Along The Way …
Over the past few years I have written a feature column – entitled ‘Along The Way’ – in Australian Country Craft and Decorating. As the magazine has now taken a new direction – and even adopted a new name – I have made the decision to no longer contribute to the publication, instead featuring my column – ‘Along The Way’ – exclusively as part of my on-line magazine here. As I am moved to write from month to month, new columns will be posted to the home page of the website, and previously-published columns will be archived in this section. To start off, below is just a couple of my most recent writings for ACC plus the latest previously-published ‘Along The Way’ columns written for the website.
Solace Of The Season
It has been a real battle to pen a few words of Christmas cheer this year … or more precisely, it has been the ultimate struggle to find the time to do so! Over the past few weeks the words have formed in my head many times, but the opportunity to translate them to writing here has continued to evade me.
Just when I thought I had the whole festive season planned out and had allowed sufficient time to not only ‘fit’ everything in, but to also permit myself the indulgence of a few brief ‘respites’ along the way, the whole thing blew up in my face! After Christmas 2010 through which I struggled with pneumonia, I was determined to never again endure the scenarios of the previous festive season which saw me covering the shifts of ‘staff’ … thus rendering myself ill and exhausted.
But here we are again, twelve months later, and despite the best laid plans, history repeats itself. Certain staff have fallen short of expectations and I have found myself working endless days on end, thus attaining a state of unprecedented fatigue.
However, in the midst of it all, I have had confirmed to me yet again the love and loyalty of a select band of people within my life who continue to show and reflect unconditional love and understanding, principal amongst them being my ‘Jewish grandmother’ (pictured with me here) who is my constant touchstone and source of support, inspiration and endless wisdom. It is indeed in times of hardship that there is always good to be found, and for this I am eternally grateful. And such things also have a way of presenting the opportunity for reassessment and change. I’m not sure what direction and form this will take, but change is certainly looming large on the horizon for the coming year … change for the better! That’s certainly a New Year’s resolution to embrace with enthusiasm, confidence and determination!
And so, as we mark the end of one year, and the beginning of yet another, I take this opportunity to extend to all my wonderful supporters, customers, friends and members of the RRC family the greatest blessings of the season. May this season of endings and beginnings be for each of you a time of recounting and reassessing, of taking stock and letting go, of making memories and being grateful, of forgiveness and gratitude, of sharing the grace and love that was embodied in that very first Christmas over 2000 years ago … and may the coming days, weeks and year ahead be a time of peace, safety, prosperity and boundless unconditional love.
A Getting Of Wisdom
By three methods we may learn wisdom:
first, by reflection, which is noblest;
second, by imitation, which is easiest;
and third, by experience, which is the most bitter.
(Confucius 551 – 479BC)
A number of customers have recently asked me why the mantelpiece within the Counter Room of the RRC Lawson gallery has had a display of owls. I’ve never really been one to follow trends and homeware fashions as such, and have certainly not gone out of my way to specifically purchase a whole range of owl collectables. It has really been a gradual process of acquisition … a handsome life-size money box came from one English supplier. A scholarly-inspired set of owl-adorned bookends came from another. A few owl figurines were sourced from an international manufacturer and a selection of owl-decorated ceramic mugs were found within the collection of a favourite china supplier. The collection has thus come together more as an act of serendipity than one of intent.
But what does the symbol of the owl really mean? It would appear from research that the owl has always been associated with the things of the night and the spirit world to some extent. In ancient Celtic mythology, as well as that of the Egyptians and various Indian cultures, the owl symbolised guardianship of the underworlds. It was honoured as a certain type of ‘keeper of the spirits’ and the embodiment of wisdom far beyond that of normal human perception and understanding. The owl was traditionally used by the Celtic shaman to represent ‘the eyes and ears of intuition and perception’. The Celts even believed that if an owl’s feather was placed on the body of a sick person, the cause of the illness would be identified and subsequently destroyed.
Various early Native American cultures also connected the owl with great wisdom, foresight and ‘the keeper of sacred knowledge’ while some have always held great taboos when it comes to the bird, the Apaches in particular regarding it as the most feared of all creatures as they believed owls embodied the spirits of Apache dead. West African and Australian Aboriginal tribes, by extension, regard the owl as a very special and sacred animal as it represents ‘a messenger of secrets’ and things beyond the human and ‘natural’.
It is significant to note that the eyes of an owl are fixed – the bird cannot move them up or down, or to the left and right. They can only look straight ahead. However, in a wonderful act of creation, owls have fourteen vertebrae in their neck, meaning they can turn their head an amazing full 270 degrees. This has given them the reputation for thus being ‘all seeing’ … taking in what is happening all around them! As one commentator states “truly owls are an incredible display of God’s creative nature.”
A dear friend recently relayed to me a story of last Christmas and how she wanted an owl to sit on the top of her Christmas tree! “Why, on earth?” I questioned. “Have you not heard of angel tree toppers, stars and other more traditional forms of adornment?” I reasoned. And then she explained to me the owl’s significance – from a faith perspective – and it all made sense to me. For this time in man’s evolution, her explanation also helped me understand the phenomenal rise of so many ‘owl-adorned’ homewares, figurines, jewellery, stationery and other such items.
“The world is changing” she explained. “It’s happening at a rate of knots. There is a decline in so many aspects of the human condition. You only have to look around you to see how there has been such a shift in the way in which people treat one other. In so many respects there has been the undermining of the most simple and essential aspects of mankind. There is a rapid decline in the very moral fibre that makes up societies. The good, the charitable, the decent, the kind and the considerate are all being chipped away as, in their place, there is a dangerous escalation in the ‘age of me’.
“Political corruption is rife. People of faith are losing faith. Wars and famine are on the rise. The earth itself is groaning for change as the seas rage and the land erupts. Things simply cannot go on the way they are. Within the spiritual world there are so many modern-day prophets and preachers who have revealed words of warning for the direction forward. Wisdom tells that the exact happenings for the times ahead have not been yet revealed. But what we do know is that a change is coming for things just can’t go on the way they are. If something doesn’t happen we will sink into complete disarray.
“What is needed is a reassessment of priorities and behaviours. To turn the ‘age of me’ on its head, the solutions for the future ahead rest in each of us stopping and taking account of how we are living in the here and now and setting strong foundations for the future. We must take stock, and make any necessary changes so that we each can embrace again the good, the edifying, the positive qualities of the human condition which link us to one other and bring us into a place of peace with our fellow man and with our creator.”
And so the wise old owl sits watching, waiting for a world that is pregnant with possibilities – and yet paradoxically is in a state of decline – to change.
I was talking to another dear friend recently about such matters and reflecting on the way in which the world has so dramatically changed – in both a local and global context – in the short decade or so that we have known each other. While she recounted to me issues of decline within the schooling system (her sons had endured a most terrible and alarming time within a somewhat brutal and corrupt educational institution) and the impact of various other acts of ‘social undermining’ within her world, I sadly acknowledged that I too had noted a downward trend in the way in which various people treat both their fellow man and the property of others. It is heartbreaking to acknowledge such things, especially when one takes into account the truth that one will always reap what one sows … the disregard and disrespect one demonstrates to another and their property will surely be reflected in hardship and discomfort experienced in some other aspect of their lives. It is just the way of the universe and leads to a continuing cycle of sadness.
But it is a pattern that can be broken, the power is within the hands of each of us. And it can be done in such small and effortless ways. A simple smile and cheery greeting when meeting strangers; standing to the side of the pathway to let others pass; opening the door for someone; picking up litter in the street; respectfully putting back merchandise in a store just as one finds it; sitting in the left lane to let other driver’s pass … there’s thousands and thousands of such simple, yet significant things we can do to demonstrate our care and concern for others. And once these acts of kindness and care become a part of our persona they grow and flourish to determine the way in which we approach the bigger things of life. And they bring joy … to the individual and to all around as they become an essential part what we can call the ‘God-stream of life’ within each of us.
To act in such ways takes huge determination as one works against the forces of opposition which are so prevalent in this day and age. But it can be done as we each decide to set off and do even just one of the ‘positives’ that will edify ourselves and others. Wisdom dictates that we each need to perform such acts, and as the Good Book directs “wisdom is the principal thing. Therefore get wisdom and with all your getting, get understanding.” (Proverbs 4: 7) In such a way we can each start to make sense of a world in change. We can understand the way ahead and embrace the promise of the future with anticipation rather than despair. But the whole process starts with each of us, and such simple yet significant acts that will ultimately change us and the world in which we live. As Mahatma Gandhi said “we must become the change we want to see” … the future is indeed in our hands.
A Sense Of Acceptance
Acceptance of one’s life has nothing to do with resignation;
it does not mean running away from the struggle.
On the contrary, it means accepting it as it comes
with all the handicaps of heredity, of suffering,
of psychological complexes and injustices.
(Paul Tournier 1898 – 1986)
There have been no decorations and no twinkling trees, no carols playing, no greeting cards in the mail; no gift-giving lists to organise and good cheer to extend to one and all at merry gatherings. In fact, there has been no festive fare at all to declare that it’s time for celebration and the marking of the birth of the Christ child. And yet, in my little corner of the world it has finally come time to mark the coming of Christmas in the company of a core of my family members … in March!
To explain, the end of 2010 was filled with so many contingencies, variables and unexpected happenings that, to say things didn’t quite go as planned, is an understatement of gargantuan proportion! The family Christmas I had planned, plus a number of other special celebratory happenings, were all put on the backburner as a consequence of a string of unforeseen events which ultimately meant that I could not leave my post at the helm of my business … no matter how much I longed to be in another place with loved ones dear to me, observing traditional Christmas celebrations.
When my young associate and ‘surrogate son’ Tomas started his health decline around September last year as his epileptic condition escalated, no one close to him could have envisaged the ultimate turn of events which render him incapable of continuing to work. The poor young man’s condition continued to deteriorate to a point where he could no longer work within my business, and yet could not be left alone at the same time. My ‘right hand man’ – who has been so integral to the success of my Lawson heritage country gallery and has earned a special place in the hearts of so many customers from all over the nation – was down and out for the count. And so – within the midst of our busiest trading time of the year – I had no choice but to step in and cover his shifts. Thus all other plans were cancelled.
This taxing season on my life – although physically, mentally and emotionally difficult to endure – also brought with it a number of significant revelations which, in hindsight, have proved to counterbalance and even outweigh this very trying season. One was the faithfulness, loyalty and integrity of others around me – especially one dear soul who has entered the Rick Rutherford’s Country world as a direct consequence of Tomas’s demise – and another revelation centred around my renewed understanding of what it is to endure, and to be flexible at the same time … changing my perceptions of what is truly important and significant in life, and letting the rest wash by!
To explain … with young Tomas out of action and our busiest season upon us (the 2010 Christmas Collections in both the Lawson and Leura galleries were our biggest and best yet – to only be rivalled by what is planned for Yulefest and Christmas 2011!), I needed help and I needed it fast! On the same day as Tom’s last major epileptic seizure whilst in store, another member of staff announced her retirement, thus rendering us two people down. Indeed I needed help and fast! And so, in desperation I made a call to a dear customer who had once asked if I would be interested in giving her a few hours or days employment. I had kept her details and so made a call. “What are you doing tomorrow” I asked. “Working for you” she responded. “Whatever you need at this time, consider me here to help”.
The next day I had a new staff member who, in the time since, has proven to have an integrity and dedication way beyond anything I could have ever expected. This was conclusively demonstrated when, unbeknown to me, she cancelled a family Christmas gathering (which I Iater discovered had been three months in the planning) so that she could work a busy weekend in early December. The Sunday’s trade proved to be our biggest on record, and was a complete ‘initiation with fire’ for dear Carol. The experience also demonstrated the amazing lady’s commitment, maturity and sense of pride in what she does and how she performs. Despite the fact that we have subsequently discovered that she is certifiably ‘mad’, can effortlessly talk under quick drying cement and fills a room with her personality and presence, the world of Rick Rutherford’s Country – and I personally – have been truly blessed with the addition of Carol to the family!
And so, as Christmas came and went, followed by very busy January holiday trade, buying escapades in February (not to mention tireless days and nights working with American suppliers as our ship will soon leave the USA laden with the amazing array of unique homewares, gift ideas and a huge haul of unique Christmas treasures for mid-year Christmas-in-July celebrations) and the complete rearrangement, cleaning and restocking of both the RRC parent gallery in Lawson and satellite store in Leura, time finally allowed me to escape to Queensland for a long weekend and to celebrate a very belated Christmas with my darling mother and sisters Lisa and Angela (pictured here with me).
As disappointment over missing Christmas proper has now subsided and has been replaced with the delight of catching up with a part of my family at a less hurried and stressful time, I understand that this is just the way that things were meant to be. The scenario has also allowed me the very rare opportunity to gather with some very cherished friends (one I had not seen for over 14 years, as well as the nephew of my dearly beloved late Aunty Ness, and his gorgeous wife) and has permitted me the opportunity to once again become ‘grounded’ and take stock of all that is dear to me, and the blessings I have in abundance … both at home and beyond.
I count amongst such things the wonderful other members of staff who continue to ‘step up’ and make what I do possible. Also included are the beautiful friends and dearest associates who are always there when I need support; who offer tangible help (whether it be a hand or an ear) when it is needed; and who literally combine within my life to make my day-to-day livelihood possible. To these blessed and dearest souls I am eternally grateful.
The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.
(Nathaniel Branden 1930 – )
And so, taking all these happenings into context, I once come away with not only a deeper sense of gratitude but also one of acceptance … that things do ultimately unfold just as they should, no matter how we may initially rage against them or plan for a different outcome. A higher power is indeed in control, and this is exactly as it should be. It’s the lesson for us all – including yours truly – to ultimately accept, submit and to be grateful that things really are the way they’re meant to be.
Until next time …
A Time To Focus
We can always choose to perceive things differently.
You can focus on what’s wrong in your life,
or you can focus on what’s right.
(Marianne Williamson 1952 – )
I have come up with a particular physical gesture which is very hard to describe in written form, but involves the use of both hands and, in some ways, replicates the movement made by a traffic controller guiding in an aircraft onto the runway at the end of a long air journey. My staff have, over the past year or so, come to know what it means. I don’t have to say a word to them but, with this series of simple hand movements, they know what I am telling them to do … to stop, centre and ‘get focused’!
This is indeed a time of life, and particularly within the context of the trading year, to ‘get focused’. Economic conditions globally, the weather, customer’s personal circumstances and – in my case specifically – roadworks which have gone on for more than a year and a half and continue to disturb easy access to our main gallery – it is a time of doing all one can to keep the wheels turning and the ‘train on the tracks’, chugging ever forward!
Goals provide the energy source that powers our lives.
One of the best ways we can get the most
from the energy we have is to focus it.
That is what goals can do for us;
concentrate our energy.
In this process I am blessed by the fact that I have a wonderful staff who facilitate not only the smooth day-to-day running of my two retail outlets but also the development of the online magazine and web store here which, in coming weeks, will continue to evolve and grow … to become a third ‘business’ in its own right. This is being done in collaboration with my web professionals who are committed to work hand-in-hand with us to see the online store become more efficient and streamlined; to see the House Tours more accessible and regularly updated; and overall to see the www.rickrutherford website embrace its full potential to become a true reflection of the national magazine presence which I once had in printed form … translated to the world of retail and now, translated to the world of cyberspace!
When I think back over time and register where I was ten or so years ago, I can’t help but be overwhelmed by the fact that life has changed so much, and that I – with the support and love of so many around me – am now in such a different place. If you had told me a decade ago that I would have two retail outlets in the beautiful NSW Blue Mountains, an online magazine and be about to embark on a number of other new projects – including the launch of tea rooms – I would have called you crazy! And yet, here we are, actively ‘doing’ and planning all these things. It is when I register the reality of such things that I am again caused to be not only amazed but so overwhelmingly grateful.
Focus on the journey, not the destination.
Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.
(Greg Anderson 1964 – )
For regular ‘readers’ of the online magazine here, you will note that a new House Tour has just been added, and another is planned to be photographed and loaded to the site within the next month. The House Tours page has also been updated with links from one group of reviews to the next.
The same is about to soon happen with our Online webshop pages. The response of followers over recent weeks has been so strong that we have aimed to add a range of new products on an ongoing basis. This has meant that the line-up of wares for sale has grown at such a rate that the section has become so chock-a-block with items that it is almost unwieldy. And so we have commissioned the services of our website professionals to create a whole new system of navigation that will hopefully be in place within the next fortnight or so … so stay tuned.
In store there are also big plans afoot. The next ‘big thing’ we are planning is our annual Yulefest celebrations that will coincide with the NSW July school holidays. The launch will mean that the Lawson gallery will be closed to the public for an entire day as five sittings of 40 to 50 invited guests are feasted to a plethora of winter Christmas decorating delights, as well as a range of culinary delicacies, Dickensian carollers and the opportunity to purchase from the exclusive selection of items – many of which have been specially brought in from overseas – at discounted prices. The only major problem we presently have with planning for the launch is the fact that we are majorly overbooked! There are so many people who want to be included on the day – including a large number of interstate guests and others from far flung reaches – that we are having trouble fitting everyone into the five sittings. But we will do so, I am determined!
This is why invitations to the 2010 RRC Yulefest have not appeared on the website as originally planned … because we are already booked out! However, the good news is that we are extending the event to run for not two but three weeks this year, meaning that all who want to come along and witness the Lawson gallery dressed in winter Christmas finery will be able to do so from July 4th onward for three whole weeks. There will be several special ‘white Christmas’ exhibits, a towering nine foot tree in the middle of the English room, a complete ‘snowman Christmas’ in the American room, a wide selection of specimen trees each displaying their own unique array of Christmas ornaments, and so much more. The Leura store will also be following suit, with Yulefest finery planned for the entire shop for the same period. To find out more, contact either store direct.
It is during our darkest moments
that we must focus to see the light.
(Aristotle Onassis 1906 – 1975)
Outside all of this ‘retail activity’, life continues to present a range of other opportunities and challenges for me to truly ‘get focused’. In so doing, I can’t help but take stock of all the blessings that have come my way – to be found even in the hard times and difficult things which, I have finally realised, present the opportunity to learn and grow and to ultimately become a blessing in turn. It is indeed a time in life to be focused … on all that is, and all that is yet to be. May you each continue to share the journey with me as today, and tomorrow, reveals all that such focus will bring.
Until next time …
Take The Pressure Down
(or The Importance of Dancing In The Rain)
A very wise old owl – well, actually the husband of my Jewish grandmother … who is not my grandfather and not even Jewish (but that’s another story!) – recently made a comment which, while I am sure he had no idea of the profundity of his words, resonated deep within me and has continued to cause me to reflect. It was such a simple statement, and of few words. But like one of those great revelations, continues to come back to mind time and again.
“At the end of your life, as you look back, you must embrace one important reality” he said. “There have been no mistakes … only incidents, decisions, and lessons which have led you on different paths. The story of your life is the summation of those ventures.”
For someone of my generation and background, this is somewhat of a different ‘pill to swallow’. Inadvertently taught to feel a sense of remorse and guilt over so many aspects of life (especially as a consequence of a dominant father and a strict religion-based education) and growing up at a time where the expectations of society further exacerbated such things, it is not easy to embrace the sense of freedom such a statement of ‘no mistakes’ heralds. And yet, when I really think about it, there is such great truth – and certainly liberty – at the very core of this important revelation. It’s one that, as the song by John Farnham suggests, somehow seems to ‘take the pressure down’, defusing a lifetime of anxieties.
It’s an alternative ‘mantra for life’ and one that goes hand in hand with two other thought-provoking communications I recently received from beloved friends. It has all caused me to wonder if someone ‘out there’ is trying to get an important message through!
The first of the two messages I received focused on the issue of ‘keepers’ … keeping one’s eyes fixed on the things that really matter; holding on and not tossing away. It’s a simple tale that causes great reflection. The main part of my first friend’s message is as follows:
“I grew up with practical parents who had been frightened by the Great Depression in the 1930s. I had a mother, God love her, who washed aluminium foil after she cooked in it, then reused it. She was the original recycle queen, before they had a name for it. I had a father who was happier getting old shoes fixed than buying new ones. My parents had a marriage that endured. Their family and friends lived barely a wave away. I can see them now, Dad in trousers and a tee-shirt; Mum in a house dress with a dish towel over her shoulder. It was the time for fixing things: a curtain rod, the kitchen radio, a screen door, the oven door, the hem of a dress. Things we keep.
“It was a way of life, and sometimes it made me crazy. All that repairing, eating, reusing. I wanted, just once, to be wasteful. Waste meant affluence. Throwing things away meant you knew there would always be more!
“But then my mother died, and on that clear summer’s night, in the warmth of the hospital room, I was struck with the pain of learning that sometimes there isn’t any more. Sometimes, what we care about most gets all used up and goes away … never to return. So, while we have it, it’s best we love it. And care for it. And fix it when it’s broken. And heal it when it’s sick.
“This is true … for marriage, old cars, children with bad report cards, dogs and cats with bad hips, aging parents, and grandparents. We keep them because they are worth it, because we are worth it. Some things we keep … like a best friend who moved away or a classmate we grew up with. There are just some things that make life important, like people we know who are special. And so, we keep them close!”
The message ended with a quote which helped put it all into perspective … “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass … It’s about learning how to dance in the rain.”
While pondering the meaning of the message and the importance of not ‘sweating the small stuff’ (as my friend Christine Book would say), another dear soul – and very significant angel in my life – sent me a follow-up email. It was entitled a ‘Handbook for 2010’. Divided into the topics of health, personality, society and life, this simple yet profound ‘guidebook’ offered straightforward, thought-provoking advice designed, once again, to refocus the mind and put emphasis on the logical in order to help make life so much easier and more enjoyable. Again, I’d been given another checklist on ‘dancing in the rain’!
On the subject of health, the ‘guidebook for living in 2010’ stated that one should always drink plenty of water; eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. It urged one to eat more foods that grow on trees and plants and eat less food that is manufactured in plants. Make time to pray, play games, read more books, sleep seven hours each night, walk half an hour each day – smiling – and sit in silence for at least ten minutes daily.
Regarding personality, it told that one should decide to no longer compare one’s life with another’s for we each have no idea what another’s journey is really all about. Invest energy in the positive, present moment and not in negative thoughts and things you cannot control. Keep your limits and don’t take yourself too seriously because no one else does! Forget wasting energy on gossip but instead dream more while you’re awake! Remember that envy is a waste of time too because you already have all you need. Forget the issues of the past, especially when it comes to your partner and reminding them of their mistakes. Let such things – especially hatred – go! Make peace with the past so it won’t spoil the present, realising that no one is in charge of your happiness but yourself! Realise that life is a school and you are here to learn. Problems are simply part of the curriculum that appear and fade away, just like algebra class, but the lessons you learn will last a lifetime. Smile and laugh more, and know that sometimes it is fine to agree to disagree.
By the time I had got to the third part of the ‘handbook’ which focuses on society, I was marvelling at how such simple, common sense advice appeared to be so profoundly insightful … and so easy to embrace, despite the fact that I, like so many others around me, often find it instinctive to do the exact opposite!
And so, with regards society the advice is this: Call your family often and commit to give something good to others each day. Spend more time with people over 70 and under 6 years of age. A daily challenge is to make at least three people smile. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick … your friends will, so make the effort to stay in touch. Remember that what other people think of you is none of your business and something over which you have no control … so don’t worry. And the really big one: forgive everyone for everything!
Handbook tips for addressing other key issues of life read as follows: Do the right thing, always knowing that God heals everything. Realise that, however good or bad a situation may be, it will change. When you wake up alive each day, rejoice and thank God for it. Acknowledge that the best is yet to come and live life in this knowledge. Realise that your innermost person is always happy, so be happy! In accord with the motto of the Arts and Crafts Movement of old, get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful. And no matter how you’re feeling … get up, dress up, show up!
Oh, how simple it can all be when we do indeed focus on the positive and eliminate the negative. But how difficult doing so can also be for many of us who have been so conditioned by parents and peers, church, school and society at large. However, I do believe that it is these same profound influences which bring into our lives all the good and positive things that make each day worth living. It really is up to each of us to sift through it all … to change our perceptions, to eliminate the negative, focus on the positive, learn to not sweat the small stuff and accept that, whatever happens and whatever we do, there are really no mistakes. It’s all just part of the journey. It’s a challenge that, for me, is taking much drive and focus, but ultimately there is nothing to lose and every freedom, liberty and happiness to gain.
May you each embrace such joys … and, like me, firmly resolve to venture out once in a while to enjoy all that life has to offer, and to dance in the rain!
Until next time
‘While I Live I Grow’
Unless you try to do something
beyond what you have already mastered
you will never grow.
(Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882)
What an enormous undertaking. Owning two country stores and a home ‘in the hills’, the festive season each year seems to draw more and more on resources, time and energy … especially in terms of the physical side of its ‘production’ – the setting up of trees, decorating and displaying stock, the conduct of many special events on behalf of various special interest groups and customers, and countless other day-to-day activities that are undertaken during this special, magical time of the year.
But with each recent year, as December 25th has loomed closer, I have seemed to stumble to the ‘finishing line’ with a little less energy than the one before. And unfortunately, with exhaustion comes susceptibility to the thousand and one ‘lurgies’ that love to breed in the warm, humid conditions of summer and then inflict we simple humans with all sorts of aches and pains, coughs and sneezes. Unfortunately, though try as I did – with double doses of vitamins and herbal concoctions of all sorts – this past festive season I again was unable to beat the dreaded flu, and ended up at the doctors for a little consolation and that all important antibiotic script.
Whilst there, I asked my doctor to humour me and check my records from around the same time the previous year. Doing so, she burst into laughter. “Yes, you were here on exactly the same date last year (two days before Christmas), you had exactly the same symptoms and here’s a script for exactly the same drugs to get well again. You can work out from all this that, though I know you love the Christmas season, it annually exhausts you … so go home and rest, get well and have a Merry Christmas!”
“That’s all very well for you to say” I thought as I bid my dearest doctor the very best of the season and made my departure. How could I be expected to rest when one of my country two businesses is located slap dab in the middle of the Blue Mountain’s busiest tourist villages, with no one available across the holiday period to man the post except for yours truly and my marvellous ‘Jewish grandmother’? A very good rest indeed!
Now on the other side of all the festive mayhem and the new year 2010 well and truly unfolding, the things of December seem a bit of a distant memory … except for the dreaded lurgy. While antibiotics did seem to ‘almost’ do their thing across the Christmas and New Year period, I didn’t bargain on my young assistant Tomas bringing an exotic form of the flu virus back with him from family holidays in Darwin and sharing it so lavishly and generously with ‘mine self’! Incubating inside me for a week, it soon hit with a force that only massive doses of penicillin could combat.
And within the midst of it all, Christmas had to ‘come down’. Thus, I guess, due to my health condition at the time and resultant weary state of mind, the whole process turned into a production of the greatest magnitude, all the more exacerbated by the fact that I had decided from the very start that there was not only to be a ‘de-Christmasation’ of two stores and ultimately my own home, but a complete cleaning, reorganisation, remerchandising and, in turn, the clearing of space for hundreds of new items of stock to really give both RRC stores a new lease of life for a new year.
The staff groaned, but I was relentless. The flu bit back, I bucked and tried not to buckle under its hold. And so we packed away and we dusted, we rearranged and unpacked new things, we displayed and refurnished … we created a whole new feel and freshness in both the Leura store and Lawson gallery and then the orders started going out for even more new and interesting treasures to be sent so we could really restock the shelves anew. Since the start of the year overseas suppliers have been enlisted to scour their warehouses for brand new pictorial quilts, braided rugs, primitive stitcheries, and many other unique riches … even Christmas wares in time for annual Yulefest celebrations coming up in July.
Once all this organising was in hand I then focused on the task of removing the festive finery bedecking the rooms of ‘Wroxton’ – my home here in the Blue Mountains. The fact that over 30 Christmas trees had already been stripped from my two stores before I focused my energies on the home front, compounded by the ‘inconvenience’ of a bronchial infection bordering on pneumonia, added up to making the job seem almost Herculean, and for two weeks it seemed easier to pretend that the eight foot towering evergreen in the dining room, covered in hundreds and hundreds of glass baubles – some dating back to the 1920s – wasn’t really there at all. Surely it was a figment of my imagination!
But now that the packing away of all the precious Christmas treasures at home has finally been accomplished, and the ‘everyday’ has been returned to its rightful place (with a little alteration of some things, the removal of one or two elements and their replacement with a few new and special pieces acquired in recent times and gifted by loved ones during the season), I confess to feeling a sense of order and direction once again settle within me, and a regaining of health and vitality. There are so many challenges ahead for 2010, and many things to accomplish. And all will come to pass only with the ongoing support and encouragement of those near and dear … from staff and family to special friends and even a number of new acquaintances whose involvement in my life I presently view with interest, anticipation and a touch of ‘curious intrigue’.
This, surely, is what a new year – and a new beginning – is all about too … building on the foundations one has already established, acknowledging and affirming the importance of such things, and at the same time welcoming in the fresh and unknown so that growth can continue to occur. My beloved late grandfather was one of the key staff members of what was once Australia’s greatest department store – Anthony Horderns. The motto of the business was ‘While I live I grow’. This is exactly what I believe 2010 holds for each of us who are prepared to face the challenges of the times ahead … unparalleled growth and lots of living!
We must accept life for what it actually is –
a challenge to our quality
without which we should never know
of what stuff we are made,
or grow to our full stature.
(Robert Louis Stevenson 1850 – 1894)
Already the new year has presented a range of unexpected incidents for many of us, and added a ‘red herring’ or two into the mix. But the real test is to keep one’s eyes on one’s goals, and not to lose sight or courage along the way. Life will always throw each of us a curved ball, but when faith and conviction are one’s guide, we will always walk the right path – albeit perhaps even a different path than the one we first anticipate. But it will always be in the right direction all because we have kept focus and endured. So I encourage each of you to stay strong, focused and healthy for the year ahead as we individually and collectively head towards our goals … and at the end of the year, another 30 Christmas trees awaiting from someone (like me!) to adorn and decorate!
As The Season Comes Around Again
The earth has grown old with its burden of care
But at Christmas it always is young
The heart of the jewel burns lustrous and fair
And its soul full of music breaks the air
When the song of angels is sung.
(Phillips Brooks 1835 – 1893)
Here we are … again! Finally! What a year it has been in the lives of so many around me. And certainly within my own world, 2009 has been one of change, evolution, revelation, growth, understanding and many unexpected developments. If it is true that the meaning of life is not the destination but the journey, this past twelve months has certainly been akin to travelling in an open-topped car along ever-changing terrain. Sometimes there has been a special passenger travelling in the front seat with me, and often the backseat has been crammed with fellow voyagers. And other times the passage has been journeyed alone, in the dark of night, with just one bright light shining ahead as it drew me ever forward.
I know that it has been the same for many others near and dear to me as the past year has revealed many unexpected developments – some good, some great and others less so. And yet we have each survived, the fact that we have endured being something to acknowledge, to draw much strength and comfort from, and to celebrate. We can each be encouraged to know that there is indeed a greater plan for our lives. Hindsight makes known such truth. And with the getting of wisdom – revealed to each of us in the quiet times of bright day and dark night – we continue to learn that whatever we do and wherever we go, there are always kindred souls around to help in the process of guiding, supporting, encouraging and unconditionally showing what it is to express and share love, care and concern.
I firmly believe that this is what the Christmas season is all about … taking the time to reflect and look back over the journey just completed. It’s a time to observe the lessons learnt, to ruminate upon the things that have helped to shape and mould us along the way, and to embrace those positive things that have occurred, surrendering with acceptance and even gratitude those things – and even people – who have impacted upon us in less-than positive-ways for they too have been part of the passage of our lives. If we make the decision to embrace the good, the edifying and the affirming for the year ahead, and to forgive and release the opposite, we each give to ourselves the opportunity to continue on the journey ahead in a ‘right’ direction rather than being ‘pulled back’ or needing to ‘go around the mountain’ once more as we prepare for the bright, fresh year that is about to unfold as this, the most holy season of all, comes and goes.
In support of such things, a very dear soul (a long-time supporter of my work and, most recently, a wonderful customer of Rick Rutherford’s Country) sent me the following passage which, I hope, will touch the hearts of those reading this to the same degree as these words have touched mine. In her Christmas message to me, my dear friend Barbara penned the following:
I wish for you this season
The Christmas spirit of time so told,
I pray for you, for yours and mine,
For the young and the world-weary old.
Make a wish on your favourite star
And may your secret wish come true.
Fill your soul with courage and hope
And the strength of those close to you.
I wish for you this Christmas
A happiness that has no end.
May peace and contentment live in your heart …
Have a safe, wonderful Christmas
My very dear friend!
In complete accord, it is my prayer for each of you, this special Christmas time, that hope and courage resonate deep within you, in harmony with the true meaning of the season. In so doing, may a sense of great expectation be birthed within you for the times ahead. And as you look back to realise where you have just travelled, may there be the deepest revelation that the journey is unfolding just as it should and you are exactly where you are meant to be … maybe not quite as you might have initially expected, and maybe even have wanted. But it is where you are, and where you need to be … and all is well in the world, just as the boundless love and faith of that very first Christmas embodied for the generations that have come and gone ever since.
Christmas! The very word brings joy to our hearts.
No matter how we may dread the rush,
the long Christmas lists for gifts
and cards to be bought and given …
when Christmas Day comes there is still
the same warm feeling we had as children,
the same warmth that enfolds our hearts and our homes.
(Joan Winmill Brown)
The future is pregnant with possibilities – if only we turn our eyes to see them. The present is but the sum total of all we have been through and all the directions and opportunities that are there to be embraced in the days ahead. For each and every one of my dear friends and supporters, I hope that this Christmas time brings to light the truth of such things as we each stop and, in our own unique and individual ways, pay homage to the light that came into the world that very first Christmas all those centuries ago … the light that continues to illuminate the direction for the journey ahead.
With much love and blessings for a wonderful season and coming year.
Time To Take Heart
Take heart. Someday is not that far away
There is that place where hope will abide.
It has always been the same way. I really didn’t think that I would write a new ‘Along The Way’ column for another week or two, especially given all the work that is involved with the further development of the on-line shop and other website updates … not to mention the preparations that are currently underway for the launch of the 2009 Christmas Collections in my Lawson and Leura stores. And yet, by way of what I have always understood to be ‘divine instruction’ I am here at my desk, writing!
Over the years that I have headed up the various country titles with which I have been involved, and most recently here within my ‘safe space’ of on-line magazine, I have repeatedly had a most amazing experience which I have come to call the ‘write it now anointing’ where words – literally from heaven – are dropped into my heart. They are words which immediately need to be put down in some form. I race to the computer or reach for a pad and pen and let them flow. These are gifts to my life – and by association, I have learnt, to the lives of others – as they have helped me make sense of a situation at hand, have aided me in extending advice or comfort to another, or have brought divine clarity and reprieve to my puzzled, sometimes aching head and heart. Such was the experience that has led me to write this latest column.
So many times in our lives we can hear the words of a song, the advice of a friend, the wisdom of a sage elder. We can hear them over and over again … and then, all of a sudden, we can really ‘hear’ the message of those words as if it’s the very first time. This is what I have come to know, understand and trust as being a ‘divine imparting’ … words heard when I am ready to finally hear them, delivered when I am ready to understand, accepted when I have a heart that is open and in need to receive them the most.
Such a ‘happening’ occurred recently as I travelled on my way home after catching up with my beautiful friend Karen. Karen is one of those dear souls who came along at a time in my life when I really needed a ‘safe place’ and soul connection. She is proof of the age-old adage that God knows best. She truly ‘met’ me when I was at a place of the deepest need and grieving, and from those foundations we continue to forge a solid and, may I say it, very open and unconditional friendship. She is a gift indeed.
Travelling on my way home, and deep in thought about all the things we had discussed during the course of our meeting, I ‘half listened’ to a CD I had put together to play in my car. And there, as if for the first time, I heard the lyrics of a song that I had recorded for the album years earlier and had listened to literally dozens of times before. It was, as if, for the very first time, I heard the message of the words as they resonated deep within me. Recorded by Donna Summer, the song is entitled ‘Take Heart’ … the words of which are as follows:
“Take heart … even though you find it hard, to catch your breath, much less smile. Take heart … even when your sky is dark. There’ll come a day the clouds will go. Then you’ll know once again what life can be; when you feel all the joy it can bring …
“If only we could understand what God only knows. Maybe then it would be easy letting go. But if the spirit lives forever and true love never dies … there’ll always be a light in your soul.
“Take heart … in each and every tear your cry; the strength you need will be yours in time. Take heart … someday is not that far away. There is that place where hope will abide. And you’ll find that your heart feels deeper now, through the love that’s been lost through goodbye.
“If only we could understand what God only knows. Maybe then it would be easy letting go.
But if the spirit lives forever and true love never dies … there’ll always be a light in your soul.
“Always remember to treasure the time, so many questions with no reason why. Life passes by … so it goes. If only we could understand what God only knows. Maybe then it would be easy letting go. But if the spirit lives forever and true love never dies … there’ll always be a light in your soul.”
For what seemed like the very first time, I truly heard, and felt, the message of the song! And then, in tandem with the revelation of the words, I had planted into my heart the following message: “Right here, right now … is who I am. Is what I am. Is meant to be … has always been!” What was such a divine revelation trying to reveal to me I wondered? Well, I really didn’t have to wonder all that hard because I already knew the why, the wherefore and the reason for the message as it dropped into my spirit, almost as if it were the answer to a prayer.
My recognition of the truth is this … the things of life come and go, and, just like many of the souls around us, they can leave an indelible mark. It is the way that we deal with them that makes us who we are, and, inevitably, it is our actions and reactions to them that combine to shape our present and our future.
Over many instances in recent days, and as a consequence of several individuals who have come to mean a great deal to me, I have grappled with trying to understand the impact of their actions and my connection to them. I have grieved departures and wondered ‘why’ it all happened in the first place. As I stand now, I also wonder where it will all lead in the future. But then, at the moments of deepest distress and confusion I remind myself to do what I have just learnt … to ‘take heart’, resting in the knowledge that, “if only we can understand what God only knows, maybe then it is easy letting go. For, if the spirit lives forever and true love never dies … there will always be a light in the soul.”
The outworking of trying to make sense of it all has also opened the doors to other things, and has worked to reveal the true heart and love of several people around me. And, conversely, the happenings of life have also revealed the judgement of just one or two people who I now accept it is perfectly fine to surrender from my world. Indeed I have learnt to accept and understand the truth that we can each never be exactly what another expects us to be, and live up to their perceptions of us. This is where unconditional loves comes in … a subject on which I feel I could practically write an entire book! If unconditional love is not ‘in the room’ it’s better to make a fast exit through the nearest door!
Right here, right now … is who I am. Is what I am. Is meant to be … has always been! The journey today and towards tomorrow continues in the knowledge that the past has had an impact upon, but has not completely defined, the future. For each of us, the way forward is all about making choices … to search for the meaning in all that has occurred, to look for the lessons and draw strength from the positives, all the while taking heart in the knowledge that there is a plan and a purpose for each of us, as we learn to simply ‘trust’, and to treat ourselves with kindness along the way, for “someday is not that far away, There is that place where hope will abide”.
A Duty Of Care
It’s something I have been thinking about for quite a while … the responsibility we each have to one another … to be there, to offer support and encouragement, to affirm and to even simply be a constant in another’s life. The intensity of such things, I believe, changes and shifts according to the nature of the relationship, such that a mutual acquaintance is afforded one level of connection and interaction while the most intimate people in our lives should receive the greatest degree of our commitment, attention and daily care. And it can all be encompassed and demonstrated in small and large ways … from the morning text message to say ‘I love you’ to some grand, random gesture of affection.
The Good Book tells us to ‘do unto others as we would have them do unto us’. It’s a basic principal of human existence that, if observed by all, I am convinced – would do away with all conflict which, sadly, culminates in war, relationship breakdown, hostilities and so much unnecessary heartache. It’s something I have never understood … why one cannot treat another in the same way in which they themselves would want to be treated.
If we each observed, in both large and small ways, a genuine care and consideration for one other, human existence would truly be all the more tolerable … even wonderful! Life would be richer and more meaningful.
The elevation of consideration for each other is what I have come to call our ‘Duty of Care’ … and it changes and becomes more intense according to the intimacy of relationships within our lives. When we are in a close, loving relationship with another, our ‘duty of care’, I believe, should be more intense and compassionate than the manner in which we deal with and relate to those less intimately connected. But the same principles apply. If we care for others in the manner in which we would wish ourselves to be treated, we should receive the same treatment back in return. Or at least this is what, I believe, we should expect. This is a ‘stand’ that I have, in recent times and as a consequence of life experiences, come to hold with great commitment … and it’s something that I have become all the more determined to have as the central feature of my life, in direct opposition to the treatment I have experienced of late where several of the most dearly-held people in my world have – for a variety of reasons – detached and caused much heartache.
This topic – A ‘Duty of Care’ – was to become the focus of my next column for ‘Australian Country Craft and Decorating’. However, as the magazine’s publishers have now chosen to pursue another direction and to focus more and more on the ‘craft’ part of the equation and less on decorating (which is the main area of my professional interest), I have made the hard decision to part ways after several years of relationship. The ‘up side’ of this decision has brought with it several blessings.
First and foremost, it has allowed me the advantage of now being able to focus more time and energy on developing my online presence … a place where I can be more open and free to express opinions and sentiments with none of the confines imposed by a mainstream publishing house. The blessing is the fact that I can now communicate with you all in a more honest and immediate fashion, and for this I am most grateful. And I can welcome and integrate your feedback and reactions as I intend to add ‘readers’ quotes’ in response to the issues I am able to address here … so please drop me a line to email@example.com at any time if you would like your thoughts and responses included here. You might even have a subject you would like to share and me write about … all responses and messages will be most welcomed.
As has so often been the case in the past when I have a subject or topic I feel strongly to comment on, a ‘divine intervention’ occurs … embodied in an event or happening, a letter I receive, a comment from a friend, and a hundred and one other possible scenarios. And very often it comes in the form of an ‘out of the blue’ emailed message from a cherished friend. Such an incident recently occurred when, feeling somewhat ‘blue’ over the lack of ‘duty of care’ demonstrated by a significant other in my life (who had come along in quick succession following on from another ‘significant other’ who was equally reckless), I received an inspirational email from my beautiful friend and former business associate, Jan.
Despite the fact that she may feel a little embarrassed by the ‘label’, when I talk of my beloved Jan, I cannot help but refer to her as ‘an angel walking amongst us’ … for this is what I firmly believe her to be. A more insightful, compassionate, inspirational soul I am yet to meet. Because we share such a deep connection, Jan felt moved to send me a message which contained magnificent imagery and words that served to help me re-focus and understand that the brokenness of another should never take away from my own sense of self and peace, and my inherent ‘duty of care’ to all around me.
To share some of the words from Jan’s message will, I hope, help to make sense of such a statement. “The one who takes your hand but touches your heart is a true friend. We seldom think of what we have but always think of what we miss. Don’t cry because it’s over now … Laugh because it happened! The more precisely you plan, the harder destiny will hit you. What happens, happens for a reason .. The greatest events aren’t the loudest but happen in the quietest hours. The most difficult lesson to learn is: which bridge in life to use and which one to break off. Everybody sees how you seem; however only some know who you are. He who would like to have something he never had will have to do something well that he hasn’t done yet. Perhaps God would want you to become acquainted with many different people in the course of your life, so that when you meet the right ones you can appreciate and be grateful for them. Plan for tomorrow but live for today. Love doesn’t require that two people look at each other, but that they look together in the same direction. Life is … drawing without an eraser! I wish you: air to breathe, fire to warm you, water to drink and the earth to live in!”
To these profound acknowledgements, I would add another wish … that those around us demonstrate the same ‘duty of care’ that we express towards them!
Around the same time as receiving this message from my dearest Jan, another beautiful soul in my world – my wonderful friend Paula – took the opportunity to send me a range of quotes by the internationally-celebrated American writer Erma Bombeck. Discovering that she was dying of cancer, Bombeck penned the following words which so simply yet insightfully tell that a duty of care for one’s fellow man goes hand in hand with caring and loving oneself … for when we choose to not express care and compassion for one another and instead focus on the mundane and trivial, life and happiness can pass us by.
And so Bombeck wrote: “If I had my life to live over, I would have talked less and listened more. I would have invited friends over to dinner, even if the carpet was stained or the sofa faded. I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth and would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my spouse. I would have cried and laughed less while watching television and more while watching life. I would never have bought anything just because it was practical, wouldn’t soil, or was guaranteed to last a lifetime. When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said ‘Later, Now go wash up for dinner.’ There would have been more ‘I love you’s.’ More ‘I’m sorry’s’. But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute, look at it and really see it .. live it and never give it back.”
This, I believe, is the greatest ‘duty of care’ that one can possibly demonstrate … to hold each and every moment precious, and all who are within one’s world in each of those minutes of every day … extending to them all the love, compassion and concern one would want to be shown in return; practising random acts of love and kindness alone the way, so that, at the end of it all, one’s ‘duty of care’ will come back a thousandfold, the reward being the greatest peace and happiness conceivably known.
Analogous Of Our Existence
We do not live an equal life,
but one of contrasts and patchwork;
now a little joy, then a sorrow;
now a sin, then a generous or brave action.
(Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882)
When I discovered that this issue of Australian Country Craft and Decorating was to have, as its special focus, the art of patchwork, I began to think about the many unique styles and forms of patchwork which have evolved over the centuries to make this distinctive form of textile work so universally loved and perpetuated by countless devotees from generation to generation.
What might have begun as a rudimentary form of domestic activity has, without question, evolved to become a highly skilled textile discipline with its own specialised language, processes of execution and devotees across the globe. But back at the very beginning, patching pieces of fabric together was really little more than a basic requirement of housekeeping, as peasant and pioneering women recycled clothing and other such materials found around the home – including sacking in which drygoods were delivered – to create beautiful textiles which told the tale of their thriftiness and sewing skill, not to mention their artistry and love of hearth and kin.
As years went on, patchwork patterns became typically associated with particular places and groups, especially in parts of early North America where traditions brought from Europe and Great Britain were honed and expanded upon. Because of their isolation and the arduous nature of the daily tasks they were expected to perform, early American pioneering women embraced patchwork as one of the principal forms of creative expression available to them, at the same time using the discipline to tell of the significant issues of life that were important to them, such as matters of faith and survival.
Patchwork quilts came to embody memories of loved ones left far behind, as well as representing the care and love pioneering women had for those in their care. They told of their travels and journeys – as seen in such patterns we now know as ‘Wandering Foot’ and ‘Prairie Queen’ – and very typically extolled the virtues of their faith, as seen through such well-known patterns as ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, ‘Solomon’s Puzzle’, ‘Rose of Sharon’ and ‘Walls of Jericho’.
And quilts were used for much more than just bedding and warmth. They were practical, hardwearing textiles that offered padding on the seats of the wagon trains as they headed west. They were shields draped over the wagon as pioneers came under attack from Indian arrows. They became curtaining and door covers in the most humble of early settlers’ cottages and even doubled as table covers and floor cloths.
The process of patchwork and quilting also afforded many early settlers – even in Australia – an important form of socialisation as women came together to sew and to communicate. Often this was their only form of interaction outside of their immediate family and the few traders they saw in the process of purchasing basic suppliers for the homestead. Within the context of these quilting and patchwork gatherings, particular patchwork patterns – as well as significant sewing techniques and disciplines – evolved and were created, these then being passed on to other groups and generations down the line. One must also remember that many of the earliest quilters and patchworkers had little education and were very often illiterate, and so the textiles they created were often seen as their principal form of non-verbal communication as well!
Interestingly, it is believed that some quilt patterns were widely used by African American slaves in North America as a means of communicating with one another … to tell that an escape was imminent or to ready themselves for such an undertaking. While white settlers initially thought little of their black slaves piecing fabrics together to make quilts, the finished textiles were often hung outdoors as ‘billboards’ to signify that fellow slaves should ‘prepare the tools’ for departure (as was the case when the ‘Monkey Wrench’ pattern was used). As one historian puts it “after noticing the ‘Monkey Wrench’ quilt on display, advising them to prepare for the journey, slaves would then look for the ‘Wagon Wheel’ quilt hanging somewhere, telling them to ‘load the wagon’ or prepare to board a wagon coming to pick them up. Then seeing a ‘Bear’s Paw’ quilt – when either setting off or somewhere along the way – told the slaves to follow the trails the bears took in spring and summer as the mountain trails were safer than roads more commonly travelled and the animal tracks could also help fugitives find water and food.”
Thinking about such things, and marvelling at the way in which patchwork and quilting disciplines have endured throughout the centuries, I recently began to seen significant parallels between what we now refer to as these important ‘gentle arts’ and life itself. Just as a patched quilt is the coming together of many individual elements to create a whole, so too life is a coming together of many different elements and the gathering of many hearts … some of which are ‘central’, bright and colourful and others that are more ‘enduring’ and there for support, while others still help us maintain the borders and boundaries of our lives.
There are certainly many other parallels to be drawn between the elements of a patchwork quilt – its kaleidoscope of many pieced elements, its encircling borders and strong backing – and the individuals who make up our individual worlds … from the colourful characters to the faithful souls and the ones who bless us by always being there and holding us together, no matter what circumstances prevail.
Even individual quilt patterns can be interpreted in this way. Take, for example, that quintessential patchwork pattern known as ‘Log Cabin’. While it is generally regarded by many as the typical American patchwork pattern, its symbolism can certainly be related, globally, to the issues of life of most of mankind. While traditionally the pattern can be explained in terms of the central piece within the block signifying the heart of the home or warming hearth, with light strips to one side representing the sunny side of the cabin and darker strips on the other side representing the shady side, within each of our lives there is the enduring heart at the centre, with sunny, happy events and souls on one side and more sombre happenings and individuals making up the other!
The ‘Double Wedding Ring’ pattern is another where direct correlation can be established between the symbolism of the design and the things of life. It is thought that the original idea between the pattern came from 15th and 16th century Europe where, during the time of engagement, one ring was worn by the betrothed woman and the other by her fiancé. When wed, the two rings would be fitted together to be worn by the wife. It is popularly believed that Germanic settlers took the patchwork pattern to the New Land in the late 17th century where, having settled in the Pennsylvania region, they made it one of the most popular quilt styles of this part of early North America.
If the message of the ‘Double Wedding Ring’ is more broadly relevant to the things of life, its interlocking pattern can be seen to not only signify the important ‘romantic’ relationships of life but also the other vital connections we make throughout our journey, where the hearts of loved ones – family, enduring friends, and lovers – continue to be entwined and linked from year to year in one endless cycle of love and intimate bonding.
The same can be said of the ‘Stepping Stones’ pattern where one block sits on top of another to signify a ‘passage’ or journey. Also variously known as ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, ‘Road to California’, ‘Off To San Francisco’, ‘Trail of the Covered Wagon’ (all of which signify a passage or going somewhere, from one place to the next), ‘Stepping Stones’ is symbolic of the adventure we each take from day to day, such that by the end of the journey we end up in a place far away from where we started … as poles apart as the top left hand corner of a quilt and the bottom right. And yet the events and incidents of life can easily be tracked back from start to finish, our progress over time explained as easily as the steps within the pattern of a patchwork quilt!
How much piecing a quilt is like living a life …
The Lord sends us the pieces,
but we can cut ’em out and put ’em together
pretty much to suit ourselves.
For those of us of enduring faith, Biblically-inspired quilt patterns embody a significant representation of belief and the things we hold tantamount above all else. But to apply them, in a broader context, to the basic issues of life, patterns such as ‘Garden of Eden’ and ‘Joseph’s Coat’ present a symbolism centred around trust in a divine power while we each exist – and cope – within our own defined worlds, with faith as the enduring centre that will always guide and carry us through.
There are countless more connections that one can make between the patterns of the patchwork world and the basic rudiments of life as it is lived. And so I am left with the wish that each of us might experience a life that is pieced together with bright, colourful ‘pieces’ drawn from many quarters, which embody powerful memories and positive ideals for the journey ahead; that we may each be contained within ‘borders’ of love and contentment and framed with a ‘binding’ that signifies that we are safe and secure, peaceful in the knowledge that the patchwork of our lives is put together with affection and care, and that each part is one small yet significant piece within the overall ‘pattern’ to create a glorious whole that demonstrates a life that is well and richly lived, just like the most beautiful of patchwork quilts!
That’s What Friends Are For
Wishing to be friends is quick work,
but friendship is a slow ripening fruit.
(Aristotle 384BC – 322BC)
Some time ago, a dear colleague sent me an emailed message which, with great humour, attempted to explain the meaning of true friendship. It told of a scenario where the subject had been sent to jail for a minor misdemeanour. The definition of a ‘friend’ or close acquaintance was exemplified by the person who turned up with the bail money and got the rascal out of ‘the clink’. But the definition of the true friend was embodied by the person who sat side-by-side with the protagonist in that cold and scary jail cell, and, with little remorse or regret, rejoiced in having shared in the act of larrikinism and declared “damn, that was fun!”
The renowned 20th century Dutch clergyman Henri Nouwen perhaps put the explanation of a true friend a little more succinctly when he stated “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.”
Oftentimes in life, it is the dire circumstances and ‘bumps in the road’ that show us who are friends really are, and separate them from those who are merely along for the ride when the sun is shining and the future appears rosy. As Oprah Winfrey so well put it, there are lots of people in our lives who want to ride with us when we are travelling along in a limousine, but what we all really need and want is the sincere person who will happily take the bus with us when the limousine breaks down.
The circumstances and situations of my life, in recent times, have certainly brought home the truth of such things. When least expected, and totally without warning, my journey took a completely unforeseen change in direction, literally within a day. The course on which I had been heading was no longer available to me. Not a speed bump but one of life’s dead ends had been abruptly encountered and there was nothing I could do but face it, accept it, grieve it and try to keep going forward. Death, the end of a relationship, the loss of a business, a natural disaster … there’s a wide gamut of such circumstances and happenings in life that can bring each of us to a point where we teeter on the brink of losing faith and the ability to keep functioning from day to day. It is in these dark and lonely places that we ultimately discover the true meaning of unconditional friendship, as well as having the opportunity to learn a great deal about ourselves and our individual ability to survive.
Friendship! Mysterious cement of the soul!
Sweetener of life and solder of society!
(Robert Blair 1699 – 1746)
It is also true that, in the midst of such scenarios, we are caused to sort out the ‘chaff from the wheat’ in terms of who are our true friends as opposed to those who are present within our lives for the good times only, or who participate within our world according to a stringent set of rules – mainly of their own making – which they insist we should not deviate from. The consequence of our deviation can bring about their scorn, rebuke, and even in extreme cases, their rejection. What I have learnt in recent days is that such folks are not really what one would call a ‘friend’ in the first place, as their connection is conditional. It is, surely, better to be alone and at peace with oneself than to live in the company of such a person, betraying one’s true self for the approval and companionship of such a soul who is insincere.
There is an old Arabian proverb which perfectly supports and embodies this concept, telling us that a friend is one to whom we may pour out all the contents of our heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that the gentlest of hands will take and sift it, keeping what is worth keeping and, with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away. To find such souls in one’s life is the great blessing. To be the same in another’s life is an even greater one.
The idea that is better to be alone than to have a world filled of ‘conditional souls’ may be a harsh observation perhaps, but one I have come to firmly believe as a consequence of many travels over time, and especially as the outworking of recent happenings … it has been a season where I have truly discovered how liberating it is to be truly loved and accepted by one’s fellow man, and conversely, the pain there is in being rejected by another on the basis of not living up to their rigid set of values and belief systems.
True friendship is like sound health,
the value of it is seldom known until it be lost.
(Charles Caleb Colton 1780 – 1832)
I have also come to understand, in a very real and open way, that when one wants to connect with one’s fellow man, one must surely risk all … to open one’s heart and one’s life and do so with honesty and integrity. This, I believe, is where true love and ‘friendship’ takes root and grows, flourishing into the most wonderful and sustaining of relationships that reflect the divine nature that is within each of us.
As an extension of this concept of the divine and its relevance to the nature of friendship, a true friend is one with whom we ultimately feel safe … that person we trust to the point of being willing to reveal, to disclose, to risk rejection and even betrayal in the quest to achieve that deep connection that is so essential to the very nature of who we are as human beings. And if rejection does come, we are hurt and experience a pain that strikes at the very core of who we are.
What I have learnt however, as a consequence of life’s most recent journey, is that there is great love and thanks to be extended to even those who chose to no longer cleave to us as friends because we no longer meet their needs, measure up to their expectations, commit to their beliefs or simply continue to serve a purpose within their world. The separation from such ‘acquaintances’ ultimately says a great deal about who we are and what is important to us, and works to reinforce our own sense of worth and identity. Such lessons always come with some pain – as do most of the worthwhile lessons in life – but surely it is better to choose intimacy with those who are true than to betray oneself for the sake of companionship with those who are not!
The famous German theologian Albert Schweitzer put it perfectly when he stated “In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” What this means, to me, is to have gratitude for those who come along and share their heart in friendship, and equally, to have a thankful heart for those who walk away from us because we don’t share the same sense of connection, for in so doing they reflect back to us our own sense of self and help us to determine our own identity. In a unique way, they help us fathom what we do believe, what we stand for, who and what we want to be known for, and how we each individually regard ourselves.
In prosperity, our friends know us;
in adversity, we know our friends.
(John Churton Collins 1848 – 1908)
In turn, there is also gratitude to be had for the circumstances and life events which cause the ‘sifting process’ of friendship to occur in the first place. Not that I would wish hardship and heartbreak to be a reoccurring theme or feature of my life, or the lives of anyone around me, though I will concede that such things will always be a feature – to some lesser or greater extent – of the existence of us all. This is simply the state of the human condition. What such times and experiences do reveal, besides our ability to survive and grow, is the depth of friendship and care that does exist within our individual worlds.
Contemporary American writer Arthur Golden suggests that “Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.” And not only do such times and seasons reveal to us much about ourselves, also they tell us many things about the hearts and minds of those around us. It is truth that, through such things, we find our friends! Another American writer, Napoleon Hill, once wrote that “every adversity, every failure, and every heartache, carries with it the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit.” One of the greatest benefits to come from adversity must surely be to discover of the heart and love of those we can truly call our friends.
Words On A Page
The idea is to write
so that people hear it
and it slides through the brain
and goes straight to the heart.
(Maya Angelou 1928 – )
There is another book in me yet! For a number of years – and especially since the time I self published my first hardcover coffee-table book about celebrating the festive season at ‘Wroxton’ (which is my property in the NSW Blue Mountains) – an escalating number of people have been urging me to write again! If the truth be told, I have long harboured the desire to do so, though I will confess that, with the pressure of running now two retail outlets and the everyday things of life that go along with it all, my main writing outlet is this column. ‘Along The Way’ is my monthly opportunity to sit and ruminate on issues of life as they impact on my world and the world of others, and affords me the great blessing of taking time out from the hurly burly to focus and, in so doing, make sense of some of the things going on about me, and often even inside me.
Over the years I have never dismissed the ‘power of the pen’ – or the typewriter, word processor and computer as is the state of modern technology – and have been overwhelmed on countless occasions when others have registered the influence that words I have written have had on their lives. It is indeed an honour to have a positive impact on the life of another and is something I have never taken lightly. And yet, I am repeatedly humbled when others do share with me tales of how words I have recorded have helped them in some way, bringing comfort and encouragement … even inspiration.
One such incident recently occurred when a lady and her husband who had travelled many kilometres from interstate ventured into my new Leura store. It was indeed a provident meeting as it was purely by chance that we encountered each other. It was a day when I was not scheduled to be in store, but had briefly called in on my way to a rendezvous with a friend who was in a very distressed place in life. The emotions I felt that day overwhelmed me as my entire world and everything in it seemed to be profoundly shifting, and thus I was in no real state to be offering words of wisdom or encouragement to anyone, let alone myself. And yet, as fate would have it, the encounter with this dear lady was to help give me back my focus, and to even give me courage and direction … all because she wanted to share with me a tale of how words I had once written had birthed within her hope to go on.
As she explained, some years earlier, she had been a passionate country follower. Her great love was decorating her home and making a whole range of beautiful wares to fill its rooms. But then she had been struck down with a rare neurological disorder which had almost rendered her incapable of functioning from day to day. She lost her will to focus on her home and the things within it. It was during a time of deep despair that she picked up a series of magazines which I had once written and started to read. There within the pages she came across a foreword I had penned some years earlier and, between the lines, discovered a message of hope for the future which spurred her on to keep believing in a future. And so, finally well enough to travel, she and her husband packed themselves up and made the pilgrimage from the far north of Queensland to the southern states, taking in all the sights and places she had read about during her time of confinement, dedicating the time to savouring each one.
As we spent precious moments together, the dear lady’s story reignited within me a sense of purpose and hope within the context of my own situation … as my words came back to revisit me and offer a window of clarity. It was a time when I truly needed confirmation that my work, my writing and even my very existence mattered, and this was the gift that this precious soul imparted during that unexpected meeting on that fated day.
When I think about it, there have been many occasions over the years when others have made contact with me and confirmed that they have embraced a message within the words I have written which has offered encouragement in some form. I have always been a little daunted by being ‘embraced’ in such a way and have always been ever conscious of how words can impact the lives of others in positive ways. And I have always been equally aware that words can also have a negative and injurious effect on another, and this continually puts me in a place of being so very careful about being as open, honest and transparent as I can possibly be so that my words will always be seen in the context of the honesty of heart with which they are conceived.
Over recent days my darling mother, my ‘Jewish grandmother’ Avis, and my beloved Jan have all – independent of each other, but with a loud chorus that has resonated to the very core of me – begun to once again advocate that I should revisit the idea of writing that next book. Their urging has come about as a consequence of the series of life-changing events which have caused me to grieve – at the very deepest part of myself – not only over the outcome of recent happenings but also a lifetime of pain that has been locked away, debilitating forward movement in life. When least expected my world has been turned upside down and inside out, and the fallout has been beyond anything I could have envisaged. “And now you need to write” has been the urging of all three of these great women of my life.
If the truth be told, quite a few years ago, I did formulate the theme, and even the title, of my next book. It is to be called ‘Inspirations and Sentiments’. I had, almost a decade ago, even got as far as to have all the imagery for the project completed, commissioning a series of timeless, evocative pictures that will beautifully support and complement the words … whenever it is that the words do finally ‘come’. Maybe the experiences of recent times, which have been so extreme, will lead to the unblocking and final flow of words that will help me make sense of all that has occurred, and will, in turn, touch the hearts and lives of others. This – another truth – is the only real reason I would walk such a path in the first place … to help make sense of life and to share for not only my own healing but that of others as well. But it’s all in the hands of a greater power, and I trust the divine timing will happen when it should.
Here I take comfort in the words of the great author Ernest Hemingway who said that “I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.” Maybe my ‘night’ has been much longer than an evening’s repose, but I do believe that when I am finally led to write the book, the well will be overflowing and there will be much to draw upon.
Not only have images been completed for the next book project, but also some words have also been formulated. About a decade ago I wrote what was to be the synopsis or opening foreword which I quote following: “Starting is always the hardest part. A hundred paths present themselves, each one inevitably leading to the same destination, albeit at different places in time, but the same destination nonetheless. To a place of silences. The unspoken, that which is locked away and denied – a place where a key to being free is guarded with the strength of a life force … and the noise goes on around. Loud noises, hushed noises, secret whispers and judiciously-edited words. Between that which is spoken, that which is felt, there’s the silence that rings out through the core of one’s being. Between the silences, there is the noise that only the heart can hear.”
Reading back over these words, I must confess that I do firmly believe that whatever ‘Inspirations and Sentiments’ contains, it will have a power for revelation and healing … and only when it is time for such things to come to pass will they be written. American businessman Jim Rohn once said that “words do two major things – they provide food for the mind and create light for understanding and awareness.” My prayer has been for the words I write to always be this way … to offer light and help so that others might find understanding and awareness, even if it is just one ‘other’ like the dear lady who visited me and told me of being encouraged to go on, to battle her illness and embrace once more her home and those around her.
The famed 16th century English philosopher and writer Francis Bacon once penned the following: “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.” May I indeed become the exact man I am meant to be, with the act of writing, both now and in times to come!
Until we share again … A word is a bud attempting to become a twig. How can one not dream while writing? It is the pen which dreams. The blank page gives the right to dream.