What is my “legacy”?

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I used to believe that legacies were about children and inheritance of heirlooms and antique furniture. I used to believe legacies were for the rich and famous like Richard Branson or Mark Zuckerberg. I used to believe a lot of things that I don’t anymore, am I jaded, more experienced, older, maturer? I scoff whilst writing this in a cynical inwardly way. Like only I understand the joke, only my inner voice understands what that means; or inner child, as the psychologists or mindfulness community might say.

I travelled abroad recently and had this notion to bring my books, my journals and downloaded a few podcasts to really keep my mind active and engaged intellectually. (I scoff again) Did I read any of them, no. I stayed present to the moment, had pockets of beautiful conversations with some inspiring individuals and exercised hard, well hard for me. Whilst away I believed I would be discovering all these different paths of who I was (existential questioning we all do), what was I to learn on this solo travel. So much of what I learned was seeping its way through upon my return home and not abroad at all. I realised many things about myself, I don’t like the cold, I acclimatise really quickly to the exotic weather (yes, I have many continents in my blood line), I love travelling and it was freeing to do it alone. #yesmyboyfriendapproved and #noididntneedhisapproval
What I realised is that I had taken on the weight and woes of my family and I was discovering who I was in the process. A journey that will never end until my last breath.

So, back to legacies, I started working with the Ben Kinsella Trust and Head Held High just before Christmas on a programme called ‘The Best You’.
Sometimes, I believe, in life we have these serendipitous moments which we either listen to or ignore; what I call the ‘universal alignments’. I’ve been turning the volume low for the last few years without trusting the universe to let things happen. (Now, I know that might sound a bit whacko but most people who know me, knows that I am spiritual). When others come first before your needs, it takes a life changing experience to allow you the time to re-assess your needs are a priority and that is not selfish!

So, ‘The Best You’ programme is motivational for teenagers to get them thinking about their futures, how they can make different choices to protect themselves and to discuss the prevalent rise of knife crime. I worked with an amazing woman, Tash, who has been doing this work for six years and it really shows. There are so many moments in my life where I feel so damn lucky to meet people who not only inspire me right to my core but also I feel so privilege to see how committed, passionate and caring they are in their work, and Tash is one of them.
There’s no time for ego, this isn’t about us, this is about them! I have cried more over this programme and felt so deeply from my soul, than I ever have in crying out of sadness or anger.

The programme started in January, all the teenagers in the group knew people who had  been affected by knife crime or they themselves had been affected by knife crime. The programme had seven teenagers take part, lasted for six weeks, took place in their school with a visit to the Ben Kinsella exhibition.

Was I affected? Yes, every week I went into the classroom, and then onto my full-time job. On my second week, I sent a text to Tash to say how much respect and admiration I had for her knowing how long she had done this work for. I then asked my work colleague if I could have a hug. I cried on my colleague’s shoulder and felt two things “hope” and “progress”. I could see the cogs starting to turn, the pennies dropping, the trickle of change, you could feel the shift in the room when someone had been honest and vulnerable. Every week everyone came, they didn’t have to participate, they didn’t have to attend, the class wasn’t compulsory but every week we saw the same faces and kept reminding them of the reasons we were there. We were there for them, to open their eyes to who they could be, accepting responsibility for their choices, having the opportunities to change their responses to situations.
I felt very much this was a learning experience for me too, what was I doing to be the best person in my life, for my partner, for my family and friends; applying those things that I was saying was tough. I learned things from my friends which questioned who I was in the friendship and staying open and receptive is one of the hardest parts of being human; to not judge and to not be offended.

Today, in our last session together, I was sad that I was not going to be there next week. One of the lads said “why was the programme not going on for longer?” and I felt Tash and I had done our job in that they could see the benefit of this type of work. I felt like all those podcasts I had listened to where they ask the interviewee “what advice would you give your younger self”, I felt like this was my opportunity, I had had six weeks to impart my wisdom, life experience and emotional maturity but I couldn’t find the words and I’m more “story-teller” than “short and concise” type of person. How can you know what to say that relates to the work you are doing, how can you say all the things you wish you could say without the abbreviations and use all the expletives the schools deny you of. How can we make a change in the short one and half hour class that we get?

When you work with someone who gives you the space to lead part of the session and lets you run with a personal experience, all I can say is today was a heart opener. I shared something that even some of my close friends don’t even know about but laying one’s heart out there is not weak, it’s strength in being able to be vulnerable and open. Brene Brown’s Ted Talk covers this on ‘The Power of Vulnerability’. I left the space like I always have with two words in my mind and heart, ‘Hope’ and ‘Progress’.

There’s no selfies or “let’s keep in touch” but there were “thank yous” and a hug. Priceless! I’d been thinking all week what my parting words would be and this was them “I want to meet you in the street in 4-5 years time, shake your hand and hear you tell me what you have been doing. I don’t want to see you on the newspaper because you’ve become a victim”.  I am sad not to be going in next week and shaking each one of their hands and saying hello. I am sad that six weeks doesn’t feel like enough time but I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to work with them, to be inspired by them and to set goals for myself because of them.

So, I come back to legacies, is this my legacy or theirs? I think it’s our legacies that we create and hope we pass on. I have hope in the future of the next generation.

Thank you Ben Kinsella Trust, thank you to Head Held High and to Patrice.

 

If I only had today…

Today I came home crying, I’ve been here before, losing one parent was difficult enough, not knowing how long it would take, the journey it would take and how Cancer would play out. This selfish all consuming, all devouring disease with no inhibitions or care in the world just an egotistical swipe left ghost of a figure.

Why did I cry? The next part of the journey is a different equally challenging one, Dementia. A debilitating, short term memory swiping not quite disease. Still a condition that is labelled with stages from mild to essentially “no hope”. Still not answering the question, “why did I cry?”.

Gratitude – that  I had this moment today? Grateful that I had a day with my Dad?
Self-congratulatory – pat myself on the back because I’ve done my duty and spent some “quality” time with my Dad?
Guilt – that I didn’t spend enough time with my Dad?
Relief – that if anything happened between now and tomorrow, “at least I had today”
Sadness – that I wish I could have seen the signs earlier and spent less time frustrated and angry and more time patient and understanding?
Fear – that I won’t have anyone who will love and care for me in the same way if anything befalls me?

Did I cry because every time I’m there for my Dad, he says “sorry” for taking up my time, “sorry to disturb you”. I never make my Dad feel guilty and boundaries have to be made clear, but it makes me sad and angry to think why he has to say “sorry” and if others have made him feel like a burden or a bother.

The real reason is, I don’t know why, maybe because of all of the above things, maybe because I hate this fucking life with all it’s unfair, injustice shit it places on us. Maybe I’ve had too much wine (two glasses), “maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner and I love London town…”

I chose today, I chose to spend “quality time” with my Dad because in recent years, “quality time” has meant council visits to get him a home and benefits, hospital visits to find out he has Prostate Cancer.  It has meant finding out accidentally that I have a half-brother but with so many questions that will be left unanswered for my entire lift-time. And more hospital/clinic visits to find out that he has dementia and this is the next step.

Did I choose this life? Did I choose to have these challenges in my life to make my soul a more experienced, wiser being in the next life?  To develop to a Nirvana level in this life? How could I have chosen the pain, the suffering, the guilt, the worry, the stress; how? Because I am sure I would have wanted to be in the ice-cream guilt free zone of wealth, wisdom and ignorance, no?

I know I have this immense capacity to love, to give, to care and energy to encourage, but when I walk away, I am sometimes inconsolable with an undeniable outcome. Why was I never prepared for death or just the pain and endurance that one has to go through with life’s incurable toxins. These are not triggers from my childhood, these are not previous experiences before a certain age, this is fucking real life adulthood and it’s shit.

Do I sound ungrateful? Maybe? I sound fucked off with the cards I have been dealt with and I want to throw my toys out of the pram and rant and rave at how unfair it all is. But as most people I know say “it is what it is”. Fuck those words, it seems cold and calculating, a slap in the face of no mercy or prisoners to be found here. Take it or leave it? And I have to accept the inevitable, fate of destiny.

But fate doesn’t have to be a waiting game, I look to do everything possible to enable, to give advice, to make sure my Dad can do everything in his power, while he is capable to slow the inevitable down. While doing this, I have missed on two years of living life with him, having fun with him, day trips out with him, drinking with him.

Have I been selfish in thinking “Well, I was doing my duty as a daughter, at least I was there when he needed me the most, all the appointments”. Have I let my ego get in the way to think, “I’ve said all I can”, given him opportunities and now I can get on my horse and ride off with the knowledge that “there was nothing more I could have done”. I’m an absolute idiot if I think that.

I love my Dad and I don’t want our last months or years of memories to be sat down explaining to him that he has to think now about his funeral arrangements, his Will and whatever “end of life” endeavours he needs to consider. I want to have fun with my Dad, I want him to have fun with me. I don’t want him to get all stressed with me because I’m always talking about the seriousness of every situation.

Today I took him to three of my favourite special places in North London, spaces that make me feel like home never did, peaceful, a space to think and feel/be creative EZ and Moss. A place that always makes me feel like I’m part of the family Mento, Coffee and Flowers and a place “where everybody knows your name” Oak N4

The roles in life have now reversed, it’s my turn to look after, take responsibility of my Dad.  I’m glad I had today and I need to make sure there are more days like today.