Smile, love and be kind

Although I never met her, I have been following Emmy Coates’ battle with cancer ever since she bravely announced it, hoping beyond hope that science would find a way to save her from its clutches and keep her reunited with her childhood sweetheart Jake for longer than the all-too-short time they had together. The sad news of her recent passing at such a tragically young age, and the incredible poise, eloquence and honesty of her grieving husband in the immediate wake of what must have been the worst time of his life have affected me deeply.

These two people and their bittersweet love story (quite honestly, they achieved more in the last year than most people manage in a lifetime, which is surely testament to their jaw-dropping positivity and utter amazingness-if you haven’t been following their story get yourself over to their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ejtandemonium/ immediately and catch up-thats an order*) epitomise what it means to live life fully and in the moment, to cherish the very existence of love and appreciate that, in the end, nothing else matters.

Emmy’s catch phrase of “Smile, love and be kind” will stay with me forever. As will Jake’s words in the blog he bravely wrote after her passing, when he said:

“I wish with all that I am, that I could have just one more day with her. To laugh with, to hug, to kiss, to hold tight.

So make me this promise. Go out. Go to your husband or your wife. Your partner or your lover.

Tell them that you love them. Embrace them. Hold them that little bit longer. Squeeze them that little bit tighter. Whisper sweet nothings and try to forget, just for a moment, those small irrelevant worries. You’re only here in this world for the shortest time and you never know when it might all disappear.”

We take so much for granted in this life, and spend so much time worrying about things that likely won’t even happen – or, as in Emmy’s case, might eventually happen but there is nothing that can be done about it anyway.

In response to Jake’s blog, therefore, I for one promise both Jake and Emmy that I will carry their positivity in my heart for ever, and that I will try my best to not take those I love for granted.

God bless Emmy, you were a shining star in this world and I’ve no doubt you will be a shining star in the next one too.

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*If, like me, Emmy’s story has touched you, I would urge you to make a donation to the Royal Marsden hospital, for whom Emmy and Jake tirelessly fundraised. You can do it through their fundraising page: http://ejtandemonium.com

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Gratitude, Acceptance and Umbrellas

It’s been a while since I last updated my blog. This is, in part, because I’m currently focusing on addressing some of the issues in my life that are blocking my path to fulfilment and success. At the moment I’m reading two neuropsychology books, one on Hardwiring Happiness by Dr Rick Hanson (whose TED talk on the issue can be viewed here), and the other on conditions arising from neuropsychological damage, The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, by the brilliant (and, sadly, now also suffering from terminal cancer) Oliver Sachs. Alongside the Chopra Centre guided meditations that I am trying to do on a regular basis (which I think I mentioned in a previous post), these books have been helping me to understand some key facets* of the human condition that need cultivating in order to experience true fulfilment. These are:

Part One: Gratitude

It sounds obvious, but how many of us really take the time each day to count our blessings? I think I’ve touched on this before, but now more than ever I am realising how important it is to consciously feel gratitude in order to overcome negative emotions like anxiety, jealousy and fear. It is only by recognising the value of what we have – primarily the people in our lives who bring us joy and make us feel secure and loved – that we can create a sense of calm and acceptance. Which brings me onto…

Part Two: Acceptance

This morning I walked past the elderly homeless man who sleeps in a doorway along my route to work. For a time, during January, he disappeared, and I hoped he had found somewhere warm to spend the rest of the winter. But no such luck. Recently he has been back, huddled with his worldly belongings on the grey concrete step. I have wanted to do something for him ever since I first saw him, but was unsure whether he would welcome being approached and offered charity. Today I had my chance, as I had slipped into my bag a slice of the delicious tarte au sucre that was left over from the dinner party I hosted on Sunday night. As I passed him I had the urge to offer it to him. He declined. And you know what? I stifled the selfish compulsion to feel rebuffed, and in that moment realised that acceptance is an important part of coming to terms with life. We can’t change other people; we can only change our own thoughts, deeds and actions. I’m glad I offered him something, even if he didn’t want it, because generosity is part of being human – it connects us to one another, and it makes us feel less alone.

Part Three: Umbrellas

Also on my walk to work today, the air was damp with the drizzle I’m coming to learn is characteristic of life here in Brussels. But rather than putting up my umbrella the second I felt a droplet of water on my forehead, I deliberately waited until the rain was sufficiently heavy to warrant me being protected from it. And in that moment it occurred to me the umbrella could be used as an analogy for life:

Life is about learning when you need an umbrella to protect yourself – and when you are strong enough to walk in the rain.

The path I’m currently treading makes me feel ever more keenly that it isn’t possible to protect ourselves from the negative things in life – they are an intrinsic part of it. What matters is working on our ability to face them head on; to be humble, selfless and brave.

*Interestingly, one meaning for the word ‘facet’ in the dictionary is ‘one of the small, polished plane surfaces of a cut gem’ – it struck me this was also a good analogy for life, which has so very many different aspects, hence the image I have chosen to accompany this post.

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I never knew facets could be so beautiful.

Why We MUST Remember

On Saturday I went to see the incredible First and Second World War exhibitions at the Armed Forces and Military Museum of Brussels. Being the day before Remembrance Sunday in the year that marks one hundred years since the outbreak of World War One, the visit was both timely and especially poignant. I’ve always felt passionately about ensuring we remember the monstrously large number of people killed in service ‘for their country’ in the two world wars, and as each year passes and more veterans of those wars die I feel even more strongly that my generation has a duty to each and every one of those fallen soldiers, without whom we might now be living in a very different society.

It is beyond me that anyone could fail to be moved by their sacrifice, though I am painfully aware we do live in a world where people all too often turn the other cheek, caring only about themselves and their own selfish endeavours. Such people doubtless fail to comprehend the bravery and suffering of those soldiers – many of them little more than children – who went to war all those years ago, knowing in their hearts they might never see their loved ones again, that they would likely die in the dirt, riddled with bullets and alone, their lives snuffed out like the candles they huddled around for warmth on those countless and interminably long nights in their bunkers.

It saddens me that wars are still going on around the world, that children are still being used on the front line and that, in some respects, we seem to have learned nothing from the atrocities that happened in the two world wars. But this is a personal and not a political post, the point of which is not to refute the age old arguments for war but rather to remember those who have fallen in it – not just in the first and second world wars but in every war that has, and is, taking place around the world. Because in forgetting those people, in allowing war and its ghastly and tragic slew of victims to become an acceptable loss in the pursuit of a ‘peace’ that never seems to come, we are, fundamentally, denying our own humanity. And without humanity there is no hope at all – and all those sacrifices will, ultimately, be for nothing.

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Bon voyage to a friend x

This post is to wish my beautiful friend Sarah the very best of everything as she prepares to fly back to Australia tomorrow to resume the life she and her wonderful late boyfriend Paul had made together. I know she hates to be called ‘brave,’ and feels she has dealt with all that has happened over the past weeks and months as anyone would in the same circumstance, but nonetheless she has been an inspiration to me. Her warmth and humour have been a shining light in what has been an utterly dark time, not only for her but for her family, Paul’s family and all of their friends.  Paul’s passing was grossly unfair, an utter tragedy whose sadness knows no bounds. And yet as is always the case, out of this most horrendous of tragedies have sprung some small green shoots of hope. The outpouring of love for Paul has shown his beautiful spirit will live on forever, and I sincerely hope that Sarah feels the warmth of everyone’s affection shining on her every day of her life, as she most truly deserves. I wish you all the luck and love and happiness in the world gorgeous girl. Have a safe journey and soak up that Sydney sunshine for those of us you’re leaving behind. And always remember, physical distance is nothing, it’s what’s in your heart that counts. Which means wherever you are, Paul and all of us will be there too. xxxx