Visual Thinker - head opt2


I met this boy once who ate coal. I was nine or ten and on a family holiday in Benone beach, on the north coast of Ireland (some of the best waves in the world, surfers!). Me and my brother were playing in the sand dunes, when we bumped into this kid with black smudges round his mouth and teeth.
What have you bin eatin'?
Kids have no trouble getting down to the facts.

Why do you eat coal?
Well… I just like it.
My parents don’t like me eating it, though. But I’ve hidden some. Wanna try?
Um - no thanks...
I wondered afterwards if he had to brush his teeth as soon as he got back to his tent, just to hide the evidence.

Little did I know then that the next few decades of my life would involve me meeting absolutely zero other coal-eaters. I wish I'd asked a few more probing questions.
Want some?


Many years later I was working in Tanzania, East Africa. Our Swahili teacher, George, brought us some Udongo - reddish earth - in a thin paper-tubed wrapper. Udongo is soil that’s dried out, packaged up and sold in some local shops.

Why would anyone eat earth?
Pregnant women sometimes crave it. It’s supposed to be rich in minerals.
Do you want to try?
Um - okay...

So I did. It tasted like gritty soil.

I wondered if the boy that ate coal craved minerals from the earth. Maybe his body was lacking in carbon, creating impulses that could not be ignored. Or maybe he just liked the taste. Or maybe...

When you listen to your body, what do you hear?

We all ache to be listened to - but listening to others seems so hard. I guess whatever we’re trying to listen to, it takes practice to tune in to what’s being said.
Listen - to the earth, your body, other people.
I called my brother to ask if he remembers this holiday encounter with the boy who ate coal. He said he thought he did, but it made him wonder about the girl at primary school who liked to drink vinegar...
awaken me to love this day
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bryan in the canon


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