Mrs Garland’s Gift.

Mrs Garland’s gift.

Take everything with both hands and ask for more.’

Sometimes in life, a fortunate stroke of serendipity might allow us to encounter profound wisdom in a quite unexpected place, and moments like these only later reveal themselves as seed for hope.

Such was my good fortune one sunny morning when I was out for a walk in the fresh air of a long-awaited Spring, almost twenty years ago now, but the memory remains fresh in my mind. I was almost at the end of a 2-year treatment regime for Aplastic Anaemia, a serious blood disorder that can be fatal. Although my body had responded well to the treatment, my spirit was struggling. At diagnosis I was told that if the treatment did not work, I would have a 3-month prognosis at best. I was only twenty-five when I fell ill, and I had a future full of dreams ahead of me. What I needed, desperately, was a bone marrow transplant, but no suitable matched donor could be found and so an alternative treatment plan was put into place. As I slowly started to heal, some of the other patients that I encountered at the hospital, did not. At times I felt tremendous guilt for simply having life, coupled with a pervasive fear of the unknown. Why am I surviving this, and others not?  Would the treatment work in the long-term?  Might I relapse? And, the most disabling fear of all, if I were to relapse, would I survive a second time? These questions that plagued my inner-world were not unique. Many people who have battled cancer and other potentially life-limiting diseases have to face the reality of their own mortality, and the sheer vulnerability of life. I was tired of living with fear and I was searching for something—the permission to live, and to enjoy what I had been given.

And so, it was on that bright mid-week morning that I met Mrs Garland, a tiny, frail woman that I placed somewhere in her eighties. She had the loveliest smile and blue eyes that twinkled mischievously when she spoke. As we walked together in the sunshine, we exchanged pleasantries, and talked about the weather as strangers might do, but somehow, within a matter of minutes, the conversation grew deeper than what one would expect from two people who had never met until that day. I felt as if I had been drawn into a quiet place with this lovely woman who seemed to look right into the most afraid part of my heart. As our conversation kept pace with the soft rhythm of our feet on the sidewalk, I found myself telling her about the shock of falling ill, the two years of countless hospital visits, the never-ending blood and platelet transfusions, the countless pills that I had to take every day, the deep sense of loss and guilt that followed me around, and the dark fear that wanted to strangle me at times. Patiently, she listened to my whole story, a quiet nod of her head here and there, and when to my great embarrassment I started to cry, she didn’t once look away, she simply took both my hands in hers and said, ‘Life can be terrifying sometimes, and so unfair, but I decided a long time ago to live my life in only one way. I take everything with both hands, and I ask for more. Always ask for more, and it will come to you!

I don’t remember much more of that day, but I have held onto Mrs Garland’s words like a lifeline.

And ever since that morning, when her wise words were planted so gently in my heart. I have lived my life with both hands stretched out, always asking for more! Always expecting more! And, time has proven her wisdom to be true. Over the years, I have received more than I could ever have dreamed I would be given. Time, the most precious gift of all, but also love, and a beautiful little boy, and a million other things like sunsets, and the song of a blackbird, the fragrance of my tea in the mornings, and poetry to read and fill my soul. And yes, some of what I had been given was hard, and the fear remained for a long time, but still I received it as a gift, and it taught me to live bigger—to live outward, beyond my fears. Not only for myself but for everyone who didn’t get to leave that hospital—I live my life for them, too, and I live it gratefully and with great joy. I slowly learned how to live more vulnerably, and how to show my heart to the world. I now see everything as a miracle, and my heart and hands have never stopped being full.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Javon Swaby.

a deconstruction of us.

walk me back

to the beginning of us.

from — a deconstruction of us.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Rahul.

This is a line from an as yet, unpublished poem.

I have left it as is — no further explanation as to the ‘why’, but there is of course, an invitation to the reader to finish that sentence in their head and in their heart.

Love is always a daring journey — a risk that requires vulnerability, courage and the willingness to be hurt.

Love deeply.

Love extravagantly.

liezel

the lies we tell ourselves.

a few nights ago, whilst paging through a magazine, i read a letter

by ‘struggling to trust’, penned in desperation to an agony aunt column, and

she writes—this woman with an ancient question burning in her bones—that she had known a man for a long time, since they were not much more than children, and how she had planted love at his feet, in wild faith, as we women sometimes do, but

how he did not notice the fragrance of the flowers that bloomed around her when he was near, but still

she hoped.

for more. for him. for love.

and how they had lost sight of each other over the years, but love is a thing that does not easily die, even if it is only watered by one pair of hands,

and how there came a night where they were in the same place, geographically at least, and how he poured hot words all over her naked skin, and how she gave him her heart in her hands, and

she tells of his kiss, and his mouth and how it lingered on her limbs, and over the softest parts of her, and how he found the secret scar that runs across the half-moon of her right breast,

and she had once fought the darkness, and won, but

he did not know this, and

how his fingers had traced the full length of it, and how his mouth had moved over its landscape, on his conquering path, and how he did not stop to look into her eyes with ‘when’ and ‘how’ and ‘why’ on his lips, and

don’t scars in secret places whisper, there is more here and i am showing you everything that i have hidden from the world, and please look into my eyes and see what i am giving you, and

how the next morning he took all his words with him, and how they didn’t seem to shine as much in the light.

and what she really needed to know was how could she change so that she could be enough for him, and did this mean that he never really loved her?

and the reply came:

tell me…what do you think?

— the lies we tell ourselves.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Jaymantri.

absolution.

at least now

i can give you this.

that you are not responsible

for the landscape

of us.

i planted.

you ripped it all out.

without knowing,

i suppose.

you watered.

i let the hot sun fall.

on purpose,

i suppose.

at least now,

i can give you this.

— absolution.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

a reflection on how sometimes, we apportion blame unfairly onto the shoulders of another,

when relationships are planted and watered by two pairs of hands.

Photograph by Zachary de Bottis.

how to love a tired world.

i heard her — a real, live woman with a beating heart,

hidden

deep

inside her disappointment, say

what does it matter how i live, this world is hard, and why should i care about others, and don’t tell me to smile when nobody ever smiles at me.

and i said, i know, but look!

right here there is a field of orange

just for you,

and why don’t you lie down

in its green embrace and breathe.

just for a little bit.

and if you look up, far away, you will see millions of tiny water drops clinging to each other with sheer joy,

and yes,

i know they’re only clouds,

but soon they will pour their life out

all over this field, and

they won’t care about giving themselves away, and they won’t worry about tomorrow,

or whether the earth appreciates their

sacrifice, and

let

me

tell you a secret,

sometimes, love is messy.

but, i love anyway.

i give it away to everyone

who deserves it, and

especially to those who don’t.

because they are the hungriest, and they don’t know how to make it themselves, and

so i give it to them just like rain, with no expectation.

and really, it is so easy to let go of fear, and all the bits of what-will-they-think, that whisper in your ear, and

sometimes, they don’t want my smile, and they have walls that won’t let kindness through, and that’s ok.

i am not afraid of walls, because i have broken down my own from the inside out, and i know how hard it is to do.

but every now and then,

a word from my mouth flies right across a valley, and falls gently on a heart that hasn’t eaten kindness in weeks, and

it is like a rainstorm on a hot afternoon,

and the relief

when those clouds finally break,

is a living,

breathing

thing,

and i don’t think about the mess then, and

i’ll worry about that another day, and who really worries about cleaning when a tired heart blooms bright in front of your eyes, and all it needed was a bit of love?

so, come, leave your heart outside for a bit — right here with the flowers.

i think i smell rain in the air.

— how to love a tired a world.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Surreyhills Wellness.

how to fight death.

almost half my faith ago,

when i was wide-eyed

and

fresh in my skin,

a man in a white coat said

i think this might be all

that you’ll get, and

then

there will be no more days left,

for you to chase

in wonder.

and the thought that dying

might be difficult,

climbed onto

my lap and

stayed

with

me.

but somehow i was given more, and

ever since then i have run after

every scrap of beauty

that has danced

past me, and

the feel of the ocean on my skin, and the way that yellow freesias smell like joy, and the taste of the first cup of coffee in the morning, and the curve of my son’s nose against my breast as he nestled to feed in the dark, and the smell of rain after a drought, and the

way that my heart can still make

room for more love, and

how much courage

it takes to trust,

again

and

again, and

every time that fear

told

me

to

sit down,

i said no,

and i stood up.

and this is how i came to know

that living,

is the more difficult thing

to do.

not everybody knows

that dying is easy.

we are all doing it,

right now,

without even trying.

but

do

you

know

how to look fear in the eye,

and

say,

how beautiful is this day,

and i think i shall

enjoy it

very

much

to be

alive,

if only for a little while

longer.

— how to fight death.

(for djs with all my love).

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by David Boca.

honey and water.

she said, this man makes me

feel so alive and he is everything

that i have ever wanted, but

still he is not enough, and

still i need more, and

i don’t know what it is, and why do i always have this thirst in the middle of my heart, and how

do i fill it,

if not with love?

and i said, as gently as i could, because some words are spiky and need to be unwrapped with gentle hands, and

i asked my friend, with the father-shaped hole in her heart,

do you know the difference between honey and water?

do you know that there are men who will pour you cups of honey and oh, it will be so sweet on your tongue and you will feel all your holes fill up with golden stickiness, and

for a little while,

perhaps if you are very lucky,

and if you learn this lesson quickly, then

you will only believe this for a short while, and

you will think that honey is

liquid

love,

but it is not.

and it will never be enough.

because honey

will never

quench

your

thirst.

and you need to wait for a man

who is running water,

pure and full of life, who

will pour himself out, and into your cupped hands, and over your head, dripping down into your bones, filling up that thirst in the middle of your heart.

flooding it with the one thing

that always gives life, and

only then will you know the difference between words that fall sweetly from the tongue, and

the men who use them, and

words that will make an ancient thirst go away, and

they are not the same thing.

honey and water.

and what you should really know, is this,

it is not the man

who should heal your heart, and

only one man is shaped like your father, and

no other man can do that,

fill that hole,

and

fix that hurt.

although some men will try,

if their hearts are big enough for two, and

if they love you enough.

but it is not fair to expect a man to lie down in a hole made by another, so that you can walk across him to the other side, and

you have to find your own way out of that hurt, and when you finally manage to swim to the edge of that hole, and

you finally manage to crawl your way out through the mud, only

then will you know the difference between honey and water, and

you will know which men bring life in their hands, and

which men don’t.

and you will never confuse

them again, and

you will teach your daughter

how to sniff the air for the scent of rain, and you will show her how to walk away from things that do not flow over her thirst with life, and

she will know how to swim

to the edge of her pain, and

she will grow strong from climbing out of holes that were made by others, and

she will stand on the edge of that which wanted to drown her,

but couldn’t.

and water will run down her limbs, and drip from her skin, onto the dry dusty ground, until

everything under her feet blooms green.

and this will be your gift to her.

— honey and water.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Nicholas Githiri.