A Chance Encounter

His name was Alex. Walking along the street, I saw him open the door of his car, stopped and asked him if he was from Ukraine. He was.

I’d seen the car several times before on this street and had noticed it’s UA blue and yellow flag identifier on the number plate. I often walk along this street with our dog, en route to the Heath, a large green open space, popular with dogs and their owners.

I spontaneously held out my hand and welcomed him to our small town; it seemed the least I could do after daily updates on the war and the news of power cuts and water shortages affecting the entire country amidst the endless arial bombardment from Russia.

Alex smiled, shook my hand and we talked. He’d come here to our small UK town with his wife and 6 year old son after getting out of Ukraine a month after it was invaded by Russia. He’d lived in Irpin, and before that, Kyiv. The house the family left, he said, was not badly damaged but neither was it good to live in, as it was close to many of the targeted areas which are regularly attacked. His mum is still there In Ukraine, and like many olde people, she doesn’t want to leave her home country. She’s caring for the family’s cat, which they decided not the bring, but their dog did come with them.

Alex talked freely about life in Uraine and news he gets from his family. He’s heard bad stories about Russian soldiers plundering and stealing from houses in occupied areas; a favourite desirable object for looting is ladies’ underwear – the mind boggles. The most distressing thing he told me was about the hungry, roaming cats and dogs which have been left behind. I almost didn’t want to hear about this, and it’s something which clearly disturbed him. Russian soldiers round up stray cats or dogs and shut them in a wardrobe or cupboard in a deserted house, but they rig up a grenade which explodes when the door is opened. And people, hearing their calls, open the door and they, and the trapped animals are all killed.

There is no doubt in my mind that this is evil. One of the many evils which are being played out in Putin’s war.

There was sadness in his face as he told me that their 11 year old dog, which they had brought to the UK with them, had become ill and died three months previously. I understand the loss of a pet who is a family member, and it crossed my mind that Alex, his family and countless others in Ukraine have lost so much. I hope a few of our locals have had, or will have, a chat with him, or his wife. Their son is doing well at school and I’m sure he and the family will be made welcome there. I told him I’d been a teacher. teaching children of similar age to his son.

He wanted to talk about the war – he’d lost a friend in this current war, he reminded me that Russia’s attacks on Ukraine have been going on for 8 years, when Crimea was annexed. He mentioned the recent news that a newborn baby had been killed in a recent attack on a hospital. At times, it feels hard here to keep up with the often appalling war news that we get; he gets it first hand from the feet on the ground, the people who are living through it, people in his family.

We touched on cultural differences between Russia and Ukraine – the language, the Slavic background of the country, even the music and national costume. Our conversation was wide ranging and I stopped at one point, asking if I was speaking too fast. His English is good and he said no, it was fine, he understood. All I could offer in return in his language was a supportive “Slava Ukraini”.

Alex said that both he and his wife have jobs, are coming to the end of their probabtionary period, and all seems to be going well. I hope, with Christmas approaching, they will find some joy and friendship here, but they will certainly miss their family in Ukraine.

We shook hands again before I went on my way, feeling humbled and enriched, and very glad I’d stopped and spoken to him. It was the highlight of my day to make this connection; I hope we meet again.

Cannon decorated with Ukraine colours and armed with flowers, grounds of Ely Cathedral, taken in May 2022

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From Role to Soul

I read “The Inner Work of Age – shifting from Role to Soul” earlier this year and it received that “Yesss!” response from me. Here was something I could relate to, understand and learn from. Not only was it an excellent read, it was a nudge and a reminder of things I’d forgotten. It flagged up things I’d either been mulling over or had received sudden insights about.

Author Connie Zweig, a retired psychotherapist, draws on her personal experience of being an Elder alongside her professional work with others, also Elders, travelling the path from role to soul. She likens Elders to teachers or mentors, those who willingly pass on the wisdom of their life experience, not from a place of ego, or of needing recognition for their know how, but simply because they are at ease with themselves just as they are and don’t need to prove anything, or be how others might “expect” them to be.

Zweig suggests that as Elders, behaving in this way, give hard-won knowledge to the next generation, welcoming a new generation of seekers and agents of change. The ego is set aside; it has no place when role or roles, which might have defined us during our more active working life, are dropped as the essence of soul begins to find it’s place.

Whilst reading the book and reviewing my own status as Elder (yes, I’m old enough for this) I had some significant, transformative experiences and insights as I’d been evaluating myself and my relationships, contacts and friendships – their value, importance and permanence. I examined the depth, richness and quality of my current interactions with others, and realised that I’d become far more selective and discriminating about who I choose to spend time with. No longer willing to waste time or energy or pussyfooting about with relationships which don’t hit the spot for me, I’m far more comfortable now being straight, truthful and outspoken.

Because of this, friendships which go way back have been tested. One failed appallingly and has been discarded. Was this person ever really and truly my friend? Never.

Others of long standing have been rekindled and shuffle along without much interaction, but this, when it occurs, is always good. New friendships have been formed, and the pleasure when this happens is the recognition that we are singing from the same hymnsheet and have plenty in common.

In this Elder phase of life, I’m far more perceptive and discriminating about who I can trust and who I can’t. Learning to trust, listen to and act on my intuition has been an important lesson, and a reminder of something I’d either forgotten or wasn’t attentive or sharply enough honed to take note of.

As for my “role”, I’m not really clear if I now have one! Yes, I’m a retired teacher and as such I can always seize what is called “the teachable moment” with children and adults alike. Once a teacher, always a teacher and I’ve often had random people ask “Are you a teacher?” (Yes, always, but retired it’s a lot easier being a volunteer in the classroom rather than being in charge!).

I’ve made personal and psychological changes to myself and my outlook over the past year, and I’ve questioned what my role, if any, is meant to be – or if I even need a “role”. Volunteering is one way Elders shift from role to soul – they become more involved in sharing their skills and knowledge and energy in society, for the benefit of others. And of course, they get a lot back from doing so, quietly being themselves and not needing the ego boost.

Recommended reading, to find out more:

The Inner Work of Age – Shifting from Role to Soul by Connie Zweig

The Comeback Kid?

It’s a while since I left WordPress, in a bit of a huff too, as I was fed up with the block system which I never really got to grips with. I wanted to continue using the the old style “Classic” set up but the techie powers that be basically said “Tough – no – sorry…” when I asked. So I left. That was 2 years ago,

Well, I didn’t really leave, I just went completely dormant on WordPress and did other things instead. I updated and created a couple of other blogs using Blogger, clunky and familiar to me a it was from days gone by, and just got on with my life. There was Covid and lockdowns and all the restrictions that everyone experienced at that time. I wrote a book – a true to life account of family road trips and holidays in the US and Europe. I wrote it for my family and it took me the best part of a year while there were fewer distractions around during lockdowns, and being put into “tiers” of greater or fewer restrictions where we could and could not travel.

The last two years now seem a bit of like a surreal dream – or possibly a nightmare. Writing up the road trip holidays, along with plenty of browsing of photos helped a lot and took me back to happier times when I could see my grandchildren in the US. In lockdown life, family Zoom sessions were a big compensation and we kept in touch, but nothing could have been a substitute for seeing and hugging them for real when we did finally get together after two years.

Why the comeback now? Life has moved on, I’ve moved on. Writing this I’m still finding those infernal pop ups asking what block I’d like to use a distracting nuisance, but so far so good and I’m carrying on as if they don’t exist. Ignoring them. Especially as I’m managing perfectly well without knowing what to do with them. See, I’ve got this far!

By some mysterious muddling I managed to choose and upload a pic from my WordPress gallery for this post. I even stuck with the pop ups (please do go away…) to crop it to the size I wanted, so – progress.

Looking at my long-forgotten image gallery it was like reconnecting with a portion of my past, rewakening memories, echoes of what had gone before. I may be revisiting some distant echoes which have been resurfacing in my life over the past year, perhaps sharing something of my thoughts and experiences.

But for now, I’m back. The Comeback Kid? Maybe no longer a kid, but you get the gist.

A COVID Christmas message

The risk of catching Covid-19 from another family member is high, as much as you love them, so please read and take heed of this important message.

Robby Robin's Journey

This is an unusual Christmas post, but then again this is Christmas in a year like no other. This season is a time that’s meant to bring joy, and this year we have to be especially creative in finding ways to do so while keeping everyone safe. I wish everyone a happy holiday; this COVID world is at least offering us the time to look for joy in the small things, if we only choose to take it. Let’s take advantage of that.

I think this blog post from fellow blogger Kavitha at Sunshiny SA Site is important to reblog in its entirety. It is a strong reminder of why the restrictions in place in so many of our regions are there for a reason. The story it shares has been replicated far too many times: in Canada, South Africa, the United States, the UK, EU countries, and everywhere around…

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