A funny thing happened the other day. I can’t remember where I saw it, but I noticed there was an event regarding a gathering in London of the nuns and monks from Plum Village – the Buddhist community that Thich Nhat Hanh founded in France. There was a time when I was in treatment that I really wanted to go there, but it really wasn’t practical with a suppressed immune system, so the intention was put on hold. But there has always been a yearning in my soul to be part of a religious community, even if only for a short time. Actually, I did do that waaay back when the boys were small; I went to stay at Elmore Abbey near Newbury for five days. Sadly the community is no more, but at the time it provided me with a much needed escape, and it gave me an incredible insight into monastic life. Anyone who thinks life in a small community is easy should book themselves into a retreat and I don’t mean a spa kind of retreat. This was the order of St Francis and it was a silent community with very basic food, and where talking was only allowed at specific times of the day. One slightly difficult factor was that I was the only woman amongst 12 monks ranging from about 25 to 90 and two priests with burnout, and although I dressed down and in my ugliest and baggiest clothes, I couldn’t help feeling that I was causing a few difficulties. Try eating a banana in front of 12 celibate men. Yes, really. And by the most amazing coincidence it was the Feast of the Ascension while I was there – an event of which I was completely unaware – and it was a massive celebration for the monks. At an unusually lavish lunch they wheeled out bottles of Chablis from the cellar and invited, nay, encouraged me to help them drink it. After lunch several of us repaired to the library armed with more wine and passed the afternoon in quite a hazy and convivial fashion, talking astrology and philosophy (the latter was more listening on my part TBH), and it was all absolutely amazing and not what I had expected at all. I hasten to add that after the feast there was of course the famine and it was back to beans on toast. This was a long time before the days of ‘Bake Off’ or any of those other cookery programmes, and as the monks had a rota system you can imagine what the food was like outside of feast time. I’ll just say, ‘think student’. But then I didn’t go there for the food…
But I digress. I noticed the advert for the event in London and booked tickets for me and Matthew (number 2 son) to go. It is billed as an evening of meditation with the monastics, and we are both very excited to be going. I was telling Cathy about it when she was in the office last week.
“The nuns and monks from Plum Village are coming over and holding an event in London. I’m really excited that I’ve got tickets for me and Matt to go.”
“Oh lovely. What are they doing?” Cathy very sweetly always shows enthusiasm for my weird ideas.
“Ah. So being quiet then. You’re paying to go up to London to an event that you have bought tickets for to sit and watch people be quiet.”
“Well, we’re going to be quiet too. That’s what it is about really. Communal silence and meditation.”
“You’re not selling it to me.”
Then we both fell about laughing as it did sound ridiculous. But we really can’t wait, as true monastics have a lovely feeling of peace about them that is all inclusive. I have checked that our peace won’t be disturbed by aching limbs; it is in a proper venue with proper seating, so I won’t need to be taking a cushion and blanket. It will be awesome and I will report back in a couple of weeks.
Somebody else who is incredibly peaceful, as we seem to be on a bit of a theme, is my lovely consultant Dr Joseph Chacko. When I was there for my last check-up I picked up a form to nominate a member of staff for the hospital’s Unsung Hero Award. It sat around on my desk for a while and I so nearly threw it away, but Stephen encouraged me to fill it out for Joe, as I had intended to do before I had an attack of laziness, then get around to posting it. So I did. I had two opportunities to say just how wonderful he is; in the first section I wrote about how I nearly gave up chemotherapy to go to India for an Ayurvedic detox. He spent nearly an hour talking to us, despite having a full clinic, and his phone – switched to silent – was buzzing away like crazy. He talked me back into treatment and wouldn’t let us go until he was happy that we were happy. (Blog #18 Fenella Rides Again) I literally owe my life to him. Then in the second section I talked about how my blood results were very bad and ‘the team’ wanted me to have a bone marrow biopsy to find out why. It was a pretty bad state of affairs and I was very anxious about the result. There was the distinct possibility that my bone marrow had been permanently damaged by the chemo and if so, I would face a fairly short life time of blood transfusions. The other possibility was that I was fine, but just taking a bit longer to recover from the last cycle of chemo (Blog #31 And the Gods Shall Laugh). The whole team were concerned as the wrong result could have meant curtains for the stem cell transplant, a very complex procedure. Bearing all this in mind, Joe went in to check the results of the biopsy on the Saturday morning (the day after the procedure) and called me to let me know they were fine. Massive relief, as you can imagine. Except it wasn’t any old Saturday morning. It happened to be the first day of his family holiday and they all had to wait while he checked my slides. How amazing is that?
So, I duly posted the form singing his praises and completely forgot about it. Apparently this is the correct way to manifest a wish – visualise it then let it go, only I’m not usually very good at letting it go and I tend to go back and go over it again and again. On this occasion though, I obviously did the right thing, as a couple of weeks ago I got a very excited call from the Communications Centre of the hospital; Joe has been voted through to the final, and we are invited to a big Gala Dinner for the presentation of the award. At this point Joe didn’t know he was nominated so it was all very secret squirrel, but I believe he was told on Friday so I am OK to talk about it. I am SO excited for him. I am so lucky to have him as my consultant and I think it is perfectly appropriate that he is through to the final. Whether we will be on speaking terms afterwards is another thing :-) I had to go to the hospital publicity department so they could film me reading out my nomination, using an autocue and everything, really professional. I had always wondered how those worked, ever since Brucie had a problem with it in Strictly Come Dancing a few years ago. Only they didn’t have my little spiel on the autocue for some reason so they asked if I could ‘wing it’. A few months ago that would have filled me with fear, but being the media tart that I now am, and having the Watkins talk under my belt (see the link on the rhs of the blog to interviews if you are interested) I bravely said I would and I think it went OK. That is also when I found out that Joe will have a camera team filming him as he goes about his day, and their film will be shown at the Gala night, with my voice over the top reading the commendation. Isn’t it exciting? I hope he finds it so too – I must admit I didn’t think about his reaction when I posted the nomination.
I mentioned my blog and the book to the Publicity lady, Jo (my original point of contact for this), and she introduced me to the lovely Media lady, Ellie, who has very bravely shaved her long hair off this weekend to help raise money for Forest Holme Hospice. Ellie was really interested in the book so I left her a review copy, and she then took pictures of me in the hospital posing with it (embarrassing!) then shared it on the hospital FB page and Twitter. And as I drove back to the office, literally buzzing with excitement, I thought how incredibly lucky I am. It was simply through wanting to say a public ‘thank you’ to Joe, that I have got to meet the very people I had been thinking about contacting to help promote the book. Wondrous indeed.
So on that lovely note, I wish you a happy and peaceful Sunday.