A Heart in Gratitude
"Holy Spirit, decide for God for me" is our constant prayer of gratitude, and it is very practical. This yielding to the Spirit offers immediate results."
—David Hoffmeister (ATACIM)
From Conflict to Peace - Winnie Mandela, and a Global Village
I was born and live in Luton, England. I have lived in this particular house for 26 years. I sit on a bench in my front garden, feeling such peace, this street is my village.
There is a large green in the center of a ring of houses where children play, dogs are walked and cars park when there are no other spaces. Our doors stand open, children come and go. They play together; noisy, happy fun. I see beautiful sunsets, birds. Seasons change and the years roll by.
The belief attack is real
I remember when I first came here 26 years ago, a pilgrim with my oldest two children, who were both under 5 at the time. Aloof, I kept myself to myself, trying to accept a new life situation in which I was single. I liked playing my reggae loud, the baseline vibrating the walls, trying to drown out the sound of my negative thoughts. I often had angry neighbors knocking at my door complaining of the noise, the kids, the footballs hitting their cars and squashing the flowers in their beds. The conflict grew; there was literally a turf war as neighbors argued over the use of the central green and in the middle of this war I stood, seeing both sides and believing that attack and suffering were real and projecting this belief onto a neutral world.
I heard a story once of Winnie Mandela, known in South Africa as ‘the mother of the nation.’ Controversial anti-apartheid activist and wife of the then imprisoned prime minister Nelson Mandela. After years of being imprisoned where she spent months in solitary confinement and was tortured in an attempt to suppress her activism, she was exiled to Brandfort in the Orange Free State, a township where she didn’t know the language and the population were threatened not to speak to her. She was watched by armed guards who followed her every move. A very isolating time, more so than her time in solitary confinement in prison. The story told of how every day she would visit the communal water tap, beneath which grew a tiny patch of grass. She dug up the little patch of grass and transplanted it to the dry and dusty patch outside her house. Each time a new patch grew, she would bring it home until she had created a beautiful little garden, inspiring her neighbors to do the same without the need for words. Her effect on those around her was tangible, the light and care that shone out of her meant that by the time she moved out of the area nine years later, she had set up a crèche, a local gardening collective, a soup kitchen, a mobile health unit, an organization for juvenile delinquents and a sewing club. As her garden grew, so did the seeds she planted in the hearts of those around her. She lavished equal loving care on the policemen that guarded her, cooking for them, transforming their thinking to such an extent that they could no longer feel justified in carrying out their security duties. Her light shone out so brightly that it reached me, 10,000 miles and a whole lifestyle away.
Seeing Attack as a Call for Love
I was out front mowing my little patch of grass and decided to cut Dorothy’s lawn. She was the older lady who used to live next door to me, she had been knocking my door and complaining, as usual, the day before. This one random act of kindness completely transformed our relationship, and the miracle spread to transform the street. Years later, Dorothy had a fall from which she couldn’t recover, and this independent woman was retired to a home by her family. She became my best friend here, coming to check on me during the dark times with my ex-boyfriend and bringing me flowers from her garden.
A New Vision through Gratitude
In this street, our houses stand shoulder to shoulder, some owned, some rented. Some neat, some wild. Some grow flowers and vegetables, some grow piles of unwanted stuff outside. Music plays into the night and early morning. People of many nations make their homes here, I hear the jazz of languages that I don’t understand. Hungarian, Urdu, Italian, Polish and an African dialect that I have no name for. We speak the language of care for each other. Newcomers, rough around the edges and suspicious with mistrust, relax into our loving arms. We work, we hustle, we live. Drugs bought, sold and consumed. Milk, takeaways and packages delivered. Our postman, always in shorts, brings me letters and messages from the Holy Spirit, reminding me to live in the present moment. Our lives, entwined like the wild vines that climb the fences. Insects collect our communal pollen. War over, the green is now host to epic games of tag, dramatic break-ups and tearful make-ups, fingers cut to the bone, scraped knees, hurt feelings and lost toys. Kids are free-range here, there is always at least one eye on them. In the heat of summer, ice lollies are scattered like seed, sprinklers and pools and water fights set up.
Our tree, planted 50 years ago, has grown thick and full, now housing a tyre swing and growing splintered bits of wood in its branches as generations of kids conquer its summit and build their fortresses. Old jean, matriarch of the street, who remembered the houses when they were built after the war, planted this tree and guarded it possessively while she lived. She was a chain-smoking tough woman with a hoarse voice like an old crow who would take on anyone, and I heard her talking about me often, loud, under my window. After she died, Dorothy and I attended her funeral, and I cried unexpectedly at the beauty of her spirit as she was sung home. Her house lay dormant for many years. The kids would say that her house was haunted, daring each other to knock. Now occupied by an Islamic family, shining like a new pin. Her roses are gone, but her indomitable spirit is still strong, and I see it reflected in the women that live here.
Strong women with tender hearts. I hear them shouting their tough love through the walls and echoing round the street at night, calling children home. We share food, toys, tools and stories. We help in each other’s gardens. My ex came one time, yelling at me in my front garden, swearing and threatening. I heard their doors open quietly, I felt their presence standing just inside. Enough to allow some privacy, close enough so that I knew that they were there if the situation got out of hand. Feeling them with me, I took a step forward. He seemed to sense this, our communal strength, and left.
Three single mothers in a row, me included. Shirley lives in Dorothy’s old house. She tells me tales to make my toes curl and is totally transparent in a way I have yet to achieve. She gives me her kid's birthday money to look after so that she doesn’t spend it on drugs, I see such devotion in her heart. She gives me a bud to smoke when I have helped her out. We took the fence down between us and between our gardens. We share the gardens and our kids. Their sweet grubby faces I love like my own. The garden Dorothy created is overgrown now, broken toys in the flower beds. I mow her lawn and love her dearly.
Natasha, on the other side, reminds me of a younger me, except that her DIY is pulled off with professionalism and attention to detail. She is always busy refurbishing, despite a kidney condition that sees her in bed with chronic pain when she has overdone it. She has a huge family that comes and goes, each sister wears her face. I have furnished my house with her unwanted furniture and am dressed like a queen in her old clothes. We hold the space for each other as we share our news. Our daughters, the same age, are best friends forever.
Two Islamic sisters live next door to each other, their families devout. They bring me gifts of food during holidays and Eid. Without knowing, they feed my family when we have nothing in the fridge. One sister, Fatima, while I was pregnant and unable to run, hitched up her long hijab robe and lost her headscarf as she pelted down the road at Olympian speed, sacred hair streaming out behind her to retrieve my daughter, who thought she was being chased by a bee and was about to run round the forbidden corner into the main road.
Gratitude is The Attitude
By so many gifts I have been blessed. There was an old African lady, always seen in heavy overcoat and hat even in the scorching heat of summer, who never smiled and scared the bejesus out of me and the kids. Determined to see her smile, it took 20 years of me grinning and saying ‘good morning’ every day until she gifted me with her beautiful, tentative smile. She died the following week, hers is the new ‘haunted house’ of the street.
We have our own ‘mad cat lady’ who currently has 8 grown cats and 20 kittens, more are born every year, and she seems to keep at least one from every litter, in her thick Scottish brogue she tells me of her lost love. A mean old cat, who I call Ying- yang- moui due to his facial markings, is father, uncle and grandfather to most of them simultaneously. He respects no boundaries, moral or otherwise; coming in through cat flaps and open doors looking for food or females, whatever he finds first he will take.
The old Irish couple across from me, who have been together since they were teenagers, help each other shamble down the road. He sprinkles the house and every guest with holy water, his daughter tells me.
Jackie in the corner house, our oldest children born together on the same day, at the same hospital. We rested in the same ward. We exchanged scared glances across the room as our journey into motherhood began. We occupied opposite beds and opposite houses. Now grandmothers, we reminisce as the sun sets crimson, peach and lilac.
A cat companion sits next to me on the bench. We scent the air, smelling the evening perfume of flowers, freshly cooking chips and bonfire on the soft breeze. The first star appears, and streetlights blink to life one by one. Engines hum. Evening walks are being taken by man and beast. A bat flits. I see a fox, thin, on a mission. We lock eyes, I greet him as Brother in my mind. A child in autistic temper is loved and soothed. Seagulls laugh, my four-year-old calls them eagles, and I laugh too. The teenagers come out to conspire under the tree that watched them grow. Getting sent on errands, returning with bags and smoking fags.
This village-like street in Luton town, where people only visit to leave via the airport, voted the crappiest town in the country three years in a row. Rough, gang ridden. Where people are stabbed and robbed daily, has this peaceful street nestled in its heart. The sirens scream daily but cannot reach us here. We are nestled in the heart of peace that beats here in Waterslade Green.
T-7.XI.5. When a mind has only light, it knows only light. 2 Its own radiance shines all around it, and extends out into the darkness of other minds, transforming them into majesty.
— A Course in Miracles, T-7.XI. The State of Grace
Thank you for reading. Now let's play this incredible song together!
Jerusalema by Master KG ft. Nomcebo & Burna Boy
For a deep teaching on gratitude, watch this amazing talk, "Gratitude is The Attitude," with Kenneth Clifford and David Hoffmeister from the Get Real series.
For an incredible movie on the power of relationships to enlighten and awaken gratitude within each other, watch "Feast of Love" and visit mwge.org to read David Hoffmeister's movie review.
"Vibrational relationships are intuitive and joyful and no matter how long they seem to last they fill the heart with gratitude."