Sloughing an old skin


I’m growing a tiny (!) bit deaf but I can’t cope with hearing aids and so I often miss  a snatch or two of conversation. Most of the time I know roughly what’s being discussed, but sometimes I get it wonderfully wrong. I miss a few words and replay the sounds in my head, trying to work out what they might have been by the rhythm, the music of them, and  if I’m asked a question, drawn into the conversation,  I do my best to answer. And then I see that the people around me are struggling to follow my scattered  thoughts, or someone looks vaguely offended, or my grandchildren are in hysterics.

A group of youngsters meets in my house every fortnight and I love these evenings, but most of the conversation is just a hum and a buzz to me. I don’t know what they’re talking about, when they pray I can’t hear them, when they call across to me there’s a flash of panic as I try to catch up with what might be happening and what I might be expected to answer. But the bits I do hear, I really appreciate. Seeing their energy and their personalities emerging, wow, I love those evenings. They’re mostly teenagers, a few twenty-somethings, so I am not one of them, but being an outsider looking in at them is OK, and the atmosphere is  warm.

So… why this blog? What am I trying to discover?

Don’t know yet. I’m just exploring. It takes an hour or two of writing to even know what I’m thinking.

I went to a Carol Service last night, and the church was busy and well attended. The carols were familiar and the singing lusty,  the musicians were going great guns, the message was pretty damn wonderful, and suddenly I felt completely alienated from it all. Not just on the outside looking in, but eternally, hopelessly ‘other’. Alienated. My world shifted on its axis and it hasn’t quite settled back down again…. not yet. It’s in the process.

I remember a Christmas when I was 18, and in the Army. There was nowhere for me to go (no violins needed – not then, and not now) but my Sergeant Major – of all people – realised that I had no family and she decided to bring me into hers. She lived in Redcar, in a huge and happy family. There was no dissuading her – I couldn’t stay in the barracks on my own,  her decision was final. The family was lovely, and I was as miserable as miserable can be, ugly, stupid, slow.  I didn’t know where to stand, what to say, how to act. I was in an environment completely foreign. So I smiled and followed the lead of the people around me, and  tried to gauge when to go to my room and when to stay in the party atmosphere, how to help in the kitchen, what to say. What was the right response to all these questions? Was I supposed to watch when people hugged or was that a private moment, should I look away?  It was a culture and a language I didn’t know. To me, then, hugs were confused with unwelcome sexuality and fear. So being in that affectionate great cwtch of a family was agony. Just agony.

But I’ve outgrown that level of awkwardness, so why this sudden sense of alienation in church last night? Maybe my deafness was a factor,  50 years on, but you know what I think? Maybe I was just shedding a skin. I think that  as we age we shed many skins, turning from one creature into another, subtly. Maybe we don’t even recognise this gradual metamorphosis until, one night, maybe in a Carol Service, we look down and see a strange new self.  We look around and we see with new eyes, different lenses. Colours are brighter, shapes more defined. We look at our neighbours and, just as we looked at ourselves, we say “Ah! That’s who you are. I see you now.’

I spent over 20 years trying to find a place in the world as a youngster, and then I spent twenty years making a place in the world as a wife and a mother. And then 16 years as a Grandmother. And all that time as a writer. I made myself into a Derbyshire woman, with a circle of rowdy delightful faithful friends. And now…. ? Now, I am none of these things. Yes, I still have a much loved daughter but her children are who she must tend and love first.  I don’t know my grandchildren’s world. I no longer write. The society I fitted into so snugly doesn’t exist here. I have things to do but no useful role that couldn’t be filled by someone else, and probably filled better.

As I finished that para, Piers came in. Piers is lovely. Piers is honest and open and unafraid of emotions. I could tell Piers anything, anything at all, however outlandish, and he would not argue. He can tell me anything and I don’t just look interested, I really am. We get on OK.

Today, just now, as he lolled sideways in my old French chair, I said the unspoken words that have been lingering , lurking, maybe even twisting the knife since that Carol Service. I said them aloud to Piers and they surprised me. I didn’t know them until they escaped my lips.

I said ‘I am no one’s priority.’ and then I started to cry.  Tsk. What am I like?

It reminds me of a Sopranos scene, when Tony is talking about his fears about losing his family, and he starts to cry, and all he can say in disgust at himself  is  ‘ Ah, now he starts with the crying!’ and the psychiatrist offers him a tissue… as he blows his nose and wipes his eyes, he can manage only the universal, philosophical comment ‘Shit. Fuck’.

I know how he felt.

I see now that in that Carol Service,  I realised, finally and clearly ‘I am no one’s priority’. 

The job now is to accept the truth of that, and to walk away from the old skin, where I was a priority to my husband, to my child, to my colleagues, to close friends. The job now is to grow into this new skin, to become comfortable in it, to explore its colour and its pattern, to heal the raw vulnerable flesh underneath where the old skin was ripped off, to learn to like the texture, the sheen, of being truly a different sort of beast.

Habbakuk said something once. A prayer and a declaration of trust. I love it:

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

And if anyone, ANYONE, makes some comforting ‘kiss it better’ comment, I will personally get into my yellow buzzbomb and I will hunt you down. You really don’t want me to do that.

I am not looking for comfort. I am exploring truth, rejoicing that God can change even me, that we go through a dozen lives and a score of roles in one lifetime, and that while it’s sometimes a painful process, God is over it all. Because, in the end, ‘ And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’

His purpose, not mine.




4 thoughts on “Sloughing an old skin

  1. I’m tempted to leave such a comment, just to see if you could!!!!
    I fear you might manage it. …
    Question re carol service instead: did you have one of the amazing sounding Cranberry and white chocolate Welsh cakes I washed up the (sadly ) empty tin for this morning?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not being a fan of Welsh cakes (polystyrene sprinkled with sugar) no, I didn’t. But now I have a poignant mental image of you, all alone in the cold church, looking wistfully at a few crumbs…..


  2. You won’t see my buzzbomb (aka Hornet) because your comment wasn’t a sickly ‘kiss it better’ thing. It was a ‘pull yourself together and stop whingeing’ thing. And I approve.


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