When Dreams Become Objects – What do you hold on to?

As I mentioned in my last post about my trip to Amsterdam, I felt very moved, yet also inspired, by my visit to Anne Frank’s house. I hadn’t previously read Anne Frank’s diary, but bought a copy from the gift shop, which I have since read; it opened my eyes and my heart to Anne Frank’s (and her family and friends’) experiences of the war.

There was something about reading the diary that made me want to read more, and I had on my Kindle a book that I downloaded about a year ago but hadn’t yet got round to reading, Lusia’s Long Journey Home. Like Anne Frank’s diary, the story focuses on a young Jewish girl’s experience of the war, yet Lusia’s story is one of ultimate survival. Lusia and her immediate family were able to survive the war by fleeing their home in Sucha, Poland, and undertaking a nomadic journey which led them to Ukraine, Siberia, Tajikistan, back to Poland, Austria, Belgium, Germany, and finally, America.

lusia's long journey home

Lusia’s memoirs of her life as a refugee child, constantly on the move throughout the war years, revealed a part of the history of WW2 that I hadn’t come across before. Like Anne Frank’s diary, the voice of the young girl comes through; by retelling what happened to her family, people today can learn and try to understand this aspect of European history.

There was a part of the memoir that stood out to me as I read it, which seemed to symbolise the human need to hope and dream, to trust in something in order to keep going. Lusia describes her father’s dream that the family would eventually reach Palestine and how his dream rubbed off on her too; she then describes that her mother carried this dream in the shape of a seashell.

It had been sent to her in Poland in the early 1930s by her best friend who moved to Palestine. Mama held on to it throughout the long and difficult years of the war. I have it still, and to this day, we all treasure the shell. If you tap it gently against a hard surface, you will hear the sound of the ocean waves.

There was something about this that really got me thinking about the objects we hold on to in life that become loaded with meaning. To Lusia’s family, this was not an ordinary shell; it was a dream of survival for her family and people. I am not actually very sentimental about objects and tend not to load things with emotional attachment, but who knows, maybe in adverse circumstances such as Lusia’s, there may be something that I would hold on to, that would come to embody my dream.

sea shell on beach

Although there is no object I cherish as strongly as Lusia’s family cherished the seashell, there are certain things that I have been given that always bring fond memories to mind. For example, the sequinned star a friend gave me as a parting gift, that now lies on my dressing table; the list of ‘highlights’ of my time in Bratislava that I was given to help me remember the good times over the bad; the homemade personalised badge I was given as a ‘thank you’ by some of my students in Spain.

the handmade badge
the handmade badge

But more than objects, it is the caring things people have done for me that I have really cherished. There have been many times when I have been pleasantly surprised by kindnesses shown to me when I didn’t expect it. I might not be sentimental about objects, but I definitely get sentimental when I think about certain times that friends and family helped me to keep going. These moments and memories are my treasures; they are what helps me to keep believing and to have faith.

January/Night Train to Lisbon

Night Train to Lisbon
Night Train to Lisbon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

January has almost slipped through my fingers and I haven’t written a single word. What’s more the WordPress website has changed format and I don’t recognise which buttons to press or where to put anything… it’s been longer without writing than I had even realised.

I finally finished reading a book today called ‘Night Train to Lisbon’ about a man who walks  out of his life teaching ancient languages and travels to Lisbon to follow the story of a man he’s never met but whose story becomes an obsession. He interviews everyone who was ever important in the man’s life, and reads his biography, which is deep and full of existential questions.

And then on the train home from my sister’s today I also had some thoughts about my own life (who knows whether they were triggered by that book or not?)

I was thinking, what if everyone I’ve ever met throughout my life, everyone who has ever shaped my life, teachers, parents, friends, enemies, colleagues, relationships  (or non-relationships), rejections, humiliations, soulmates, what if they were all in one room together just for you? Would they even fit in one room?  Surely you would need the space of your whole life to fit them all in one room together? And if they met, they would all know different aspects of you, no one of them would know the same version of YOU.

And also, all the people I’ve ever loved or cared for, do they know who they are? Do they know the deep love and high regard I hold for them? I bet there are a lot of people who don’t know how important they are or that they have had or still do have a profound effect on shaping who I am.

I’m pretty sure those thoughts were triggered by that book. Its questions went much deeper than anything I have tried to ask, and I’m not sure I really understood half of it. It was very philosophical. But if you want a book that makes you think, that’s definitely one to try. Personally I’m really glad I’ve finished it as I don’t think it’s healthy to have all those pointless questions swirling around your head 😉

It’s Never Too Late…

About a year and a half ago, somewhere between spring and summer, I met a friend at Notting Hill Gate and we went to Portobello Road. We visited the famous market, had a leisurely lunch in Charlie’s cafe, and indulged our shared interests in books, travel, and baking by perusing the shelves of Books for Cooks and The Travel Bookshop (which has sadly now closed).

It was in this bookshop that I picked up a book that has been a real inspiration. I find that travel bookshops in themselves inspire me, as they get my mind wandering and dreaming about new adventures and new destinations. But this particular book is not actually about travelling (unless, perhaps, you are talking about the journey of life…)

This book is called It’s Never Too Late… 174 simple acts to change your life by Patrick Lindsay.

The book’s appearance, as shown by the picture of the cover above, is clean-cut, modest and understated. Inside there are no lengthy paragraphs or large blocks of writing. Each page contains a small poem about an act that could change your life for the better, and a famous quotation at the bottom of the page.

“Simple acts”, it claims. It is definitely simple, and, to me, beautiful in its simplicity. However, it is not to be underestimated. This has got to be one of my favourite books on the shelf. I love just picking it up, feeling the textured paper of the cover beneath my fingertips, flicking through the pages and enjoying whichever poems I come across at that moment.

I’m going to share five of the poems with you. I’m calling them poems although I’m not sure what they technically are. My reasoning is that they are arranged in verses and are written so beautifully, carefully and powerfully, that they seem like poetry to me.

It’s never too late…

to take a trip

Change the scenery of your life.
You don’t have to travel far.
It’s an adventure.
A chance to refresh. To learn. To compare.
To meet new people.
To make new friends.
To view things anew.
To grow.

“Travel broadens the mind.” Proverb

_______________________________

It’s never too late…

to take a stand

Sometimes we need to draw the line
because we know it’s right
and for our own self respect.
Your heart will tell you when the time is right.
When it does, listen.
Then fight hard.
You will respect yourself.
So will others.

“Justice is truth in action.” Benjamin Disraeli

_______________________________

It’s never too late…

to clean out a cupboard

It can be a wonderful adventure.
A great empowerment.
A journey into the past.
A chance to jettison baggage.
An opportunity to make new plans.
A fresh start.

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” L. P Hartley

cupboards
It’s never too late… to clean out a cupboard (Photo credit: LizMarie_AK)

_______________________________

It’s never too late…

to change your mind

Take a view.
Make a point.
Make a decision.
But always keep your mind open.
Stay flexible.
Consider the possibility that you’re wrong.
That there’s a better way.

“Like all weak men he laid exaggerated stress on not changing one’s mind.” W. Somerset Maugham

_______________________________

It’s never too late…

to love life

Consider the alternative.
Have the time of your life.
It’s up to you.
You can live flat out.
Or you can slowly rust.
Be the best you can.

“Life is short and time is swift.” Proverb

Sun Pillar
It’s never too late… to love life (Photo credit: tomhe)

It was really difficult to choose which five poems I wanted to share, as they are all wonderfully short but sweet, with a powerful and potentially life changing message. So many times when people get stuck in a rut, they feel that drastic action is needed for their lives to improve. Perhaps they feel that they should leave their job, or go travelling round the world. Although I’m not suggesting these things aren’t helpful or rewarding in the right situation, they may be completely unnecessary, and these drastic changes might not help you to find what you are really looking for.

Kite landboarding
It’s never too late… to fly a kite (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes the biggest benefits can come from the smallest of changes. Saying sorry, forgiving someone, reconnecting with an old friend, smiling, learning to paint, flying a kite, laughing at yourself, praising someone, being fair, being silent, allowing yourself to fail, changing your routine — all of these things are featured in this book, and any one of these things could help you to breath fresh air into your life, if you feel that you are in need of change.

If you have enjoyed reading the poems, and like the sound of this book, you might like to know that there are also two others by the same author, which take the same simple format. These are Now is the Time and Be Happy.

For some reason, I feel comforted by It’s Never Too Late…, and feel at peace when I read the small poems. I hope you enjoyed the ones I shared, and thank you for reading.

Jo

x

When God Was a Rabbit

Sometimes all we need for a bit of escapism is a good book. I aim to make book reviews (fiction and non-fiction) a regular feature on this blog. This is my first ever book review… here goes!

When I asked my sister to buy me some books for Christmas, I knew she would do a good job with her keen eye for a good story… and she chose the beautiful, rich, imaginative tale When God Was a Rabbit. Here’s my review… and I’ll try to do so without spoilers for those that might want to read it.

It’s been a long time since I read a book that I was so taken away by. When God Was a Rabbit made me laugh, cringe, cry, hate and love. It kept me entertained right through to the end, which is no mean feat (I’ve come to realise that I am very hard to impress when it comes to reading fiction, but this book managed it!) I decided to take it on a flight from Spain back to England, and had already read 100 pages by the time the plane landed… that was it, I was hooked.

Perhaps one of the greatest things about this story was the depth of the characters – some of them may have been eccentric, but each one of them was believable and created a real sense of family, friendship and love between them. The story focuses on Elly, spanning around thirty years of her life, from her birth until her adulthood, and the twists and turns of her experiences and those of her close family and friends. Characters that really stood out for me were her best friend (with the unlikely name Jenny Penny), brother Joe, aunt Nancy (the lesbian film star), her parents, and her old friend Arthur (who claims to know exactly when and how he is going to die).

Punctuated by historical events, such as John Lennon’s and Princess Diana’s deaths, the eclipse of the sun, and, most significantly, 9/11, this book is both rooted in the real world and fabulously imaginative, featuring a talking rabbit, unusual and unexplainable actions by Jenny Penny, and unlikely life events such as winning the lottery. Yet for me, it still remained truthful and was never so crazy that I couldn’t believe in it.

I don’t want to go on and on about this book because I don’t want to give away any more for those that haven’t read it yet, that would spoil the fun of reading this incredible story which has many laugh-out-loud moments and also some deeply emotional ones.

Although I evidently loved this book, I’m not sure that it would be for everyone just because it is slightly eccentric and does deal with some controversial issues, touching on child abuse, cancer, domestic abuse, and of course, the tragedy of 9/11… however I thought the author dealt with each of these topics sensitively and in a way that I didn’t find uncomfortable to read.

I’m going to leave you with one of my favourite extracts from the book, as Elly talks to her old friend Arthur about ‘God’ (which she named her pet rabbit, much to the disgust of her devoutly religious school teacher). I hope you enjoy it, and if you’ve read the book too, I’d love to know what you thought of it. And, if you haven’t read it, and think you might like it, give it a go, it was truly a magical read!

‘Do you believe in God, Arthur?’ I said, eating the last piece of sponge.

‘Do I believe in an old man in the clouds with a white beard judging us mortals with a moral code from one to ten? Good Lord no, my sweet Elly, I do not! I would have been cast out from this life years ago with my tatty history. Do I believe in a mystery; the unexplained phenomenon that is life itself? The greater something that illuminates inconsequence in our lives; that gives us something to strive for as well as the humility to brush ourselves down and start all over again? Then yes, I do. It is the source of art, of beauty, of love, and proffers the ultimate goodness to mankind. That to me is God. That to me is life. That is what I believe in.’

I listened to the bell again, whispering across the waves, calling, calling. I licked my fingers and scrunched the tin foil up into a ball.

‘Do you think a rabbit could be God?’ I asked casually.

‘There is absolutely no reason at all why a rabbit should not be God.’

Reference: Quotation taken from When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman, Headline Publishing Group, 2011, Part One, p.141-142. (university has made me terrified of plagiarising!)