Love and friendship at our Village Cafe

It’s our safe haven, we meet collectively or in dribs and drabs. There is a clear kinship held together by the strength and compassion of a group of very diverse women who have each been dealt with their own various measures of heartache, grief, and the curveballs that life has dealt them. We come to the table free of judgement and full of unconditional support.

We come as widows, divorcees, purposely single, married, it’s complicated. We have hot flushes, take hormones, don’t take hormones, have good and grumpy days. We have weight and exercise conversations, we do and don’t sleep well, so sleeping pills come up. The best antidepressant and the merits of having a gastrophy and colonoscopy. Serious life changing events are discussed, to move or not. Problem adult children and all of their relative joys. We talk a heap of shite. Our range of food depends on all of the above. At times seriously healthy, hard to bear bitter juices are washed down with a cappuccino, or could be a smoothie, or a protein laden plate with no carbs or a warm comforting bowl of oats. Most times, it is just coffee, the art of coming together.

We were jolted significantly by a breast cancer diagnosis, her subsequent chemotherapy, mastectomy, and radiation. She has taught us all what graceful, gratitude, and gentle acceptance looks like. She reminds up who should feel sick when another of us is moaning about a hangover and we all crack up laughing.

The next time you see a group of fascinating women laughing, crying, or venting around a table, remember it could be us. We are one of so many like minded women who rely on the sacred bands and security of being part of a tribe within a Village.

“Chicken or Beef”or “Do Not Disturb”

Definitely not “chicken or beef” this time on the flight of her life but rather the “DO NOT DISTURB” sign brightly illuminated.

She is going out with a bark of obscenities and unkind words. As I touch her or help her with her blankets or even try and hold her hand for that matter, she shoves me off and complains that I’m either hurting her, or doesn’t want to be touched. She tells me I’m weighing her down and on top of her when I’m innocently sitting in a chair and reading a book, completely minding my own business.

Somehow it is not hurting so much today. I’ve spent so many years victim of this caustic tongue, but there is, at the core of her, a fierce love that although so often not felt by me, she has lavishly enveloped her grandchildren, sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews in abundance. She is fiercely loyal to all and comes right to the party like a lioness defending her cubs when the chips are down.

She has a formidable presence for all of her 4 foot nothing height and has quietly and resolutely ruled the roost for many years – 90 years. She is dogmatic in her religious beliefs and has questionable opinions in keeping with the blinkered outlook of many of her generation.

As I sit here I feel a profound love. She is who she is. Her entire being was shattered with the death of my sister, Gayle and her life has been a series of hurts and disappointments. Her marriage to my naughty father was fraught with tension and hurt. When you lose a child you grieve differently. Their subsequent financial ruin embittered her. He died in the year 2000 and for the last 22 years she has told us that she’s going to die imminently BUT she has clung on resolutely and has survived 3 stent operations, a heart complication, and an amputation. She has been wheelchair bound with nappies for months and now for the past few weeks bed ridden and skeletal and yet still she rails against letting go.

Do not go into that good night, old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage rage against the dying of the light“ Dylan Thomas

My wish for her is to find her peace, the kind, loving, funny person she was, the woman who used to sing in the car with me on long journeys, and giggle uncontrollably at so many stories shared. To go happily into the arms of those who have gone before her

“Be gentle with your love Mom, and be free.

I Dream In Colour and Run With Wolves,

but my life has become blurred of late. It wasn’t always like this.

 I was 5 years old before I realised I may be different.

“Mom where are you?” 

“I’m right here my girl, saying goodnight to your brother, come in”

“I can’t see you Mom, it’s so dark” 

Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), if you turn binoculars the wrong way round, I similarly have tunnel vision, no peripheral sight, sensitive to bright light and at night I am blind in the dark. I started Grade 1 wearing glasses, and sunglasses were essential to cope with bright light, but my life didn’t change dramatically, I continued the way I knew, playing all the sport I wanted, socialised like every other child and got on with school academics.  Nothing was going to stop my life plan which I had carefully structured for myself – or so I thought.

Fashion Design was and still is my passion. I loved the course, the colours, drawing, and artwork, the matching of textiles and all the design elements flowed freely from my creative spirit, I graduated Cum Laude and off to work I went. My drivers licence liberated me and I was independent and living my best life. Night driving in well lit suburbs was even possible.

Running became a major part of my life. I love the freedom of a run, the disassociation with reality, the banter of the group and the acceptance of the group. The endorphins released, just make life SO good. My  running club and running friends became “my family”.

After three years in the fashion design industry I went back to Varsity and studied General Business and Accounts and went on to do my Articles in Auditing.

At the start of my audit articles I applied for new glasses, but the optometrist picked up that I had cataracts. Loyalty to my initial ophthalmologist, who ignored removing the cataracts cost me precious vision time. In 2017 my new Doctor explained that it would be essential to remove the cataracts to efficiently see what was going on with the retina behind. With the cataracts removed and with new lenses inserted he was free to probe further. 

“Macular Edema”

Be brave, listen, focus. RP results in tunnel vision and not seeing peripheral things and of course, night blindness, Macular Edema, on the other hand is a build up of fluid in the macula at the centre of the retina. The macula is the part of the retina responsible for sharp, straight-ahead vision.

In 2018, we began draining the fluid, using Vitreal-S injections into the eye.  These excruciating injections took place every six weeks until my eyes seemed stabile. Two months later when fetching the reading glasses he picked up that swelling had returned so I had another injection.

Towards the end of 2018, insecurities around my vision had started creeping in. Socialising at night became more difficult, and with the demise of working street lights, driving became impossible. Close your eyes for a minute and imagine yourself at a gathering. You can hear your friends laughing and joking, you need to stay seated somewhere.  You need someone to get your drinks, escort you to the bathroom and back, you smile the best you can when you are the butt of a joke (made with the best of intentions to lighten the mood). Can anybody see me?   

I started experiencing blurred vision. I’d open my laptop. Blurry. I would have to wake up an hour earlier in order to train or drive to work, so that my eyes could settle. I was training for the 2019 Half Ironman so the pressure was on to get into the pool, go for a run or get on the bike. The hour became 2 hours before I could focus. Burnout as I completed my articles at the end of November. Worsening vision, I could no longer even walk alone. Christmas with my family was fraught with insecurity and fear. I now needed constant assistance. The Doctor was gobsmacked with the rapid deterioration since the last injection, he was unable to explain it but diagnosed secondary glaucoma. He said surgery was not an option, and tried to treat me with medication.  Two weeks later he told me there was nothing more he could do, I would lose my vision.

Focus. I was still committed to The Half Ironman on 26 January 2019, days after the devastating news.   It was all I had. I made an appointment to see a Low Vision Optometrist to get some sunglasses for the race,  got horribly lost, and missed the appointment but got a full 20 minutes of his valuable time anyway. He listened, and explained  Glaucoma, its causes and treatments and assured me that surgery was definitely an option. He promised to try and get an appointment with a Retinal Ophthalmologist in Gauteng. 

Triathlons are daunting for the sighted. Would I be able to find my way coming out of the swim to get to my three different bags? Or find my bike without bashing into anyone or falling? I swam with determination, but missed the last buoy and went off course, which delayed the ride . The highlight was coming out of the water and finding my brother and Ouma there for support. On went my reading glasses with clip on yellow lenses to exclude the glare without making it too dark. My bike ride out was not bad but the wind on the way back was tortuous and my dreams were shattered when I was taken off the course for not meeting the cut off time. Sad. Depleted. Exhausted.

Octavia – Selfless, kind, loving, brave.  Her bubbly morning disposition deals with my often grumpy starts. She had always been part of my extended running family but after she became aware of my exact situation she and the Low Vision Optometrist persisted together and got me my appointment in Gauteng. I arrived home from the Half Ironman and packed for my appointment.  A trabeculectomy needed to be performed to regulate the pressure in my eyes.  A Port Elizabeth Ophthalmologist performed this procedure the following week.

My left eye was operated on first and at the end of the month my right. I moved to my parents’ house for regular follow ups and continuous application of eye medication. My world had became small, dark, dependent. My childhood and running friends never faltered in their love and support. I began to gain more clarity in my right eye, but the damage in the left eye was too extreme.

Miraculously, I started a new job In April of 2019, in auditing.  My boss and fellow colleagues are incredible and understanding. 

Octavia got me walking and soon I was believing her and the possibility of getting back on the road again. Octavia had the experience of running with a blind man when living in Cape Town. He taught her everything she needed to know. We have our own language. She counts down obstacles and steers me. I either hold her elbow and run slightly behind her, or we run alongside each other with a reflective belt around her waist and a tether attached to me. We found that a lightweight walking stick works well for steering me on trail paths when we can’t be next to each other. She chats to me about what is going on around us and describes what she sees coming. We laugh, cry, sweat. Our steps are one. I feed off the adrenalin and endorphins. Running is my salvation.

My serious running started in 2015, where I was set on completing half marathons, full marathons and triathlons. The 2Oceans 56km in 2018, was a highlight. When Octavia and I completed the Addo 44km run this year I was unprepared for the attention we received. The camping and support was phenomenal, the vibe exceptional and the race itself a real challenge and adventure. We entered the finish shoot aching, tired and delighted. I will definitely be back! 

I live independently again. My brother and sister-in-law happily transport me. I am blessed.

Having worked in fashion and design, it is important to me to dress well. I have had the odd hit and miss day of clothing coordination, but have learnt the order of my cupboard by feel.  My artistic side still aches to be fed, I plan on feeding it. Jack Vettriano’s sensual paintings inspire me. Music and ballroom dancing, my heartbeat. Sewing and painting are loves, my lack of peripheral vision makes both of these difficult. 

I have Wanderlust to see different countries and feel and taste different cultures. 

I plan on training for and completing another Ironman, hopefully alongside my brother.

I have loved and want to love and be loved again. 

I DREAM IN COLOUR AND RUN WITH WOLVES and my name is Kat Flanagan 

Ikigai

“Enough!” “Enough!” I screamed and strangely enough there was instant relief and that was a shock.

My normal beautiful stroll with my dogs had turned me into a gibbering idiot, details will follow….

Some background to my final outburst : For the last 5 weeks, I’ve been treated for a glute and hamstring injury possibly incurred after 1 or both falls on my last two runs with my closest friend and mentor. So just understand that my karma is not good right now with no running at all added to the fact that I miss my soul mate dreadfully. 5 weeks of physio for the painful and often totally numb limb have eventually led me to a chiropractor who says it’s my sciatic nerve compressed as a result of non aligned hips, yeah, my undercarriage is in dire need of an overhaul . So I’ve had two sessions with a chiropractor who is gentle and firm, he has hauled my hips from left to right, had me in contortionist like angles, tweaked (literally) acupuncture needles into the whole area and I think I may be seeing the light eventually, HOWEVER between my first session and my second I had a 4 hour drive to Stilbaai and back to celebrate a beautiful couples wedding, but the sciatic nerve did not behave. I was reduced to tourette kind of outbursts of the most foul language every time it twinged. I tried sitting on a pillow, would then haul it out, throw it behind me, lower my seat until I could hardly see over the steering wheel, anything to relieve the currents of pain.

I don’t consider myself a wimp, I can take pain, and I know that there are many people every day with far more serious afflictions, but after this morning I’m feeling very sorry for myself.

To add to my sciatic ailment, I have suffered from (this is gross, sorry) acid reflux, which usually strikes in the dead of night, it has me writhing in pain in almost labour like contractions, sweating up a storm, I half think I’m having a heart attack and then it’s gone, like nothing ever happened. Well suffice it to say, there I was trying to enjoy my daily dog walk this morning with the odd tremor of electric pain shooting up and down my leg, when I coughed and swallowed and was suddenly aware of what was coming, well the pain came hard and fast, I clung onto the leashes and just kept telling myself to get home, don’t collapse on the side of the road…..what will the dogs do and half terrified that maybe it was my heart this time.

Well I did get home, it did settle and totally disappeared, but not before I screamed “enough”

I do know that this time will pass and that tomorrow will be a day of new opportunities. I will get fit again and join my friend to reconnect. My fortnightly couch sessions are enlightening me on my often irrational decisions. Somewhere along my road I seem to have lost my purpose.

Ikigai – a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being”. The word translated to English means “thing that you live for” or ” the reason for which you wake up in the morning “

In my latter years I’m suddenly terrified that I have no idea where to start. What is my Ikigai? Do you know yours? I would love your comments if any of you feel something like me.

Aquatic Anomalies

Finding myself on board a boat for destination and duration unknown, would be enough to make those who know me well to simply cover their eyes. I am a land lover, I like to run, exercise, walk in the forest, the proverbial terra firma kind of girl.

On the designated day when I enquired what time our flight was, I was told there was no flight just a taxi drive to the meeting place. I did start to panic, as at the time I was on a rather dirty island with not much beautiful to look at. Well the taxi arrived in due course and we were taken off along rough roads, chickens, goats, children and litter in abundance, with motorcycles weaving in and out at a rapid rate. Not long after I found myself on the shores of a river, a jetty was hanging lopsided and not able to be used and a little speedboat bobbing up and down was all I could see. I was waved towards this little vessel. Imagine this for a second, I had a separate suitcase of just shoes plus a suitcase of clothes assuming I was about to be transported to a beautiful island paradise with evening entertainment. I staggered in my mini heels over the litter infested rocks and managed to throw myself unglamorously into the boat, my heart racing, and trying very hard not to be rude to those around me. Blow me down, the boat spluttered into life and off we went to deeper waters towards a large pirate looking boat, my home for the next 14 or so days. As I ascended the steps to the boat I was advised that no shoes are to be worn on board at all…..

Well as it transpired there were 3 couples on board the vessel. She (the vessel) is beautifully fitted, and quite breathtaking at full sail. However, to be thrown together, a South African couple, an American pair, one of which is of relative fame but who did remind us repeatedly just how famous he is, an Australian couple, a property developer and his very silent wife, the journey was not without cultural angst. I also learnt from the first evening that this was predominantly a diving excursion, so much of the trip was centred around diving spots, conditions, excited chatter about sharks, mantas, octopus ink, turtles and various depths of expertise and the bends.

Suffice it to say, I was very happy to chill on board, loungers at the ready, gin and tonics, wine, bubbles, whatever a girl would want, but the days did become very hot, and while the divers were all missing and the boat was at anchor, the odd dip in the sea was mandatory. Mid chapter, my partner at the time decided he was going for a swim, so of course I jumped up too. Having grown up on the coast, swimming came to me as naturally as crawling. Down the gangplank he went, and I followed suit, grabbing some goggles on the way. In my mind I always knew I would dive off the platform away from the boat, but said partner, leapt into a semi dive come bellyflop right next to the boat and was of course sucked alongside the boat even though we were at anchor. What ensued was, terrified blue eyes, gulping, spluttering, thrashing and eventual clinging onto a rope on the side of the vessel shouting hysterically for saving. The more I urged him to let go, the wider and more engorged his eyes became with panic. The staff were alerted to the shouting and thrashing and after they also realised that he wasn’t going to let go and relax, emergency measures were called for and the orange safety ring was lowered and successfully grabbed onto.

Now, imagine my dilemma…….did I stay onboard and try and hide my guffaws or get out of the way to be gracious?

I decided on the latter, sprung up into the perfect dive over his thrashing legs still steering his orange life ring to the deck and swam out into the beautiful calm, azure blue waters laughing loudly into the deep blue see.

Needless to say, I swam entirely alone for the duration of the trip. This was not to be a match made in heaven.

Sink or swim

With Ease and Grace

It took me more than a year. 14 months in fact.

The night of my court date a close friend phoned to see how I was doing, my response was, “well alright thanks, I’m having dinner with my now ex husband.”

There is no accounting for how we all have our own ways of protecting ourselves and coping, but mine is to go into hiding, something I am working so hard at changing as you become a victim by your own hand. You punish yourself for something you haven’t done.

Precious has arrived at my door over the last year, to simply say hello and check in, and on one specific occasion I sat inside in the dark, a trembling mess, too terrified to see his face and engage. The doorbell sound ricocheted right through my very being and he pursued for a while. As bizarre and stupid as it sounds, it is/was my reality. Enough already right? Own it, make the call, face the fear.

I scanned the faces, and out of the corner of my eye, I sensed his stance, one leg a little bent, arms folded, creasy smile, as I got closer, I noticed wet eyes, soft eyes. Brief hug, became a bear hug with a catch in our throats and a squashed giggle. A remembered feeling. Heart fluttering with fear, anticipation, emotion. No amount of anything can demean the time, love, sweat and tears you share with someone you have grown with over an excess of more than 10 years. Those memories are there for life and no one has the power to take them away. When you are in cope mode it is so often fuelled by anger and you remember only the bad, as that propels you through the pain and justifies why you are where you are. Time has taken that away from me. I have found a peace, I have ceased obsessing over why I wasn’t enough, or why decisions were made and suddenly they don’t matter any more.

As is my nature I’ve written pages of notes for this long anticipated meeting, time lines, subject headings, children, flow charts, you name it, but it is only the last page of my scribbling that I refer to, “At the end of all this writing I come to the realisation that I am here now because it’s the first time I’ve felt strong enough, empowered enough and happy enough to see you.”

“Yes, he says, I know.”

“Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love” Mother Teresa

Giving it Shtick in Spandex

What a glorious time of life our 50’s are!

We have the chutzpah to be authentic. We can live safely or dangerously and not be afraid. We are suddenly aware that time is important and we need to live life to the fullest every day, not look forward and say “when the next thing is accomplished I’ll be happy.”

A recent trip to The Labia Theatre had me in fits of laughter. I identified so much with the women of “Book Club” (with one in particular.) On her allotted month one of the book club ladies introduces the others to “50 Shades of Grey”. At first they are all dismissive of the standard of literature but you watch each of their lives unfold as they all begin the read as Christian Grey seduces Anastasia Steele in a variety of “different” ways. None of them can put the book down and latent sexual curiosity runs rife. They are totally absorbed invigorated.

The movie runs through Tinder in your middle ages, impotence, miscommunication between spouses and partners, loneliness, rediscovery of self and sex, fear of rejection, fear of saying no to your well meaning children, it is in fact so significant as it is precisely how most of us are reaching our middle age. Poignant stuff.

I remember lying on the floor of my teenage home trying to get the tightest “Lee” jeans on for a Friday night date and then being hardly able to breath all night, and now some nearly forty years later, bless, we have spandex to help us look toned enough to to pour our svelte selves into anything as long as it’s “suitable”. Stilettos have been replaced by pumps, our homes and cars have numerous pairs of +strength readers readily available. Sex however, after many ups, downs and angst becomes raunchy and fun again. We thrive.

When googling “Spandex” the definition is; “a product of exceptional elasticity, stronger and more durable than natural rubber. The name “Spandex” is an anagram of the word “expands.” I love this, our lives have expanded. We can choose to make it as expanded as we like while still keeping it as tidy and trim around the edges as we feel necessary.

~ “Ordinary women who do extraordinary things – that’s my shtick”

Involved~Committed

She flitted, dark eyes flashing, barks of high pitched laughter. She delivered a distracted tour of the newly renovated home, but not having known it before, I had no point of reference. Loads of nervous energy abounded. Lunch was served by the chef, her husband, she raced in afterwards and did a quick shuffle to get the correct number of plates on the table, serving spoons she had forgotten, salad dressing, then salt, and by the time she did join us with the gravy she had hastily made, some had nearly finished lunch while others were waiting politely with cold mounds of food. Total non engagement. Conversations around the table started and died. Some reminiscing on a shared past long gone.

Once seated she chitter chatted while she pecked at a small serving but it was when our eyes met that I saw the desperation of the proverbial deer caught in the headlights, it struck me instantaneously that this woman would rather have been anywhere else, but at that table, in that home, in that moment, with any of us. This was an exponentially difficult day for her. She was involved as the hostess but trapped in her life.

I happened to be at her table having been recently introduced to this old friendship of small town friends who have all over the years ended up in Cape Town and surrounds. It was a long Sunday and although I wasn’t well known to the hosts I did have some expectations. As hosts and hostesses we take pride in opening our homes and lives to people we care about. As a newcomer to this group I am more inclined to listen. On arrival she got my name wrong. The name of an ex girlfriend and it wasn’t speedily corrected, it was in fact tactlessly queried first, “Really, are you sure?” I did manage to convince her that my name was actually “Shan”. The husband did his best. He was totally committed to his luncheon. He dashed around first pouring drinks, and attempted other introductions around his tasks . He churned out pizzas from the pizza oven for children and cooked slithers for us while at the same time browning two fat chickens with crispy, perfectly cooked roast potatoes.

You notice things when you are a spectator, a listener, his drink was constantly refilled, his eye movements quick, the lack of intimacy between them palpable. I do not know the complexity of their joint story, nor do I need too, I did feel an instant empathy and it was when I chanced upon this saying about “going to the woods to live deliberately” that it reminded me of the fragility of our lives, how we need to nurture ourselves, live with gratitude, be impeccable with our word and how very essential it is to be present. Present with ourselves and present with the people we choose to be with. If that choice is no longer sustainable, well perhaps it’s time “to go to the woods.”

Precious and I used to entertain lavishly and often, we were good at it, we were both involved and committed to our guests. It elevated us as people and was truly the one thing we did well even at our most vulnerable times. Our guests became our focus and we moved well around each other, ensuring everyone else had a great time. In hindsight we should have been taking more care of our own lives, but I presume it became an escape to having to be alone together. I discovered I was not really living until I chose to live deliberately.

When you next eat an egg and bacon breakfast, think this thought; the chicken has been involved, the pig however is totally committed.

Confluence

My life thus far has taught me some incredible things and with us all, none has come without extreme happiness, the depths of despair and the rawest of pain.

I have somehow managed to hold onto the belief that we are all meant to love and be loved. I like to think of myself as optimistic rather than impulsive but fact is I do randomly throw myself at things, all my energy going off at a tangent in business, and sport and I make grandiose declarations in my love life, embroiling myself in life situations that then became difficult or seemingly impossible to extricate myself from. Gay abandon is a nice way of wording it.

My motives and feelings are my absolute truth and full of purity. Every once in a while our lives are illuminated by something or someone.When you start to see a new person with all of their own life attachments  ( I hate the term baggage), and add the complexity of a different culture, your words so easily become skewered.   I think that even when you learn to truly think and speak another language, it is not the same as engaging in native fluency.  You will neither understand nor be understood.  Language and the nuances of it are fundamental to me.  I love words, I speak quietly and articulately in a soft voice.  Where you are misunderstood there is no one to hear you.

For two people so full of mysteries, there is a spiritual intimacy between us that needs no coaxing. I am protected in a fierce grip of dedication and piercing eyes that bore into my being, but if I dare protest some particularly bewildering response or event, he perceives aggression and changes flags, haughtily defending his island. I try to tell him that I don’t mean to judge.  I’m not trying to change anything about him, his people or their culture.  I am only trying NOT to change anything about myself or mine……One step forward, many steps backward.  Even now,  right now, that road behind him is long, still he dances the old dances and I dance mine.

I have endured four unbelievably tortuously painful weeks at his hands. I spent the first two coping, charged with intense anger at him, the third and fourth weeks have been a time of reflection, of forgiveness not only for him, but to release myself from the anger, as I have borne witness to what anger and bitterness do to the soul and this decision has opened a side of me I never knew I was capable of. I would believe it’s love of the purest kind. Unconditional.

We are both spent, exhausted and have cried buckets. Will this awareness of what our loss has been bring us together or is it wiser to walk away so as to be unscathed against any further possible pain. Am I the eternal optimist, the impulsive fool, or am I just a woman who may have found her true north?

Will I be judged for going back, to search for more to validate the soul I thought I’d found initially?

I believe there is a place of CONFLUENCE ~ “A place where two rivers or streams join to become one. : a situation in which two things come together or happen at the same time”

“Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time”

Maya Angelou