“Shiner: On Being Grateful”

A couple of nights ago, while leaving the bathroom in our vacation rental house in the lovely English countryside, my eyebrow came into a rather unfortunate contact with an “invisible” glass shower wall edge, resulting the following morning in a palette of angry purples and reds showing up on my swollen left eyelid, it’s pots of colour slowly blending and edging under my eye throughout the next day. I had spent about half an hour icing it after the initial bump and frequently for the next couple of days, hoping that would be enough to avoid said discolourations. However when I showed my friends back home a picture of my eye, I knew by their shocked reactions that there was nothing much to do but wait this one out. I’m famous for my ability to continually forget that invariably when I come into contact with walls, chair and table legs, and seemingly benign objects to others more graceful than I, the laws of physics dictate that I will lose the battle of impact, but obviously that knowledge still has not taken effect upon my consciousness and it’s piloting of my finer motor skills, and so it seems I am to continue my journey in this life, now and then interrupted by reminders.

As it has been my lifelong habit, this accident caused me to reflect, albeit through one eye slightly swollen: What was I thinking just before I literally hit the wall? Was this a reminder of something besides my own lack of coordination? Of course reflections like these led me to make a few jokes about myself, to which a friend replied, well, if you can laugh about this, you must be okay. Yes. I am okay and recalled immediately after impact I had thought to myself, well THAT could have been a lot worse! There was no cut, no concussion, no stitches, my eyesight was good and if all I had to do was avoid external mirrors for a week or two, then I got off lightly. But the internal mirrors, well there had been a few signs over the past week that I needed to refresh my soul with those, check inside my conscience, listen to “the bird” that my holidaying had recently left on the back perch, just out of earshot.

On social media lately I have noticed people making efforts to recognize their own states of grace, being grateful for at least one thing a day in their life. Reading them I have often smiled to myself, albeit a little smugly sometimes. Since I can remember, being happy where I was, being grateful has been a bit of a struggle that I often attributed to being an artist; never being content with anything I had created, always looking to the next, better song, painting, essay and so on. Many people have said things like Kirsten, get off the hamster wheel, what are you trying to prove to people? Can’t you just relax for a while? In fact, relaxing is the very worst thing I do. I am a workaholic. Sitting and doing “nothing” is agony for me. But it’s not about impressing others…mostly:) It’s about my own inner demons, pushing, always demanding more. After a great deal of introspection over the years I discovered that because of my own rather wacky family situation, I was catapulted into the world, on my own at a very young age without having been given the tools to cope. It was never a given than I was loved, I certainly never took love for granted and at a very young age I was conscious of thinking that maybe if I worked harder, if I was more talented, more beautiful…more quiet, more clever, more…loveable, then someone would be able to find love in their hearts for me. It seemed quite obvious, in my young mind that the problems in the hearts of the people around me rested with me, not with them.

What I was blessed with was my creativity, born of a need to escape in those early years. I would run through the fields and forests of Cedar and Yellow Point, mostly alone, pretending, imagining to be anyone but who I was. The stories I would invent, the songs I would sing, from as early an age as I can remember, would take me all sorts of places…anywhere but where I was. That imagination got me through some very tough times, and I am very grateful for it. I am also grateful for learning at a very young age that when “bad” things happen, there is an opportunity to learn from them, about yourself, about others, providing you are willing to listen. In fact the more you listen, everywhere you go, the more lessons there are to learn.

My husband and two sons started our vacation almost three weeks ago in London. Our oldest son is a wonderful musician, making his way in that grand city. He’s been working very hard, and we are proud of what he has accomplished in so short a time. We also miss him a great deal, so we picked him up on the way to Budapest, where we spent a week, then to Istanbul for a few weeks before dropping him back in London and continuing to the English countryside. I wasn’t sure why I had picked these destinations, just felt a calling there.

In Budapest we visited “the Terror Museum”, a must see for anyone in the area and indeed a must learn for the children of the world. It is a lesson in inhumanity, following the occupation of Hungary through the regimes of first Nazism then Stalinism, then the terror of Hungary’s own secret police. The last Soviet troops left Hungary in 1991. My experience in that museum will haunt me forever…I can only imagine what horrors the people of Hungary have gone through, and I am grateful that, so far my family and I will live through it in our imaginations alone, although one can never be too sure with the way the world seems to be going sometimes.

One day we hired a driver, Adam, to take us to Lake Balaton, far off in the Hungarian countryside. He was a lovely young man, 28 years old, full of dreams for himself and his girlfriend who he hoped to marry as soon as they had saved enough for her to “stop working” and become a mother. Of course I chided him a little and reminded him that motherhood is one of the toughest jobs there is, he laughed, agreeing, then proceeded to tell us how the government worked in Hungary, what life was for the people. Over all he was optimistic about his future. He owned his own car, bought a new one every three years, then sold it to a cab driver. He had been the only one of 13 driving associates who had passed his “transporter” license, qualifying him to drive movie stars, politicians from the airport to their hotels. His shirt was freshly pressed, even in the intense heat. In a country of bruised and broken souls, he was one of the believers in a great future for Hungary, and I believed him. He will do well.

On the way to the airport to fly to Istanbul, we had another driver. He did not give us his name when we introduced ourselves. He was guarded, about forty years old. His smile had a sadness; he was jaded. One thing he said when we asked him how he felt about the future of Hungary will stay with me forever: Left hand, right hand…both are from the same corrupted body.

As I got onto the plane I couldn’t help but think about how people create their destiny, often without even being aware of it. Of course every time I think about that idea, my inner debater says, well what about sick children? Did I create the sadness in my early life? Over the years of this internal argument I’ve come to the conclusion that we are all linked, and that sometimes these things we go through are not about our karma, our lesson, but more about the lesson that someone near us needs to hear or learn, that we are all here as a mirror to someone else, to help them see a part of themselves. I can think of many people in my life who have taught me that, family members, acquaintances and complete strangers on the way to the airport. Some people are positive. They make the best of everything, find something to smile about or even laugh about in the worst of times and some people are just plain negative and bitter. Does the negativity come from experience or lead to experience? Recently during similar debates with two friends, both who I’ve known a very long time, all of us starting out in the music business at the same time, I noticed that the “successful” friend put forward his arguments in a respectful, reasoned and caring way, leaving us both aware of our similarities more so than our differences, but I think it was obvious that we both learned from each other’s arguments a great deal. The other wasn’t that way at all, was bitter, resentful and I would feel no loss if our paths never crossed again. I couldn’t help be struck by their differences, and the differences in the paths our lives have taken. As painful as the latter argument was, I am grateful for it reminding me of one of the truths of the universe; What you give, you shall receive.

In Istanbul I was faced with so many lessons about being grateful, it would be too great a task to list them here, but seeing the poverty held up to the wealth in such an obvious fashion, feeling the tinderbox of emotion ready to light all around me made me very grateful for the geographical lottery I won by being born where I was. Istanbul is fascinating, would take at least six months to lift just a few of it’s veils, and I highly recommend a visit to anyone, but I was happy to get back to London again, that I will not deny.

We dropped off Austin at his place in Notting Hill then proceeded to the train to Bath, then to our holiday rental about half an hour away. Of course at this point of the holiday, the workaholic in me can’t wait to get back to work. I had stored my guitar at Austin’s place and our first morning here I ran outside to practise in the sunshine. It was wonderful!! I found myself thinking about an upcoming gig that I was preparing for, about the things I needed to get done when I got home, about practising my saxophone, about just about everything except my family, this vacation, this long sought love…this NOW!! I was reading a book called “the Red and the Black” by Stendhal, if ever there was a treatise on being grateful for where you are, that book is it.

Until a couple of nights ago, when in the middle of the night, after lying awake, fretting about this and that, things people had said, things I needed to do, and so on, I got up to go to the bathroom and WHAM!!! It took a shower stall to literally knock some sense into me! And you know what? I’m grateful for that too! I’m grateful for every lesson, every hardship, every dumb ass in my life that does and says silly things, every blessing, my family, my world, music and art, my dog Lucy, my friends, for all the love around me, I am so grateful! Many years ago I cut out a cartoon from a series called “The Artist”, and pasted it into a photo album, it was so important then. The first frame was a guy staring to the heavens, saying, “I need a sign, I’m lost!” The next frame showed a sign being placed in front of him that said, “You are here.” The guys looks up and says, “Can you be a little more specific?” and a big fist with the index finger extended points to the sign. The guy looks at the audience and says, “He’s hard to stop when he’s on a roll…” Still learning. Sometimes it takes a whack on the eye to make you see clearer. Guess that’s why they call them “shiners”:)))