Tag Archives: Quaker

Notes from a Broad: a ticket to Paradise. March 2016

I inadvertently do things which seem normal to me but which immediately mark me out as being different. Today I walk to the supermarket. In a culture where the car is King, this in itself is sufficient to cause people to stare. The only other pedestrian is Safeway’s resident beggar. Every supermarket in town has them. Usually a disabled veteran with no Federal benefits, or a young, haggard Hispanic woman, old before her time. More often than not a small child or a dehydrated dog features in the tableau. It occurs to me, rather ironically, that they are more a part of this society than I am; my visa is expired and I have no legal status in this country until the Department of Homeland Security decides to grant me residency. I am not allowed to leave the country until this process is complete; I am a stateless immigrant.

I am gradually getting used to the differences between American supermarkets and those in England. American stores are more reminiscent of the English grocery shops I remember from my early childhood, in the days when self-service was still a novelty. Food is more expensive, and the concept of the ‘value’ brand and fifty varieties of baked bean has not yet arrived. The jars of ‘Pigs’ Feet’ and piles of fresh cactus hold no fear for me. Potatoes are carefully arranged individually on display, as if they are rare fruits, which I suppose is what they are here. They are expensive, and of poor quality. The desert is not good arable country, and anything requiring a large amount of water to grow is a luxury item.

As I pay for my goods, Angie on the checkout offers me a third carrier bag which I refuse, explaining that I have to carry the shopping as I’m on foot. She looks at me as though she doesn’t quite grasp the concept. ‘You want a ticket to paradise?’ she asks. For a moment I wonder if Angie is going to turn out to be some kind of checkout evangelist, but it turns out she is just handing me my lottery ticket.

Being English and coming from a very rainy part of the country I am used to hurrying everywhere, coat buttoned to the chin and head down against the elements. The image of America I used to have in my mind was one where everyone is in a rush. That may be true in the cities, but here in the high desert, no-one hurries. It’s too hot, for a start. Today, in early March, shortly before lunchtime, it is just shy of 70 degrees, and that means a slow walk home. Arizona even has its own time zone. Imagine that in Somerset.

When I arrive home, hot and sweaty in the underwired department, I discover a note left wedged in the doorjamb, left by the Jehovah ’s Witnesses. Last time they came to the door I patiently explained that I was a Quaker and very happy with that, thank you very much. Again this prompted a look of bafflement. ‘Well, we get folks claimin’ to be all sorts of weird religions’ one of them said…the words pot and kettle sprang to mind, but I was too polite to say so. I unfold the leaflet, to find an invitation to a ‘free public event: You Will Be With Me In Paradise’. Superfluous capital letters aside, I spend a moment pondering on being with Jesus in Paradise, Paradise being apparently located at the Adult Center of Prescott on a Wednesday evening. If I attended, I was assured that I would hear ‘an explanation of how his death can benefit you and your family’. Trust the Americans to turn crucifixion into a development opportunity.

I feel brighter today, deciding to revert to good old British cooking making the most of the limited local resources. I improvise Cornish pasties with ready-made pastry cases and frozen veg. I’m not homesick exactly; there are not enough wild horses in England capable of dragging me back to the Somerset Levels, but I miss something of the familiarity of the land of my birth. So, I set about making familiar comforts: jelly with fresh Californian strawberries suspended in glorious, artificial ruby red nectar. I shall produce them from the fridge at teatime, as if by magic, and transport the two of us back to childhood Somerset. This will break all the food rules of the house, of course, this orgy of disodium phosphate and Red 40, and as I whisk it up I am almost drunk with the powdery candyfloss aroma of crystallised gelatin. I breath it in, and decide this is what Paradise smells like. It smells of red, and jelly and ice-cream, and candyfloss.



Links in the Circle

This article first appeared in 2005 in ‘Among Friends’, the newsletter of Long Sutton Meeting; and was subsequently published in Speak Up Somerset issue 29, September 2005, as ‘Links in the Circle’.

A Quaker’s experience of depressive illness.

Speaking at Meeting is a very brave thing to do; especially for a shy person like myself. So I have stayed safely and securely seated and not dared to speak, even though at times I have replayed in my mind those things my heart has wanted to speak out loud.

I had known about the Society of Friends for a long time, but not necessarily by that name. Nine years ago I sought out the Quakers and Long Sutton Meeting. Since then, life for myself and my family has seen many changes. All but one of our parents and elder relatives has passed on. Steve and I have watched our two eldest sons grow into talented yet challenging young men who will, eventually, eat us out of house and home; and son number three was born and blesses us all with his happy spirit, boundless energy and ability to wake me up at six o’clock every morning. I have been reunited with my biological father, and as a consequence found a lovely sister and brother I had never met. An extended family. I have made a study of my family history and am finding my genealogical roots. My life is full of clutter, noise, crowded rooms and boys’ socks. At the root of all this I struggle to find the stillness and silence; to hold on to my basic beliefs and to live my life accordingly. Hopefully being a good example to my children and treating others with the respect and acceptance I would wish to be treated with myself.

Mental illness. Nervous breakdown. Depression. Whatever name you give it, it’s a tricky thing to deal with. There are no bandages, no bumps or bruises that you can show people and say ‘look, this is what’s happened to me.’ I have found that people tend to react in one of two ways. Some will treat it as an embarrassment; a thing to be ashamed of and not to be spoken about, other than to imply that I should ‘pull myself together’ or ‘snap out of it’. It can be the people you expect to understand who sometimes put up the biggest barriers. Conversely, some people I would expect not to understand have been amazingly kind and supportive. These are usually the ones who have been through a similar experience.

In both my professional life and my home life I have encountered both reactions. I still decide carefully before telling anyone that I take medication, visit the Mental Health Service or see the psychiatrist.

I am deeply grateful that Meeting is one of my few ‘safe’ places. Having said that, I also find it a frightening place; a challenging place. Escape to Meeting is a luxury which has been difficult to afford; not purely from a family point of view, but also because it takes emotional strength. For most of the past nine years this is the thing I have lacked the most. At Meeting my heart, my soul, my spirit, whatever you want to call it, is very near the surface. It is fragile and exposed, and easily damaged or frightened away, deep down inside again.

In this morning’s Meeting a Friend talked about circles of love, understanding, support, accountability and forgiveness. In my own life this has been reflected in my childhood experiences, my ability, or inability, to forgive and the understanding and support of my amazing husband Steve. This links to another circle which is made of our behaviour towards each other and towards our children, who in turn make their own circles. For most of the time I am living surrounded by a dark fog. Sometimes the fog clears and I am able to see where I am and where I am going. The rest of the time I am smothered inside its murky greyness. I take high doses of anti-depressants. I have a lot of migraines. I have little self-confidence; no self-esteem. I weep easily, and often. I am insecure. I am a damaged child. I worry about the links I am forging in the circles. Today my mood has careered from euphoric to intolerant to tearful and back again. It is day four of cutting down on my current medication before introducing another one in the hope that it will be more effective in turning me back from a destructive spirit in to a human being. This process is frightening for me, and it is frightening for Steve. Neither of us knows how I will feel from one day to the next. I might function normally, or I might fall to pieces again. I do not know what effect this will have on my sons. They do not like to talk about it. One of them has little self-confidence; little self-esteem. He weeps easily, and often. He is insecure. He is only a child. He is just like me. Another link in the circle.