finding Her Path

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“He who is outside his door, already has the hardest part of his journey behind him” (Dutch proverb)

She found herself again on that same bench. It was one of those mornings when Summer isn’t quite ready to let itself fade into Autumn.  

It was one of those days when she woke up, and, despite a good night’s sleep, it felt like being brave was just too hard.  It was sometimes.  With the best will in the world, and despite doing all the right things, some days it really all felt just too hard.  But she did know that one of the right things to do … was to get outside.  

Five minutes from where she lived was the most glorious park that had been within walking distance for the best part of her adult life.  It was the must-go place for firework displays every November, which she’d gone to with her boyfriend, then to be her husband, then the father of her children, who themselves had been thrilled at the ever noisier pyrotechnics.  For the boating lake, always a draw for silly teenage antics, and home to a variety of tail-wiggling ducks and haughty swans, so frighteningly humanised and bloated by the constant availability of crusts from over-zealous toddlers.  For the stunning landscaping, with a clear nod to Capability Brown, it’s perfectly placed trees and gentle hills … hills for screaming down riding out-of-control toboggans speeding to the water’s edge, hills for chasing dogs careering towards the resident geese, hills for pram-pushing a overwrought baby in need of an afternoon nap.  So many memories.

And so, it was almost without thinking, that, on the day she left her marriage, she should find herself there in that park, on that bench.  Back then, so absorbed in the enormity of what had happened, she hardly noticed anything around her.  Passers-by, though curious to see a middle-aged woman sobbing her heart out in the middle of a Sunday afternoon, would have scurried past, best not to interfere.  She could only remember the overwhelming sadness but also sense of relief, like her lungs weren’t big enough, and the total shock and fear, as it dawned on her that she had taken that first irreversible step on her journey.  

The bench was set high up in a dappled grove, tucked away from the activity around the lake.  Today, she could see from her vantage spot, a straggling crocodile of year 8’s, their red and black uniforms appearing then disappearing between the trees as they reluctantly jogged their way around the lake’s perimeter. One athletic boy determined to lap his classmates and show off to the girls, who of course giggled and feigned disinterest.  Life seems to simple when you’re young.  And a lone walker, with a frisky spaniel darting its way between the bushes, determined to catch the waterfowl unawares.  

Back sitting on the bench again, over four years later, she contemplated her journey since that afternoon, and realised how far she had come, and that she had been brave …. and that it was OK sometimes, to feel like she hadn’t the energy to be brave any more.  She sat, closed her eyes, and tried to make sense of it all.  It was at once overwhelming and terrifying all over again, her lungs still did not feel big enough, but for all that, not for a minute, had she looked back and ever thought leaving was the wrong thing to do.

She looked up, and realised for the first time, that the grove was planted with oak trees, growing stronger by the day and standing firm, there at the top of the hill. Oak trees rustling in the crisp morning breeze, heavy with acorns, some already fallen,  starting to spread out new roots, creating new beginnings.  Just like her.  

 

finding how to Face Your Fears

Funny thing, fear.

It has the potential to paralyse us, to insist we dismiss other options and go for what is safe, to stop us looking forward, to anaesthetise us from pain, to put the brakes on any ridiculous thoughts we might have of doing something wildly adventurous, to trap us in our comfort zone, to force a “no” from our lips when we should be squealing a “yes”. Tricky little blighter, fear, that’s for sure.

Unfounded or not, fear has different boundaries for each and everyone of us. And those boundaries are dictated by our life experiences, and how, having looked fear in the eye (by choice or not) … we have come out the other side. When we face fear, we reset the boundaries, which in itself is terrifying and utterly exhilarating at the same time.

None of us have any idea how our lives will turn out. But we all have a choice. Either to stay in our comfort zone, taking reassurance in the familiar, knowing that even if something does rock its foundation, in essence we can tuck ourselves back into the safety of its warm embrace and sideline change as best we can.  Or to recognise and embrace an opportunity, open our mind to the possibility that different might even be better, and take meaningful steps to live the life we want to live .

It all comes down to be brave enough to try.

She had discovered that, once looked in the eye, fear has little place to go.  And it was that realisation, more than anything else, that had changed her life.

There was no stopping her now!

 

 

 

finding that Eating Alone Isn’t Funny!

 

Laughter needs two people.

Laughing alone, tears rolling down her face,

because her book, the one that was meant to make it look

like she hadn’t been stood up

in the restaurant,

that book – well it was

side-splittingly, eye-wateringly hilarious!

And who, in their right mind,  would want to sit

anywhere near the crazy English lady

snorting in the corner!!

finding Florence II

Of course, it wasn’t challenge enough to solo travel for the first time. In a moment of madness, she decided to put something a little crazy in the mix, just to make sure this, for her, was the mother of all challenges!

So she booked a sight seeing tour around the Tuscan hills … on a Vespa!

Sound enough idea for an experienced motorcycle driver who had driven on the wrong side of the road before. She’d done neither the motorcycle or the side … ever!! Crazy or what?

That’s the funny thing about fear. Once she’d looked it in the eye, it had nowhere else to go. She’d realised that only way to find out how to travel alone, was to do it! It was a huge, life-changing life-enhancing decision … the icing on top of the cake that was her new independent grab-every-moment life. Hiring a Vespa? Just the cherry on the icing!

It wasn’t without trepidation however that she presented herself at the allocated time at the hire centre. Ten minutes later, after a quick run through of the essentials (basically how to start and how to stop), she emerged into the madness that is Florence’s mid morning traffic.

In the group of a dozen or so riders, some pillion, she was the only solo woman of a certain age. A object of some curiosity to the youngsters and the couples! She rather liked that … though they did collectively take it upon themselves to keep her in the middle of the pack out of harm’s way. Bless.

They wound their way up and up until Florence disappeared into a valley behind them. Clear of city drivers, with the dusty tracks to themselves, she began to relax, loosen her white knuckle grip on the handlebars and enjoy the Tuscan hills that stretched before them, just like they are in the movies. Cypress trees standing tall and straight on undulating hills, row upon row of vineyards ready to harvest, sprinkled with sun-mellowed terracotta villas.

The locals, intent on their daily tasks, watched bemused as a crazy English woman whizzed through their tiny hamlets, squealing with the freedom of it all.

She couldn’t believe she was actually doing it. She felt like she could fly. And life felt so, so extraordinarily good.

finding Florence I

She caught first sight of the Duomo while she was trundling her luggage along what had now become a rather haphazard route between the station and her hotel. A shock of green and white marble tantalizing her from the end of the street. It, quite literally, stopped her in her tracks.  She was to learn, during the next few days, that Florence has a habit of doing that …

The unpretentious family run hotel situated right at the end of Ponte Vecchio was perfect for a female first time solo traveller. Everything she wanted to see within touching distance, and a friendly face to come back to after a day’s “determined not to miss a thing” sightseeing.

A three night city break, particularly going solo, is more than enough time to get to grips with most cities.  With no-one else to please, she could focus on the things she wanted to see and do …. with the freedom to take, literally, a different path whenever she felt like it. The Florence must do’s – the Uffizi, the Pitti Palace,  the Duomo of course – called to her like presents that are so beautifully wrapped, it goes without saying that what’s inside will be something special.  Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Caravaggio … the names just roll of the tongue, all there, conjuring up a veritable cultural feast for the soul. The highlight for her, seeing the towering presence of the David standing tall at the end of the main gallery at the Accademia, took her breath away.  He’s quite something.

What she hadn’t anticipated was that the whole city feels like an architectural extravaganza, the most stunningly buildings at every turn.

But it doesn’t seem to show off about it. Florence waits to be found,  like a serene and beautiful woman, who is quietly confident in her own skin.

finding how to Travel Solo

She had her hand on her bag ready to go through passport control on her own.  With no idea what had delayed her friend, it was a choice of waiting and missing the flight, or going it alone and working things out.  Her friend made it, just …. but that decision to go anyway answered a question that had been playing on her mind for a while.  Would she be brave enough to travel alone?

The answer, to her genuine surprise, was unquestionably yes!

To a 50-something solo female first-timer, Florence seemed challenge enough for now.  A couple of hours flight (so not so far away that she couldn’t be “found” if she got into trouble, she reasoned), good weather (nothing worse than sitting alone in a hotel room if it was pouring), lovely people (she’d never met an un-friendly Italian), familiar cuisine (like a comfort blanket while she addressed the “eating on my own while trying not to look like I’ve been stood up” scenario)… and long on her bucket list.

Flying alone for the first time, the first thing she noticed, was that …. she was on her own! Tourists tend to travel in groups.  Excited huddles of giggly female travellers sharing “must-do’s” and “have I packed’s”, couples in their own couple-y world,  families trying to keep errant toddlers under control …. and her. It might just have been that flight, that day, but it felt as though everyone was staring at her”alone-ness”, as if she had a big arrow pointing down at her in the bustling departure lounge saying “she has no friends”.  She topped up her lipstick and tapped out a message on her phone …. signs to all concerned that she was being met at the other end by her Italian lover.  That would explain it, naturally.

Of course, in reality, no one was concerned at all about the pale slightly fidgety middle-aged woman sitting near the departure gate, passport clutched tightly in hand, ready for the off. Or that she’d checked three times during the wait that her currency and travel documents were still where they were … last time she’d checked.  Or that her hand never left the handle of her cabin luggage (can’t be too careful). Or that the message she was tapping out to her Italian lover … was actually a post on social media because she had to share her excitement with someone! Or that the seat next to her was … empty.  No one cared.  Absolutely no one cared.

And it was while she sat there getting used to the idea that, to anyone else, she was just another passenger waiting for her flight … that she finally got it!  Solo travel means that the only person you have to worry about is … yourself! You can do what you like, when you like, if you like, how you like – and no one gives a damn. How liberating is that!

So, just for the hell of it, she checked her travel documents, again …. and queued for the departure gate.  The butterflies in her stomach did an extra somersault.  Not nerves any more, but excitement. She boarded the plane, head held high, with a confidence that said to all those giggly girls, couple-y couples and frantic families, “look at me, not care in the world, I’m going it alone and I’m fine, I’m really fine!”

They actually didn’t care of course … but neither did she.

She was on her way …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

finding Another Day

“Morning, lovely day!”

She scurried past,
envying the time to sit and stare,
her pace quickening,
clock ticking.

The park,
winter’s fading rays piercing the oaks,
shedding their green,
extraordinary in their autumn coat.

Littered empties, discarded butts
surrounding the bench,
night’s cold and weary secrets,
unpalatable, unseen.

Lone dog yapping
for another stick thrown,
his mornings, a well trodden path,
same walk, different day.

Other workers,
like her, mind full, head down,
unseeing, blind to the day’s
patient calling to be admired.

Breath misting,
tears trapped,
like a silent reminder
of the pain.

Her thoughts elsewhere.

Life’s pulse happening anyway
but everything had changed.

He had gone.

 

finding A Second Chance

“There are no second chances in life, except to feel remorse.”
(“The Shadow of the Wind”, Carlos Ruiz Zafon)

Never a good idea, of course. Going back.  But she was the world’s worst at letting go, and if there was the slightest chance that she could salvage her dreams, then she didn’t hesitate to take it.  It was as if, by diving head on into that dark pool of emotional turmoil, she would know for sure if there was any hope, or if indeed it was just a dark black pool that, in all likelihood, would pull her down and down until she ran out of air and had no choice but to rise to the surface towards the light. But still, she had to know for sure.

So, when he finally, after 3 months, responded to a message, her heart skipped and hope shone its faintest light.  She had got so used to hearing nothing from him, that when her phone pinged in the darkness of her car, she consciously told herself it would not be him, to protect her still fragile heart from the disappointment that had gone before.  But it was him.  He said, simply, “Same here, for me, never stopped caring”.

He was abroad now, a flight away, but a flight which he would never take back to her, and would always have a reason why she should not fly to him.  But she hung on to his messages, empty promises of a future together. He still had a hold over her heart, so she tucked these promises away like a warm glow inside, rarely shared with anyone – because she was too afraid they would not come true, and because, in her heart of hearts, she knew they never would.  But they were hope, and hope was all she had.

Maybe he believed it himself.  Maybe he was just stringing her along.  She wanted to believe him … but she would never know if, to him, she became a daily ego-flattering text message.  Though anyone looking in would say she was the fool, knowing him as she did, in the end, she believed he was a troubled soul who really didn’t know what he wanted. And she needed him to want her.  He could not or would not ever commit to that, and true love is not forcing someone to feel something they do not.  He did not want her … enough.  

So, in the end, she had no choice but to swim for the surface, gulp in the life-giving air that was her future without him, and so begin the long journey of letting him go … again. But at least this time, she knew. 

 

finding Change

“My feet will want to walk to where you are sleeping but I shall go on living.”
( Pablo Neruda)

There was a shift.  So subtle, had it not been her very mindset at that very moment, she wouldn’t have noticed it at all .. but there was a shift nevertheless.  

Records would show it was the hottest September day for a century.  The pair of black awnings outside the pavement cafe she had of late favoured for a lunchtime snack, did little to protect her, the midday heat piercing through the gap between with such intensity that her bare legs reddened in minutes.  Moving the table and chair closer to the frontage helped a little, and she envied the clientele outside the Italian opposite, who had had the sense to sit on the shady side of the street.

The couple on the next table taking a moment to rest from trying to shop with the tiniest of newborns snuggled to the mother, barely an adult herself.  They looked so young to be a family, to have the responsibility of such a precious new life. She marvelled how relaxed they were, with each other, with the baby and remembered those early days with hers, and she was heartened to see them pause, to see them savour this precious time.

On the other side of the street, a ridiculous attempt at parking a silver run-around in a lorry- sized gap.  A woman driver of course, who even asked a man waiting in the next space if he could move back to allow her to manoeuvre, while everyone sitting outside the cafe could see it wasn’t needed.  She watched fascinated as the driver to-ed and fro-ed, knowing of course that, if it had been her, she would have just driven past, rather than face the embarrassment of an audience!  Funny how it’s never a man struggling to fit a parking space.  Are they genetically engineered to be able to park a car?  Just as they seem to be genetically engineered to be unable to stay faithful to one woman.  She wondered if the biker casually sitting by the side of the road in his leathers, was waiting for the driver, a clandestine lunchtime meeting, since she had appeared to wave at him.  Rather too public to be clandestine!  On hindsight, the wave was probably just to warn biker man of her appalling parking skills and the vulnerability of his Harley.  They seemed an unlikely match anyway, and so it was, for as she turned to sip her coffee, he was gone.  

This treating herself to lunch was all part of the looking after herself, of being strong, of moving on. It was still a conscious thing, living life out of curiosity, without fear.  Perusing the menu as leisurely as an hour’s lunch break would allow, she had chosen the “special”, just because she always ordered their ploughman’s sandwich and wasn’t about to become predictable, even in a coffee shop.  How ironic therefore that the owner, a lovely man whose passion for the blend and commitment to his customers’ individual coffee foibles fascinated her, being basically a non-coffee drinker herself …. how ironic that the owner should mishear her and order her the “usual” anyway.  

The heat. The world felt slower, languid, indifferent to the lunchtime rush. Trees lining this old part of the town, perfectly still, dappling the pavement and holding on to their green as if they knew this summer’s day was still to come, when everyone else thought autumn must surely be here.   

She felt calm.  She felt the world around her and was thankful.  For all the hurt and the sadness, just a dull ache now and which she knew from experience only time could heal, she felt glad to be alive and the shift came imperceptibly.  It was the clarity of light, the intensity of the heat, and the sudden realisation that right there, right then, she was exactly where she needed to be.

 

finding Crete

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What better for a broken heart than the kind of love that would never let her down … the love of her oldest and dearest friend. Where better for a broken heart than the kind of place that would breathe life and warmth back into her fragile, battered soul.

And so, a month after he’d left, she and said oldest and dearest friend, stepped off a morning flight into the blistering heat that is Crete in late Summer.

It felt as though the tiny family-run hotel just east of Rethymno, had been sent to take her in and mend her.  Somehow, on a Greek island saturated with tourists at peak season, they had managed to find a oasis of calm. Right next to the beach, she could, within minutes of leaving her room, feel the fine warm sand between her toes and breathe in the salty air.  It was perfect.

They fell into the island’s welcoming embrace, whiling away their days under the bluest skies, discovered that Greek salad tastes three times as wonderful when you are actually there, that sometimes it’s fine to seek out foreign lands and in the end do nothing at all, and that red wine and lazy sun-kissed days can soothe a restless mind to sleep. She talked and cried out her hurt while her friend listened, then listened some more, like good friends do.

In the end,  she could talk and cry no more. She would rise early every day to sit at water’s edge.  The tears she’d determined she would not cry for him, fell in rivers onto the sand as she searched for him where the sea met the sky … he was not there, and finally, as Crete’s magic worked its Aegean charm,  she felt her heart starting to let him go.