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Monday, 30 May 2016

Everything I Needed To Know, I Learned From Children's Literature

Obviously, this is a bit of an exaggeration. But I truly have learned a huge amount of useful, sometimes practical, sometimes just fascinating pieces of life wisdom from children's literature. Here is a completely non-exhaustive list:


  • If there's a fire coming towards you, you can save yourself by making a firebreak. So you literally can fight fire with fire Little House On The Prairie
  • How to make a toasted cheese sandwich using an iron and some silver foil (As many people can attest, i used this piece of information extensively during my university days) Divorce Express
  • So, so many 'lead pencil games' and progressive games and other ways to keep a bunch of children (or adults) entertained with pencils and paper (this has been useful in more settings than you would think) Chalet School books and What Katy did At School
  • That you could shrink your jeans by sitting in a hot bath in them (Ok, i never actually tried this out) Sweet Valley High
  • How to make patterns (visual signs) when you follow a new path, so that you can find your way back again (and so that other people can find you if you've been kidnapped and marched away). The Famous Five 
  • How to tack a boat against the wind (Also never actually used that one, but I'm sure it will come in useful one day) Swallows & Amazons
  • When you hike, you should bend your knees a little with every step so that your shins won't ache Chalet School books
  • Granny knots are for grannies; the only proper knot to tie in everday situations is a reef knot. Or a clove hitch when you really need something to stay Swallows & Amazons
  • Likewise, never cut a piece of string. You never know when you might need it Swallows & Amazons
  • How to start a fire using someone's glasses Lord of the Flies
  • Rabbits have a rich myth-based culture (Alright, I'm joking) Watership Down
  • How to wake yourself up at the time you want to wake up, by hitting your head on the pillow the right number of times according to which hour you want to wake up at (I can't remember which book this was in, but i used it a lot when i was a kid)
  • Always, always, always bring spare batteries Almost every single Famous Five book. you'd think they would learn
  • What phospherecence is I also forgot which book that is in, but i remember the descriptions of a cave shining with phospheresence v well
  • Hot milk will help you fall asleep Every single school story
  • Pine trees attract mosquitoes The Chalet School

I'm sure there are more things, which will come to mind bit by bit over time. Tell me your pieces of life wisdom that you learned from children's literature, too!

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Not A Yahrzeit (So What, Then?)

Today could have been my sister’s (secular) yahrzeit. (In Jewish dates it would be 16th of Iyar, but I still remember secular dates better.)

On Tuesday May 5th, one year ago, she was rushed into emergency surgery for an absess infected with necrotising fasciitis, also known as the flesh-eating bug.

Many people have died from it.

She spent two weeks unconscious in a deep coma, on life support. Two weeks in which each day could also have been her yahrzeit. Two weeks of me reviewing in my mind what arrangements I would make if i had to drop everything and fly to London for her levaya.

Those two weeks are a year behind us now. It’s clear that she’ll live. It’s clear that she’ll find some way to cope with the huge contrast between Before and After.  Although it’s hard, it’s very hard.
And i’m sitting here, noticing the date, feeling like something should be done to mark it. A year is a long time, after all. It’s a significant amount of time. A yahrzeit. A birthday. But there’s no way of marking it.

We are thankful that we aren’t marking her yahrzeit now, that this has not been a year marked by the familiar milestones of mourning, kaddish, shloshim, hakamat hamatzeiva. But we can’t pretend that this is her birthday – anniversary of her rebirth from death to life – either.

She’s still so weak. She can no longer stand by herself for longer than a few minutes (she probably never will). She’s still learning how to transfer herself from bed to wheelchair. As hard as her life was before and as paper-thin was her claim to dignity and pride, she still had some privacy and some independence. She had her apartment, her cat, her volunteer job that she was about to start. Perhaps one day those things will come back again, but none of us dare to talk about when.

So a seudat hodayah is out of the question. Laughable, actually, to think of giving thanks today for her life being drawn even more narrowly, for her needing to still, one year later, be confined to a nursing home, her wound not healed, her meagre independence stolen,  her leg a shadow of its former self. Celebration is not a response that we can muster. But mourning would be inappropriate.


So what do you do? All of my religious instincts cry for ritual, for that is what we turn to to mark the months and the years from significant events. But this time, ritual is drawing me a blank. So i sit here, i remember, and i write.