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.

 

Things I know to be True

There are specific moments in your life that you wish you had someone to share them with and there are several friends, whom on this night, I wish I could have shared this experience. But like with every situation in life some scenarios are to be experienced alone and those memories are the ones that will stay with you forever. 

I watched ‘Things I Know to be True’ by Andrew Bovell at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith last Friday, produced by Frantic Assembly. What a great piece of writing! For the first time in a long time I  was moved (well utterly flabbergasted), I was transformed by a shift of emotions and inspired by some brilliantly observed writing about familial life. The play was about an ageing couple, the husband retired, the wife still working as a Nurse with four grown up children. The play opens with the youngest daughter returning home after travelling across Europe in a gap year of self discovery. All of the children, now adults one married, one in a broken relationship and one a city flier are still treated like children, mainly from their Mum. All have varying degrees of bitterness and resentment toward their Mum’s ability to constantly undermine their choices, criticise their personalities and having an insight to see the truth. The Dad, a man that shys away from having a voice and in need of a quiet life. Don’t we all.

https://www.franticassembly.co.uk/productions/things-i-know-to-be-true 

I  recently worked with Frantic Assembly on the Intermediate workshops where Neil Bettles (http://dowhatyouloveforlife.com/blog/2014/07/do-what-you-love-interview-neil-bettles/) Director/Choreographer shared some of the exercises that the company of the show were working on with us, we did some beautiful movements, lifts, hugs that left my soul shouting at me that this is what I should be doing, not stuck in an office all day. Would I ever get bored, no, I love challenges!

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Frantic Assembly – Intermediate workshop

However, I digress. This play left its mark on my heart, on my soul, on me. And I know I am not the only one that walked away from seeing the show feeling like I went through a roller coaster ride of emotions, I’m not the only one that felt like I had been sucker punched in the gut as I could relate to many of those moments when your Mum looks at you and she knows the truth you are attempting to hide from her. Knowing she is right but wishing she was wrong and couldn’t read the miniscule detail of inflections in your voice or how the look in your eye reveals the inner hurt or disappointment you feel. Anyone who has been in that position when parents know how to get to the heart of you and rip you apart with words, whilst you live your life begging for approval inside. But you’re encased with a hardness that becomes your coping mechanism in life, in relationships. Never wanting to turn out like your parents and yet becoming the very essence of what you hate most about what or whom they are. Early on in your teenage life, you made a pact with yourself you would never become them. (Now the play isn’t entirely pessimistic, there is hope). But it is down to the individual to take the steps of change, that journey that only we can make. Only we can explore, learn, grow from and sometimes still don’t know who we are. We are yet to find the person within the shell we look at everyday. The first act took me on this journey and the actors played their parts incredibly accurately that I felt like I was watching members of my family from different periods of my life and to be honest they way the first act left me feeling I couldn’t see where the second act was going.

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read this section if you haven’t seen the play yet!

The second act opened with the truth slowly unfolding for each person, revealing the lies they had hidden behind, a need to be the person they truly are, hoping for acceptance within family life that we long for and so desperately seek. But even the strongest of families have their limits. Mine did. Which is why we seek solace in our friends, who don’t judge us in the same way and care more for our well-being. The climax, which I didn’t see coming (and this is where the play had earned its weight, its gravitas that impacted on me and the audience) is when the one person who always brings everyone together, who fought the hardest because they had the most difficult journey in life. Where the Matriarch of the family worked hard to make ends meet, to ensure her children had the opportunities she didn’t, dies unexpectedly. My heart broke, I could feel the tears welling up uncontrollably with the rest of the audience. Every “Not her” which was uttered on stage opened up the memories of losing my own Mum, it reminded me of the pain we all felt, the anger my Dad had towards everything and everyone. It reminded me of the space that could never be replaced, the “words yet to be spoken”, the lives she left behind. 

I was speechless. This writer came to do a job and he did it. I wanted to share this moment with someone, with my friends I knew who would love the play as much as me. I felt inspired again, moved again and realised what’s missing from my own work is “heart” and that’s what this play has, a lot of heart and soul. The actors were/are incredible to impart such a journey, often I forget why I love acting and this is why. As I walked out of the theatre, I heard a girl behind me say “I want to phone my Mum and tell her everything I just saw”. I thought, it is when you don’t have a Mum to call anymore that’s when a play has done it’s job. It left me with a whirlwind of sentiments and memories from my past and now it was off to impact on someone else’s life.

Not to be too cynical but I do think, is it me being dramatic, is it the personal journey I am on in life, is this what resonates with me at this particular time? What is it? Why? Who knows, it’s an individual journey for everyone and things I know to be true is that no matter how long we have on this earth, try to not take your eyes off the road.