Reading

“Close your eyes, listen to this recording of the sound of rain on a window.  Imagine yourself, warm and dry inside a library.  What libraries do you remember being in?  Where would you like to be now?  Imagine that in this library, on the shelves, are all the books, magazines and DVDs that you’ve read during your life.  What has reading meant to you at different stages in your life?  You might want to go to a shelf and pick a book you remember enjoying.  Where were you?  What was happening at that time?” 

What a powerful opener Jolene gave to us, leading to us having so much to say to each other!  Just as the people reading in a library may, in their minds, be travelling in many different directions, those of us on the Zoom call had a variety of experiences to relate, and much to think about afterwards as we wrote up our individual pieces for this week’s post.

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Kindness

This group of people is a very kind one.  The natural inclination of us all is to support, listen to and get to know each other. We have created friendly, enjoyable times together from this and a kinship has been born out our shared experiences.  When I was reflecting on this recently, kindness seemed an apt next topic.

My personal experience has been that when people are kind, it can act as a mirror or sometimes magnifying glass to what is truly wonderful in life, ourselves and each other. Kindness can reconnect us to what’s important and it can also restore our hope and energy. In the session I shared the opening of a poem by Edgar Alan Guest who summarises this beautifully.

“One never knows
How far a word of kindness goes;
One never sees
How far a smile of friendship flees.
Down, through the years,
The deed forgotten reappears.”

Kindness is a state of being as well as an action, so to encourage people to connect with the emotions they feel in relation to kindness, I led a guided meditation that included positive wishes for the self and others. I then offered an opportunity to silently visualise and reminisce about kind actions that have been directed towards them during lockdown as well as in the past.  People went on to share, in pairs and then the group, moments of helpfulness, compassion, generosity and thoughtfulness that have stayed with them. 

It was a lovely session to be part of and I hope you experience some of the glow of warm kinship that exchanging these values and memories brought us.  I also hope that you are reminded of acts and moments of kindness that have shaped and influenced you throughout your life. Perhaps you would even like to share a memory of your own using the “Leave a Reply” feature at the end of this post?  We would certainly like to read it.

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Entertainment

Our spirits were so lifted, after we’d discussed entertainment, past and present, in the Zoom break-out rooms.  Nury, originally from Iran, explained how much he appreciates British humour, especially the old situation comedies he’s been watching on TV, such as Porridge and Only Fools and Horses.  It was lovely to hear his chuckles.   Thank goodness for television, social media and online arts, helping us now through the challenges of social isolation: a sentiment we all shared!

Family and friends featured strongly in our memories from our younger days, with or without television, playing games both outdoors and in.   Read on for our recollections of those simpler, more carefree times.  

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Celebrations

There was lots of laughter, and many smiles, as we shared our stories of a variety of celebrations and special occasions.  Some of us shared treasured memories of birthday celebrations in the past, as well as our experiences of the recent inventive ways in which we’d been able to celebrate birthdays in spite of the lockdown.   

We also described special gatherings of family and friends to celebrate retirement, weddings, anniversaries and Christmas, as well as bigger public celebrations, including jubilant crowds following a football triumph and even a traditional village celebration to mark the end of the bubonic plague, over 350 years ago!

Food (especially cake!), drinks, music and games played important roles in many of our festivities, as you’ll see in the stories which follow.  

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Routines and rituals

I am fascinated with this topic and spent the whole session grinning as I got to hear about people’s daily and weekly habits, routines and rituals.  I find the way we live our day to day lives riveting, especially during a time where our “normal” routines have been altered so much by external factors.   To me, discussing the patterns we follow can help us understand our own influences, values, way of thinking and lifestyle as well as give a glimpse of what it is really like to live in another’s shoes.

Through the session, lots of themes emerged as well as overlapping habits, people reporting “We have so much in common”.  Maybe you too, the reader will find cheer and comradery in learning about how people spend their days and it will allow you to reflect on the meaning behind your own ‘ordinary’ choices.

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Our treasured keepsakes

Jolene had asked us to choose an object from our homes to bring with us to the Zoom meeting, maybe something we hadn’t thought about recently, but which had a particular meaning for us. As each of the items was held up to the screen for everyone else to see, we heard fascinating stories behind the chosen objects. They had stirred powerful memories: of our childhoods, of the special people who gave them to us, the people and places we associated with them, the love, the music and the magic in our lives.

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Food for thought

The theme of food from past and present proved to be a powerful memory trigger this week. With our eyes closed, Jolene invited us to not only picture but to smell food from the past. Our subsequent conversations included many memories from childhood of food being grown, shopped for, cooked and of course, eaten! Our reflections went far beyond the meals themselves, being intertwined with memories of our parents or grandparents, their skills and the efforts they made to provide for us.

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How is it going?

Screenshot showing eleven of the participants in Stories of our lives

On May 23rd, we paused from our usual storytelling and conversation format to check in with each other, find out what everyone was enjoying and wanting more of from our online group.  It was a lovely meeting, where we celebrated what we had achieved together and collaborated to create ideas for the future, both in terms of themes and ways of reaching others who might benefit. 

Here is some feedback gathered from the participants during this session which I have extracted from the video recording of our Zoom conversation. We would love to read about what you think of our project so far. Read to the end to find out how you can share your thoughts.

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Rooms and the memories they hold

Jolene began by inviting us to reflect, with gratitude, on our current home. She reminded us of what Alberto had said, the first week we met under lockdown, about our relative comfort compared to other places in the world. With closed eyes, she asked us to be thankful as we pictured the room in which we were sitting, and to focus on something within it that was special to us. Then, if we wished, to travel to another part of the house and do the same.

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Doorways

This week I was enthusiastic to help people explore more of their thoughts and memories about present and past home environments.  At first, I couldn’t think of a new starting point for this. Then I saw an image of a door opening in my head. It invited me to start the session with a poem by one of my favourite writers, Marge Piercy. In Doors opening, closing on us, Piercy says:

“We slice our life into
segments by rituals, each a door
to a presumed new phase.”

After this, I led the group through a visualisation exercise about doors from different times in our lives. We went on to have a paired then group discussion about the literal and metaphorical associations we had made with this theme. Read on to see what each contributor came up with in response to these prompts and conversations.

From my perspective, listening to others in these online discussions takes me back to being a child again, when after knocking on the front door of a new friend, I was first welcomed in. I hope that you the reader also feel some of the joy, kindness and honour of being invited to glimpse the inner life of those who open up and greet you here.

Mark Taylor

During the lockdown, every thought and conversation, no matter what the topic, eventually winds its way back to the pandemic. When asked to talk about doors, after hiding out behind them for seven weeks, the connection is all too obvious. So it was a relief and a pleasure, talking to Susan, to reach this point unexpectedly late in the conversation, and even then to touch on it only briefly before closing that door and opening another.

Instead, we talked of changing times: from the single door of Susan’s childhood cottage, opening straight into the living room; to the front doors and hallways and French windows and kitchen doors of modern living; to the many people stacked in tiny flats, with front doors opening straight into their living rooms, and doors built to close tight automatically in the hope of compartmentalising fire.

Doors, it seems, reflect much of the way we live. For my son, like everything else, they are a plaything. If you shut one, you say “Ba-bye!”; if you open one, you say “Boo!”; either way, you laugh for about a minute, immediately do the other and continue until you get bored (which may never happen) or are made to do something boring, like go to bed or eat an apple. If a door is closed, it must have something on the other side that is fun to bash or put in your mouth, and should be opened immediately. If it will not open, bang your tiny fists on it and shout until a grown-up opens it for you. If this does not work, simply rip it off its hinges: this is a thing that, at eighteen months old, you can apparently do somehow.

(When you have a toddler, every thought and conversation, no matter what the topic, eventually winds its way back to the toddler.)

View of a child's playroom with a toddler size red rocking horse and an open door.
Photo by Ksenia Chernaya on Pexels.com

Jean Thompson

At first I thought I would not have a lot to say about doors, but thanks to Jolene’s introduction and in talking with Joe, I found I was able to get my thoughts in order and actually identify some of what doors mean to me.

Joe and I shared our individual memories of when we had been locked out of our respective homes and unable to get through the door. We were unable to rouse the other occupants and had to resort to alternative actions. Many years separated our experiences, but it was very interesting to know they were very similar. The door was a barrier at that time to what we wanted to do, and the safety of home.

Looking down at a doormat in front of a closed door.  Home is written on the doormat with a heart instead of the letter O.  You can also see the bottom of a man's legs, wearing jeans and trainers, standing in front of the mat.
Photo by Kelly Lacy on Pexels.com

I have lived in several places all with different doors, but they all served the purpose of opening the way to home, a place to be released from the external world with all its stress and trauma. Getting home from an exacting day at work, or a difficult situation trying to pacify toddlers in tantrum mode, or recalcitrant teenagers, on opening the front door you were in a more private space and able to relax or deal with the said toddlers or teenagers in your own space. Doors protected you from the outside world, and enabled you to just be yourself, whatever that might be.

Another thought came to me as I was talking. When it is warm enough, I like to have all the interior doors open, and enjoy the sense of freedom and flow of energy to the whole house this encourages. Nothing is shut off.

Importantly though, remembering and appreciating too how fortunate you are if your home is a safe place, as for so many people this is sadly not so. A door in those circumstances is the very opposite of allowing entry to safety.

View of the handle on a door handle, beneath a lock.
Photo by Henry & Co. on Pexels.com

Margaret Kendall

I remember my fear on reaching that door in Bloom Street. I nearly didn’t ring the bell. It was the early 1980s and the realisation that I could no longer suppress my feelings for other women had been a long time coming. Going through that door to the lesbian support group changed my life for the better. It was my first experience of “coming out of the closet”, that powerful metaphor for not being ashamed of who you are and no longer hiding that truth from others. It was a real door, but the first of many metaphorical doors throughout my life.

I came through doors to friends first. Some are dear friends to this day, but others withdrew or I did, because of their reactions. Living in Manchester, especially in Whalley Range and Chorlton, I was also in the right place to make many new friendships, some long-lasting. Even today, after changes in society that would have astounded us four decades ago, it would be much harder in other parts of our city and country.

My experience of workplace doors varied, not only when I changed jobs or roles, but every time new colleagues joined a team. I have always preferred to get to know people before coming out, and only then if it seemed relevant. Often it wasn’t, although sometimes I couldn’t control other people deciding to “out” me others. These days, younger people may question such caution but it became a way of life in more hostile times. After all, full legal protection against discrimination at work for LGBT people only came into effect in 2010.

I hovered at the thresholds of family doors far longer than many do. I’m lucky to be part of a large, loving family who enjoy coming together, and I didn’t want to cause distress. Once you’ve spoken, there is no way back. In retrospect, my parents must have seen the change in me when I finally met the right person and settled down happily. They always included her in family gatherings. My partner and I have now been through many other metaphorical doors together over the last thirty-three years.

We’ve lived in our current house for over twenty years now, and are comfortably out with our near neighbours. I smile that we had no hesitation recently in meeting many more neighbours via the recently established WhatsApp group for the whole road. Coming out was not an issue. Connecting, caring and sharing are what matter now.

View of blue sky and sunlit white clouds through a partially open shuttered door
Photo by Beto Franklin on Pexels.com

Tony Goulding

This week’s topic produced some very interesting insights into the importance and significance of doors in our lives. Unlike windows, by their very raison d’être, doors involve us in a more active interaction, involving the transition between different states such as indoor to oudoors, bedroom to living room to kitchen and others. Symbolically, they have also come to represent different phases of our lives, for instance, in the old adage “when one door closes another opens”. In this respect, at the end of this “lock down”, we will all go through to a new lifestyle.

Doors are also intimately associated with the idea of home and a place of safety, but also of hospitality, both of which are being put under the spotlight at this time. While contemplating this symbolism, I was reminded of the “Door of Reconciliation” in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland, which combines both being closed as a barrier and open as an invitation. Briefly, the story goes that two rival families in 15th century Ireland were engaged in a bitter feud. One “Black James” took refuge behind this door and would not come out. Wishing an end to the conflict, and in order to extract his erstwhile foe, Gerald Fitzgerald cut a hole in the door and thrust his arm through to offer his hand in friendship. If you’d like to find out more, take a virtual visit to St Patrick’s Cathedral.

Closely allied to these concepts is the crucial importance of keys in our lives: getting the “key to the door” on coming of age, the romantic sharing of keys signifying a strengthening relationship and even down to choosing a trusted friend or neighbour to keep a spare set of keys in case of an emergency.

The significance of doors was recognised by ancient civilisations. The Roman God Janus, after whom January is named, was the deity who not only looked after doors and gateways but also comings and goings, beginnings and endings and transitions of all kinds. In many cultures, sacred artifacts are placed in doorways or entrances to both bring blessing and ward off evil spirits.

View through an ancient stone archway to blue sky behind,  with broken carved stones in the foreground
Photo by Hisham Zayadnh on Pexels.com

Alberto Velázquez Yébenes

I love speaking with this man. As he normally does, Tony took me away from the usual meditation exercise with a much more philosophical debate. His webcam is blurry, so you normally get a hint of his shape in the middle of the fog…still able to see his Cheshire Cat smile shining through though.

Now, what does a door represent compared to a window (our exercise from last week)? A door represents some sort of movement, action. Whilst a window can be, not in a bad way, more contemplative, a door suggests two spaces that sooner rather than later will be crossed, a threshold he said. As an architect I couldn’t like this enough.

From the simple thought of protection, access … invitation as well. This made me think about those fairy tales about vampires only being allowed to enter a property if they are welcomed in, Netflix speaking.

In truth, during the meditation exercise there was a door ( and a new bit of Spain) I was transported to. The one on my father’s house, in the outskirts of Madrid. It was a ground floor flat in a block with a swimming pool, and this memory brought me to my bare feet and the freshness, still soaked from a swim in those months of the summer. My toes tingled just with that thought. The cracking noise of that door being opened will last forever.

Tony is heading back to the big picture, and we get caught in a story about peace and war (another one of our usual highlights). What his expectations are for the next generation of doors after this pandemic. Will we have an open doors society? His is a thoughtful optimism, not a cheesy one. And I have not lived through a war, so I thought on about The Lord of the Rings.

In the book, in a place called Moira, everyone congregated at an entrance to a very dark passage. “Talk, friend and you will be let in” the magician translates to the audience. Hours and hours are spent searching for the password by speaking different languages. Things like “Open” “ Let us in” etc . Until he realises the hidden message was “say ‘friend‘… and you will be let in”. Voilà and it worked. The big doors opened naturally with another never-ending squeak.

“These were happier times”, and they all laughed. 

Photo by Harrison Haines on Pexels.com