Dear 2016..

maria-koutala-1

Dear 2016,

You have been brutal, by far the most difficult, painful, expensive, terrifying, sad and challenging year of my life. You commenced with life-changing, emergency spinal surgery (x2); and culminated with the heart-wrenching demise of my beloved father, cruelly snatched from life, so suddenly and unexpectedly. I have gritted my teeth determinedly, bitten my tongue patiently, and cried several oceans, unreservedly. My body aches daily, my mind worries anxiously, and my heart is repeatedly smashed to smithereens as the waves of grief crash over me. Yet, I am grateful, you have been a year of my life, I have learnt many painful lessons, and I am ready for 2017.

You have been a year of struggles and loss, but loving light has pierced the darkest depths of despair. Every day, as my world fell apart, the sun still rose, and the world kept on turning, even though I had wished it would stop and let me step off, momentarily. I noticed sunlight dancing gracefully in the leaves of a tunnel of trees, as I drove from the hospice, blinded by tears I couldn’t curtail. And once as I crested the brow of a hill, overwhelmed with sorrow, strong shafts of light poured through the clouds, reaching down from the heavens to steady me. When I felt hopeless, rainbows magically appeared to comfort and encourage me, and when I was tired and defeated, sunsets gently soothed and nourished me.

Amongst all the difficulties, angels have emerged to help, support and care for me, friends and family who held me when I fell apart, and picked up the pieces of my life as they lay scattered around me. I have been enveloped by kindness, as I learned to walk after surgery, and again as I learned to walk in a world without my Daddy. Dear friends have shared their understanding that the gaping hole in my life will never be healed, but that I will come to accept its presence, and learn to live by filling it with never-ending love and happy memories. I am eternally grateful for these loving souls that have shared my journey.

My mornings greet me unfailingly with the wet nosy kisses and joyful tail wags, of unconditional love. My dogs have been my best medicine, strongest motivators, and most comforting, loyal companions, through everything. Because of them, I have found the strength to get up and embrace the day, and found myself admiring beautiful dawns, when I thought I wanted to hide in sleep. They have licked away my salty tears, snuggled lovingly into my broken body, and found smiles in my face when I didn’t think there were any. They have silently acknowledged my pain and let me bury my face in their warm furry necks to weep, sought me out for snuggles and cuddles, and accepted the changes they couldn’t understand, patiently. Leo is such a loving boy, and continues to fight valiantly against the life threatening disease you bestowed upon him. Poppy is becoming affectionate and sweet, learning to trust and settle, despite the many moves and upheaval. And Platon remains my rock, protective and patient, unswervingly loyal and devoted, even when earthquakes unnerved him.

2016, you have been horrible, the world has lost some amazingly talented souls, you enabled Brexit, and voted in a disastrously dangerous choice of American president. Many desperate refugees have drowned fleeing war torn countries, terrorists have ripped apart the lives of many and their families, and atrocities continue to be inflicted on innocents as their homes are destroyed by militants. The world is full of hostility and cruelty, it is plagued by anger and swamped in sorrow, but light still shines through the darkness, beauty blooms amidst despair and misery, courage clings on through adversity, hope remains steadfastly, and love is still stronger than anything. Please tell your successor 2017, to bring it on, I am ready!!

Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo credit: The talented, Maria Koutala, Kefalonia. Words by Hayley Darby ©2016}

Introducing Platonas

platon skinny1

Good morning!! Today as I woke, I didn’t gradually drift into the shallows of consciousness, gently emerging from sleep, to languish in those sweet but fleeting moments between dreams and wakefulness; those mornings are just a misty memory of my past it seems. Today I woke when the warm mass, curled up beside me, tucked neatly behind my knees, in the crook of my bent legs; stirred and squished just a bit closer (if that was at all possible). This was momentarily prior to popping a heavy chin on my thigh, to peer over at me with excited, inquisitive, amber eyes, preceded by a big black nose that sniffed the autumn air and my sleepyness. His name is Platonas (Plato) and he’s impossibly loveable, but particularly cute and affectionate in the mornings, when the dawn of a new day brings all manner of possibilities for exciting adventures and puppy playfulness. We snuggled for a while, as my body unwound from the dreams I did not remember, until after a spectacular stretch (taking up most of the bed), Platonas jumped up and pounced on my legs, as if to say ‘it’s time to get up and embrace the day’, before leaping to the floor and turning to watch me as if imploring me to follow suit, as I dutifully did, unwinding myself from the sheets in search of breakfast.

We are living on my favourite Greek island, somewhere that’s been a second home for me for many years, a special place that occupies my heart, even when I’m not here; and even more special since late April. It was a ‘shopping day’ (read supermarkets rather than retail therapy.. it’s an island after all!), I had driven down to the main town (almost 2 hours from home) with my friend CS to stock up on groceries, and everything else unavailable in our remote villages, including gas tanks for the dive school. CS’s car was packed to the gunnels, and after a basic picnic of bread and cheese by the ancient ruins of the castle, we were busy chatting away like a babbling brook as we wound our way through country lanes. In the midst of a wilderness, where not much exists, save a quarry and electricity plant, our flow of conversation was interrupted by simultaneous gasps, as she swerved to avoid the walking skeleton of a dog that stepped into the road from the scrubland. We jointly agreed we couldn’t drive on, and turned to the spot, where he immediately ran over to greet us, wagging his tail high in the air, sinking his chest to the ground, twisting to look at us, simply fizzing with excitement. His protruding bones were painful to witness, and the greedy ticks that clung to his neck, quite revolting; but the beautiful face and happy attitude were overwhelmingly beguiling.

I found a tin of tuna with a ring-pull amongst the shopping, desperate to feed this starving weakling, and whilst he ate it, he was clearly more interested in our company, despite his hunger, jumping up and buzzing excitedly. CS and I agreed we couldn’t leave him, so we lifted him into the passenger foot well by my feet (the car being full) and I tried to calm him as we resumed our journey. He was frantic, climbing all over me, anxious to see out the windows, inquisitive and attentive, nervous and exhausting. It’s quite a journey from one end of the island to the other, particularly since the main road has been closed due to earthquake damage since February; with winding narrow lanes amongst olive groves and scattered villages, to climb steeply into the mountains, where the goats trickle leisurely across the road before scampering away vertically. CS and I lamented that we were two silly English girls, having picked up a puppy with no plan for his future, but admitted that we couldn’t possibly have left him, hoping that whatever happened we had done a good thing. We called the island’s animal shelter en route, a facility for 75 animals currently struggling with almost 400, so with no room at the inn, we pledged to take him back to our villages and find a home for him. As we drove, thinking it would be temporary I decided to name him Plato, since I know several Socrates, a Sophocles, and Aristotles a plenty, but had never met a Plato; besides it was close to Pluto and seemed to suit him.

Our journey was interrupted when the winding roads and anxiety finally overcame our friend, and he was sick in the foot well, revealing his meagre diet of plastic and faeces. CS was impressively resilient, cleaning up the stinking mess with only the recently purchased toilet rolls and drinking water, whilst I held our passenger on the side of the road and tried to reassure him. I felt horribly inadequate, my heart breaking for this poor soul, seemingly cruelly abandoned in an area far from food or shelter, and wondered who could be such a monster to neglect such a loveable creature. We arrived back to our village, exhausted and unsure, CS was worried her boyfriend would be angry at us picking up such a responsibility, so I agreed to keep Plato until we found him a permanent home. After acquiring some cord as a makeshift lead, and applying a flea treatment hastily purchased from the pharmacy, I took him home to the villa some friends were generously lending me. As my friends, like many Greeks, keep their dog chained outside, I didn’t feel comfortable taking Plato into their villa, so CS donated an old blanket, which we folded and made a bed, under a porch on the doorstep. After being fed him some kibble, Plato curled up tightly, no doubt worn out by his adventure, obediently quiet and slept. Throughout the night I have to admit I crept down frequently to check on my guest, peeping through the glass in the door to see him peacefully waiting for morning, untied but certainly not leaving the small comfort provided. He was leaning hard against the door so that he fell in when I opened it in the morning; full of joy and excited affection, less interested in breakfast than love and company.

It took about a week of me walking him around asking everyone if they wanted this puppy, until I realised it was a futile exercise, at the start of the tourist season nobody wants extra responsibility, and most people have several dogs already. Platonas followed me everywhere,(by this time Greek friends had insisted on the Greek version of a Greek name, Platon for short), was gentle and quiet, and cried if I left him to go to the toilet. He never once snatched food from my hand, despite his starving condition, and I fed him several small meals a day to gently ease in his digestive system. He continued to sleep outside the villa, but I never slept a full night without checking up on him, and always woke early in the morning eager for his joyful greeting, then he would lie across the threshold, watching me and waiting patiently for attention. I posted a photo on Facebook appealing to Greek friends to help me find a home, and had two offers from friends in California and Washington DC, who would pay for his shipping if I was unsuccessful. Then I met a British tourist who thought she might like him, so I took Platonas to the vets for his jabs, microchip and passport, to give him options.

The vets on the island are all located in the main town, a long, complicated drive from the village I live in, so very early in the morning after breakfast (big mistake), and a sunrise run by the church, we set off to meet Amanda, who happens to be an angel, as well as an excellent and most compassionate vet. After his appointment I asked her for some meds to prevent him being car-sick on our journey home, having discovered what a mistake breakfast was previously. Amanda sent us to the pet shop with a script for ‘calmivet’, where the assistant advised me it would take 45 minutes to take effect, suggesting I have a coffee and wait before starting back. It was a warm spring day, so I walked Platonas a fair way across the town to a favourite pavement cafe. It was here, that I decided as he slept peacefully on my foot (so I couldn’t go anywhere without waking him) presumably exhausted after his first visit to the vet, that although my life had no room for a pet, maybe I could find a way to change things, and give him the best home I could manage.

I am fiercely independent, travel extensively, and have white sofas, white bedlinen,(rather a lot of white everything) at my small but neat and tidy, single girl’s sanctuary, mews house in London. I’ve avoided unnecessary responsibility, am wary of dependency and value my freedom and capacity for spontaneity. But somehow, all of the reasons stopping me from taking care of this puppy, paled by the side of this bundle of love that trusted me to care for him. I finished my coffee and paid my bill, ready to leave the cafe, and rousing Platon from his sleep, got up to go; just as he keeled over comically, like a drunk dog as his legs crumpled. It appears the anti-emetic drugs were also sedatives, and I ended up carrying 17 kg of dead weight dog, across town much to the amusement of everyone I met. As I struggled with my arms full of puppy and my shoulders laden with bags of shopping, people asked if Platon was OK, or laughed at me, but nobody offered to help. Sweating in the midday heat, with lots of stops, I eventually managed to get poor Platon to the car, exhausted and feeling guilty for drugging him, vowing that I would do my best for this loving creature. I remember the journey home, and crying uncontrollably as I passed through the uninhabited wasteland where we’d found each other a week earlier, still so angry at whomever could have abandoned him. By the time we got home, he was starting to wake up, and by then, I’d realised that I loved him too much not to do my best to be home to him.

So that’s how, on a sunny spring day in April, Platonas came into my world and completely changed my priorities. Suddenly life is full of dog hair with pockets full of dog biscuits, my routine is disrupted and all plans depend on him; and I seriously couldn’t be happier about it. He’s such a comical character, strong willed and independent, friendly and enthusiastic, smart and affectionate, and I’ve already learnt so much from him. People frequently comment on my adorable dog, I just hope he’s as proud of his person ☺ Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo of Platonas a few days after finding him – he’s since gained 12 kg and looks much more healthy, like a different dog actually, more photos to follow. Words & photo by me 🙂 © Hayley Darby}

Happy Valentine’s day!

val

Happy Valentine’s day!!

I hope that wherever in the world you are, whether you are married, dating or single, that today on the most romantic day of the year that you feel loved.

I wish for you the purest, unconditional love, one that appreciates you for exactly who you are, not your appearance, your intelligence, your success or achievements, or even some fantasy of what you could, should, would be. I hope you are loved for the essence of who you are, and that it’s a clear love that sees your faults and failings, and knows that these are a part of you as vital as your strengths and achievements, so loves them too.

I hope you feel an encouraging love, one that truly believes in you, and your dreams too; especially when you have trouble believing in yourself. A love that celebrates your unique gifts, and encourages you to appreciate them, that understands the intent that drives you, values your view of the world and dreams your dreams with you.

I hope you feel a supportive love, one that truly listens, not just with their ears but with their heart also, so that they comprehend your feeling rather than just the words you choose. A love that’s there by your side through the good and the bad; to hold your hand in the darkness and whisper words of comfort when you need them, and to revel in your success and bask in the light when you shine brightly.

I hope that you feel a forgiving love, one that sees your heart is human, and all the struggles it goes through, and appreciating your imperfections forgives the mistakes you make and urges you to forgive yourself too. Forgiveness frees us from all that isn’t love, and when we learn to truly forgive, we learn love.

I hope that you feel a kind love, one that cares for you and considers your needs generously. A love that will go out of its way to demonstrate how valued you are, with gestures grand and small, and to give without any expectation, just a hope you will feel loved. I hope that you will feel a love so kind that you want to express it in all that you do, and that love will inspire kindness in others too.

I hope that you feel a love that is as free as the breeze, that caresses you gently, yet never pushes or demands of you. A love that accepts you exactly as you are, and doesn’t try to change you, or trap you, or own you; but that delights in your flight, in your pursuit of life and the knowledge that your love guides you.

I hope that you feel a fun-filled love; one that will tickle your heart with giggles and helps you see the magic anew. A love that explores your imagination and takes you on adventures of discovery, finding miracles in the dusty corners of the ordinary, and treasures sequestered in the mundane. I hope that your love laughs heartily and embraces your experiences with joyful anticipation.

I hope that you will feel a trusted love, an acceptance that the love you feel is true, that you will not feel fearful of loss or protective against pain, because love does not die, and there is no need to question the integrity of genuine love. I hope that you will love yourself to know that you deserve this too.

I hope that you will feel loved, I hope that you will love bravely too, that you will not hide behind walls of pride, conceit, fear, or any other emotion that might try to protect you from the vulnerability of truly loving another. I hope that you will find the courage to open your heart, despite the risk of all that it may encounter, and trust that you have enough love to survive anything that the world can throw at you. Because love is what we’re here for, and love is what we are, and the answer is always love, so love is what we must do!!

I hope you feel love everyday, everywhere you go, and in everything you do, and if you’re wondering where to start, I’m sending love from me to you! Happy Valentines day, with love Hxx

The ebb & flow of love

Nikki, Montalivet, France

When you love someone you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity – in freedom. ~Leo Buscaglia

{Photo credit: Jock Sturges, Nikki, Montalivet, France}

Piano love..

One must learn to love.— This is what happens to us in music: first one has to learn to hear a figure and melody at all, to detect and distinguish it, to isolate it and delimit it as a separate life; then it requires some exertion and good will to tolerate it in spite of its strangeness, to be patient with its appearance and expression, and kindhearted about its oddity:—finally there comes a moment when we are used to it, when we wait for it, when we sense that we should miss it if it were missing: and now it continues to compel and enchant us relentlessly until we have become its humble and enraptured lovers who desire nothing better from the world than it and only it.

But that is what happens to us not only in music: that is how we have learned to love all things that we now love. In the end we are always rewarded for our good will, our patience, fairmindedness, and gentleness with what is strange; gradually, it sheds its veil and turns out to be a new and indescribable beauty:—that is its thanks for our hospitality. Even those who love themselves will have learned it in this way: for there is no other way. Love, too, has to be learned. ~Friedrich Nietzsche

{Photo sadly uncredited, via Pinterest}

Heart Wrap

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. ~C.S. Lewis

Please don’t stop loving.. it’s what we’re here for! ♥ Hxx