Here is my beloved green camper on which I have painted cherry blossoms, It is used for family gatherings (thus the big tent) but also to escape on my own in for my much enjoyed solitude.
‘Who are you and what’s your REAL name Granny pep from Ireland with the big green camper’?
My grandson of three posed these two questions as he climbed curiously through the door of my (little turquoise)camper van.
Looking around in delight he began exploring its small confines, amazed that everything appeared to be his size.
He pulled out the drawers, opened the door of the miniature fridge, climbed onto the bed, pretending to sleep and finally settled himself onto the drivers seat.
I watched his face, frowning in concentration, lips pursed making driving noises and I pondered his questions.
The second one was easy, I know my name.
But who I was? Now that is such a fundamental meditative question.
My answer is, I don’t know.
This doesn’t perturb me as I read somewhere that to know yourself leaves no room for growth,
But It does get me thinking,
Oh I know what I like and dislike,
I know what my talents are.
I know my failings and my good points.
I know I am more like a willow, than an oak tree and like a willow I am flexible.
Its my ‘maybe yes, maybe no’ attitude I believe has helped me survive so far.
An attitude that I have used to deal with my divorce , the empty nest syndrome, illness and all of those other things life has thrown at me over the years.
I know I am gregarious but at times I seek solitude.
I know I love to head westward in my small camper to some isolated place, waking up by the sea with just the seabirds for company, swimming in the early morn and picking mussels off the rocks and then lighting a fire to cook them on in the evening, watching the sun set and saying goodnight to the seal, who regards me gravely from his rock.
I know that I love to walk barefoot across the smooth stones of the burren or to thread silently through some forest and follow the river that waters it,
I know I love my camper on which I have painted pink cherry blossoms.
I wanted it to look as though I had driven through a orchard of cherry blossoms.
I know I love the hustle and bustle of a busy day on the surgical ward where I work.
I love writing and painting and taking photographs.
but all these loves?
They are what I do and some of them may fashion me, but they are not me.
A few years ago I worked for a while in a unit which took care of elderly people mostly with Alzheimers. As it was in the west of ireland, the majority of the patients were bachelors from farms up in the mountains who were no longer able to look after themselves safely and had no one to care for them.
The hospital was very well run, and most of them appeared happy to be warm and well fed and have their needs taken care of, but I could see there were a few that missed the outdoors.
They were the ones who would sit apart gazing out the windows during reminiscence therapy or wandering restlessly to the door and back during exercise classes.
So I commandeered a small plot and some tools and we started a garden.
At first I only had a few candidates but after a while more joined and we extended our plot and bought more tools. It was very enjoyable, we grew cabbages and onions and potatoes and lettuce. We would head out in the afternoon, a dishevelled ambling bunch of oddities to weed and rake a patch that looked tidier than we did.
We worked hard at it. More patients joined us, some to toil and some to be onlookers, who entertained themselves by making remarks from the sidelines.
‘Jaysus, I grew cabbages twice as big as that’ A large man with hands the size of shovels scoffed lounging lazily against the wall.
‘You’d want to watch them cabbage butterflies Ma’am’ said another ‘They’ll do the damage all right’ and with that he lent across me and skilfully grabbed a beautiful white butterfly and squished it between his hands. ‘Thats the boyo’ He shouted in delight.
‘Them lettuces need a drop of water’ said another, reaching for the watering can,
‘Hey thats my job’ The can was quickly snatched away from him by a tall gangly man with braces holding up his trousers and a cap perched on his head.
I eyed the fork and hoe and rake dubiously hoping a fight wouldn’t break out.
After a while we would take a break and sit in the sun. My hardworking and not so hardworking men each cradling a well earned bottle of guinness and me a cup of tea, and I would try to chat to them about their lives up the mountains.
One old man took a particular liking to me (though I did hear him making the comment that I was ‘fierce bossy’ followed by ‘but I think she knows what she is doing’) and he would follow me around and sit beside me.
His memory was particularly poor and one day he asked me for the umpteenth time what my name was.
‘My name is Stephanie’ I replied ‘What’s your’s?’
He thought for a while ‘I can’t remember my name’ He said at last shaking his head sadly.
Suddenly he brightened up ‘but I can tell you who I am’!
‘Ok’ I replied ‘Who are you?’
He took a deep breath, straightened his back and looking up at the sky said ‘I’m the son of my father grown big’
The Zen Master Seung Sahn was asked that same question at a talk on enlightenment .
His answer was ‘ Who am I?…..don’t know’
That is good enough for me.
My wonderful eldest grandson, six years later, who has, by his questions taught me many things in life, the most important being not to be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’