Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

How I got help (and from rather unexpected places) during 2013

Wise mentors say we should try to draw up a "gratitude list" regularly. As the year moves towards its end, it seems the right time to compile such a list. Grateful I made it – so far – through 2013, which I thought might be an unlucky year, for silly, superstitious reasons. But as we come near to its closure, I remember one of my sister's aphorisms: "Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday. And all is well."

All is not well for all people, and some have great crosses. Yet, I'm thankful for the acts of kindness which sometimes come from the most unexpected sources, or from those who themselves have little.

Grateful for some stunning weather this year: a beautiful fall of snow in January; an exquisite show of May blossom in the spring – cherry trees rich and full, lilac and laburnum in profusion; summer days which sometimes bordered on the tropical, and a Keatsian autumn.

Had a wonderful train journey through Ireland in early June – beheld the horse chestnut, meadowsweet, buttercups, gorse, heather and climbing violet flowers between the blue mountains and the green fields.

How fortunate we are that despite bouts of rain and wind, we dwell in a moderate climate that spares us the disasters of tornados, typhoons and tsunamis.

Someone crashed into my parked car and I was informed of the incident by telephone. When I returned home to view the car, there wasn't a single mark on it, though the other motorist's vehicle was a write-off. Thanks, St Christopher!

I did many crosswords, failed to solve some but, overall, I'm improving; which has demonstrated to me that you can become better even at something you're not naturally good at. "Try again, fail again, fail better."

My son quit smoking – much helped by the occasional E-cigarette – and was dismayed by reports that E-cigarettes were to be banned by the European Union. But it didn't happen, and this useful support is still available for ex-smokers who need an occasional drag.

My husband, Richard, who is afflicted with a stroke and sometimes doesn't choose to speak, responded, immediately, when I asked him: "What is the capital of Ecuador?"

"Quito," he said.

That was one of the crossword clues that momentarily stumped me.

I learned that a recommended treatment for a bronchetic chest, or for anyone with a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is joining a choir. It's called "Singing for Breathing" and it's great fun.

Was lucky enough to enjoy three great nights at the theatre: Conor McPherson's Dublin story The Night Alive at the Donmar in London; Richard Eyre's amazing production of Ibsen's Ghosts at Islington's Almeida, and Pat Kinevane's unforgettable one-man performance-and-mime show at the Peacock, Silent. And felt very grateful that my play, Allegiance, with Rory Moran Snr and Og, went on touring in Ireland – and in the north, attracting audiences from both sides of the divide, applauding in harmony. Read an impressive book called Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. This Lebanese-born philosopher sees the positive side of errors: make mistakes and learn.

We are too much in our comfort zone, he believes. Risk-taking, randomness and volatility are part of the dynamic of life. Stress is good for us. The vigour of his thought is somehow enlivening and emboldening.

Met an old friend who, in our youth, seemed unlucky in love; now she seemed very happy – had married a widower in mid-life and had a wonderful, instant family of stepchildren.

I didn't get a holiday because of home circumstances, but I was thrilled to stay overnight in several hotels – hotels are bliss because you're not responsible for any maintenance or repairs, and Irish hotels are warmly welcoming. Corick House at Clogher, Co Tyrone, a former stately home with an unparalleled view of the countryside, must take the crown. And Cabra Castle Hotel in Kingscourt, Co Cavan, was truly regal.

Broke a tooth and thought it done for, but skilled dentistry brought it back to life, good as new. Thankful to dentists even if the procedure, with an implant, did cost £600!

Got rejected by a university when I applied to enlist for an MA – virtually told I was too dim to meet their standards.

Consulted the works of the late Susan Jeffers, who wrote a book called Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. Susan's advice: "You'll handle it. If you don't do this – you'll do something else." At year's end, another university was more welcoming.

Saw an entrancing matinee of Swan Lake with my granddaughter, Kitty, who behaved beautifully throughout, though only four at the time.

Hit my head badly on the open boot of an Aircoach at Dublin Airport, and though dazed and pained I didn't get concussion. Thank you, St Aurelius of Ridito, who looks after head bumps.

Enjoyed Downton Abbey and Borgen on TV (sorry, not Love/Hate – too grim!). Downton is escapism with great frocks and the amazing Maggie Smith. Borgen is a brilliant construct in which the characters deal with the consequences of their choices – and politicians have to practise "the art of the possible".

Cooked a brace of pheasant for an autumn lunch and the meal worked out faultlessly. Nigella couldn't have done it better!

Received a Christmas card from someone I thought I had offended, and was really gratified to get it.

A sweet grandson was born, James Carlos Ragheed Theodore. Ragheed is named after Fr Ragheed Ganni, an Iraqi priest martyred in 2007, who my son much esteems.

There were some dark times and some down times, but there is so much for the gratitude list.'I stayed in several hotels, and Corick House at Clogher, Co Tyrone, must take the crown'

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