I love the power of small things. I mean, my son is tiny (he really is, he’s in the bottom 9% of height for his age!) and he proved this weekend he can silence 9 Brownies at a time, so clearly I’m right!
I spent the weekend in Bounds Green, London, with a bunch of very huperactive 8 and 9 year olds. No, not self flagalation, but Brownie Pack holiday. 3 different Brownie units, 5 leaders, and a small and eccentric 3 year old.
This weekend isn’t historically the easiest for me. I do not like the first couple of days in November. in fact, my preferred method of passing them is to hide under a duvet for as long as possible. I’ve blogged about the reason a few times before, but in brief, it’s the anniversary of a particularly emotionally difficult death of a friend. And so, to be honest, after a long couple of weeks, I’ve been dreading the whole thing. I came close to cancelling it several times, and on the train down, I could think of at least a million places I’d rather have been.
Like most of the time when I feel like this, I was extremely, totally wrong. From the moment, three minutes in, when one of the girls said to me, extremely surprised – “we’re from three different units, and we’re all friends already!” to the moment when one of the London girls, after seeing us off on the train back to Hastings, turned to her leader and said “I miss them already!”, the weekend was filled with tonnes of reminders that it’s the small things that make a big difference.
The leaders that picked up bread I could eat, coped with my disorganisation, carried my bags for me when my hands were full of exhausted pre-schooler, voulnteered to miss an event to stay with a scared Brownie, did endless washing up, took archery in the pouring rain, helped me with loading the car so I could snatch some time on the phone with a dear one in hospital, and wathced the girls so I could snatch an incredibly precious half hour with dear friends from across the seas. The girls that entertained the crazy three year old, cheered like loons when one of them braved herself to take on a challenge she’d been scared of, stayed with friends who were scared of the tube, shared endless sweets, and cheerfully volunteered to wash up toilets. Heros, everyone of them.
Although it was a Brownie holiday, I got to spend time with two other sets of people as well. The first was my dear friend Rachel ,her mum Judy, NEW SON Bobby and our lovely friend Heather. Rachel and Bobby normally live in Florida, so it’s rare I get to see them – actually, I met Bobby for the first time this weekend. Rachel and I have known each other for nearly 16 years. I was bridesmaid at her wedding to Brendan, and a year later she was Maid of Honour at my wedding to Sam. She’s Isaac’s godmother, and my “adopted sister”. She’s one of my very closest friends, and the weekend really got me thinking about friendship in general. Rachel and I have known each other through some “special” times, and in particular my particularly unplesant breakdown 10 years or so ago. She’s without a doubt one of the main reasons I got through it. Not huge things, but so very many little things – hugs, chocolate, prayer, and the occasional kick up the backside. She – well, she had this vision of where I could be and what I could be doing, and she refused to let go until I could see some of it too. A friend in a million.
Later that evening, I got to see Luisa – another friend in a million. The last time we saw each other I wasn’t married – actually, I don’t think I’d even met Sam. Luisa was my senior section advisor when I’d very tentatively come back into guiding post breakdown. I’d left uni, and was struggling with fairly crippling depression. Pretty much the only time I left the house was to help out at Brownies once a week. Lu basically came into my life and refused to take no for an answer. She encouraged me to take little steps that added up, until before long I was doing things and acheiving things I’d never thought possible. And even when I pushed her away, she wouldn’t stay gone but kept bouncing back in her own inimitable style, reminding me I was more than depression and self harm and the myriad other things I thought defined me at the time.
I actually have a very vivid memory of Luisa – and she wasn’t there at the time. I was in New York, speaking at a WAGGGS side event at the UN Commission on the Status of Women back in 2010. I had a stinking cold and serious pre-speech jitters, probably not aided by the fact the computer had eaten my speech 10 minutes before needing to give it. It was one of the scariest moments in my entire life. I got through, just, and sank exhaustedly back on to my chair. And I found myself thinking “She was right”. Lu – and Rachel, actually, had seen something I couldn’t at the time. Though I thought my life was over, they knew it didn’t have to be. They knew it wasn’t tne end of the story. And they kept on believing in me until I could belive in myself.
I said earlier that this particular anniversary was a hard one. I never met Donnell, but we corresponded for a few years. He was in a prison cell in Texas Death Row – and if you want to imagine hell, from all accounts, a visit there will tell you most of what you need to know. And yet his unfailing kindness in his letters towards me made a huge difference to my life. This was the guy who gave up cigarettes for a month to afford money to send me letters when i was having a hard time – the guy who cared intenetly about my life, never forgot a word I told him, and loved me even when – especially when – I was at my most unlovable.
It’s been an exhausting (fun, but exhausting!) weekend. It’s also given me a lot to think about. From 8 year old Brownies to inmates in Texas, and spending time with two friends who’ve made a bigger difference in my life than I can ever explain, it’s given me the chance to reflect of the literally millions of little actions that have impact and still impact my life today. I’m so grateful for all of them, and I’m challenging myself to do the little things that make a big difference to other people. Some of those tiny things saved my life.