Friday, 24 June 2016

RAIN, RAIN, I WISH WE HAD REMAINED

Yesterday it poured all day, and long into the night. June's roses have taken quite a beating. Will they recover?

At the hospital my stats were not promising: temperature - 37.7 and pulse - 113. The immunology team decided against my receiving intravenous immunoglobulins. Two weeks of antibiotics were prescribed and I was sent home. Unfortunately, a nurse had already hooked up one of my Ig bottles, which would sadly have to be discarded. I regret the waste of such valuable, life saving medicine. But deeply appreciate the nursing staff's concern in making sure I was the priority. I feel so loved by my team of nurses at the hospital; I am seen. Really seen.

As a patient I have to trust many others with my life. I have to trust that when they say they know more than I do, they really do know more. I have to trust that I matter. As a citizen of a country, we have to trust our lives do matter in the hands of those elected.

The vote to leave Europe was not my choice, but democracy is. I value my right to vote and the right of others to vote as they see fit. But sadly, as google analysts are proving by the discovery that many in the UK don't know what the EU is, let alone what leaving it will constitute, what has come to be has come to be as much out of fear and ignorance as anything else.

When a girl like Malala Yousafzai speaks out about the importance of education for the millions of girls who are unfortunate enough to be kept out of school, she is also speaking up for education itself. So often we, the educated privileged, don't know about our own governments, let alone global policies. Worst of all, how many of us can recite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?  It should be the most important piece of literature any student learns. Imprinted on our minds once we leave school and go beyond into the world of Others. That word that scares so many of us.

Shall we begin to recite together? Here we go... 'All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.' And sisterhood.

It is still raining. But we are together, reading and remembering some of the most beautiful words of our human language. http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/

Thursday, 26 May 2016

MAYDAY

I like painting my lips.
Nothing wild like purple,
or unexpected like green;

just your standard, average,
ordinary orange,
herald of summer dreams -

or a plump, pale pink
promise of innocence,
candy floss at Strawberry Fair

when school was out
and love
was ever in the air.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2016


Poetry prompt from dverse Poets Pub...

Saturday, 7 May 2016

WOLVES AND PEACOCKS: WALKING WITH FLANNERY O'CONNOR

Shaista Tayabali
Cambridge, England 

8 March, 1964
Me, I just got out of the hospital where I had my middle entered by the surgeons. It was all a howling success from their point of view and one of them is going to write it up for a doctor magazine as you usually don't cut folks with lupus.
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Flannery O'Connor, the Southern American novelist, was diagnosed with "disseminated lupus erythematosus" in 1950. She was twenty-five. Her life divided itself into two parts, according to William Sessions, Regent's Professor of English Emeritus at Georgia State University, and a friend of the O'Connors. Sessions describes lupus as "an incurable death dealing disease... that is, her body was killing itself. The self was, without her will, committing suicide. She could do nothing. Her freedom, as a living human being could do nothing, hurtling through space and time toward annihilation."
Having spent a few years writing and traveling between New York and Connecticut, O'Connor returned to Milledgeville at Christmas, 1949, to resolve the first of her health problems, an operation to correct a floating kidney, or in her words: "I have to go to the hospital Friday and have a kidney hung on a rib." Within a year of this operation, O'Connor was informed that she was dying of lupus. She was debilitated both by high fevers and the treatments employed by her doctor, Arthur J. Merrill, to save her life. Once discharged, and still believing she was suffering from an earlier misdiagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, she began a strict salt free, milk free diet, and ACTH by inoculation, which she learnt to administer herself. Above all, she believed this was a temporary ordeal in spite of the doctors. She was on cortisone, which counters the powerful desire of a lupus patient to stay in bed. Throughout she continued to work on her novel Wise Blood.
The editor of O'Connor's letters collected in The Habit of Being, Sally Fitzgerald, describes lupus as "a dangerous disease of metabolic origin—incurable but controllable by steroid drugs—which exhausts the energies of its victims and necessitates an extremely careful and restricted life."
Incurable. That word, repeated twice, like a tolling bell. O'Connor was born on March 25, the Day of Annunciation; the proximity of a cathedral opposite the family home provided a tolling bell every fifteen minutes of her childhood.
Fitzgerald’s description perfectly defines the disease as I engage with it today, in 2016. O’Connor is not the most sympathetic of writers, her fictional work presents complicated barriers of race and religion for the modern reader; she herself knew that "most people think of (these) stories as hard, hopeless and brutal," but in her letters I find the echo of my own voice, my frustrations at the lassitude of a society, medical or otherwise, that stubbornly continues to disengage with the seriousness of lupus.

At the instance of my own diagnosis in 1997, I was a victim of that social ignorance. When the words, 'You have something called SLE, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, but a very mild version, you won't even notice it, no need to panic" were uttered, neither my parents nor I second guessed the manner in which my diagnosis was delivered nor the advice that immediately followed the delivery. "Go on holiday," waved my cheery immunology consultant, the one who always referred to me as "this charming girl."
"Enjoy yourself," he said. "Start the hydroxychloroquine when you start university. I dont expect to see you back here."
We trusted the deliverer of this news. He had become a particular friend. We accepted the words as though they formed a parcel we had been expecting all along, and trooped out of the office with much shaking of hands and cheerful farewells.
Ironically, unlike my own state of ignorance at point of diagnosis, lupus was a known quantity to the young O’Connor. Her father, a post war survivor, one of those men who belonged in Gertrude Stein's opinion to the 'lost generation', had been diagnosed with lupus in 1937, had died of the disease in 1941. Ten years after her father’s death, O’Connor returned to her mother, and to Andalusia, the ancestral farm in Milledgeville, Georgia, where she outlived the doctors’ prophecy of her own death by eleven years. Perhaps knowing it was a killer, her father's death providing incontrovertible proof, she rarely had to face the bracing advice and encouragement of the healthy that a lupus patient, or any chronic illness patient, is usually obliged to endure. Or perhaps she did, as this letter dated April 4th, 1951 reveals: "Now I am at home again and not receiving any more awful cards that say to a dear sick friend, in verse what's worse. Now I shoot myself with ACTH once daily and look very well and do nothing that I can get out of doing."
In the months leading up to her death from lupus, O’Connor’s letters are both moving and snippy, a snark displayed by another favorite writer of mine, Eva Ibbotson, in an interview conducted towards the end of her life. Ibbotson was diagnosed with lupus in her seventies, and as with O’Connor, any interference in their writing lives, including or especially interviews, was regarded with a growl. Perhaps writers are naturally grouchy beings, living isolated, hermit lives as we do. To add a sprawling beast of an autoimmune illness into the literary equation is bound to tip us over the edge.
At twenty-three, O’Connor was perfectly capable of flooring a patronizing publisher with a courteous but steely letter when he proposed to "work with her" to "change the direction" of her first book. The publisher later complained in a note to her former teacher Paul Engle, that O'Connor suffered from "hardening of the arteries of cooperative sense"—an extraordinary term, but a quality I wish I possessed. Unfortunately I have found one has little choice but to loosen the arteries of cooperative sense when dealing with doctors.
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8 June, 1964
I am still here—into the 3rd week. I had a transfusion Sareday & another Sunday. I don't get any information out of them that I particularly understand but then I'd have to study medicine if I wanted to keep up with myself. I don't know if I'm making progress or if there's any to be made. Let's hope they are learning something anyhow.

16 June, 1964
I asked [the doctor] today when I could go home. Well, he says, we can begin to think about it now. Well, you begin, says I, I been thinking about it all the time. So we are beginning to think about it.

The first mention of lupus vulgaris referred to a malignant ulceration destroying the nose or face. The disease resembled the attack of a wolf. Wolf bite. Today the term lupus vulgaris is obsolete; the "malignant ulceration" actually refers to cutaneous tuberculosis—a condition totally unrelated to lupus. In the 1840's the Viennese physician Ferdinand von Hebra described a distinctive rash "mainly on the face, on the cheeks and nose in a distribution not dissimilar to a butterfly." From wolf bite to butterfly wings: is it any wonder that the lupus patient is an abstraction of chaos?
In 1851, Pierre Cazenave combined lupus, the Latin word already in existence, with a Greek-rooted French word, erythemateux—"lupus characterized by redness." Later, erythemateux was Latinized to erythematosus. And finally, since the condition visibly affected various other parts of the body—"disseminated," then "systemic" prefixed "lupus erythematosus." A weighty term, but the reduction of systemic lupus erythematosus to lupus is not necessarily helpful in explaining how the disease feels, or how the lupus patient must cope with her life sentence.

How does it feel? Like there's an animal inside of me. Or I am animal.
I'll be sitting in the car with my sweet parents in the front, my mother mildly describing the quaintly dressed woman on the other side of the road for my father's amusement, or both of them discussing the recent antics of their grandchildren, and I, at the back, strapped in for safety, am growing claws, thirsting for blood, red eyed and frantic. A contained fury, I grit and grip my teeth and curl my claws into my palms and breathe into the hell.
They are no fools, these sweet parents of mine. They have lived with this wolf-child-woman for as long as I have, and they know exactly what to do.
Nothing.
They neither invite the wolf to speak nor deny him the right to spit and hiss. Him? Her? It is a genderless beast.
           
Carl Horner, Professor of American Literature at Florida University, is one of the few academics who has made a direct connection between the killing violence of SLE and the metaphorical significance of violent, self-contradictory characters like the murdering Misfit in "A Good Man Is Hard To Find."
O'Connor claimed all her stories were "about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it." It seems to me, reading O'Connor's letters, that she herself lived, or attempted to live, in a state of grace.
Once she accepted her destiny, she embraced it, employing a phrase by the French philosopher and Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin—"passive diminishment"—to serenely accept whatever afflictions or loss she was unable to change.
I, on the other hand, living as I do in a time of self-help, raw vegan food goddesses and Balinese yoga retreats, am less easily able to be content with the life of a sick writer. Not a day, not a year goes by, without feelings of failure, certain that I have taken the wrong path at every crossroads. I have also lived with or near my parents throughout the course of my disease—the added burden of glaucoma diagnosed within a year of my lupus diagnosis ensuring that I have a double vulnerability, a double need of my mother's strength, comfort and solid reassurance that I am loved no matter what. But I try, like O'Connor, to believe that as long as I have "enough energy to write with and as that is all I have any business doing anyhow, I can with one eye squinted take it all as a blessing."
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The years have taught me to cling to one thing—the voice in my head that is translating the experience into language. The words themselves are not the solution, it is the knowledge that my future self's fingers can scribe with pen, will type into the whiteness, the blankness, the beautiful blackness of letters, a poem. A line. My own. Or perhaps belonging to some other animal-soul in terror.
We borrow language from each other. We remember stories, punchlines, moralities and also that there are no punchlines, moralities, endings. It goes on. This is how I go on. The words. Writing. The sharp tearing and through the slit, a memory of something pure, neither human nor animal, but natural. An instinct. Survival.
24 June, 1964
I've had four blood transfusions in the last month. The trouble is mostly kidneys—they don't refine poisons out of the proteins & therefore you don't make blood like you should or you lose it like you shouldn't or something. As far as I am concerned, as long as I can get at that typewriter, I have enough. They expect me to improve, or so they say. I expect anything that happens...

A month after that last entry, O’Connor was dead. She hated the disease because it interfered with her writing, but she wrote right up until her death on August 3, 1964. She was 39. I hope that I will live beyond that age but a life with lupus is as unpredictable now as it was then.

Photography by Jay Leviton, taken at O'Connor's family home of "Andalusia" in Milledgeville, Georgia, 1962

References
Dibner, R. M.D. (1994). Lupus Handbook for Women. New York: Fireside.
O’Connor, F. (1980). The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor. S. Fitzgerald (ed.). New York: Vintage-Random House.
O’Connor, F. (1971). ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’. Flannery O’Connor: The Complete Stories. New York: Farrar. 11-29.
TICenter (2013) It Takes a Story to Make a Story: Flannery O’Connor’s Life and Imagination. Available at:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLe4ZLnhdVs [Accessed: 30 March, 2016].
YaleCourses (2008) 3. Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjplQUPhES4 [Accessed: 30 March, 2016].

Shaista Tayabali is a poet living and writing in Cambridge, England. She was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in 1997, and has since combined a life of illness with a life of letters. She is a recent graduate of a Creative Writing MA programme, and is completing her memoir on living with lupus. 

Friday, 22 April 2016

GATE OF LILACS

At night, I asked my father, 'If you could paint your nails any colour right now, what colour would you paint them?' He responded (with surprising alacrity), 'Lilac'. (Why? Because it's spring. Lilac season.) But I thought it perfect for another reason - I had been trying to decide on the perfect colour for an event the following day - Clive James' book launch for his verse-commentary on Proust, called, seemingly in accordance with the time of year: Gate of Lilacs.

It felt serendipitous.


I arrived at Pembroke in a bright red coat, white dress, feeling rather pale lilac about the gills, and plunged into another writerly adventure. At the entrance to Pembroke's Old Library, the new books were on display - Collected Poems, Gate of Lilacs and Sentenced to Life - I overheard a man order several copies. I looked up. Tom Stoppard. 'Halloooo!' (I did not yodel, but it was thrilling all the same.) He looked nice, almost approachable. And then he disappeared into the clutch of Englishmen and women milling around a seated figure.

Cambridge, according to one of Clive's oldest fans (102 year old Ann Baer of family Sidgwick) can become quite blasé - being able to boast a roll call of poets, rebels and Nobel prize winners; now the city breathed into the poignant spaces between the lines of the Poet Kid from Kogarah. 'Not a dry eye in the house!' Thus Clive, the Laughing Boy, merry after reading his epitaph. 
[He wrote a song lyric once that went like this:
'I've got the only cure for life, and the cure for life is joy
I'm a crying man that everyone calls Laughing Boy'…]

I thought of slinking away after the speeches and wonderful recitation. A small banquet of food was being laid out at one end of the library. I knew I couldn't really face chewing and swallowing in hallowed literary company (Carol Ann Duffy! Mary Beard! Andrew Marr!) but I drifted towards it anyway, just to have a point of focus. And found myself beside Oxford author and media commentator Douglas Murray. 'What is the correct etiquette,' I enquired, 'if you know the name of a famous person, but don't know them at all? For example, is it polite to say 'Hello, Douglas' or is it presumptuous?' Answer: famous people quite like being known, and more, being liked. So now I know. Over munchies, we discussed poetry, memoir and life, but not politics. He was charming, and had beautiful manners because at no point did he indicate by even a flick of the eye that he would rather be hobnobbing with the HobNobs. It was I, in fact, who was still eyeing up Tom Stoppard… 'What do you think?' I asked Douglas, whom I now regarded as the arbiter of good taste, 'is it ghastly for a famous person to have a stranger come up and regale them with personal information?' 'Depends,' said the arbiter. I shared my nugget. 'Definitely go speak to Stoppard. He'll enjoy that story.' But, I still couldn't. Instead, I talked to Prudence Shaw, Clive's brilliant wife, a Dante scholar, and confided in her that sometimes I can't summon the energy to 'achieve' - all I want is to play with my nieces. Play the days away. 

Finally, a spot had cleared by Clive, and I retired to sit in his shade. I ought to say 'in his light', him being the star, but a friend always offers shade. The first thing Clive said when I sat down was, 'Have you met Tom Stoppard? Go and tell him I sent you.' I jumped up, carte blanche in hand, and accosted the poor man over his edibles. 'Clive sent me!' I chirruped. Oh, he was so lovely to me, so kind and interested - and asked me such pertinent questions about my illness that when we finally came to speak of Other Things, I couldn't remember anything I'd done since (and this is the nugget) I played Thomasina in Arcadia at sixth form. And was kissed for the first time, on a stage, by a boy whose girlfriend was in the audience. A girlfriend whose mother had directed the play. Septimus never kissed Thomasina in quite such a dry, papery way as on that stage. 

The seats beside the star had finally cleared once more and, laden with coffees, Tom and I (Tom, Clive, Douglas… you see how democratic I am?) sank into chairs. We were just getting snug in a conversation about nostalgia for Bombay, and his time in Darjeeling when A Person cut across me to talk to TS. At first, I smiled politely (I understand, my smile said, I've been trying to do this very thing all afternoon) but finally, I stood up and offered my chair. Take it, I thought. Perhaps this means a great deal to you. (But the rudeness, mes amies!) 

Never mind, never mind. One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach, as the saying goes… I retired to phone for a taxi with good grace. Every time someone asked me how I knew Clive James, I explained that we meet across the drips. 'My mind is coming into focus again,' I told the playwright. It has been foggy for months, if you recall. I even had an MRI on my brain! All fine, all fine. Brain in working order. I feel as though I am at university again, only my lecturer awaits me on a faux leather chair while nurses attend to his (and my) blood pressure, heart rate and other vital signs. We are alive, and this being alive is everything. Now. 

Thursday, 7 April 2016

TIGERBALI!

Exactly four years ago, I was on retreat in Nottingham with Thich Nhat Hanh and the monks and nuns of Plum Village. April sunshine, daffodils and myself walking mindfully amid hundreds of peacefully paced humans. Thây offered me a daffodil from the stage (well, perhaps he was offering it to all of us, but like all great charismatic beings, Thây makes each of us feel personally invited into his presence).
In my less saintly moments, I remind myself that once upon a mindful moment, I walked in time to the rhythm of a Zen master.


There is another type of Zen I have been practising for five years. The Zen of Children. From the moment Rafael was born until this moment when he is a Grand Five Years Old, I have been accruing rivers of joy, peace and something resembling bliss. Perhaps it is bliss itself. He no longer demands stories sadly. No longer am I commanded, 'Tell me a 'tory, Aunty Shai!' His social life is comparable to any busy twenty-something.


And I barely get a look-in. Never mind, never mind, I console myself. I still have three Under Threes to contend with.


Here in Cambridge, The Twins tear about the newly sprung daffs, try to climb the silver birch and get stuck in veils of creeping ivy. Daily commands include: 'Do Owl! Do Rabbit! Do Pooh!' and I oblige, morphing into the animal of choice. The animals of Shelford are rawther genteel on the whole, with Raf's Gruffalo keeping a safe distance at the bottom of the garden, behind The Gate That Is Never Unlatched. In Singapore, it is quite another story. Bella the Bold has a new catchphrase.

'I'm strong and tough! I'm Tigerbali!'

This said, with all her characteristic ferocity, hair tangled and fingers fisted. Eyebrows drawn low in case you misunderstand and think her only a little girl. No, no, no. You are in the presence of the great grand daughter of Chief Justice Tigerbali himself, and one day she may hold his Sultan inherited sword to prove it.


Meanwhile, I, wilting from endless infusions and immuno deficiencies, intend to make this my new mantra. 'I'm strong and tough! I'm Tigerbali!' All I need is a companion tigress like Princess Precious has with Temujin the Terrible...




Sunday, 27 March 2016

IMMOVABLE FEASTS


It comes rushing in with the sun,
the memories of who you were,
who you've always been - and you
want to give thanks for the bread
and the wine, and all the other times
you stood in the sun

but your eyes snag on a shadow
stamped, immovable, on the wall.

(c) Shaista Tayabali, 2016


Image and prompt from Magpie Tales www.magpietales.blogspot.co.uk

(It bothers me, to end on shadows and sorrow, but that's the way the poem comes, sometimes. Easter is that way - sorrowful, then joyful. Happy Easter,dear readers 🐣)

Saturday, 6 February 2016

ABOUT A HORSE

About a Horse

The reins put me off. That direct link to slavery. 
A master designing a halter especially for his slave. Adjustable.

And I think the mare knew this. And sensed I was no leader. 
Or maybe she forgot about me, light-boned girl child on her 

inverted lap. All she heard was the lowing of a distant cow
and some nascent memory of her own made her bolt. 

It’s always been this way. I signal weakness.
You don’t need to be human 

to know I am scared of you. 
You can be animal too. 

There were many of us there that day.
But when it was you bolting, and me 

clinging on, my fingers in your mane, my thighs 
gripping your haunches, where did they go? 

Where were you going? 
How did we survive?

The irony was this: we had come to the end of our time 
together. We had had our neat and tidy

trot around the rough red tracks, and now we were gathering 
to part. My brothers had had their gallops (they preferred 

gallops, I did not; you were chosen for your sedate pace)
and I was ready for solid ground

but

I was tied to you: my feet in your stirrups. I was already leaning, 
arms outstretched for the lifting up, over, down

when you decided to run.

How long do horses live? You were a hill station, holiday 
treat horse. You were real; there is a picture of us. 

I was always scared. You were always gentle. 
Until that day. 

I wish I could remember your name. But what then? 
You never knew mine - did you?

Did I call out your name when I begged you to 
stop? You heard nothing, it seemed, only wind,

and whatever was driving you on. Did you hear
me scream, Bachao! Bachaobecause I could see 

hill station women, babies wrapped snug, safe 
in their mother’s arms, and I was, you were,

thundering further and further from mine?

It wasn’t my mother who saved me. Or a stranger’s
It was you. All I had to do was hold on

until you ran out of fear, and I heard your heartbeats
allargando, adagio, adagissimo. Last week, I thought of you 

during a Beethoven concert, and talked about you 
in the interval, and tried to convey something of our ride 

into nothingness and how everything became clear 
when you finally cantered to a halt.

He found us there, your trainer, but I can’t remember my rescue. 
You were docile by then, chewing wild grass by the verge, 

acting as though nothing had happened,
as though you often ran for your life, and to your 

death: a ritual
you practiced for some final victory.


© Shaista Tayabali, 2015
Entered in dverse poets pub for their Open Link night and will also be published on herstory blog.

Monday, 18 January 2016

ACROSS THE BRIDGE, JUMP INTO THE NEW, FIRE MONKEY STYLE

Close your eyes and see the smiling giggling memories, my friend Rhianna advises when I bemoan the fates that brought me away from sunshine to the house of needles. 
Let me try... 
Breathing in, I see... a beach in Bali where boats sail over clouds and children draw whales on sand...

Breathing out, I see myself, in different shades of light and dark...


making up stories for little girls who want to be princesses and brave knights...
making memories with grown up women who are princesses and brave knights...
In an English kitchen my niece Ellie dances to her own shadow... out there in the sun, in a different time, my nephew Rafi shouts, 'Jump, Aunty Shai, jump!' 

It's the year of the fire monkey according to Chinese astrological principles. I'm not sure what that entails exactly, but it sounds energetic and adventurous, neither of which I feel now that I am back in England. But I always try to listen to Raf... I kicked off the new year by jumping into a pool at midnight. I think the fire monkey god would have approved...

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

BRIDGE OF BALI OLD, BALI NEW

It's the difference between silence and sound. 
Just outside the bathroom a farm, with crowing roosters fluffing dust and gravel off their tails. The villa is harmonious with both breeze and screeching gecko. I hear each crackle and rustle as the rooster places his claw, regal even in this clump of fallen twig and dead leaf. 

The villa is silent of human sound. The other nine occupants have left on various adventures - water park, shopping excursions - I, lone wolf, among the ants and my words. 

I have been to Bali before; two years ago, in a villa like this, but with a koi fish pond and the beginnings of a raw grief. The rain gods began kicking up a storm from the moment we arrived. One night found me huddled on the cold bathroom floor, wishing away my barren life, wishing instead for a fertile womb, a baby. I wrote something that night:

34

Nothing bold. Perhaps the saddest year.
Certainly the loneliest. 

A storm outside does nothing to console me
inside, on the floor of a bathroom in Bali.

You will get everything you wish for.
Even sadness. Especially sadness.

That is the curse.
That is the price.

You would have been willing 
to pay anything (you thought).

Anything, but that. 


But that was then. And I am here now, a different self in the same place. The raw grief that haunted me has dissipated. I feel lighter. Not accepting, exactly, rather adjusting to each new discovery of a life less travelled in some ways, deeply traversed in other ways. All that matters is that I am here, now, surviving the wild heat and submitting to what will come.


Friday, 25 December 2015

AND A SUNNY MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU AND YOU AND YOU

And then the end of the year is upon us. I don't know about you but I am not entirely heartbroken to see the end of this difficult year. Under the blazing Singaporean sun, I am letting go one month at a time.

In the concentrated heat, amid koyals and beetles, monkeys leaping in through windows for fresh bananas and the occasional languorous green snake, I eat and unwind my own coiled tense muscles.

In the midst of celebrating Christmas eve, the nephew and I contemplate a tired beetle, struggling to climb aboard a raft...  not dissimilar to me in the final stretch of this year. 


In his last hours, the beetle had two friends trying to build walls of protection around him. 
Later, at Christmas lunch under tropical sun, Raf insisted I eat with the upturned beetle beside me ... oh well, all part of the great merry go round of life. Merry Christmas everyone!