“And she said gently – that they believe when a lot of things start to go wrong all at once, it is to protect something big and lovely that is trying to get itself born – and that this something needs for you to be distracted so that it can be born as perfectly as possible.”
Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies
Confession: I hate being interrupted. If I’m in the middle of a book or a bath or the tricky butternut squash risotto recipe I have planned for tonight, I like a clear, smooth, solitary run to the horizon ahead. If I’m ‘in full flow’ at work, I plug my headphones in. And if I have a thought to finish? Honey bun, you better let me finish it because my attention ain’t big enough for the both of us.
So it goes without saying that Interruption is a tricky thing for me. But recently, I was interrupted by something beyond my control and it’s unsurprisingly surprised me into thinking about how Interruption is a friend to welcome…rather than a foe that I should slaughter animals and paint my door frames in order to avoid.
Tomorrow’s the big day: sixth form pupils in the UK will receive their A-level results. When mine disastrously came back several grades lower than expected 11 (ELEVENOHMYLIFE!!!) years ago, I experienced Interruption. It was the result of an unfortunate new school, new curriculum error and it changed the course of my life. Instead of sailing my way through my final year and heading off to study English at a top university, I had to recalculate my journey and work my tush off to get somewhere. And get somewhere I did. It didn’t involve studying English or studying at that top university, but that change brought with it an incredible life since – life-long friends, the experience living in NI (and of course meeting and marrying a handsome man here), some terrible and some brilliant jobs…and the list goes on. All thanks, it would seem, to Interruption. (Read more on this Interruption here).
Interruption can also be planned…but that doesn’t mean that we necessarily welcome it more. I met it again earlier this year. It was deep winter, when the festivities are over but your laugh still crystallises in the air as you rub your gloved hands together and everyone is still making warming pots of carrot and coriander soup and the sun still sets early and catches us all by surprise even though it’s been this way for weeks. But I was switching my cosy slippers for my practical but-let’s-be-honest hideous ‘development sandals’, heading to Rwanda on my first trip in my current job. Of course I was excited to be going, and absolutely privileged to have the chance. Honestly, though? While I hate to admit it, collecting vaccines and mosquito nets, planning an intense schedule for each day, getting ready to meet people I didn’t know and being thrust into an unknown context for 8 days…well, it did feel like Interruption was rudely crashing into my midwinter dream. But the thing is – and I’m sure you know where this is going – it was truly one of the best weeks of my life. I worked harder than I’ve ever worked, met some truly inspiring people who have marked me forever, made fabulous friends, and was enriched in a way that I just wasn’t picturing when I was embarking on the bus to Dublin on a freezing cold February morning. Honestly, if this particular Interruption was to come back into my life tomorrow, I would KISS it! (Listen to me tell Consolata’s story here.)
I mentioned a recent interruption. It came at a very awkward time: I was days away from heading off on a dream holiday with Dan to Geneva, having just announced our pregnancy (YES! We are pregnant! More on that later…) and clocked off work for two weeks. I’ll not bore you with the details, but the series of events went a little like chest pain, A&E, admission, every cardiac test under the sun, discharged, and signed off work. Needless to say, this was NOT the plan, and for someone who loves a good plan (and hates being interrupted – have I mentioned that?) it was not good news. I’ve now been off for a month and my life has changed a lot in that time. My dreams of being that glowy, productive pregnant lady have been exchanged for lots of rest and more tests, and some days, energy reserves akin to those of a weathered – yet spunky – 93 year old.
I whisper this to you: this particular visit from Interruption has been really difficult. It’s left me feeling like I’m wedged between life and death. Some days I’ve wondered who on earth is in charge here and how the heck I’m going to face the future.
And far from wanting to gloss over this with a couple of nice platitudes just in time for bed, dear reader, I hope I can bring this truth to you with honesty and transparency: it would remiss of me to bemoan my season of Interruption without telling you that it has also brought me treasure. Perhaps I’ll explore more of this in further pieces. I’m reluctant to draw conclusions on something I am still living (I think most of us are better at that with some distance) but I have had to fight for hope and faith and in doing so, have a new sense of appreciation for both their fragility and their power. I have been led to be more comfortable with stillness and vulnerability. And my goodness, I have experienced tremendous kindness from those around me that will stoke my fire for a long while to come.
Had Interruption not come knocking on my door, I don’t think I’d have gathered this bounty. And I hope this chance to reflect on Interruption makes me less fearful of it next time it comes knocking – because it will do just that. I’m willing to bet it’s paid you a few visits, too.
I have no interest in becoming Interruption’s spokesperson, but next time it comes to you? Let it in. Acknowledge that it is here, that you are here.
“What I do know is that it can help to find the words of the truth of where you are now. If you can fin the courage to name ‘here’ – especially in the place where you do not wish to be – it can help you be there.”
Padraig O’Tuama, In The Shelter
And just like those good friends who show up to your door with flowers or granola or a good book when they visit, my prayer for you is that Interruption brings you something that enriches you. You won’t expect it – or maybe even want it at the time. But if my experience is anything to go by, sometimes Interruption brings you exactly what you need.
*Some interruptions include suffering, but I don’t wish to equate interruption to suffering here. Some suffering is unexplainable and does not bring any good with it. This post is not about encouraging anyone to find ‘hidden treasures’ in deep darkness or making light of the unspeakable trauma some dear to me are going through.