The Small Light in Things

the-small-light-in-thingsI decided that for Lent this year I would give up caffeine, if starting almost a week after the properly faithful and switching to tea, topped up by the odd cup of decaf coffee count as giving up. No longer being part of any of the Orthodox traditions meant I failed to get the prompt I took for granted growing up, the ash crosses on foreheads that signalled Ash Wednesday, and the start of Lent. The point of Lent is spiritual – which giving up caffeine is not, at least on the surface – but I think there is a spiritual point in trying to best what has become a costly, insidious habit; proving to myself that coffee is not my master. Given how much my morning routine at work is related to taking time out to reflect at the start of the day with a cup of coffee in hand, it should be an interesting thirty-seven forty days. Hopefully it translates to better sleep – the data from my Fitbit will be the judge of that.

In tandem with the idea of ‘giving up’ caffeine, my interest has been piqued by the 1,000 Day MFA Project; the idea being that one reads a short story, an essay and a poem everyday and writes at least once a week. I suspect that this will be the greater struggle, to fit time to read amongst every other thing going on in my life at the moment. To ease myself in, I subscribed again to the Poem A Day from Poets.org, bookmarked the Fifty-Two Stories site and now go to work with Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things in my bag. It has been an interesting few days of reading already; Simon Van Booy’s The Missing Statues, Teju Cole’s Ghueorgui Pinkhassov (a redo of his essay Dappled Things) and Kim Dower’s poem, How Was Your Weekend being highlights so far.

It is from Cole’s essay, Ghueorgui Pinkhassov, that the line The Small Light in Things comes. Cole’s assertion is that the underlying theme of Pinkhassov’s photography, even as he makes a conscious effort to vary subjects, methods and media, is making finding the small light in things the centre that holds true in spite of change. The close association of rescuing and small perhaps implies that there is a light in everything, and that it is somehow in danger of being lost amidst the noise of everything else. Pinkhassov’s genius, if I read Cole’s essay right, is in this ceaseless pursuit of light in everything.

Maybe we all are trying to rescue the small light in things in our lives too. In the happy, sad or indifferent, the momentous and the quotidian there are lights of sorts; in the form of lessons to learn for the future, the nostalgia of memories of the past or most importantly the inspiration to dig deep, find grit and get through the present. Speaking of grit, I have had to dig deep to find that this February; the clearest indicator of that being that for the first time in a long while I woke up one Tuesday morning wondering if I could call in sick and avoid going into work. In the end, the force of habit (I’d love to think it was my professional integrity) won through and I went in, but pacing myself and avoiding burnout has never been more imperative.

The small light in things, I may have found the title for that memoir, if (when?) I get to write it.

The Burden of Grief

One of the lingering effects of H’s passing is that four times a year, I go through a phase where I especially struggle for words to share with my father. Although triggered by four specific days – her birthday (the 8th of July), their wedding anniversary (the 11th of November), the day she passed (the 19th of July) and the day she was buried (the 8th of August) – these tend to be long drawn out affairs affecting the days leading up to and the days after these days. The struggle takes various forms primarily centred on whether to call my father or not, and on the days when I manage to call him, what to talk about – to keep things as normal as possible or broach the difficult subject of H. He and I have never been the best of conversationalists – we’re much too similar for that – but these days make that tenuous relationship an even more difficult one, so much so that on most of these days, I have opted for not calling him in the end.

H’s passing does still feel especially raw, even though her’s was not the first of which clear memories still remain. For that I have to go all the way back to 1988 and G, the ones the genes took. I distinctly remember the events which led to it; the battle with a crisis and the ensuing hospital admission, and then the knowing once I was called out of my class to Mrs A’s office where the neighbour’s orange Volkswagen beetle was waiting to whilst myself and T home. The others in between though covering a range of family members – paternal grandparents, my maternal grandmother and a couple of uncles – are comparative blurs in the landscape of my memory. Distinct memories of G’s passing notwithstanding, I do not remember the same sense of grieving with her that still lingers with H. It is difficult to define completely the interactions of time, space and connection which make both experiences of grief so markedly different, but if I had to hazard a guess, I would offer up the fact that I was much younger then and that there had been a sense of inevitability to it, given the situation with the genes. I imagine others across a broad spectrum of locations and contexts still feel the weight of the grief with H as keenly as I do, given she interacted with a lot of people across the various interests and causes she supported.

This, the intersection of ‘griefs’, complicates grieving in the context of ongoing relationships. With my father, these key dates trigger a remembrance – and a reinforcement even – of loss, driving the conundrum that I wrestle with around these dates. Outside these dates, I feel like we have reached a new normal of sorts, one that accepts the reality of loss but focuses on getting on with life as much as possible. These dates disrupt that new normal for me, and drives the sense of there being a disjunction between living normally and remembering. In my head, by refusing to speak to my father on the day – and hence removing the need to speak about H – I am removing an additional trigger of remembrance from him. That at first glance sounds like a good thing but somewhere in my head, I wonder if it is truly as altruistic as it sounds. Not having the difficult conversation is a good thing for me, whether it is for him, and if this stance adequately honours the memory is a different matter altogether. It is this, the balance between living in the new normal and respectfully remembering and honouring the one who has been lost, that is the primary burden of grief, at least in my opinion.

There are also other non-time based triggers which set off the same sort of feelings. The most recent example was in the middle of a conversation with S’s parents a few weeks ago. Being the incredibly perceptive people they are, they picked up on how I had studiously managed to bring up the subject of H in the over three hours we had spent catching up at the time, which prompted the question. The uneasy silence which followed my explanation suggested it was a topic they would not have brought up if they had known the context. Perhaps – in typical J fashion – I am overthinking the exchange, but this unease exhibited by others when the subject of H comes up is another one of the burdens of grief. Not only does one have to deal with loss, one also has to deal with the reaction of others to loss.

There are no right or wrong ways to carry these burdens. I suspect that time will continue to chip away at the intensity of the grieving of loss which in turn might lessen the burden it places on relationships. If the last few years are an indication of how the next few might pan out in this regards, it is fair to assume that it will not be as simple as that.

Currently listening to: Mandisa – Lifeline

A Question of Patience

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A year ago if you had asked me if I thought I was a patient person, my unequivocal answer – given without so much as a batted eyelid – would have been that I thought I was; somewhere between 9 and 9.5 on a scale of 1 to 10 if you had pressed me to quantify. The reality, grudgingly accepted after much soul searching a few weeks ago, is that I am not; a realisation that has left me second guessing the validity of all the other assumptions about myself I carry. The first seeds of doubt to assail my iron clad convictions were sown by an offhand comment by my friend M, the context being a decision she needed to make. As far as I was concerned, it was an open and shut case; she needed to put the poor sod she was stringing along – in my opinion – out of his misery. To her it was a lot more nuanced than that, for which I got the quip about being impatient (and unfeeling).

My initial response was to shrug it all off as an offhand comment, one borne out of her unwillingness to confront the facts. As with all well aimed, off hand comments smart women make, what I hadn’t bargained for was its lingering effect, and that I would be so riled by it. The longer it simmered, the less certain of my convictions I became, until the penny dropped one April afternoon whilst strolling along the banks of the river Dee, recognition aided perhaps by how the quickly changing weather mirrored the state of my thoughts.


Intrinsic to the question of patience is a recognition of the inevitability of delays; hold ups on the path to the attainment of desired objectives. With them, the one who desires is held in a state of anticipation and expectation until such a time as the passage of time, or the progression of other activities, allows for the attainment of the desired, or indeed makes its achievement no longer feasible. Mired in the never-land between desiring and attaining, such a person is forced to manage the passage of time as they best can, existing in a state of activity somewhere between complete passivity and all out, gung-ho action.

Intuitively, it seems to me that delays – and hence our response to them – exist on a continuum. That much is clear even from a cursory look at one’s life: the wait to satiate a peri-peri chicken craving from 1am is a few hours; that for an answer back from the girl of one’s dreams could be anything from weeks to multiple years. That is perhaps why in seeking to understand the range of patience states that I exist in, time (as measured by the length of the delay) jumps out at me as one of the key inputs. Two other factors come to mind as important too – the visibility of the desired outcome (clarity) and the (perceived) certainty of that outcome. Taken together, these defined the basic framework for a patience domain, which defined the inputs to my patience states. As an example, for the work situation from 2015, the desired outcome was clear (clarity around my role going forward through to the end of 2015 at least), the certainty of the outcome was low, and the time element was undefined which contributed to a high degree of anxiety/ impatience.

But nothing is ever that simple. I find that there are a slew of other less obvious, even counter-intuitive factors that affect the balance for me; how much control over the outcome I have – and the attendant vulnerability – is one, as are my perception of the availability of equally desirable options, how much risk there is of rejection and how deeply desired the outcome is. The time sensitivity of the desired outcome, as measured by inward and outward expectations of timeliness was also an input I found that drove me towards impatience. What surprised me most out of all of this was the interplay between certainty and clarity. A high degree of clarity coupled with a low amount of certainty drove me towards impatience, the lack of progress towards the certain outcome prompting a desire to rationalise my investment of time and energy towards more efficient use. This all confirmed to a large extent that like my friend M, I did not exist in a binary, patient/ impatient state but rather occupied an envelop of fluid duality, influenced by all these factors and more.


The assumption behind all this is that patience is a good thing; that is not necessarily something us Gen Y-ers accept as fact. The general consensus seems to be that we are an ambitious but impatient lot. That we’re connected and on the go all the time doesn’t help with the stereotype either, nor does the rise of apps likeTinder.

That, the goodness or otherwise of patience, may be a moot point in any case, as even too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. The million dollar question then must be where the patience sweet spot lies; where the balance between giving a desired goal time, attention and dedication, and accepting it is a lost cause and reallocating the effort elsewhere is. Too much patience, and one can run the risk of been seen as grovelling, or n the worst case applying too much pressure. Too little and one can very quickly be cast in the image of the Gen Y stereotype, impatient and having a short attention span.


The L thing comes to a head sometime in the middle of all this. In a different time and space, I would have cut my losses long ago, choosing to invest my time and energy in more certain ventures. But something about this one, and the season of reflection holds me back, leaving me pondering what-ifs and maybe-ifs in endless loops.

Where this will end is still unclear, but what is incontrovertible is that I do not do uncertain very well. It gnaws at my insides, makes my gut rumble and leaves me counting innumerable sheep at night. I ache in every imaginable space, I am irritable, self doubt hangs around me like a cloud with heartache in its wake. I tell myself I have had enough but find myself returning again and again in hope, or delusion. Surely there must be a easier way, but then without hope we have nothing, or do we?