A Long December

As I write this, fires are spreading quickly across numerous states all over Australia. Those living near a spreading fire are doing what they can to protect their homes and remove valuables, not knowing what the next few hours bring. Ultimately the raging inferno decides what happens, and of course, the climate, as people can only hope for rain. My phone tells me that the forecast for here in the North East of England is rain. 

My uncle has been a dairy farmer in New South Wales, Australia for over forty years. He recently sold his herd because water to keep them hydrated and irrigate the land was just too expensive. 

These issues make us realise how fragile our existence really is and how our lives are dependent on so many outside factors. A bitter political war has been fought here in the UK over recent months leading up to a general election, and in recent years, as Brexit has continued to distract from important domestic issues. It’s like the whole nation has been living in a state of perpetual ambiguity. Will the rain fall any time soon? No one really knows. 

Like with the weather and politics, living with a chronic illness means we are in a constant state of not knowing what tomorrow brings. For many, new year is a time of looking back, and then looking forward. What bright future will the year ahead hold? For some of us, these questions are too painful to even ask of ourselves.
One of my favourite songs of all time is by the band Counting Crows. ‘A Long December’ is a song I’ve listened to at the end of December probably every year for the last twenty years.

I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself to hold on to these moments as they pass.
A Long December and there’s reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last…

The smell of hospitals in the winter and the feeling that its all a lot of Oysters and no pearls.
Its so long since I’ve seen the ocean, I guess I should.

We could reasonably ask ourselves if there are any reasons to really believe next year will be better. The political climate spells a bleak future for those of us with chronic illness and disability. For those of us with ME, it can feel like there hasn’t been much progress with doctors and other medical professionals in understanding and empathising with our situations. Twitter hashtags over the past year, such as #DoctorsAreD*ckheads and other online initiatives, while sometimes a little crude, have highlighted how marginalised many of us are made to feel.

Some in the mind/body crusade may say that it’s all about attitude and positive thinking. If we have a positive outlook then there’s an improved chance that 2020 will be a better year than 2019. Targets, lists and resolutions all hold little water though when you come to learn that knowledge of reality isn’t negativity but actually just cold hard survivalist pragmatism. But then we can quite easily slip from reality into a negative headspace if we’re not careful. I know I can.

As I write this, I look out onto the front field of the farm where I grew up. The sun is shining on the dewy grass as a pheasant preens herself. The same sunlight hits the poinsettia on the window sill and lights up its greens and reds. I can’t help but be inspired. These days can be long and we can easily slip into despair, but right now I’m just thankful for the warm sunlight on my chest. It feels like a while since the sun shone. For me, this mindfullness and medatative approach to life is what keeps me going. I remember how fortunate I am to be alive and try to employ gratitude. Taking time to focus on my breath and visualise breathing in light while breathing out those dark and negative thought processes can bring me to a more peaceful place. If this all sounds like woo to you and not your thing, that’s fine. Each of us can develop our own way to find the inner peace that we need. So really, we cannot know what the future brings, and there’s little point of trying to figure it all out. This moment is all we really have anyway. Eckhart Tolle talks about ‘The Power of Now’… If we remain solidly in the present then maybe we don’t have to measure last year with the one before, or set expectations for the year ahead. We can take each moment as it comes. 

New Year can be huge for us in experiencing grief we weren’t expecting. It can remind us of what we’ve lost and what we might miss out on going forward. There’s a new anxiety-laden phrase that’s popular these days in the ‘fear of missing out’ or FOMO. Many people’s lives are self-assessed by the outward identity of who they’re with or what they’re seen to be doing. Over the past year I’ve learned to find peace in the present moment. I still avoid facebook at times for the grief it can trigger in seeing families climbing hills or hitting the beach together, and I still feel frustrated by all I’ve lost but experiencing the power of now finds me like an anchor. Maybe at least I can be that anchor for my wife and kids, unswayed by yesterday, or what tomorrow brings. Unswayed by the ambiguity. 

I hope you continue to find your own ways of dealing with the ambiguity of the future and experience peace in your present moment. May you be surprised by the sun through your window this week.

2 thoughts on “A Long December

  1. Thanks Dan, Excellent words and beautiful pictures. As you know, like you, but for different reasons, I’ve been learning more to live in the now, enjoying and living in the moment, using meditation and relaxation therapies, as well as simply enjoying nature, and finding them so helpful where other approaches to finding peace and calm have failed.
    Thanks for your words, reminding me again to live today, not worry about tomorrow, or live in anguish and grief over yesterday. I’m sure joys and trouble will come in 2020, even as they did in 2019. If I live in fear of the trouble to come, I’ll not really live; if I live in eager anticipation of the joys, I also won’t truly live. If I enjoy the sunshine today, amongst other things, then I live 🙂 Thank you for the reminder.


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