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Message in a Bottle
2010.05.07 / Sophia Butler
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When my phone began to buzz in the middle of the night, I had forgotten that I was on duty. I was sure it was another call from one of my friends who had been having man-trouble lately. A classic case of Bridget Jones’ syndrome: low moods and wine induced crying – just what I needed at 5.30 am! I had to re-read the message five times; I fell out of bed in slow motion to arrive in a space of surprise: it was a text from a university friend, “Good Morning Sophia, I wanted to share with you the beauty of this early morning, let’s talk later. I’m going for a run to pay gratitude for my life.” I was impressed – not only did he wake up with a profound thought; he also acted on it – at this ungodly hour! He studied philosophy and he was always on the weirder side of eccentric – but was he pagan all of a sudden?! I could not quite get my head around it – was it a test or a prank? I had seen Hamish performing some shamanic rituals, bowing with his arms raised to the rising sun, but I was more inclined to think my friend was having a hallucination after a heavy night’s drinking.

It niggled at me all day, but I was not about to be outdone by a philosophy student; I employed enquiry and investigation which I remembered hazily from university life. Through the day the words worked on me – paying gratitude for my life – they were full of implication – how was I going to pay gratitude at the altar of my life? As a species, one of our quirks or what I am tempted to call malfunctions, is that we seem to be unable to fully appreciate anything we are blessed with unless it becomes threatened, or we lose it completely. Our best teacher of this is: death. Yet, despite the certainty of a meeting with it, we still do not enjoy the experience of living for any length of time. When was the last time I had made an offering to existence out of pure joy?
I was forced to become conscious of the cracks that had begun to show in the dream world Ross and I created; I was putting these in between myself and causeless joy. Even our idyllic country life, far from the ills of civilization, with only our love and pets for company, was not able to sustain us. I had done such a good job of ignoring this fact that it came as a sudden shock. Everything was revealed at once, but it seemed as though we were so far up the stream that nothing short of a tsunami would shift our dynamic. A chat, paddle, was not going to get us very far at this stage I thought; because the fear of losing something of this dream inhibited me from highlighting its flaws. I did not want to admit to myself that this – our life together was not enough as it was. The dream required editing.
So began a long few weeks of searching and not finding. I went to the closest thing to home – being so far from Mama, I felt further than ever from my beloved Polska, where my heart sings in connection with the people and the land. I headed for the next best thing – a ‘mini Zakopane’ in the next town where my friend Marta can be found pulling pints of real ale behind the bar – it wasn’t good old Zoladkowa, but it would do. A whisky was under my nose before I had a chance to take off my jacket – clearly my inner landscape was displaying itself on my brow. I would pay homage to life with a glass in my hand, in an ancient ritual, I tested Wojciech Mlynarski’s theory I heard in a ballad once and looked for truth in the bottom of a glass.
There were many glasses and bottoms of many bottles. I called for the gypsy of the ballads, but an Irish man on a flute had to do. My conclusion; drinking is like dancing – we drink either to remember or to forget. Seems like I was doing both, but I still could not numb the feelings. Many tears later, Hamish just happened to walk into the pub for his nightcap; ‘accidentally on purpose’ I think to myself, he sits down next to me as if we were strangers. I am sure Ross sent him to work out what is consuming my joy of life. Marta’s attempts at words of wisdom in the vein of there being plenty of fish in the sea and many of Cupid’s arrows flying around in Zakopane – where she would gladly accompany me – hastened my decision. Though I did not doubt that the mountains heal melancholic hearts,
I needed to go to my dad’s to try and make sense of the unease which was coming closer to panic and devastation every time I checked my internal thermometer.
The scene seems completely surreal as I stagger home in my heels with Hamish padding along in his sandals by my side, along the muddy and meandering path. I am crying, Hamish is singing something under his breath. I do not pay any attention to him; I did not ask for his company and even under the influence of the ‘elixir of truth’, I find myself unable to express the cause of my malaise. Hamish directs me to my favorite bench at the foot of the garden. “Listen”, he begins, “I know you’re having a rough time right now and that’s ok, but you need to know what is really going on here”, I made no attempt at making this into a conversation, it would be a monologue. As usual, he continued unabashed as the words poured over me like water off a duck’s back; “Happiness is a choice. The only question here is: are you willing to accept your partner completely? If you are able to do this then you accept yourself one hundred percent and uncertainty will fade, you will find the conviction to iron things out as they come up. There is no way, however, to avoid that which drives you crazy about your partner; they will always be themselves. Can you give them and yourself the permission for once, to actually be that which you are?”. He was not getting an answer; the only thing on my mind at this point was the gourmet snack I was going to make myself as soon as I walked in the door – macrobiotics would be locked in the cupboard in favour of a classic, greasy bacon sandwich. “Think on it”. As he said the last words, he helped me to my feet and escorted me to the door, before turning on his heel and vanishing into the night.
It was definitely time to face the internal music. Everything I seemed to pick up echoed Hamish’s words which I remembered somewhat indistinctly – Rumi assailed me “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” I remembered John Lennon saying in an interview: “We’ve got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant.... You’ve got to keep watering it. You’ve got to really look after it and nurture it.” The man had a point. Somehow the phrases: ‘Have fun, life is short’ and ‘carpe diem’ seemed to fall on their faces, empty of value – because actually life is long – we need a plan! We cannot simply flit like butterflies; a degree of commitment is needed to make anything seem worthwhile. The first commitment must be to oneself, then to the other, a promise: “Out beyond ideas of right doing and wrong doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there” (Rumi); the human heart is boundless in love – only the mind is stuck on the concepts of blaming and needs. I was beginning to catch my breath.
My heart began to speak to me, now that it was quiet enough for me to listen. Gratitude for life seemed like a pretty good place to start – ancient peoples have always worshipped life in all her might as an anecdote to heartache which can be all consuming. A line of communication opened between Ross and I;
it seemed clearer than in the last couple of months. I must have exchanged hundreds of emails and text messages over the past few weeks, some even of poetic value – I giggle as
I imagine a volume of the collected emails of Lord Byron! Language ironists laugh that nowadays, email and text addicts only need 500 words to communicate their deepest thoughts! Death to the richness of language as we abandon grammar, spelling, sentence structure and manners in our messages! They need not be so far from the good old fashioned pen and ink medium, but I wonder if we prefer something as noncommittal and addictive as a cold interface, containing moments of excitement, so short lived we feel the need to send another and another… Nothing touched me more than receiving a letter from Ross, written in his beautiful script with a dried flower pressed into the envelope. I could see where a tear had rolled down and smudged the ink. I could see where he had to employ courage to keep the pen moving – I was unable to get a sense of this in any of the emails or text messages.
I visit Larry the lamb often for a harmless hit of endorphins. He grows stronger daily. I am so grateful for his life because with it he reminds me of the beauty of my own. The flood gates of my heart burst open and I know what I must do. I know who I want to be sharing these moments with and even though I may lose it all when I speak my truth, I may gain more than my wildest dreams. Life is such a gift; may we live it fully. I leave you with the wise words of Joseph Campbell: “The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.” What will you choose? I will be found doing sun salutations in the rays of the morning light with the dewy grass beneath my bare feet at 5.30 each morning!

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