Stephen D’Evelyn on The Need to Dance Free

It’s drizzly and chilly. The roads seem busy for a Friday. It’s hard not to feel jumpy. I need to calm down and focus. I have a document to finish writing analysing a proposed policy impacted disabled staff.

Institutional expansion seems to mean less resources of certain sorts for certain sorts of people. How can I respond and speak truth to power and stand up for justice in a persuasive way?

Even as I tell myself this, the word ‘need’ gives me pause. Of course we hear this word all of the time in different contexts and forms. Parents may protest at what seems like the misuse of the word when ‘want’ is really more accurate and appropriate. I remember R.E.M. singing ‘what we want and what we need has been confused…’

Disabled people of course have particular perspectives on need. It can take the form of feeling dependent or feeling we are made to feel dependent. On the other hand public policy and language also often pushes the agenda of impendences. Here in the UK we have the so-called ‘personal independence payment’ benefit for disabled people. The ‘social model of disability’ analyses how society creates unnecessary need by insisting on conformity to what is deemed ‘normal’ and refusing to resisting being flexible. Disabled people are thus put in positions of need.

It seems to me that it can be easy to get categories mixed up. That is, ‘need’ may be most appropriate and accurate for matters of being. If we understand things in a broad philosophical context, as beings we need the source of being. Christians understand this as God. As children we need our parents but perhaps even this is slightly different although it is analogous to our need for God.

Yet this need does not deprive us of the freedom to dance free in the world. Instead it allows it. So we relate to others as fellow dancers, we delight in their movements, letting them be and being with them, of course perhaps we object or critique, we work with them, watching and helping create patterns of movement and stillness.

And now outside the wind has risen. The one student with an umbrella watches it blow inside out and bursts out laughing. The finer rain sparkles. This is not just a projection of a lighter mood. It is a matter of being in time.

The wind blows, the rain falls. We are ourselves breathing and being in and through time. That is the gift that we need and it keeps coming as we go.

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Stephen D’Evelyn on Running as Doing

Today is middling sort of bright but overcast day, not warm yet not cold. There are lots of Chinese students around. The clock ticks. Pent up energy makes your feet tap.

This morning I went running as I almost always do unless it’s raining really hard. Recently I’ve had to contend with a gated fence which a school from a nearby neighbourhood has put up around our park ostensibly to make it safe for its pupils to use for sports.

I have found myself running back and forth around what the school’s headmaster in official communications has called ‘the perimeter’. Today I found the one way into the park. This did mean I got lost and missed that entrance as a way out. But running can be like that, a regular habit and task which can be interrupted by unexpected change.

When you don’t quite match what the rest of the world thinks is normal, such interruptions may come more frequently or be harder to absorb.
Running is perhaps none of those routine things that I give regular attention to. Without it a sedentary job with spikes of stress would leave me both not at all physically challenged let alone anything like physically fit but also rather deprived of fresh air, birdsong, and branches snapping in my face. (Since the erection of the fence my route around the perimeter has featured a particularly tricky branch.)

I don’t quite run to make myself feel good or make myself feel I’m doing something for my fitness, though those are part of it. I run because I love the energy of the morning, the absolutes of gravity, the earth pushing back against my feet, the air cooled by expanses of grass, and I run for love of my wife.

There are other ways to make myself feel better. Sometimes we talk to make ourselves feel better. Supposedly British workers stay at the office longer than colleagues elsewhere in Western Europe. But national productivity levels don’t suggest that longer hours mean more stuff happening. Not that all of what people do in those long hours is talk let alone talk to make themselves feel like they’re doing something. But there’s a balance to strike between doing things for the sake of it and keeping on top of mundane tasks that need regular attention.

Now running is not talking or writing. Nobody is obliged by social convention or where they are sitting relative to you to feel they have to do much if you are running. But maybe talking to feel like you’re doing something and running to make yourself feel you’re looking after yourself can be similar.

One alternative to keeping up the sppearences of doing something is to take the proverbial step back and focus instead on making the connections and developing the ideas that will really make things change. That seems wise. Of course if your ways of not fitting what is viewed as normal mean that the routine tasks everyone has to do take longer it’s much harder to choose to spend more time on those productive activities and less time on the busy work.

So maybe it’s as important or also important to go outside, to let that middling bright overcast early afternoon light wash over you, hear the Chinese students talking cheerfully, listen to the birdsong and wonder if it’s really quite right to hear that at the start of March. Maybe those moments of running through the dark, trusting one footfall following after the other, can open new ways of doing things or new things to do. But more than doing maybe it’s about being as doing, being the runner running, running back along the perimeter and finally through the gap into the park.

Stephen D’Evelyn On Breathing Easy When It’s Almost Spring

It’s a brilliantly sunny, fizzy-feeling day. It’s a little hard to concentrate. It feels like spring but you don’t want to say that for fear of jinxing it. Worries seem suspended however heavy. The sunshine spills through the still bare branches of maple and oak trees. Further along the road the very first blossom trees are just coming out white. The day seems poised.

A half-listened-to inspirational reflection on the radio this morning comes to mind as I try to focus on work, something about respecting and helping each other achieve our individual goals. I tense up remembering it and deliberately have to sit back in my office chair.

Sigh. Why do goals annoy me? One reason is that they seem like ways others can judge those who do not conform or measure up. Even with the most selfless love, looking at someone in terms of goals means thinking about how they aren’t doing this or that.

To me it seems more fulfilling and maybe more beneficial instead to try simply to provide others with what seems required for them to move ahead or veer left or right if they wish and to stick with them as they do it. This means being ready to respond, being patient with others and yourself, and perhaps consciously putting others first.

I was struck recently by a passage from the story of the creation of Adam and Eve from Genesis by Adam’s delighted outburst ‘This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh’. I had always assumed this was typical male egocentrism — bone of MY bone, flesh of MY flesh. But I realised Adam was all there was when it came to humanity. He was simply saying, ‘Here’s another human being, not a zebra or a goat or a cicada or a stalk of broccoli!’

When we deliberately and mindfully put others first, we become open to perceiving unseen bonds of kinship and the surprise of kindness. We see under the performance curves and targets to sense the heartbeat. And that makes it easier to breathe easy on a heightened, brightened, almost-spring sunny day.

“Half-open Door” by Stephen D’Evelyn

My eyes hurt. It’s drizzly, mizzly day heavy with financial worries and general malaise. The weather forecast describes a wet weekend. That means it will be less easy to get space and air. It seems there are so many things you want to do as well as feel you need to do and it’s hard to get them moving. Sitting inside at the desk, I find it’s easy to feel weighed down, closed in.

I go outside. The cleaner who only speaks a little English goes out before me and outs up her white umbrella. A student wearing black Converse All Stars and I dance past each other between puddles. Spatial awareness has always been a little tricky for me and I often over-compensate.

Brilliant green grass. A flashback. I remember having a hard time playing baseball but still loving it. You always had to be a little bit cautious about where and how your body was positioned, respecting the force of the ball and the uncertain distances.

Much later, as a would-be priest in the Church of England before I realised where my heart lay and was received into the Catholic Church, I discovered the hard boundaries of authority that do not allow difference. A stubborn refusal to listen to my arguments for a needs assessment to enable me as visually impaired to meet expectations coupled with a general dismissal of the very idea that a bottom-up shape to things starting with the meeting of an individual’s gifts and the ways their calling might be embodied meant that I was driven to give up.

I felt shut down. Yet down is sometimes where you have to look and when you look there you may find what you’ve got and where to go from there.

Now a fragment of Princess Eugenie’s wedding this summer comes back to me: ‘With my body I honour you…’ When we love someone we let them go first, we do not push ahead. All those only=partly expressed or fulfilled desires wait. We let the other person be other and approach. Across puddles. Through a half-opened door. Perhaps sitting or standing together we confer honour by allowing space.

The half-open door lets in soft grey light. Bare tree branches reach beyond. It’s an expansive kind of space changing slightly as the day goes by. And that space becomes the opening to heaven.

Stephen D’Evelyn on Coming Down

Writing can be a duty. I just have to write. The politics of authenticity—my identikit—puts the emphasis on creative in creative writing, but writing is as much about being true to the culture of language as it is to giving voice to particular views.

Today the weather is milder than it has been of late. We have run out of milk here at the office and I didn’t think to get any. So I sip black coffee and look out at the grey and white clouds. Every so often a car whooshes by down a road nearby.

Today feels jumpy. There seem to be a lot of things to do. I feel compelled to type. Is this a selfish act? Is it an answer to the call of duty? This morning I have been to a highly-charged, high-level meeting about a case of indirect gender discrimination and unacceptable behaviour—in a word marginalization.

It is a little bit hard to come down. But as I sit now in the office the sky is slowly brightening. A bird trills somewhere. Sometimes it is enough to notice what is unnoticed and perhaps help others to notice.

Sometimes as happened this morning changes in the way people treat each other can start with noticing. And sometime writing about disregarded people –even in positions of power – and about birds and clouds people don’t necessarily notice can answer that urge to connect. The words arrive and take shape and dance as the clouds brighten still further.

Arriving at the Office

It’s so cold your fingers hurt. The streets immediately surrounding the buildings where my office is located were still grey. Late-rising sun filtered through the thick clouds.

The university precinct was peaceful. A few birds chirped. They sounded right—not the ebullient and energetic calling of birds a few weeks ago disoriented by a warm spell, but quieter and more delicate, maybe thoughtful or at least thought-provoking.

Peace is a much-used word. It can mean many things. Here in this place now it seems to mean letting go of the to-do lists and spreadsheets of information which I associate with the office. It means putting my feet on the floor and breathing deeply. I try to give my all my arguments with myself to God.

I am not on trial. The clock ticks softly and the birds chirp and the computer whirrs faintly. My purpose is to be. It seems too simple. It seems crazy. It seems useless. But remembering that means you do not have to guarantee your own being by meeting a list of expectations.

Sure there are things to do and people to see. Thank goodness for the delicate sing-song birdsong outside the window and the computer gently whirring. But my value is assured right here and now as I take a breath and take it all in and exhale again.

The cold air is very good.

NEW POEM BY STEPHEN D’EVELYN: LOVE IN BRISTOL

All day we’ve had big sporadic drops,
no real rain, no downpour, release,
just shifting Channel breeze through the gaps
between hedgerows’ thin growth and the house.

We exceed ourselves in each other’s touch,
from bedside table, text-alerts’ pulsing glow.
That slightly stale salty air off the dark unseen stretch
of estuary feels heavy. Darkness lies beyond and below.

This evening promises a change in the weather
but here even local predictions more often just change again,
and couples may make time, turn down lights and lie together,
those heartbeats constant against tiny patterns of rain.