Love Actually


Over forty years ago I found myself visiting a man imprisoned in a psychiatric ward.He had no family, no other visitors, and the story of his life was a search for the only person who had ever loved him. His mother.

He was thirteen when he had his first brush with the law, and was placed in a juvenile delinquent institution after he attacked his mother’s lover with a baseball bat when his mother was the victim of domestic violence. Back then domestic violence was not taken as seriously as it is now.

He ran away to get back to his mother and from then on was placed in stricter and harsher environments. Having no trade, skills or any means of support he ended up robbing a bank. This is a gross simplification of his tragic descent into despair and the appalling experience of solitary confinement in the prison hospital.

His cell was bare, no books or television, yet with all the deprivation of twenty years in and out of prisons, he was an articulate and sensitive man. In retrospect his whole life had been a search for love, and yet he’d had no opportunity  to find or develop relationships, or to find a person to love.

He sat on one side of a table placed across a bleak corridor in the hospital, we sat the other side. With warders standing nearby, he told us that his one amusement was watching the birds from behind the bars of his tiny cell window. He saved crumbs from his meals and fed them to one particular sparrow who came to the window sill. It was obvious as he spoke that he loved that little sparrow, and that the sparrow was giving his life some meaning.

He didn’t need to know whether the sparrow loved him. The sparrow filled his need to love. I still remember when my first great love sent me a Dear John letter. (Dear John oh how I hate to write, dear John I must let you know tonight that my love for you has died )

I was twenty- one. When I read it, my head spun and the world seemed to go black amid the giddyness. As time went on, I realised that one of the worst things about it was feeling was that I could no longer love him. At which I also realised that there was no need to stop loving him… loving was what made me feel less bereft, and loving him filled the gap in my heart until I was able to move on.

A teacher on one of our personal growth courses once observed that when a person lives alone, they often make a loving connection with a creature, if they have no-one to love – pets, birds, wild creatures become their beloved companions. Even snails can become the beloved – Elisabeth Tova Bailey wrote one of the most exquisite books about love, when she became aware that a snail lived in the wild cyclamen a friend had dug up and brought to her sick room.

Her loving descriptions of the tiny creature and its habits, and the knowledge she acquired about one of our humblest companions living alongside us on this planet teeming with life, gave me a deeper understanding of the value of all life. Loving this tiny snail gave the sick woman joy and meaning to her life.

Being loved somehow doesn’t seem as sustaining as loving. ‘Lord grant that I may not so much seek to be loved, as to love,’ was the prayer of St Francis, who loved ‘all creatures great and small’, in the words of the hymn. Krishna Murti described another aspect of love in his journal.

‘He had picked it up, he said, on a beach; it was a piece of sea-washed wood in the shape of a human head. It was made of hard wood, shaped by the waters of the sea, cleansed by many seasons. He had brought it home and put it on the mantelpiece; he looked at it from time to time and admired what he had done.

One day, he put some flowers round it, and then it happened every day; he felt uncomfortable if there were not fresh flowers every day and gradually that piece of shaped wood became very important in his life. He would allow no-one to touch it except himself; they might desecrate it; he washed his hands before he touched it.

It had become holy, sacred, and he alone was the high priest of it; he represented it; it told him of things he could never know by himself. His life was filled with it and he was, he said unspeakably happy…’

This beautiful story electrified me. It showed me that by loving, whatever the object may be, loving gives life and meaning to whatever it touches. My friend Oi, who I’ve written about in another blog once told me about a very rich friend, whose house was filled with opulent treasures, which Oi found overpowering. But, she told me, as the years passed, and she visited her friend, though all the treasures were still there, gleaming and cherished, she felt differently about them. She said they had been so lovingly cared for and cherished by their owner, that they no longer had the patina of wealth, but exuded their intrinsic beauty.

So it’s the loving that matters, that transforms and gives meaning. Which is why the experiment I once read in which people in prison were given an abandoned dog to rehabilitate, were rehabilitated themselves. Love heals.

Here in our forest, where we are not allowed dogs or cats who might kill the threatened species of flightless birds who shelter beneath the thick undergrowth, we have become devoted to the wild quails who make their way into our garden. We began feeding them, discovering that the food they love best is budgie seed.

Every year they return with their tiny fluffy babies, who scamper after their parents like little windup toys; and we now have dozens of beautiful little creatures who push through the undergowth out of the forest and march determinedly down the drive to feast. When they hear our voices, they break into a run. We spend far too much on birdseed, and in lockdown, it is the one thing we make sure we always have plenty of. They start arriving early in the morning and when we hear their sharp call, one or other of us leaps out of bed, still half asleep, to scatter seed

Loving them makes us ‘unspeakably happy’. There must be many other people in these strange days who find that having the time, no longer trying to stuff too many duties and activities into their day, they can now discover the world of small things around them, and find it utterly loveable. Birds singing, leaves unfolding, spiders spinning their miraculous webs – all these things can be food for the soul and can remind us of the goodness of life even in ‘these interesting times’, in the words of the Chinese proverb.


Food for Housebound Gourmets

The cupboard is bare – not of food, but of inspiration, Having put my back out and drugged up with painkillers, unable to stir from bed without yelps of pain, I’ve been calling instructions to Himself  in the kitchen, on how to boil an egg, or where to find the butter…

Food for thought

By having a reverence for life, we enter into a spiritual relation with the world. By practicing reverence for life we become good, deep, and alive.  Albert Schweitzer


Filed under consciousness, cookery/recipes, happiness, love, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

38 responses to “Love Actually

  1. Another beautiful blog from you, dear Valerie. The story of the man and the sparrow is very touching.I’m thinking that even a plant can be loved also and that people in rest homes benefit by having a plant or plants to care for. How delightful to think of you leaping out of bed to feed the quail, who clearly know that they are on to a good thing!


    • Dear Juliet, you are such a generous reader, thank you so much for your encouragement.You’re right – a plant can support a person as much as any other form of life…life and love are such miracles aren’t they?


  2. Thank you very much for returning to blogging. It is more important than ever now to remember the power of love. P.S. sending healing vibes for our back, and cooking vibes for Himself.


    • Dear Ele, your comments always mean so much to me, Thank you for your continuing encouragement, I hope all is well with you and those you love – it’s wonderful the way lockdown seems to be working for us, isn’t it. I try not to worry about the economic impact, and wonder where it is all taking us.!


  3. Dear Valerie,

    I’m delighted to hear you’re feeling better. Nothing is more miserable than incapacitating back pain.
    As I read this lovely post, the growing use of service dogs for soldiers suffering PTSD came to mind. And of course when you shared the touching story of the prisoner and the sparrow, I immediately thought of your quails. D has regaled me with many stories.
    Since we no longer have furry or feathered pets, I refer to two African violets, a cyclamen and Coleus (I rooted a leaf that fell off the mother plant last summer and it has grown to over 2 feet tall) as my pets. The African violets seem to bloom continually. All of the plants are on my kitchen counter and make me smile.
    I relate to the lack of inspiration for cooking in lockdown. My husband and I eat very differently from each other which also makes mealtimes a challenge.
    At any rate, it’s good to see you up and blogging once more. Much love to you and himself. I’m so glad you have each other to love and care for.

    Shalom and continued good health,



    • Hello Rochelle… thank you for your generous comments.. the back is a moveable feast ! I feel better when I’m crammed full of the four different painkillers the doctor prescribed !
      African violets are little miracles aren’t they… though I don’t know what a coleus is, and will have to google it…
      Hope all goes well for you – looking at numbers is tough when there’s not much to celebrate, but I hope things start to improve in your neck of the woods,
      Love Valerie


  4. Jane Sturgeon

    Wrapping you in healing love, Valerie. You have written a beautiful post and I talk to the spiders in my home and the birds on the roof terrace. Observing them, they do communicate. Much love flowing to you both. ❤ ❤


    • Thank you for all the love you send, dear Jane… I love it that you enjoy the spiders too.. they are amazing creatures aren’t they, and what skill and ingenuity they possess…the intelligence of other forms of life is utterly fascinating isn’t it… and so under-rated by man…
      Much love, Valerie

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jane Sturgeon

        Thank you for your loving care, Valerie. Yes, spiders are amazing creatures and I’m sure they hear what we say. ❤️❤️


  5. galenpearl

    Greetings. I came over through a link on Heart to Heart, where Lynne mentioned your use of the term “the great retreat.” I’ve just read several of your posts and enjoyed them very much. Your forest life reminds me of my “back to the land days” of living in the mountains off the grid. Now I live in the city (in the US Pacific Northwest), but I have a mountain cabin not too far away for my “forest bathing,” as the Japanese call it.

    And your description of love was….well, lovely. My daughter and her kids just moved into their new home after staying with me for several months while they were in between houses. I loved having them here, but I was very happy to get my house back to myself. As I cleaned and rearranged and reclaimed my space, I found myself tenderly cleaning with loving gratitude, cherishing my little house and thanking it for taking such good care of us for so many years. So along with loving my dog and my family, I was surprised by how much I love my home.

    Anyway, nice to meet you and I look forward to reading more.


    • Thank you for your lovely comment.. I know Galen Pearl is your pen name so do I call you Galen, or Pearl?
      How lovely that you found it so rewarding to clean and reclaim your home… we used to call that sort of loving attention to our environment Zenning the place, and you can actually Feel if it’s been Zenned and cherished the way you describe…
      Best wishes, Valerie


  6. I’m so sorry to learn you are still having horrendous back pain. I hope by the time you read this you are doing better, up and about, and pain-free.
    I, too, remember reading Corrie Ten Boom’s account of being locked in solitary, while being held in once of Hitler’s abominations of death camps…in her tiny cell she befriends some ants.
    Hope and love come in the smallest ways.

    Loving them makes us ‘unspeakably happy’. There must be many other people in these strange days who find that having the time, no longer trying to stuff too many duties and activities into their day, they can now discover the world of small things around them, and find it utterly loveable. Birds singing, leaves unfolding, spiders spinning their miraculous webs – all these things can be food for the soul and can remind us of the goodness of life even in ‘these interesting times’, in the words of the Chinese proverb.

    When I read this paragraph I knew it spoke to me…this is how I try to live each and every day.

    Thank you so much for your blog, your friendship and your love through all the years and more.



    • Lovely to read your comment, dear Linda… I can get up for shirt bursts if I’m tanked up with the four painkillers the doctor prescribed, but progress seems very slow…It took me three days to write thus blog, compared with an hour usually !
      Yes, I know you live your life in wonder and gratitude, dear friend, it is who you are…
      letter coming your way…
      With love, Valerie

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This was lovely to read. It’s nice to be able to slow down and notice the little things – I think it brings me more in touch with nature. The first swallows arrived here this weekend, all the way from Africa. And to think, each one weighs about the same as a small bag of potato crisps. Such delicate beings with such strength to fly all those thousands of miles!

    I do hope you’re feeling better and are up and about again soon.


    • Dear Grace, thank you as ever for your lovely comment . I simply loved your information about the swallows… they literally are all heart and beauty, aren’t they…We have a resident pair, who built a nest above our door, and made such a mess when they hatched four babies that Douglas had to build a platform just below the nest to catch the droppings! We love them, the way they swoop and dive and glide through the air… I think they don’t migrate here, the temperature is so comparatively benign…
      Thank you for your good wishes re back… progress is slow, but thank heavens for modern medicine and painkillers !!!.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh Valerie, the power of love helps us endure, create, live boldly, and embrace our destiny. Just this morning I read an article on the healing power of nature. It is not the usual view of a poet, writer, artist, philosopher. These creatives have known, intuitively, that humanity and nature must never be separated. Now, the economists have entered the discussion: “We evaluate methods to calculate the economic value of protected areas derived from the improved mental health of visitors. A conservative global estimate using quality-adjusted life years, a standard measure in health economics, is US$6 trillion p.a. This is an order of magnitude greater than the global value of protected area tourism, and two to three orders greater than global aggregate protected area management agency budgets.” Always a joy to stop by and feel the joy of the post and discussion. Hugs coming your way.


    • Hello Rebecca,
      Thank you so mich for your interesting comment and information – it’s real progress when accountant type minds start to appreciate that man doesn’t live by bread ( and money) alone, but needs to feed the heart and mind, isn’t it… Hope all is well with you and those you love, though I know that you would always make even the most adverse circumstances work for you !
      Love Valerie

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Norm Bartlett

    Dear Valerie

    Thank you for your posts. I look forward to them and find your writings about life in your part of the world intriguing. It really does sound like a small piece of paradise.

    We live in a busy suburb but are lucky to have a small, pleasantly planted tree lined garden and watching the birds in the taller trees from our bed in the morning is a great pleasure.

    On the bed is our elderly cat, 19 years old now and still going strong. She lives inside now so no longer poses any threat to the birds for which I am pleased, as much as I love cats that is their big negative.

    I would imagine that the lockdown has not changed your life too dramatically. The big negative is not being able to see family but we keep in touch via phone and computer.

    All best wishes to you and those with you.

    Jill Bartlett


    • Dear Jill,
      I really appreciated you taking the time to comment as you did…I wonder where you’s amazing the way the internet links us all across time and space, and also connects birds of a feather!
      I envy you your elderly cat – the first blog I ever wrote was about the death of my cat, and even six years later miss her and mourn her, even though I’ve also had seventeen dogs – three at a time and most of them rescued…
      You’re right, lockdown has n’t really changed our lives very much, but with us both being in the vulnerable category, the neighbours kindly shop for us..
      So good to ear from you, best wishes Valerie


  10. Angela Ogden

    Such a joyful pleasure to see you appear on my iPad! Ah….backs….such useful bits of the body when behaving themselves but truly awful when even a twitch of the nose sends a searing pain down the spine! Sending you lots of love & healing thoughts. Meanwhile…back to the jigsaw……!!!
    Love from Angela


    • Hello Angela, so good to hear from you … you obviously know about back from what you say – and never a truer word was written !
      I’ve never had a ‘back’ before, and this has been an illuminating experience… thank heavens for modern medicine and effective pain-killers. Enjoy your jigsaw, much love, Valerie


  11. Philippa Street

    Thank you Valerie for your latest post Love Actually.
    So good to read, fills me with wholesome goodness, real nourishment for a housebound gourmet.
    We met briefly at John and Beverley Russell’s home several years ago. Deirdre forwarded this post to me.
    For lunch today I made some kipper pate, a tin of kippers had been given to mu husband as a Christmas present. Tinned Kippers! no idea what to do with them. But today along with some parsley and spring onion tops from the garden, some butter, lemon juice and a slosh of sherry, they became lunch.
    Yesterday it was a beansprout omelette. Some mushrooms, spring onions and beansprouts fried with beaten eggs poured on top. So crunchy and yummy.
    All sorts of inspirations are happening. Have just looked up, is it possible to roast tofu with vegies, yes it, tonights dinner now happening.
    However I am not coping with a painful back which would kill inspiration dead. Well done writing a blog in the circumstances.
    Hope it gets better soon.
    Thank you so much.
    Don’t know where we would be without the cats.
    Love Philippa


    • Thank you so much for your long and delightful comment… the kipper pate sounds delish.. will have to try it when we’re out of home detention, and can shop again !
      Love it that you enjoyed the blog, feedback is always precious…
      I agree about cats – I wrote my very first blog about my cat… but as the devoted parent of fifteen rescued dogs – three at a time, I have to include them too!!!
      Lovely to hear from you, Valerie


  12. Beautiful and meaningful…. I was reassured in the knowledge that love, which I deeply believe in has the ability to bring us so much joy…. be it loving a snail, loving God or loving another human being


  13. So much in this post, Valerie! Where you write: ‘He didn’t need to know whether the sparrow loved him. The sparrow filled his need to love.’ This is so powerful and his story so moving. And the idea that it is spiritually more powerful to love than be loved also struck a chord. People just don’t think like this anymore, everything can seem pretty shallow, not allowing for these ways of being. I hope there is some change coming.

    My mother lives alone and during her isolation right now she has been watching the birds in the garden through her favourite window. She tells me what they have been up to when I phone her. Such simple pleasures count for so much. She had a robin visit her before the lockdown, he just sat there looking at her in the garden, so close to her – it really moved her and made a special moment quite symbolic to her. She and my father (now deceased) had a strong relationship and somehow that robin connected them to one another.

    And finally, on the topic of unrequited love and dear John letters,I count myself so lucky to have never been in this position. My hubby is my one and only. I was 24 when I met him, thinking I was never going to meet a man to fall in love with. It’s only been in the last few years that I realise how rare this is! Still together, still in love, over 30 years later. And if I didn’t fully appreciate it before this retreat, I surely do now. Cheers, Valerie :>)


    • Hello Lynne,
      Lovely to hear from you… just loved the story of your mother and the robin… the world is so full of significances and symbols when we are alert
      to see and hear them, aren’t they…
      Yes you are lucky never to have experienced the pangs of rejection!
      Lovely that your relationship is still as fresh and precious after so many years….reminds of Shakespeare’s’ Love’s not Time’s fool,’ etc etc
      Keep well, V XX


  14. catching up on your blog as I seem to have missed a lot. What a beautiful post about love and how just loving can keep us going. AND in this state of loving something the human aligns itself with its natural state of being love itself and life opens you up to another world, a world of joy, peace and reverence❤️ love to you Valerie and home made chicken soup comes to mind to help you manage your down down. X Barbara x


  15. Barbara, It’s lovely to find you reading past blogs, such a validation. And your comment is so generous.. beautiful words, and I loved the phrase – a world of joy, peace and reverence… words which my love and I find easy to live, here in this beautiful place which is now our home – forty acres of thick forest alive with birds and some extinct elsewhere ancient frogs and lizards,
    The chicken soup is a wonderful idea, and when I can get organised will be my top favourite to try…
    Love Valerie XXX


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