Bathing.

Balanced on one leg, I run water into a plastic tub in the bath. I splash some gentle liquid soap into the tub, and then sit on a chair next to the bath to spray some of the same soap through my hair before I comb it and tie it back up in a plait.

I turn the tap off, test the warmth of the water in the plastic tub, and carefully take my clothes off, easing my heavy moon boot through the leg hole of my underwear, and laying the clothes over the bath, within arm’s reach.

It has been nearly two weeks since I was hit by a car while riding home on my bicycle.

The accident dislocated and broke my ankle badly enough that when I was first admitted to hospital, high on pain medication from the ambulance ride, all the medical staff winced at it, and I have since been reminded of its severity many times by doctors and radiographers and nurses and surgeons. My ankle is now full of metal plates and screws.

I sit on the chair next to the bath and use a wash cloth to wipe the warm soapy water over my skin. I am not yet strong enough to lower myself in and out of the bath without help, and we’re still figuring out how best to put the chair in the shower so that I can reach my crutches and get my moon boot on and off without putting any weight on the broken ankle.

Tenderness has been the quiet surprise for me in the wake of this accident.

It hasn’t surprised me so much from others. My man and my parents and my friends have all responded to this with great tenderness and care, and I am forever grateful for this.

What has surprised me, though, is my own tenderness towards myself.

It started as I sat on the road in the immediate aftermath of the accident, shocked, frightened, and in pain. People rushed around me to arrange ambulances and police and blankets because I was in shock. I just gently cradled my leg so my foot could remain off the ground, and reminded myself to breathe slowly.

When I’ve woken in the night since, crying and feeling the fear of that time on the road catch up with me, it’s been tenderness that I’ve offered that part of myself. And this, I think, is the growing of a certain kind of strength. Just as it took a considerable amount of core physical strength to sit on the road for that long, balancing so that one foot could hang in the air, I’m coming to realise that it takes a mostly unseen gentle strength to offer ourselves kindness and tenderness when we need it — especially when so much in our culture encourages us to push ourselves to achieve one thing or another.

In the bathroom, having washed most of my body, I gently lower myself to sit on a towel on the floor next to the bath. One by one, I open the velcro fastenings on the front of the boot, and lift my leg out of it to sit it on the floor. Very gently, I remove the surgical sock, careful not to twist or pressure the ankle, and lay the leg back on the floor. It is bruised and swollen; yellow, pink and bluey grey. Some of the skin is grazed, and there are long straight surgical wounds. The muscles have lost all their tone, having remained unused for so many days now.

The skin on this leg is itself tender, and can only be touched very lightly. Today, I find myself thinking gently towards the leg too, where before there was considerably more frustration towards this part of my body. Seeing the wounds so clearly, and tending to them, has all but dissolved this particular frustration. This tenderness feels like accepting this withered and sore lower limb as part of me again. I had not realised until this moment that I’d even separated it out in the first place.

There will be a part of me that misses this bathing when my ankle is healed. Slowing down so much has also been incredibly frustrating and sometimes upsetting, but this long, slow lesson in tenderness towards myself is one I hope I will not forget. There is something deeply beautiful in learning the value in treating ourselves the way we might hope to be treated by others when we’re having difficulty.

Washed and dried, the return of my leg to the sock and boot is just as much a gentle exercise, as is getting redressed and packing up the washing paraphernalia. I am more aware of the small spaces my body moves through to achieve these small things, and of the texture of the materials I am covering myself with. I am more aware of what it takes to shift my relationship with those spaces and materials by moving through, with or around them.

This bathing is an exercise in gentle noticing.

There is no rushing.

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Finding time: hunting for sticks

Sticks at feetCrunching through the dry undergrowth of a patch of trees in parklands close to my house, I am peering at all the sticks under my boots, looking for the straightest and strongest ones. I hear a loud crunch and a crack from several metres away; the friend I’ve recruited to help me has found something. There are more cracks and crunches and the rustling of leaves — he’s obviously found a pile of them. I crouch down to inspect a pile of sticks and twigs at my feet. Above me a bird calls out again and again in alarm — or perhaps warning — and flits from tree to tree. The air around me smells like damp eucalyptus, after rain earlier in the day.

“It’s okay,” I tell the bird. “I’ll be out of your way soon.”

The sticks are mostly unsuitable: too brittle, too bent. But there are one or two that are okay. I add them to the collection I’m already carrying, and clamber out of the bushy area to find my friend.

He’s found a collection of larger branches that have fallen from a tree. He holds up the ones he’s picked for my approval, and then breaks up a few bigger branches in the pile for their parts. We carry the collection back to a pile we’ve been making this last hour or so on the edge of a garden bed near where his car is parked. We take stock. There are lots of larger sticks, but we need more smaller sticks. Leaving the pile, we head off again.

~

It’s been windy these last few weeks in Melbourne; the winds that come with the change of season at springtime. For much of that time, I’ve been on the lookout for sticks in parks and under trees on roadsides, anticipating several outings for stick hunting. I want the sticks to build things with in my backyard: structures for beans and peas and cucumbers to grow up, stakes for tomatoes and other plants. The plants are growing steadily in my little hothouse, and I’ve been vaguely planning the kinds of structures I’ll need to construct.

I’ve approached the building of my garden coming into this summer season a little differently to previous years. Perhaps because of some other reading I’ve been doing on waste, I’ve found myself trying to think of ways I can make or build things rather than nipping down to the hardware store for bamboo stakes. It’s certainly not that I’m aiming to build everything in the garden from sticks and things I’ve found, but the reading on waste has somewhat shifted my perspective on the usefulness of the things around me. And now that I’m on the lookout for this kind of stuff, I’m seeing it everywhere. Which is to say that I’m seeing usefulness and abundance everywhere. It’s really rather wonderful.

Because it’s not possible for me to carry a giant pile of sticks home on my own (nor, I anticipate, build the planned structures from them), I’ve had to ask for help, and my wonderful friends have been very generous. And this is the other somewhat unexpected outcome of approaching things this way: I have been reminded of the generosity of my friends, and, perhaps even more than that, the stick gathering has been an opportunity for me to spend extended stretches of time with them. Talking about life, solving problems, being serious, being silly, laughing.

~

Stick hunting sunshineLate in the afternoon the day before I went stick gathering with my friend with the car, my housemate and I went for a long wander around our suburb, also looking for sticks. We were limited to what we could carry home, but we still managed to gather quite a lot. Along with smaller bundles of sticks, she ended up with what she referred to as her “Gandalf stick”, and I ended up with a long branch I carried over my shoulder, which required some careful manoeuvring to stop from catching on things. My housemate said she hoped that one of the people glancing strangely at us as we passed them with our load would ask us what we were doing with the sticks. (Sadly, no one did.) As we traipsed home with our strange cargo, the springtime sun sinking, making everything glow, blinking from behind buildings and trees as we walked, I couldn’t help but feel like this time was something magical. 

A giant pile of sticksThe pile of sticks from both these trips sits now in my backyard, waiting for me to start building. Various friends have promised to help with this job — and with other things in the garden — and I am somewhat overwhelmed, in the best way possible, by how amazing the people in my life are. I can’t wait to share the (literal) fruits of this labour with them later in the season.

Priorities, rest and breathing

This morning I lay in bed, curled up in a ball, just exactly warm enough and aware of the chill in the air outside my little cocoon. I lay there under the weight of several layers of blanket thinking about life in all its variety; about the dear friends of mine who’ve just welcomed their first child, about the three different friends I have who are soon to move interstate (to Melbourne—hurrah!) or overseas, about the friends I know who are struggling with overwork or relationship woes. And then I thought about my own life, with all its recent changes and challenges and sadnesses and joys. I thought about how life is always in a state of flux—it’s just that we seem to notice it more at some times than others. And about how life never seems to turn out how anyone thought it would, but how much richer than imagination, good or bad, reality is, if we let it be.

And then I thought again about my friends’ little baby, who is just a week old, partly because I’ve already been clucky for years and thinking about babies is something I don’t seem to be able to help doing, and partly because I was amazed to think that he still has all of this ahead of him. This life.

I remember the moment when I was a child that I realised each of the billions of people in the world had their own life events unfolding around them and an inner life trying to make sense of that. I remember not being quite sure what to do with that realisation.

In the last few weeks, for an essay I’m writing, I’ve been learning more about the anatomy, physiology and psychology of breathing. The breath is altered by all sorts of things, and in turn that altered breath changes our biochemistry. Life changes the way we breathe, and breathing changes the way we approach life. To think about something as intimate and small as a person’s alveoli, and how their life might impact on the way that gases are exchanged there, and then to imagine those tiny but significant relationships inside the lungs of billions of people is… well, incredible in exactly the same way as becoming aware as a child of vastness of humanity.

I found myself wondering this morning about the breathing of each of the friends I was thinking about, and of that new little baby. All those lungs and all their different circumstances. The enormity of it overwhelms and fascinates me.

On a day where I have next to no plans, I thought, ‘Perhaps I can just lay here all day, mulling over the wonders of life’. But the promise of a cup of tea dragged me out from under the covers and into the sunshiny winter day. And, for once, instead of rushing into my to do list (I know I said I had no plans, but, y’know, I’ve got things I want to do), I’ve let myself amble and ponder. It’s amazing how rest can shift your priorities.

~
Cat with good priorities

(Because there aren’t already enough cat pictures on the interwebs, here’s a picture of my housemate’s cat enjoying the winter sun. Now there’s an animal with its priorities in good order.)

Transition and Tomato Sauce

On the weekend, I went to a barbeque picnic in Pyrmont, down by the water. I used to work in Pyrmont, so being back there, like so many other things at the moment, was a weird little nostalgia trip. That I’d had very little sleep the night before (and perhaps over-imbibed) probably did very little to keep me feeling in any way down to earth. I was in a very vague mood. Not-quite-managing-to-finish-sentences vague.

We put sausages on the barbeque, and sat in the sun to eat them. I drenched mine in tomato sauce, as is my wont. And ever since then I’ve been craving tomato sauce. In fact, as I write this, there’s a tomato sauce bottle sitting next to me because I had it on my lunch. I’m trying to work out how to also have it with dinner.

While I love tomato sauce — it’s one of those tastes of childhood for me — I don’t have it or want to have it very often. That I should be craving it now is strange. I mean, on one level it makes sense. I have two weeks left of work in Sydney and then a great big, exciting, terrifying unknown to look forward to in Melbourne. It does stand to reason that I would be craving something that is familiar (and sugary). But really? Tomato sauce? Usually chocolate is my comfort food. Anyone who knows me well knows I’m an absolute chocolate fiend. That chocolate should be replaced by tomato sauce is definitely unusual.

The closer the Big Move gets, the stranger I feel. The New Lightness is becoming more like The New Oddness. Every morning I wake and spend a few minutes trying to remember what day it is, and where I am, exactly. It surprises me each time I turn up to teach a class and students arrive, as if I think maybe I’ve got the day wrong. Everything familiar seems slightly off-kilter, or weirdly out of context.

This will be my third interstate move in the nine years since I left home (the fifth, if you include the to-and-from Canberra in between Melbourne and Sydney last time). But each of those times I’ve made the decision to go, and then left within a month or so. This time I’ve had quite a long time leading up to the move. I hope that all this pre-move oddness is going to mean less of the post-move oddness I’ve come across previously.

For now, I’m trying just to go with it. It’s not entirely unpleasant, and it’s certainly interesting to watch. But it’s very weird.

Quietly missing someone

These last couple of days I’ve had a long-time friend staying with me. She and I became friends when, as fifteen-year-olds who caught the same bus home from school, we one day noticed a sheep standing on a hill in a paddock, its head above the rest its flock. It looked so quaint standing there that we looked for it again the next day. And the next day, and the next. And every day, there it was, and so our acquaintance developed into a friendship.

She and I spent so much easy time together over the next three years that it’s always what we return to when we see each other now. We talk for hours about nothing and everything.

This friend lives in another part of the country to me—and has done for all but two years of our adult lives. I miss her. And that missing hurts most whenever we part company again.

For various reasons, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about missing people. And about living away from people that you miss. In my adult life, I’m yet to live in the same city as either of my brothers, and I find myself envying siblings who see each other frequently. In the same way, I wish it was easy for me to just be in my parents’ company. A three hour bus trip, in my opinion, is not easy.

Having grown up in a small country town, I have friends who live all over the country. And having moved interstate more than once myself has only added to the list of people I miss.

Missing people is a strange thing. It’s not strange that it happens—of course it does. What I mean is that the feeling itself is strange. Missing someone feels like it creates a little tear in me somewhere, or a loose stitch. Just something tiny, really. But that tiny instability is something I’m always aware of, and it changes the way I move through life. It means I have to take more care, lest the tear grow larger, or the stitch come looser; lest I begin to fall apart. Those small breakages need to be tended to regularly.

Missing people, for me, is quite separate to missing a place. Missing people does not mean I want to be where they are, necessarily, but it does mean I want to be with them. The difference is subtle, I suppose. And it’s odd to me that there can be that separation, that seeming contradiction. The way I miss people confuses me. That I can still function, and pursue other things, and miss people the way I do seems odd. I guess caring about someone enough to miss them when they’re not near doesn’t mean I don’t want other things. And wanting those other things is not a reflection on my feelings for the people I miss (which is something I’ve worried over from time to time).

Tomorrow it is my recently-departed-from-my-company friend’s birthday. Which reminds me that when I saw her this time last year I started writing a post very much like this one, but never published it. This year I will. Happy birthday, dear friend. Know that I miss you when we are not near one another, and that the missing means I really appreciate the time we do get together. May we have more of it sooner rather than later.

Busy

Lately I’ve been busy. It’s easy to forget that I’m busy sometimes, when I’ve got whole days at home, spent in my house clothes, drinking multiple cups of tea. I forget that I’m working on those days too — planning and writing.

Other days I leave and re-enter the house three, four, sometimes five times a day. I spend lots of time outdoors, and my shoes are well-worn.

I have a whole list of things that have fallen by the wayside, waiting (sometimes not so) patiently for a quiet week.

I’m tired. I don’t sleep well because I dream all night about the things I have to do in the coming days: banking, catching buses, doing laundry. Process dreams, I call them. My hips, my knees and my shoulders buzz, reminding me to stop every now and then. I find myself sighing when my work day is over.

But I like being busy. Especially because I’m doing things I love. My days are filled with yoga and reading and writing. I just need to remember that it’s okay for me to sleep in occasionally.