My Year of Burning Hands


“Would you mind swapping places with me? I’m feeling a bit scared about sitting on the edge!” she asked.

“Sure,” I replied.

Why not? I was feeling calm as anything, so I didn’t care where I sat on that open raft. On the Red Sea. (Stupid, stupid me.)

I was travelling in Israel with my sister, my niece, her husband and his sisters. We were a motley group from Australia and Argentina and all set for adventures in the Holy Land.

We started our water escapades with the ‘Crazy Shark’. I was blissfully unaware of what it entailed. The description on the brochure was innocent. You sit on a semi-open inflated raft, hold on, and then get towed by a speedboat over the Red Sea. Fun, right?

There were three of us on each raft. I sat on the edge, cos I was stupidly unafraid.

The boat towing us took off without warning. Within seconds we were lurching, spinning, crashing down on every wave. Everyone was squealing with delight.

I was completely silent.

My Entire Being was focussed on NOT sliding into the Red Sea.

And seeing as I was seated on the very edge of the raft, there were only 2 things stopping me from a watery grave: My puny little left hand, and my puny little right hand. They were both wrapped tightly around 2 puny little straps. NO part of me was secured onto the stupid, crazy shark dinghy. And unlike everyone else, who seemed to have no trouble holding on, I was in imminent danger of slip-sliding away.

Someone should have warned me that you need normal levels of upper body strength to survive the Crazy Shark experience. I have the upper body strength of a three year old. (Actually that’s an exaggeration. Most three year olds could take me in an arm wrestle.)

So it was all up to my puny little hands, the rest of my body wasn’t helping out at all.

A few interminable minutes into this ocean adventure and my hands were burning. I mean they were on fire. I was totally convinced my palms were raw and ripped to shreds. But I daren’t check. To do so, I’d have to let go of a strap, and if I let go of a strap, even one strap, I would be dead in the Red Sea. (Even though that did have kind of a poetic ring to it, I wasn’t ready. I still had stuff to do.)


that’s me on the extreme right, trying not to slide off

After awhile, I had a light bulb moment. I could stop this torture. Right here, right now. I didn’t need to stay on the damn Crazy Shark. But I did need my hands. For starters I’m attached to them. They fit so nicely on the end of my puny little arms. And they’re super handy for painting and writing and picking up stuff.

So I stopped the boat, let go of the straps and got off. Not into the sea, but onto the boat that was towing us.

Best Decision I Ever Made In My Entire Life (other than marrying Greg and having Mary).

As I watched my companions from the safety of the speedboat, I forced myself to take a look at my hands. I couldn’t believe it. They were completely intact. I didn’t discount the possibility that they may have indeed been dripping with blood and skinless, but got miraculously healed. After all, we were in the Holy Land. And this sea was once parted and stuff. Anything could happen here.

So much for my experience with Crazy Sharking. It should have been called ‘Crazy-Burning-Hands-if-You-Have-No-Upper-Body-Strength-ing’ … but whatever.

That was the easy part. Next on our Ocean Adventure Agenda was Parasailing, and call me strange but being 500 feet above the sea seemed much scarier than being towed on it. Fortunately, my sister and I were strapped in rather securely this time, and she took great pains to explain to the guys piloting the boat that we were “old ladies who needed to be treated gently”. For the record – ONLY time in my life I was HAPPY to be called an ‘old lady’.

Turns out that parasailing is rather lovely.

Peaceful even.

And most importantly, it requires neither courage nor upper body strength. But I’m keeping that a secret as the photos look really impressive.


That’s me and my sis happily perched 500 feet in the air with a blissful expression on my face. (You’ll just have to take my word for it).

So here’s what I’ve realised. Sometimes ‘letting go’ is important, and sometimes it’s more important to hang on. (Like …if you let go, you fall into the ocean.)

I had to hang on when my daughter Mary was lost to the demons in her head as she battled anorexia nervosa and depression for so much of her precious life.

I had to hang on when I was caring for my husband Greg while he was sick with cancer. For the four years of chemotherapy and five surgeries and the gradual and total loss of his independence.

And I had to hang on after he died, to my precious loved ones, who stopped me from losing myself in the bottomless depths of grief.

But this year…

When Mary left home and moved to England (with her dog)… I had to let go.

When I created the biggest painting I’d ever done, on the largest, blankest canvas I’d ever seen … I had to let go.

And just the other day, when I had to scour the painful landscape of memories of the past decade of Mary’s mental health struggles to speak publicly about it, at a live event at the hospital (the scariest thing I’ve ever agreed to do) … I had to let go.


I am Australian. I live on an island nation obsessed with sun, sea and surf. But I had to travel exactly 11,111 km (I promise I didn’t make that up) to start my Year of Doing Things that Scare the Crap Out of Me.

So what of my battle with the Crazy Shark on the Red Sea with burning hands? That experience was just too laden with metaphor not to have been a lesson:

If it hurts like hell when you hold on too tight … stop and let go.

As we hurtle towards year’s end, I’m making arrangements to sell our family home. The one that Greg and I built together and embedded our dreams and hopes into. It served us well, but it’s time to let go of the past, and anchor my heart in the bountiful, beautiful, present.

I’m choosing Parasailing over Crazy Sharking.

2016: I deem thee The Year of Burning Hands (aka ‘The Year of Letting Go’)


Taking a leap into one’s creative self can be the greatest act of letting go,
AND the most joyful one! It was for me, fifteen years ago.

If you’d like to join me in my Spring/Summer workshops, I’d love to have you!
All the delicious options are over on my website
but if you’ve never painted before, start here!


Comments 8

  1. Dear Malini,

    I see you in this quote from Abdu’l-Baha…

    ‘The mind and spirit of man advance when he is tried by suffering. The more the ground is ploughed the better the seed will grow, the better the harvest will be. Just as the plough furrows the earth deeply, purifying it of weeds and thistles, so suffering and tribulation free man from the petty affairs of this worldly life until he arrives at a state of complete detachment. His attitude in this world will be that of divine happiness. Man is, so to speak, unripe: the heat of the fire of suffering will mature him. Look back to the times past and you will find that the greatest men have suffered most.’

    (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 178)

    1. Post

      Thank you Bryn… I’m sure I haven’t suffered more than most, I just make more of a song and dance about it! But I do believe that adversity has shaped me and strengthened me. It burns when it’s happening though! thanks for stopping by!

  2. So beautiful, as always! You talk about experiences and link them to truths in a very uncontrived, relatable, funny way. I learn a lot from your posts! xx

  3. I read your posts with relish Mal and I particularly relish and relate to this one. I find it very helpful as I travel a slippery path at the moment. You are a gem of a friend and I cherish that friendship more each year. You also plant in me with your posts movement in my artistic endeavours, which in turn fill me with calm and joy. I’m doing a small piece about a ‘ path ‘ using the skills you gave me in ‘ painting for beginners ‘. With love yvonne

  4. I’ve just let go of some more worn bone and had it replaced with metal and plastic (thank goodness!). Nowhere near as bad as letting go of some of the things you’ve had to contend with. However, am coming to the realisation that if I am to encourage hubby we need to downsize more, I/we have to let go much of the ‘things’ we have collected over the years. Your story has started the thoughts in my head, hopefully I can put it into practice once I am able to move about fully.
    Thank you for your lovely stories, Mal. Sending much love and prayers to you to help the letting go of the home you and Greg had.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *