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.

courage, dear heart. you can do this.

you’ve changed, haven’t you?

all the truth that you once nailed to the inside of your heart — ran your fingers over every day when nobody was looking — none of it makes sense anymore, does it?

none of it.

and you’ve stared out of windows, and all those tiny cracks in your life, searching for the light, and for that thing that makes it all fall into place, and you’ve found it.

at last.

haven’t you?

and it doesn’t look like what you knew before, and it doesn’t look like anyone else’s, and how do you walk away from all that you’ve known?

and now, you’re afraid.

afraid of walking out your front door wearing your new life, knowing that they might not understand, and you’re lying there in the middle of the darkest thinking hours of the night, hoping they will see how lovely this new life looks on you, but all you can feel is fear.

why?

why are you so afraid of another’s eyes on your heart? have you not scraped enough pain from your skin to feel — to know, that it is ok for you to change? have you not discovered yet, that it is ok to change your mind about things — the biggest things, the smallest things, and even the holiest things.

you can change your mind about anything, really.

really.

because truth has found you in the most unexpected of places, and you have had to grow out of your skin, your birthday, your promises and your life, in order to know that you are only halfway there and suddenly, or maybe not, time has been shy, you realised that the joy that was once blooming in the middle of your heart, is dead, and has been for a while, and that living a lie will not bring it back to life.

only living, will, and

the light is out there waiting for you. waiting just for you to start putting down all the things that no longer fit into your hands, and your bones, and your mouth, and your eyes, and your life is there too, breathing in and breathing out.

with, or without you, and

you might have to undo a vow, or change holy books, or change the way that you have always ticked boxes, and loved yourself, but this can all be done, and

it is scary to stand there, naked from your bones to the tip of your heart, and yes, some of them will not understand, and yes, some of them will not be able to stay, and that is ok.

really, it is.

let them leave.

new people will come.

really — they will, because

do you know how beautiful your truth finally looks on you?

courage, dear heart.

you can do this.

— courage, dear heart. you can do this.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Kat Jayne.

on finding my place.

one starry night, the woman took a walk inside of herself to the quiet places that she loved to visit, and

there, under the karoo sun, she could play barefoot again, unworried about ice and snow and other cold things, and her young hands could tease the

hot earth for tiny fragments of blue glass hidden in the soil, and

one day i will be an archaeologist and i will dig for things — beautiful things, in the dirt, and i will have rooms full of books and i will travel the world and see pyramids and other beautiful, broken things, and we will see each other and smile — the broken things and i — and i will never have to prove that i do know things and they are all wrong about me and perhaps i will finally belong, and i wonder what that feels like, to fit snugly in a place and in a life, like your shape was made to belong, but

some don’t, do they — belong?

and some people aren’t made

to fit into round holes, because they have sharp edges and sharp corners where the loveliest things hide, but not everybody can see this and not everybody knows, and it takes a very long time for a soft, square heart to know that it is ok not to be round,

and i have been scratching in the dust for years to find hope and life and other green things, and

i have grown soft with love for myself, and i still look for fragments and other broken things in places where others see dirt, and

this is my gift — to see the loveliness in a man’s skin, and to hear africa in his voice as our children swim together, here, far from home, and to see hope in the eyes of a woman who crossed deserts and bullets

with children in tow and then

still the oceans, too — what did she know about water so deep and so fierce, other than that it was safer than the hearts from where she ran, and i look for smiles and people who walk straight into you with mouths that bow up to the light, and eyes that sparkle like glass in the sun — these are the things that i search for now, and when i find them, i turn them over, and over, in my hands and when my hunger is satisfied i hide them, deep in a corner, and oh

you should see all the beauty that i have hidden inside here, on this side of my walls, and finally i belong.

— on finding my place.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Tim Mossholder.

the thing that gave you joy, is (still) waiting.

do you still have that dream?

the one that you have been dressing and,

undressing

since you were little.

breathing in the joy

of knowing that

this,

this beautiful thing

belongs to you,

and

only you, but

then

they made

you build a fence

around the thing

that makes you happy.

keeping you out,

and away

from it.

your

face

pressed

right up against the magic,

but

not

close

enough.

did they say,

who do you think you are,

and

that will never happen,

and

you are not like them,

you are like us,

and

people like us don’t dream.

and,

you

think

you

are

so much better than us.

but

you

are

not.

do you remember it now?

i thought you might.

the voices

are pretty much the same,

no matter who you are,

or who you were,

once-upon-a-time.

and that fence

might be overgrown by now.

mine was.

and it might be higher

than it seemed

when you still believed

in dreams.

that happens.

so, don’t you worry

about

weeds,

and thorns,

and strangling things,

that can be cut back,

ripped out,

and

broken down.

that will be the easy part.

what i want to know,

and this,

is really the most important part,

do you still hear their voices?

because

that is where the lie started,

and

that is where the lie must end.

so

turn

your

back,

dreamer, yes

you must

if you are still searching

for that thing

that made you feel alive, and

it will need some care, and

a little bit of love,

but it will live

if you want it to.

so, this is what you do.

you listen for another voice,

and

it is quiet

and

it is soft,

so listen carefully.

it says i-believe-in-you things, like

you can,

and

i know you can do this,

and

what a great idea,

and

you are just the right one for this,

and,

let

me

tell

you

something else.

sometimes,

there is a lot of noise

when fences come down,

and

when dreams go up, so

don’t you mind this.

it will die down,

and

you will grow up,

and

you will grow out,

and

you will find your way again.

because

the thing that gave you joy,

is (still) waiting (for you), and

the light on your skin

will be beautiful

and warm,

and

one day,

sooner than you think,

you will walk

straight into yourself,

again.

— the thing that gave you joy, is (still) waiting.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Matheus Bertelli.