NEWS & BLOG
05 April, 2023 - By Catherine Davidson
On the last Wednesday in March, our book club met at West London Welcome. I thought we might be a smaller group because some members are fasting for Ramadan, but in fact, there were quite a few new faces there, and we had to find a bigger table. Sadly, Anna was away travelling, but I had come prepared with a story from a collection of Arabic language women writers.
After I handed out the text, I asked one of the members who has been coming since the winter to tell the newcomers what we are about.
“Basically, we get together, read poems, stories, short pieces and we talk them through – any ideas they bring up or words we don’t understand.”
I thought that was a good introduction.
We read “A Moment of Contemplation” by Nuzha Bin Sulaymin, a novelist from Morocco. In it, a woman who goes down to the seashore, head wrapped up in her own problems, and sees a couple she mistakes for two angry men fighting. She realises they are lovers who have been parted for many years and have only just reconciled. This changes her perspective and she feels better about her own much less dramatic domestic conflict.
There were three core concepts we discussed at length and eventually, I asked the group to choose one and do some quick free-writing. As ever, they were under no obligation to share. The prompts were:
– Mountain out of a molehill
– A new perspective (or point of view)
– A refuge in a time of distress.
Two women shared short reflections on times in their lives when they felt that contemplating others’ situations helped them gain perspective on their own; one writer shared a short fiction piece about a character whose love of music helps her gain perspective and provide a refuge. Finally, a new member from Ukraine shared the two pages she had written, pouring out her anguish over what is happening in her country, and how if people here really understood, they would change their views about the relatively minor challenges they face.
This led to a wider sharing about war; one person reflected that he was born in 1961 and had never lived a year of his life without it.
The group seemed to sigh and then someone said, “we need something cheerful after all this.”I always try to write along with the others. My piece was about a very old tree in the park near my house and how being with it often changes my perspective on the temporary troubles that I am feeling at the moment. In the last five minutes, I read it to the group – and we all agreed. Nature is a true refuge – one available to all of us.
A New Perception
Once upon a time there was a beautiful lady. She was trying to survive from the stress of life in relationships with the people around her. She was always feeling lonely, and sad every day. She was listening to lonely and sad music. She did not love herself because of what she was going through at that time. She felt like no one would ever understand her but the only comfort and a place of matrimony was music and crying her sadness.
But one day she said to herself, “there is no good or bad without us. There is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.” Then after saying that to herself, she let it all out with an embracing smile and started to live as a free soul, living her life, making new friends, and being happy with the people around her.
She knew many other people were passing through heavy and murderous things, more than she could imagine, but ever since then she believed good things start in ourselves and we make them happen.
I live next to a park. Inside the park, there is one tree that is not like any of the others. It is not tall, but it is very wide. Every summer its branches grow a few green leaves. What you see most is the trunk. The bark is rough, covered in bumps and very soft.
At times, I have gone to this tree on my own, and pressed myself against it, as if it were a mother or a grandmother.
I have come to live in a country where for many years I felt I was among strangers. I never felt sure the human environment would welcome me, listen to my stories, offer shelter.
But the tree was so old, so deeply rooted. Every winter it pulls into itself. Every spring it opens its green hands. It has lived through war and famine. It has seen children grow old and die.
Maybe the tree is not really speaking. Maybe it does not listen. But when I feel its skin, breath and life energy next to mine, I feel my own mind change. I leave whatever winter I have entered. I look out at the world again with spring green eyes.
Catherine Davidson is a poet and novelist, who, along with Anna Perera, organises our weekly book group at West London Welcome.