Broken Links: Part of the Chain of Life.

Last night I had the most vivid dream. I was sitting here in my sofa corner, as I usually do, and the phone rang. I picked it up and a voice said: "Bear?"

Now this is odd for a start, as only my computer friends and my husband call me this nickname of recent years, and this was a voice I didn't really know. Anyway, I answered in the affirmative.

"You don't remember me do you?" asked the lady on the other end of the line.

Oh horrible question. I never know what to say. If I say no it annoys them. If I say yes and then hope they give enough information into letting me guess who they are, it never works. If I prevaricate and say they sound familiar but I can't place them, I feel like an idiot. In this case it was an elderly lady with a distinct accent, Norfolk or Suffolk, something of that kind, and I had heard it before. I said so.

"It's Janet Walker from the Walk Away club!" she said.

The dream went on and got as confused and muddled as dreams often do, ending up with bowls of curry in my wardrobe, but I woke up thinking about it.

I have, to the best of my rememberance, never known a Janet Walker, nor joined a Walk Away club, and the voice I heard was, I think, done by Joyce Grenfell for her character Mrs Moss, the terrible worrier. But the dream made me think of the people I have known throughout my life, close friends and acquaintances, who aren't there anymore, either because I moved to a different part of the country or because they did, or because our circumstances changed, or for whatever reason. For a time we shared each other's orbit. Some of them certainly helped me, and I might even have done the same for them, who knows. Certainly they all had something to teach me.

I remember Marilyn, the mobility officer who, for the first time in my life, wasn't dry and official, who took time to sit down and talk to me and found out why I hated being outside so much. Did she turn me into the kind of blind person who can go anywhere on her own, who leaps on and off buses and can face a new place without a qualm? um, no. But she made me feel that she cared about my problems, for the first time, and that taking a small first step, like learning the way to the flat of a friend, meant I could take bigger ones next time.

There was Kath, the largest woman I think I ever met. Large in every way, especially of heart. If you went to her house, let me tell you, you didn't need to eat for a week afterwards! I have never seen so much food on one plate in my life! She came to my house as my cleaner, and left it as my friend. She could make a party out of a handful of corned beef sandwiches, a few bottles of Lambrusco, cheap wine for those of you who don't know what that is, some loud music and a roomful of friends. She taught me to drop the pretentiousness that I was being spoon fed by other people I was around at that time. She taught me that true generosity of spirit, a loving, caring heart and always trying to make the best you can of every day, hurt no one and help someone if you can was worth the most of all.

Then there was Joyce and her sweet husband Jack. Joyce was a little live wire of a woman, never still, and the most practical, down to earth person you could imagine, or that's how she came across. But Joyce had a passion. She loved dolls. Not any particular kind of doll, anything that she saw she thought was pretty, she wanted it. Everywhere we went in the group of which we were both members, if she saw a doll she liked, out would come her money. People used to laugh at her behind her back and call her funny names like the dolly bird or similar, but she paid no heed and went on collecting. I made friends with her, being a lover of dolls myself, and loved going to her doll stuffed tiny house. Then, one day, I heard that Joyce's sweet, gentle husband had died after a short illness. After the funeral was over and things had settled down, Joyce asked me over for tea. She told me how much she missed Jack, and that she was so, so glad she had her hobby, as her dolls were helping her get through this terrible time in her life, as they had helped her get through many another.

Yes well, you must have known dolls would feature in here somewhere! Smile. Joyce taught me that what makes you happy and truly hurts nobody has to be something good, no matter what anyone says or thinks. It's a lesson I've truly come to appreciate later in life. Whatever my ideas about the after life are, this is not the time or place to discuss them, I believe we only have one life here and now, and we all have our share of grief to go through, that can't be helped. I truly believe in seizing on what makes us happy, embracing it to the full, never taking love or life or happiness for granted if we can help it. May I never forget that.

Lastly there were John and Helen, a couple forty years my senior. John used to work at a day centre with me, before the staff decided they didn't want vollunteers anymore and sidelined us. So then on day center days, Friday afternoons, he'd come and sit in my front room, drink Earl grey and talk for two hours. Sometimes, on nice warm days, we'd get in his car, pick up his lovely wife, drive somewhere and fly kites on the hills, or have a picnic, or just go somewhere for tea, but mostly John and I would talk. He saw me through some of the absoluteley worst days of my life, no messing. I'd never have believed I could tell a man so much older than me some of the things I was able to tell him. I was scared people were going to talk. I was scared Helen wasn't going to like John coming to see me every Friday, but she was just lovely. For six years, till I broke out of the tiny cage I'd got myself locked into, that couple held me together. And after that we kept in touch regularly. They're both gone now, but I bless them every day.

They taught me that friendship can occur in the strangest places. It is no respecter of age, sex, race, creed, even, in this technological age, of where you are in the world. I also learned from them that there are certain kinds of friendship that can be stronger than anything, than the strongest kinds of steel. I am extremely blessed in my friends, I have some of the best, and I just hope that if I'm ever needed in the way I needed John and Helen way back then, I won't fall short and dishonour their memory.

I wonder whether we all have people like that, people we once knew that we don't anymore, for whatever reason. Maybe they didn't all teach us things, but I honestly think that all the people around us contribute, in some way, great or small, to the person we are today. So these broken links of mine are part of the chain of my life, and I'll always be grateful for the lessons I've learned from them.

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