2018 Gratefuls 39 and 38

Sweet Mother of Divine Jesus, where is the year going to? About five times this week alone I’ve mentioned people in passing, only to add a caveat that I haven’t seen them so far in 2018. And it’s nearly May. Then, on the flip side, I’m planning on meeting people as far forward as next February. Something is a little skewed in my world. In an effort to take back some control, I decided to find some way of dragging out the next, say, six weeks. I wanted to mark each day with something solid. I could, of course, have set a goal of writing 500 words or walking 5km or avoiding carbs. But why be so easy on myself?

I’ve signed up for the WLC – and for some reason, I have real trouble remembering what WLC stands for. Let me check …. again. Yes, Whole Life Challenge. The marketing blurb certainly hits its target:

With just a nudge (and a little bit of effort), you can have the life you want — happy, healthy, active, energetic, and connected.
You can wake up every day excited for what’s ahead. The journey from here to there is not necessarily easy (but it is possible for anyone who is willing to commit to the effort).

It requires small steps, repeated time after time.
And it requires just a few habits. (We think 7.) And we won’t teach you those habits. Not exactly.

We’ll show them to you.
And you’ll decide, one by one, if they’re right for your life. And after the Challenge is over, you’ll choose for yourself — is this how you want to live?
Do you want to be rested and well-fed, active and limber, fit and hydrated, less stressed and more connected? We think you do.

And so we created the Whole Life Challenge. To help you get there.
Because ultimately, we believe in you — and in your power to change your life for the better.

They had me at rested. I’d like to wake up one morning and feel like I’ve had some sleep. Not too much to ask, is it? Anyway, I forked out my €49 and signed up. Starting today, and for the next six weeks, I have to develop these 7 habits and account for my actions. No matter that I’m the only person who will see the score, I’m competitive enough to make even that competitive. I could have joined a team, but I’m not in the mood to socialise.

I have to:

  • Be active for 10 minutes
  • Stretch for 10  minutes
  • Sleep for 7 hours (personal target – I’d prefer it to be 10 but I’m trying to be realistic)
  • Drink 64 oz of water (their calculation based on weight)

And here I hit a stumbler because my Ayurveda chap says I shouldn’t be drinking much water at all. And for every article on the web saying drink the damn stuff, another says don’t. But I’ll try and see….

  • Complete a practice to help me feel happier and more connected

Another stumbler…am not getting the connection between happiness and being connected… not these days… but will see

  • Reflect each day on how the day went – in writing
  • Eat food from my food list

I’m doing the kick-start programme (you get a choice of three levels) because I’m so bad. I got though one of the two pages of what I can eat before I hit a NO! and it all looks doable. And it doesn’t say anything about how big that one glass of wine can be. Relief. And there are bonus points, mulligans, rest days, and indulgence days. It’s a real game. And I’m playing all by myself.

Although I detest exercise, can’t be arsed stretching, don’t like watching what I eat, prefer wine to water, and am not in the mood to be connected, I’m feeling rather pumped about all of this. It will certainly mark my days and perhaps even slow down time a little. And for this, I’d be doubly grateful.

 

2018 Grateful 40

Is the grass always greener on the other side or is it greener where you water it? I find myself occasionally coveting a way of life and perhaps a piece of furniture and maybe sometimes, in a restaurant, I have plate envy. Then I think of those who’ve said they envy my life, my faith, my situation. And while I’m in it, living it, it doesn’t seem all that remarkable. But when I take the time to stop and think and appreciate it all, and see that I only need one hand to count my regrets, then I realise I’m blessed. Bunny rabbits and chocolate eggs aside, whatever your faith, whomever you look to when things go pear-shaped … Kellemes Húsvéti Ünnepeket. Happy Easter.

Am grateful. Period.

 

 

2018 Grateful 41

Charles (Chuck) Swindoll is a pastor, author, educator, and radio preacher. He’s 83. He used to stutter. I still stammer. He was a member of his school’s marching band. I was a member of mine, too. He has a radio program – Insight for Living – that is broadcast on more than 2,000 stations around the world in 15 languages. I’d like one of those. I dabbled briefly in it one year in with a series of podcasts called Hotline to Heaven. And it’s on my list to do again. Occasionally, I get posts in my inbox that mention him. A few weeks back, I got this one on the Giving Tree.

‘When the boy was young he swung from the tree’s branches, ate her apples, and slept in her shade…But as he grew up he spent less and less time with the tree. “Come on, let’s play,” said the tree. But the young man was only interested in money. “Then take all my apples and sell them,” said the tree. The man did, and the tree was happy. He didn’t return for a long time, but the tree smiled when he passed by one day. “Come on, let’s play!” But the man, older and tired of the world, wanted to get away from it all. “Cut me down. Take my trunk, make a boat, then you can sail away,” said the tree. The man did, and the tree was happy. Many seasons passed – and the tree waited. Finally the man returned, too old to play, or pursue riches, or sail the seas. “I have a pretty good stump left. Sit down here and rest,” said the tree. The man did, and the tree was happy.’

Swindoll likens the tree to the many people who gave of themselves so that ‘he might grow, accomplish his goals, and find wholeness and satisfaction.’ And, indeed, there were times he was a giving tree himself. I was reminded of this earlier this week as I went about my business in Budapest. I had resolved some time ago that if I were approached on the street by someone asking for money, I’d give. Something, anything. My various pockets all have at least a 500 ft note in them, ready for the off. And when it comes to doling out the forints, I try not to discriminate. I read this verse on FB a few years back and it’s stuck in my head. It’s made me want to work on not being judgmental but it’s hard. It’s as if I’m preprogrammed to make snap decisions that catapult me into the role of judge and jury. So to avoid this, I try to give regardless.

But I still judge. And this means that after I’ve walked by an outstretched hand having judged it too well manicured to be in need, or after I’ve stepped over legs shod in designer-brand shoes that I can’t afford myself, I have this internal debate that could last second or minutes. After 12 months solid practice, 8 out of 10 times I’ll double back. But I’m still not there. I’m a work in progress.

Sadly, it seems like the asks are getting more and more plentiful. The number of people of all ages on the streets of Budapest asking for help is heartbreaking. And yes, perhaps for a sizeable number of them it’s a mafia-run day job. But what of the others, those in real need? Am I to be the one to judge? Perhaps, if I were smarter or more streetwise, I could. But I’m not. So I give. I’m aiming for 100%, but I’m not there yet.

I’m grateful for all the trees in my life – you know who you are. With thanks.

2018 Grateful 42

Sometimes you just need a laugh. And if that laugh can be sustained over a few hours, all the better. When the world goes askew and the media is full of the bad stuff happening, when things are not working as smoothly as they used to, when way too much time is spent on wondering what if, then laughter is just about the best tonic there is. Yes, it might be a temporary relief, it might be treating the symptoms and not the disease, it might be covering or colouring the root cause of the malaise, but for those few hours, life suspends.

Trolling through the NetFlix offer a few weeks back, I happened across a show called Grace and Frankie. Back in 2015 Grace (Jane Fonda) used to be married Robert (Martin Sheen). Frankie (Lily Tomlin) used to be married to Sol (the gorgeous Sam Waterston). Now, after 40 years of being married, the two boys come out and get married themselves.  All are in their seventies  on the show and in their late seventies and eighties in real life. Each of the last four series has had 13 episodes. That’s some amount of work, lads. Some amount of work. It’s not the first time that Fonda and Tomlin have worked together – remember 9 to 5 with Dolly Parton?

The brainchild of Martha Kaufman, co-creator of Friends, Grace and Frankie addresses all sorts of social issues in a funny (often hilarious) and empathetic way. From ageism to adoption, From drug addiction, to dementia. From gay rights to gun rights. It focuses, too, on the septuagenarian world and what it feels like to be invisible. Each episode brings wit and wisdom to play and gives an insight into life and how we deal with it. Supposedly shot in La Jolla, San Diego (if you’re to believe the cast), it’s actually shot in Malibu, but that’s neither here nor there.

A stellar list of guest appearances includes four-time Oscar nominee Marsha Mason,  Craig T. Nelson (of Coach fame), the delectable Sam Elliott, Peter Gallaghar, and Friend, Lisa Kudrow. The theme song is Stuck in the Middle with you but the closing tune changes every week and were all 52 put together, they’d make a fab playlist for a old rockers party.

What I like most about the show though, and I like it all, is that these seventy-somethings are sassy and in-your-face. And though their friends might be dying off around them, they’ve rallied and are taking on the world. It’s not glamorised – the aches and pains are peppered with senior moments.  But it is brutally honest in confronting how we expect our elderly to be. It has a thing or three to teach us.

It’s been an iffy week. But Grace and Frankie have helped immeasurably. Thanks ladies. I’m grateful to you.

 

 

2018 Gratefuls 44 and 43

Delighted the boys pulled it off this afternoon and fingers crossed nothing untoward happens between now and next Sunday when it’ll all be over. A nod to Scotland for doing so well this year. Marrying a fondness for quotations and a grá for rugby, I came across this list of Rugby Quotations that’s worth a share. Not quite sure what Oscar Wilde was banging on about in No. 8 but hey, each to their own. For me, I’m doubly grateful to the lads for the entertainment they provide during the Six Nations and that for adrenaline rush that tells us we’re still alive. They know how to rise the Irish in me.

 

 

1.”Remember that rugby is a team game; all 14 of you make sure you pass the ball to Jonah.”

FAX to All Blacks before 1995 World Cup semi-final.

2.”You’ve got to get your first tackle in early, even if it’s late.”

Ray Gravell, Welsh hardman explains his rugby philosophy.

3.”The relationship between the Welsh and the English is based on trust and understanding. They don’t trust us and we don’t understand them.”

Dudley Wood, English RFU secretary on Anglo-Welsh relations, 1986.

4.”A player of ours has been proven guilty of biting. That’s a scar that will never heal.”

Andy Robinson, Bath (in England) coach after his prop Kevin Yates was suspended for taking a chunk out of an opposing flanker’s ear

5.”Beer and Rugby are more or less synonymous.”

Chris Laidlaw, New Zealand All Black.

6.”Rugby is a wonderful show: dance, opera and, suddenly, the blood of a killing.”

Richard Burton, Welsh actor.

7.”Rugby is great. The players don’t wear helmets or padding; they just beat the living daylights out of each other and then go for a beer. I love that.”

Joe Theismann, American football player.

8.”Rugby is a good occasion for keeping thirty bullies far from the center of the city.”

Oscar Wilde, Irish writer.

9.”Rugby is a game for the mentally deficient… That is why it was invented by the British. Who else but an Englishman could invent an oval ball?”

Peter Cook, English comedian and satirist.

10.”Rugby players are either piano shifters or piano movers. Fortunately, I am one of those who can play a tune.”

Pierre Danos, French rugby player.

11.”Look what these bastards have done to Wales. They’ve taken our coal, our water, our steel. They buy our houses and they only live in them for a fortnight every 12 months. What have they given us? Absolutely nothing. We’ve been exploited, raped, controlled and punished by the English – and that’s who you are playing this afternoon.”

Phil Bennett, Pre-game pep talk before facing England, 1977.

12.”We’ve lost seven of our last eight matches. Only team that we’ve beaten was Western Samoa. Good job we didn’t play the whole of Samoa.”

Gareth Davies, Welsh rugby player, 1989.

13.”The French selectors never do anything by halves; for the first international of the season against Ireland they dropped half the three-quarter line.”

Nigel Starmer-Smith, BBC TV (1974).

14.”The job of Welsh coach is like a minor part in a Quentin Tarantino film: you stagger on, you hallucinate, nobody seems to understand a word you say, you throw up, you get shot. Poor old Kevin Bowring has come up through the coaching structure so he knows what it takes … 15 more players than Wales have at present.”

Mark Reason, Total Sport (1996).

15.”Rugby is played by men with odd shaped balls.”

Car bumper sticker

16.”The pub is as much a part of rugby as is the playing field.”

John Dickenson

17.”The women sit, getting colder and colder, on a seat getting harder and harder, watching oafs, getting muddier and muddier.”

Virginia Graham, US writer and commentator, referring to the ‘muddied oafs’ image conjured up by Rudyard Kipling in his poem ‘The Islanders’ (1903).

18.”Rugby may have many problems, but the gravest is undoubtedly that of the persistence of summer.”

Chris Laidlaw

19.”The advantage law is the best law in rugby, because it lets you ignore all the others for the good of the game.”

Derek Robinson

20.“We’ve lost seven of our last eight matches. Only team that we’ve beaten was Western Samoa. Good job we didn’t play the whole of Samoa.”

Gareth Davies (1989)

21.“In 1823, William Webb Ellis first picked up the ball in his arms and ran with it. And for the next 156 years forwards have been trying to work out why.”

Sir Tasker Watkins (1979)

22.“Rugby backs can be identified because they generally have clean jerseys and identifiable partings in their hair… come the revolution the backs will be the first to be lined up against the wall and shot for living parasitically off the work of others.”

Peter Fizsimmons

23.“Grandmother or tails, sir?”

To Princess Anne’s son Peter Phillips, Gordonstoun School’s rugby captain, for his pre-match coin-toss preference from an anonymous rugby referee in 1995.

2018 Grateful 45

For anyone living abroad, coming home is a lot about things you used to do as a child: the Sunday visit to your granny (if she’s still alive), the Saturday night pint in the pub, doing the shopping on a Wednesday. It might be going to the Panto at Christmas, or putting money in the Trocaire box during Lent. It could be bringing in the hay or feeding the pigeons or cutting turf. Whatever it might be, these rituals of old anchor us to a place and take us back in time. And in a world of constant change, it’s nice to have something that has remained pretty much unchanged.

My security blanket, the thing that makes me feel most at home, is driving in a car with my parents at night. In mid conversation, apropos nothing that has gone before, one of them will utter the words:

Thy Lord shall open my lips.

And the rest of us will take our cue and respond en masse:

And my tongue shall announce His praise.

And the rosary will be given out, all five decades of whatever mysteries fall on that particular day. The Joyful mysteries are said on Monday and Saturday, the Luminous on Thursday, the Sorrowful on Tuesday and Friday, and the Glorious on Wednesday and Sunday (with this exception: Sundays of Christmas season – Joyful; Sundays of Lent – Sorrowful). But we’re still sticking to the old ways in our house. Joyful on Monday and Thursday; Sorrowful on Tuesday and Friday, and Glorious on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday.

When I asked why we hadn’t made the move over, an analogy was drawn between popes and captains of golf clubs: both have to do something new to leave their mark during their tenure. There might be some truth in that. Years after the updating of the standard prayers, I’m still struggling to master the words.  It was 2002 when Pope John Paul II introduced the ‘new’ rosary – but I suspect in many rosaried homes, they remain a flight a fancy.

The Rosary is supposed to offer time for reflection, but we race through it, chant-like, as if time were running out and we had someplace more important to be. I’ve sat through community rosaries in Malta, in Hungary, in Italy, in the UK, and in Ireland, and reflection is something no one seems to have time for. It’s always well paced – singsong-like. As kids, we would kneel down at the couch and try to keep keep count as we made our way through our decades without giggling. I remember going through a particularly bad period of stammering and having a terrible time getting out my Ms in the Hail Mary. But the name Rosary comes from the Latin Rosarium or crown of roses and ideally the prayer should be said as if you were strolling (not running) through Mary’s garden of roses

Word has it that the Rosary was given to St. Dominic in 1214 AD, so by Catholic standards, it might well equate to being modern, particularly as it wasn’t made an ‘official’ prayer until 1569 when Pope Pius V legalised it. For a time I would say it every night knowing that if I fell asleep before I finished it, the angels would finish it for me. Ah, the beauty of stories.

Today, rosary beads are often worn as necklaces, something that gives me the heebie jeebies. In my day, rosaries were hidden, used discreetly, the 59 beads carried in a purse or pocket and only taken out at mass or at wakes. I had a penal rosary (Irish: An Paidrín Beag) that had just one decade’s worth of beads and was easily hidden. I’d move the ring from one finger to the next, beginning with the thumb, to count the mysteries. Then, and now, it was a stark reminder of the Penal times, a time when we were not allowed to practice our religion, among other things. The more major of the laws included:

  • Catholics were excluded from holding public office such as Judge MP solicitor Jurist or barrister, civil servant, sheriff, or town councillor.
  • No Catholic could vote or be elected to office.
  • Catholics could not own land.
  • Catholics could not lease land for longer than 31 years and the rent was to equal two-thirds of the yearly value of the land.
  • Catholics were not allowed to hold arms nor be members of the armed forces nor own a horse worth more than £5.
  • If a Catholic landholder died, his estate could not be passed to the eldest son unless that son was a Protestant. Otherwise it was to be shared by all the surviving sons.
  • Catholics and Protestants could not intermarry.
  • Catholics could not be an orphan’s guardian.
  • Catholics were barred from living in many provincial towns.
  • Catholic clergy were to be registered and required to take an oath of loyalty, but friars, monks, hierarchy and Jesuits were to be exiled.
  • Clerics could not wear distinguishing clothes.
  • Places of worship could not have a steeple nor display a cross.
  • Catholics and dissenters were required to pay tithes to the Anglican Church of Ireland which was the Established Church.
  • Catholics could not establish schools or send their children abroad for education.

Okay, so it was more than 300 years ago, but persecution is still alive and well and thriving in the world today. And how sad is that.

It’s been an interesting week – one that started in a Hungarian village and ended in an Irish one, with lots of towns, cities, and catch-ups in between. I’m grateful for the security offered in coming home, something denied to many as they no longer have homes to go. I’m grateful for the rituals that knit the fabric of Irishness in me. And I’m grateful for the reminder to appreciate all that I have.

A reminder of what the Grateful series is about.

2018 Grateful 46

Up until last Saturday, my knowledge of pigeons was minimal: birds that gather in main squares in old cities to wow the tourists; birds that poop on statues; birds that some people call sky rats. From my banking days in Dublin, I knew of homing pigeons. Some of the customers raced pigeons and Monday mornings always came with stories of how they’d done. I didn’t know that many people of all ages have an irrational fear of pigeons (peristerophobia) or that the term New Jersey pigeon meant anything other than a pigeon from New Jersey (sometimes you can know too much).

So, what happened last Saturday?

The village ain’t exactly hoppin’ when it comes to scheduled entertainment. That’s why I like it. We’re pretty much left to our own devices. But occasionally, when something is put on, everyone turns out. Last weekend it was the annual pigeon, birds, and small animal exhibition. Bird enthusiasts and pet-owners from the nearby villages brought their birds and beasts and set them up in the village hall where, for the princely sum of 500 ft ($1.80/€1.60), you could ooh and aah to your heart’s content. For us, it was a language lesson to see if we’d recognise the names in English. Money well spent.

The first room was full of colourful canaries and parakeets and all sorts. Oranges and blues and pinks and greens all chirped away adding up to a nearly deafening roar. Maya Angelou’s The the Caged Bird Sings came to mind. A long-departed friend of mine in London, the inimitable Sheila José (RIP), kept a parrot, Napoleon. I liked him. He was big and he talked. The little ‘uns didn’t do much for me.

The second room was quieter, but ooh the smell, the smell. Watching an episode of Doc Martin recently, I’d first heard of Pigeon lung – a disease you get from inhaling pigeon poop. I wasn’t about to hang around, but then it got interesting – and I realised that pigeons have been getting a bum rap. They’re gorgeous.

First up was the Páva (the peacock pigeon). Cuter than all git out. If it wasn’t for the neighbour’s cats, these would look lovely picking their way through my mole hills.

Next up was the Fodros galamb (or frillback pigeon). You know the effect you get when you take a potato peeler and peel some hard chocolate? Well, think of this on legs – with a head and a tail and a beak and two beady eyes. Fabulous.

My favourite had to be the magyar óriás galamb (the Hungarian giant pigeon – or the Red Capuchin). This is the Queen of pigeons apparently. She has haughtiness down to a fine art. Think little old ladies with spindly legs in high heels wrapped in mink coats.

The Debreceni Pergő (the Debrecen vulture pigeon) is a classic. I tried to see the vulture in him but failed. And, if you’re curious as to why the vulture pigeon from Debrecen has the city name attached to it, there’s also a vulture pigeon from Birmingham. Who knew. There were lots more, too many to take pictures of (did I mention the smell!) but these were the interesting ones. 

You know those ceramic figures that some people collect, the ones that look like fat chickens? Well, they could be pigeons. I think this is a French Mondain – one step up the evolutionary ladder from the Rock pigeon. I could be wrong. I was so sure it was a fat chicken that I didn’t pay any attention to the name tag.

 

I’d have gone for fat chickens for these, too, except for the fancy slippers. Now I’m not so sure.

These are definitely roosters, though – I heard them crow.

A little reading tells me that pigeons go as far back as 3000 BC. Apparently archaeologists in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) found some images of the birds dating back that far. I didn’t know that the words pigeon and dove are used interchangeably: pigeon is used for the bigger birds and dove for the smaller but they’re all part of the same family. And as for pigeon poop, far from the irritant it is today, it used to be very valuable stuff, a prized fertiliser and the only source of saltpetre – the key ingredient in gun powder.

There are famous pigeons, war heroes like Cher Ami, who saved the lives of 200 American soldiers in WWI. Stories abound of pigeons like Ariel in New Zealand who carried a record-making 5 sheets of paper over a 90-minute trip back in the 1880s between Great Barrier Island and Auckland. Or a pigeon called Velocity who holds the record for that run (50 minutes) averaging 125 kmph (only 40% slower than a modern aircraft!). That’s some going.

It’s a fascinating world, the pigeon world. They’re private, they co-parent, and they mate for life. And they’re supposedly very intelligent.

Laboratory PIGEONS learned to recognize each of the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet. It seemed odd to the researchers that the birds made the same kinds of initial mistakes as elementary school students.

I had a lovely couple of weeks in the village – even if some of that time was spent without heat or hot water. And yet again I’m grateful, ever-so grateful, for my retreat, and for the curiosities of village life. It’s amazing what you can learn when you have no distractions.

2018 Grateful 47

Ah, no! Seriously, Tibor? Monday? Say it isn’t so! That was me on Thursday morning. We’d arrived down to the village the previous evening to find the house freezing. It was 5 degrees in the kitchen and there wasn’t a gux out of the boiler. Thinking we might have missed a simple reset button or perhaps needed to do something embarrassingly obvious to everyone but us, we called our go-to guy and then the boiler lad. Neither could help.

Tibor came to check it out on Thursday and said it was beyond resuscitation. A new one was called for. And it wouldn’t arrive till Monday. So four more days of being damn cold, with the lovelies due to visit on Friday for the weekend and no heat, no hot water.

Himself was called back to Budapest and I could have gone, too. But it says a lot about village life when I’d rather be here, freezing my ass off and nipping over to the neighbours for a hot shower, than in the flat in Budapest with every modern convenience at my fingertips. I spent Thursday evening on the couch with a hot water bottle and a blanket watching Season 2 of Doc Martin. Szilvi, she who gives a great home massage, arrived on Friday lunchtime as arranged and we managed to have a brief conversation. A bojler elromlott. Nincs melegünk. Nincs meleg víz. At least my Hungarian vocabulary is expanding; the silver lining in this particular cloud.

Undeterred, the lovelies came anyway on Friday evening after work, armed with heaters and thermals and the makings of some whiskey cocktails for that inner warmth. The kitchen got up as high as 13.4 degrees at one stage. We’d borrowed a noisy industrial heater and had the oven going full blast. For a brief moment, I was warm. Friday night, wrapped in winter woollies, as we sat around the kitchen table making the best of it, I gave silent thanks for the friends I’ve been blessed with. No complaints. No moans. Not one.

The next day, we headed over to Dobrovnik in Slovenia, for a walk in the healing forest. We had the place practically to ourselves. There was snow on the ground and a bite in the air. It was beautiful. I spent time at my four stations and came away feeling tired but content.

Healing forest Dobrovik Slovenia

A stop-off at Vadászcsárda (Hunters’ Inn) in Zalacsány on the way home topped off a lovely day and got me ready for Season 3 of Doc Martin.

Tomorrow, the heating will be fixed. My creature comforts will be restored. And another glorious week will begin. This day last week I was heading to the airport to catch a flight to Malta. Seven days later, I’m back from mass, hatted and scarfed and wrapped in a blanket, waiting for a chap to come quote for a télikert, a winter garden (the Hungarian term for a conservatory). If there’s any money left over after buying the new boiler, it might just be my next project.

 

 

2018 Grateful 48

On my way back from the doc’s this morning, I took the long way around so that I could go by Amber’s, the fab new French bakery on Fővámr. I’m addicted to their almond croissants. For the last few mornings, as a reward for withstanding the discomfort of having daily infusions, I’ve rewarded myself with one, a sort of adult lollipop. It’s the least I deserve. [I score the nurses’ injecting skills by the degree of pain I feel, with 10 being barely anything and 1 being bloody sore. Wednesday and Thursday were 10s. Friday was a 2 – it didn’t work in one arm so we had to go with the other. And this morning was a 3. Same injection needed, four different nurses, four different scores. The mind boggles. Painless injection is a much underrated skill.]

Anyway, while on the tram, an elderly man stood beside me. He was in his late 70s (which, by my nonagenarian dad’s reckoning is still young). I made to get up, asking him if he’d like my seat. Thanks, but no. Then he said something to me that sounded very much like he was asking me for money to buy bread. I thought something had gotten lost in translation. He was well-dressed. Nicely turned out, wearing a good, if worn, leather coat, and shoes that shone from lots of care and attention. His hands were clean and he’d recently shaved. Surely he couldn’t be asking me for money? I’d been caught before and didn’t want to make the same mistake again.

A while back, I spotted what I thought was an elderly gent down on his luck standing, cup in hand, at the bottom of the steps at Blaha Lujza tér metro. I passed him by, walked up the steps, thought again, and walked back down to give him money. As I reached out to put the note in his cup, he lifted it to his mouth and drank from it. I was mortified. But he had a sense of humour, thankfully. So this time, rather than ask this gent to repeat himself slowly, I smiled blankly. He turned questioningly to the woman sitting opposite me, who shook her head. He thanked us and moved on.

We sat, both of us in shock. I told her I didn’t speak much Hungarian and asked her what he’d said. She repeated it more slowly. And yes, he had asked for money. I watched him as he made his way up the tram, stopping by each passenger and spinning his spiel. The replies he got alternated between smiles, frowns, brush-offs, shakes of the head, and angry words. But no money. Everyone was judging him. Perhaps they were upset that he’d asked them, putting them on the spot. Perhaps they were embarrassed that he’d had to ask in the first place. Perhaps they were dismissing him as a chancer. But a man of his age, with more dignity in his little finger than many of his fellow passengers could lay claim to? I wondered.

My conscience got the better of me. I went after him and pressed a note into his hand. My travelling companion passed me money to give to him, too. He thanked us again.

Somewhat numbed by the experience, I looked around and saw that the naysayers were now shaking their heads at me as if to say – You idiot. You fool. You stupid foreigner.

And yes, perhaps he is laughing all the way to the bakery, and if so, I hope he enjoys his croissants. But maybe, just maybe, the man was in real need; then the money we gave him might just make a difference. It’s a miserable, wet, cold, day, a day made for hot soup. Perhaps that’s all he needed.

I was reminded of Tolstoy’s story Where love is, God is. And the story of Baucis and Philemon in Greek mythology. Perhaps I’m being rather fanciful, but then, that’s nothing new. I wonder, though, how much better the world might be if we learned not to judge, but to trust that another person’s need is real. Suitably chastened, infusions done, my croissant spate over,  I’m grateful for the lessons that keep on coming and for occasionally remembering to pay attention and listen. 

2018 Grateful 49

I often wonder why I’m so busy, always running around like a blue-arsed fly, meeting someone, doing something, going somewhere. It was only this week, when the talented Bobacsai Zsolt resurfaced on the blogging scene after a long hiatus, that I figured it out. Reading his piece on the busy trap and the need to waste time consciously, I was struck by what he said about busyness being a learned behaviour.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen either of my parents sit and do nothing. Oh they sit, but while they’re sitting, they’re reading or doing the crossword or napping. They spend time outdoors, but they’re gardening or walking or playing golf. Apart from a few failed experiments with meditation, I don’t think I’ve ever sat and done nothing. So this week, I tried. For no predetermined period of time, I simply sat and did nothing. I did myn’t lie down – I sat. And sat. And sat. And, when after 20 minutes or so I started twitching, I rejoined the world. On reflection, I definitely felt all the better for it.

Bobacsai speaks of wasting time consciously, something that goes so much against my grain, if you hugged me, you’d get splinters. I’m all too conscious of how little time there is in a day or a week, in a month or a year. And knowing that it could all suddenly end is hardly affirmation that it’s okay to waste it. I no doubt waste time unconsciously – sitting in front of the big screen watching episode after episode of whatever series has my attention. I can sit for hours reading a book when perhaps I could (or should) be working. Flittering away those hours is usually met with feelings of guilt, pin-pricks of conscience that tell me I could have put them to better use.

Instead, though, I should be wasting time consciously, says Babocsai, and for a whole day – not just 20 minutes.

[..] no TV, no internet, no phones, no screens of any kind. Unplug yourself for this one day. Don’t even read a book. Ideally, you’d go to a lake in the woods and stare at the water all day. That’s how you properly, consciously waste a day.

Luckily, I have a lake in the woods practically in my back yard (something I’m exceedingly grateful for and appreciative of). So I’ve made an appointment for myself in early May to go there and sit, for a day. I’ll have my thermos and my sarnies and I’ll just sit. No book. No phone. No pencil and paper. And we’ll see how I get on. In the meantime though, I’m going to continue sitting and doing nothing for short periods every day until I can build it up into a couple of hours with no residual guilt. Small steps.