other people think. Life is for living. And, one way or another, that’s exactly what I intend to do.

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Small Kindnesses in a Hate-Filled World

Few could fail to have been moved by the recent news (and news reporting – but that’s an inflammatory issue for another post) of American journalist James Foley’s death at the hands of Islamist militants in Iraq, or haunted by the images below of two of the many Yazidi girls who have been caught up in a war that’s not of their own making – one who looks little older than a child but is forced to carry a rifle to protect her family. Such stories and images are heart breaking, but, for westerners, it is still somehow so hard to grasp that atrocities like these are taking place on such a large scale when the comparatively ‘civilised’ society in which we live is at the opposite end of the spectrum of humanity.

So many terrible, evil things are happening all around the world, and though we fortunate folk may feel sickened, we also feel powerless to help. And, granted, when it comes to the poor souls being persecuted in Iraq, Syria, Gaza and all the other places where oppression, violence, corruption and hatred are as widespread as the oceans between us, we ARE powerless. But there is one thing we can do: Reach out to the people in our immediate vicinity, undertaking acts of kindness that will bolster the collective morale and prove not only the strength and beauty of the human spirit, but also that goodness still exists in the world. Just like this man, hairstylist Mark Bustos in New York, who gives up every Sunday to roam the streets in search of homeless people who need a haircut, whilst his girlfriend takes the trouble to ask them what they want to eat (rather than giving them scraps and leftovers). You might think a haircut is a shallow thing, but he said this of one of his most memorable beneficiaries:

“After offering him a haircut and whatever food he wanted to eat, he didn’t have much to say throughout the whole process, until after I showed him what he looked like when I was done … The first thing he said to me was, ‘Do you know anyone that’s hiring?'”

It’s small acts of kindness just like this that have the power to restore people’s faith – in themselves, in the world around them, and in humanity itself. I’m not saying we should all go out with a pair of scissors every weekend, but I am saying this: We may not have the power to heal the world, but the power to heal those closest to us is absolutely in our hands – if only we choose to acknowledge and act on it.

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Making Peace

Yesterday, after two days of proofreading a document created by a colleague, I sent my comments back in an email. I was tired and feeling overworked, and didn’t stop to think how the email would make that person feel – I was just glad to have ticked another task off my long to do list. Today when they responded saying my comments had upset them my initial (tired and overworked) response was to roll my eyes and feel anger bubbling up inside me. But then I stopped, went for a walk outside, took several deep breaths and thought hard about the situation. My email wasn’t rude, per se, but with hindsight it was tactless. The document I’d been critiquing was this person’s baby, so inevitably my seemingly brusque comments were misconstrued as me thinking the entire document was rubbish, which is far from the case.

The incident made me appreciate just how easy it is for small issues in the workplace to turn into much larger ones, simply by virtue of people’s lack of empathy towards one another due to their own personal issues. And, on a much bigger scale than that, how it’s exactly this lack of empathy towards others that leads to hatred – and wars. This issue is particularly pertinent today as the US launches air strikes against IS militants in Iraq, who are currently attempting to murder the Yazidis and Christian minorities whom they have displaced from their homes, in what seems to be verging ever more closely on an act of genocide. What makes these militants – and, for that matter, the Israeli and Hamas fighters in Gaza – think they are better than those they seek to wipe out? Don’t they realise at our core we are all the same: Human beings who are trying to make our way in a conflict-ridden world?

I will never forget the stories I read as a child about the soldiers in the front line during the First World War, who downed their weapons on Christmas Day and came out of the trenches to play games with the opposition; English and German soldiers united in one moment of peace, when just twenty four hours later they would be tearing one another apart.

It makes me sad to think of all the hate in the world, and days like today remind me that I’m not immune to creating animosity myself, even when I don’t mean to. Our moods are not always easy to control, but if we all put a bit more effort into thinking how they affect other people, and appreciating that those people are working through issues of their own, I really think there would be more peace in the world.

Happy Friday everyone – be nice to each other.

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Detox Diet: Day Three (aka The Final Frontier)

I’m not going to lie to you, today has NOT been easy. When my alarm went off at 6.55am I could barely find the strength to lift my head off the pillow, let alone do my pilates DVD as planned. So it was back to sleep for another 45 minutes, and even then I felt like someone had dropped a breeze block on my head from a great height.

At work I was grumpy and impatient – though having to proofread a 310 page document would probably have that effect on me with or without a detox.

At lunchtime, to cheer myself up, I had an extra-large bowl of garden salad with lemon and oil dressing, rationalising that the ingredients would otherwise have gone to waste (because I’m sure as hell having something different for lunch tomorrow – most probably something that’s been deep fried in a foot of animal fat then coated in three consecutive layers of chocolate and cheese) and anyway, how can it possibly be bad to have an extra half of a tomato and a handful of spinach? Give me a break.

After lunch I took a stroll outside, then sat in the sunshine and read for a while. At one point, having watched countless happy people strolling past with iced coffees and frozen yoghurt, I almost succumbed to the sugar craving and had a tic tac to keep me going. But I resisted.

In truth I nearly gave up altogether when my colleagues asked me for a post-work glass of wine, but I hadn’t come this far to fall at the final hurdle. So I made my final revolting (and I really mean that. So many tasty ingredients went into it but the only two I could taste were celery and parsley. Gross.) mean green juice and threw it down the hatch in one, grimacing all the way.

When I got home I forced myself to do the pilates DVD I’d sacked off this morning, and I feel a whole lot better for it (if slightly light-headed given I’ve consumed the sum total of about five calories in the past 72 hours).

Tomorrow I’ve invited a friend for dinner and have promised her a nice big, cheesy lasagne with lashings of garlic break – in your face detox!

As for now, only one portion of ‘fat flushing soup’ and a chamomile tea stand between me and FREEDOM!!! It’s pathetic, I know, but I’m actually quite proud of this achievement….

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Detox Diary: Day Two

It’s day two of my three day detox and I’m happy to report I haven’t keeled over through starvation. Yet. Though that’s not to say it hasn’t been a mighty (and frankly superhuman) effort staying away from those bloody Crunchie ice creams in the freezer, not to mention resisting dipping into the ‘drawer of goodies’ at work. By dinner time last night I was more excited about consuming soup than I ever previously fathomed it possible for a human to be. And remembering I was allowed to have a chamomile tea before lights out elicited an actual squeal of delight.

What is happening to me? I’m not at all sure I like this version of myself, who spends her days wafting dolefully past trays of cakes in the office, and was so pathetically grateful for this morning’s coconut and spinach smoothie it nearly reduced her to tears? This afternoon I was even overjoyed to remember I had left the eight raw almonds out of my lunchtime salad, and subsequently ate them hunched over my desk like a starving savage.

But worst of all is the guilt. Yesterday I had eaten my salad before it dawned on me I’d made enough for two portions (according to the person who came up with this plan-who must, in my opinion, actually be a stick insect), then at dinner I crumbled after eating my allowance of ONE CUP of soup (ridiculous) and ended up having at least twice that (what? It’s only got vegetables in it for God’s sake, and I’m not even allowed any bread!) Today, too, I over-catered, albeit accidentally because my colleagues expressed a mild interest in trying my Mean Green Smoothie but, when it came to it, decided it smelt too much like pond scum to imbibe it. Nice.

It’s now 7pm and I’m attempting to wait until 8pm for my poxy ‘cup’ (read: at least two bowls. I no longer believe in conformity) of soup, as I don’t think I could bear watching the Great British Bake Off without some food (though even with the soup there’s a strong chance I’ll have gnawed off my own leg by the time the programme is over, or at the very least launched myself at the freezer and done away with every Crunchie ice cream in it).

I’d be rubbish at proper dieting. When you’re not allowed to eat things  those things are all you can think about. It’s pure torture. Thank God there’s only one more day standing between me and all the ice cream, chocolate, cheese and pizza I can eat. Not to mention the red wine. Yes, I know I’m missing the point of the detox if I’m not prepared to change my ways for good at the end of it, but one thing I’m learning with this experience is this: Life’s too short to detox.

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Detox Diary: Day One

One tedious and short-lived powdered Spirulina phase aside, I’ve never been one for a detox diet, though in truth that says more about my lazy nature than an aversion to the concept. I’m all for a period of healthy living, in fact, and never more so than now, after three consecutive heavy weekends have brought me to my knees, physically and mentally. And so yesterday, after a hearty last supper of cheese-based Spanish tapas dishes washed down with red wine (what?), I went to the shop and bought all the ingredients needed to do this three day detox plan.

This morning, upon rising, I dutifully prepared my lemon and ginger detox drink and put the ingredients for the fat flushing soup into the slow cooker. When I arrived at work I prepared the coconut milk smoothie, then for a mid-morning snack chopped up some carrot, celery and cucumber for a snack, which I supplemented with eight raw almonds. Lunch time involved a second trip to the shop to buy additional detox plan items for the garden salad with lemon and oil dressing that would constitute lunch.

So far, so good right? Yes, I suppose so. Except for the following:

  1. Celery is Evil
    As in, actually the devil incarnate. Which is particularly upsetting given that it is one of the primary ingredients of this particular detox plan *gags*
  2. Detoxing when you have ice cream in the freezer is the worst kind of torture there is
    Especially when that ice cream just so happens to be Crunchie Blast ice cream, your current favourite ice cream in the whole freaking world *weeps*
  3. Gym? You must be Joking
    I came into work with my gym kit feeling hopeful I would go on my way home from work. The reality of this situation is that living on raw fruit and veg alone provides insufficient energy to walk to the toilet and back, let alone do a workout. Which means physical activity (beyond trips to the loo – give me some credit for decency) is on the back burner until this detox is done.
  4. Read the Recipes
    It helps, because having chowed my way through an admittedly-large looking plate of garden salad (see below) I realised I had actually made enough for two servings, which means no ‘exciting’ afternoon mean green juice for me (despite having spent enough for a deposit on a house on the ingredients for it at lunch time – drat).
  5. Where does the time go?
    Healthy living is time-consuming, there’s no getting around it. All that chopping, grating, peeling and mixing is bloody hard work, in fact. But at least it makes the working day go faster…

Still to look forward to today is one cup (yeah right) of fat flushing soup and a chamomile tea before bed, washed down with lashings of filtered water. And, despite the almost unbearable craving for it, no ice cream whatsoever (because I’m saving that particular luxury for next week in Italy, where I shall be consuming all the ice cream, pasta, pizza and red wine I can shove down my throat. Who says people only do detoxes in preparation for a purge…?)

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