Rain is bleaching against the windows through which I watch trees being whisked by the wind, showering the garden with wet leaves. The sky is grey and the air feels opaque, as if being viewed through milky eyes. I’m snug inside, wrapped in a fleece blanket, knees hugged, my chin resting on them. It’s the time of year we wind down towards the dark, pull clothes and blankets around ourselves and get ready for the dead time.

I’ve always loved “The Dead” by James Joyce, not least because of his metaphorical descriptions of the graveyard and the landscape covered by a blanket of snow:

“Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, further westward, softly falling into the mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

Obviously he’s referring to the troubles in Ireland at that time and the emotional dampening down and deadening of passion and energy. But I love the desciptions because the scene creates images for me that represent the hibernation of the soul/spirit that will renew itself and burst out in all its glory with the coming spring. I love sunshine and warm weather, love to be outdoors as much as possible and be ‘on the go’. But I also need to slow down, to retreat into a safe place to reflect and heal. The dead time allows me to take stock of myself and my situation, it enables me to find the time and space to identify and develop those parts of me that have become neglected in the living of a life. And it also provides a sanctuary where I can just be.

Every moment we have is precious, but we often think we have lots of time and waste our moments. When you have a terminal/incurable illness things appear differently. Some people give up and surrender, others try to cram as much as possible into the time they have left. What this time of year does for me is it allows me to take stock of everything I’ve achieved and what still needs to be done, but it also gives me permission to slow down and savour time. I can look at trees bending under the weight of the wind and see them with new eyes, feel their burden, smell the rotting leaves at their base. And if I concentrate really hard I can become the trees and feel rooted in the earth.

Life is all about balance and we have many, many examples of what happens when the balance is lost. So-called primitive societies knew all about ecosystems and food chains without having the scientific knowledge to describe them as such. Lots use the symbol of a wheel turning to illustrate life and death cycles and to show how the spokes of the wheel are important for maintaining the whole so that it turns correctly. Balance is delicate but essential and this is what I need, to counterpoise the frenetic activity that sometimes takes me over, when I forget that a life lived well doesn’t mean it has to be lived at 100mph.

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