The Child With A Balloon

I was looking at figurines in my favourite gift shop, trying to choose one to commemorate my dad and another to commemorate my friend.

I noticed one that represented a child running with a balloon trailing behind her. The balloon was made of gold wire with 2020 woven into it. 

“Way too pretty,“ I observed. “That balloon should be on fire,” 

There was no argument from my sister, nor from either of the two ladies who run the shop. They all just nodded. 

The Child With A Balloon ‪#2020SoFar #2020worstyear #accurate #TrueStory #metaphor‬

Upside Down.

Image: ©2020 Joanne Van Leerdam

My father and one of my closest friends recently passed away within five days of each other. In fact, Helen died on the afternoon of Dad’s funeral. It was too much loss. It was too painful. It was definitely too soon and too final. And “upside down” is exactly how I felt then and still feel now.

As always, my feelings have turned into poetry.

I wrote this poem on the morning of Helen’s funeral. It was impossible to contemplate one without revisiting the other in my mind.

So, this poem is for both of them.

Upside Down.
#grief #emotions #poetrylovers #poem #personal #blogpost

Image: ©2020 Joanne Van Leerdam

I don’t know how to do this.
I don’t want to say goodbye,
But I have no choice,
You have taken your wings,
And I have to let you fly. 

In a moment you were gone
And life turned upside down;
Too soon. Too final.
And now we gather to lay you
To rest in the lonely ground.

The grave seems so absolute,
Stark proof you’re really gone:
It’s a mystery
That your life can be over
And yet, your soul lives on.

Your life is now in heaven,
Eternal peace and rest,
My comfort is knowing
You’re in Jesus’ arms
Safely treasured, fully blessed.

Life here without you is hollow,
The days all seem so long,
I have grown weary of cliches
And platitudes
That feel so empty and wrong.

The future is bleak without you, 
I don’t know what life will be, 
But…

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Life’s But A Walking Shadow

Over the past few days I have been struck by the paradox in which life seems to go by so fast, driven at breakneck speed by the demands of work and family and often leaving us little time to relax, but it can at the same time grind to a halt at key moments and leave us little to do but contemplate life itself.

As I sit by my father’s bedside and look out the window of his hospital room, watching the long morning shadows fade and transform in bright sunshine and reappear later in the day, this passage from Macbeth V.v has been running through my mind.

Macbeth V.v

I’ve had plenty of time to think about what it means. Thoughts about the transience of life, the fleeting shadows, the fact that tomorrow is neither promised nor guaranteed, and how easily one’s candle can be snuffed out have been foremost in my mind.

The irony and contrast of interacting with my students on Monday and watching a performance of Macbeth from the Globe Theatre and then spending so much time in this quiet hospital room since Tuesday, thinking about the roles I play and the importance of how I play them, has not escaped me.

While “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” (As You Like It, II.vii) I’d like to think at this point I am not a poor one. Whether at work or at home, and especially this week taking care of my dad, I have chosen to prioritise integrity and kindness. I will not deliver rehearsed lines, seeking instead to project and embody meaningful words with total commitment to my character and roles as daughter, career, sister, advocate, communicator and encourager.

Life’s But A Walking Shadow ‪#Reflection #LifeisStrange #ThoughtForTheDay #FridayThoughts #Shakespeare‬

Shakespeare Nerd

Macbeth, V.v

This short speech by Macbeth is his response to the news that Lady Macbeth is dead. It is not as emotional as Macduff’s response to the death of his wife and children, but instead is quite poignant and philosophical. A soliloquy might have been more expansive on his thoughts and feelings.

It is a reflection on the brevity and meaninglessness of life. Every day we live is someone else’s last, and our stories are full of noise and bother, but ultimately pointless.

Perhaps he anticipated her death, given her descent into guilty madness. His observation that “She should have died hereafter;There would have been time for such a word” suggeststhat he thought he had bigger problems at that point, and he simply didn’t have time to grieve properly. Implying that her timing was inconvenient is the kind of self-interest that those who love to hate Macbeth might find…

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Taking The Bad With The Good

I have spent this morning contemplating the ways in which life can be so good and so utterly awful at the same time. 

Life offers many wonderful experiences, opportunities and pleasures. Some of those are simple, some are constant, and others are once-in-a-lifetime events. Little things happen every day that can really blow your mind when you stop taking them for granted. 

One of my most constant joys is that I am blessed with wonderful friends. Sure, I’ve known the pain of broken friendships, and the shock of discovering someone who I thought was a friend was the exact opposite of that. But I am also enormously blessed and privileged, because I have some of the most amazingly loyal, loving, supportive, and caring friends on the planet.

At the same time, everyone in my circle of closest friends is struggling with something awful. There have been victories, there have been defeats. There are ongoing issues that don’t look as though there will be resolution or healing anytime soon. Those friends would all consider that I am in that same boat with my chronic pain and spinal health issues.

Everyone suffers something awful at some point in their life. The hard times are balanced and put into perspective by great days, wonderful experiences, and the love and encouragement of those near and dear to us.

Still, the news I received from one of my closest friends this morning was particularly devastating. She has taken this news the same way she has dealt with her entire battle against her illness: in true warrior style. Although her future is unsure, her faith and courage are not. I am so inspired by her attitude and her strength. 

I feel as though I am the complete opposite of that. I’m full of tears and anger and questions and fear. I cried more than she did during our phone call. There is no point in pretending though, because this is all part of the grief process and it’s not healthy for anyone to suppress any of that. 

I don’t know what the coming weeks or months hold, but I do know one thing: I don’t want her to die. I don’t want to be without her. And I know that is a sentiment shared by every member of the family and probably everyone who knows her. 

I am keenly aware of not putting the cart before the horse, and treating her as though she’s already on her death bed. Although painfully aware that is the likely outcome, I will keep hoping and praying reminding myself that it might not come to that because I do still believe in miracles. I want to make every opportunity, shared moment and experience count. We already have a lifetime of memories together, and because I treasure her and her friendship so much, I want to make more. They don’t have to be big or magical. They just have to be.

So, as far as is possible, I will embrace and make the most of the joys while never forgetting or praying against the bad. None of us knows the number of our days, but we can do everything in our power to make every one of them count. 

It’s not about denial. It’s all about focusing on the good while living with the bad. There are no rules against tears, or frustration, or hating on whatever hurts. The only thing I refuse to do is give in to it and let it steal what is good, too. 

PS: Please don’t feel sorry for me. I am truly blessed – just very human.

‘The Lion King’ and ‘Hamlet’: A Question of Life or Death

‘The Lion King’ is on TV tonight and, of course, I’m watching it. I’m singing the songs. I’m totally loving it. If anything is able to make me turn the TV on, it’s going to be a musical. 

And Facebook is alive with people proclaiming that it’s basically ‘Hamlet’. 

Well, no. It’s basically not. 
And I’m not even sorry for any disappointment that may cause. 

Anyone who believes the two stories are the same either pays too much attention to social media and the popular clickbait theories that abound there, or they have not paid sufficient attention to ‘Hamlet’ at all. 

Scar is certainly as evil as Claudius. He’s certainly interested in getting rid of his brother and his nephew and taking over the kingdom, and takes full advantage when Mufasa dies in a situation that he has engineered. 

That’s really where the similarities end. 

In fact, it’s really only a very tenuous connection. Scar is by no means the only brother of a king ever to aspire to the throne through nefarious means, so that’s hardly a convincing argument for a direct correlation between the two texts.  You could use the same argument to suggest that ‘The Lion King’ is based on ‘Richard III’, which it clearly is not.

Furthermore, Sarabi – Simba’s mother – does not enter into a relationship with Scar. The fact that his mother married Claudius, his father’s brother and murderer, is the root cause of much of Hamlet’s angst and misery.  Given that this is one of the crucial elements of  the play, and there is zero correlation in ‘The Lion King’, that’s fairly conclusive evidence that the two are not the same story. 

Sure, the ghosts of the dead fathers both appear and speak to their sons. However, they hardly communicate the same thing, and it’s at a very different stage of the plot. Mufasa tells Simba to grow up and retake his kingdom while Hamlet’s father urges him to get revenge on his brother for murdering him and taking not only his kingdom, but also his wife. “Remember who you are” is a very different message from “Revenge!”

Simba is nothing like Hamlet in character, other than being the son of the dead king. Simba is naturally optimistic, fun-loving and adventurous. Simba runs away thinking he’s responsible for his father’s death. Morose and pessimistic, Hamlet hangs around the castle, feigning madness and overthinking everything to the point where his agonising over what to do actually prevents him from doing anything much at all. 

The correlations among the minor characters are, similarly, only superficial. 

While both Simba and Hamlet have two friends, Timon and Pumbaa are not anything like Guildenstern and Rosencrantz.  Timon and Pumbaa rescue Simba and remain his friends throughout the story. Hamlet’s friends are quite willing to sell him out at Claudius’ bidding, and there is nothing loyal or supportive about them. 

Both Simba and Hamlet have girlfriends, but Nala doesn’t go mad and drown herself in a river. 

Zasu and Polonius both talk way too much, but that’s about the only similarity between them. 

In fact, that’s the difference between the two in a nutshell: ’The Lion King’ is life-affirming and positive.    In direct contrast to ‘hakuna matata’, there is no ‘problem free philosophy” in Hamlet, a play that philosophises about death and suicide and which finishes with the main characters and many of the minor ones dead. 

So, there you have it. The difference between ’The Lion King’ and ‘Hamlet’ is a matter of life or death.  The basic premises are polar opposites, so the two cannot possibly be the same story.