“Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.”
(D H Lawrence, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”)
A year since he had broken her heart, almost to the day.
A year of finding her way through an emotional whirlpool of desperation, anger, devastating sadness, fear, loneliness, self-doubt … let no-one say that letting go is easy. It is not.
Nonetheless, she’d made it through. Where once the thought of just getting through a day seemed more than she could bare, at last she found herself looking forward instead of wondering what could have been. She no longer needed to wear the mask that told the world she was fine … because she was. She had chiselled away at the mountain of hurt with a courage and determination that she would no longer let it stand in her way.
They say you have to love yourself, before you can love someone else. She understood that now, and perhaps that had been the problem all along. While she struggled to find out who she really was, she’d looked to him to fill in all the gaps, to show her the way, to prop her up as she dipped those first tentative toes into her new life. May be it had all been too much to ask.
The past cannot be changed, so the only way forward is to accept it, learn from it, and find out a way to mend. She was still finding out, but she’d come a long way in a year… and it showed.
She could feel the life she’d imagined pulling her forward and she ran to it , arms outstretched, with the hope and belief that it was hers to live, right there, just in front of her grasp. She had come through, trusted in her journey, and her heart was open. She felt a force coming towards her, so strong that it would change her life.
So when, a few days later, she saw him for the first time, she knew …
“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” (Saint Augustine)
The thing about the travel bug is that once you’ve caught it, it becomes a life condition.
He had always teased her that she did not have a list of places she wanted to see. Now that list was so long, she wondered where to start. He had introduced her to places Arabic, and pre-packaged Mediterranean was familiar territory from family holidays. Northern Europe, however, remained uncharted territory. The fashion was for the likes of Budapest, Prague – she was not about to follow the fashion. So, in Spring 2015, Vienna it was …
She imagined a sophisticated city of imperial palaces, classical music, hearty food, snow and mountains – it was all those things … without the snow and the mountains, for Vienna sits on a plateau to the west of The Danube, the surrounding hills covered not by snow, but vineyards and dense undulating woodland.
A love of the arts, which drew her and her girlfriend together when they worked side-by-side in publishing in the 80’s, became the focus of their trip. So there could only be one place to start. Within hours of unpacking, they entered the magnificent doors of Vienna State Opera for the evening performance. Climbing the vast marble grand staircase to take their seats high in the auditorium, they marvelled at the well-heeled Viennese ensconced in their tiered boxes, classical music running through their veins. Spellbound by Schwanensee (Swan Lake) performed under glittering chandeliers. Such a privilege to be there.
Vienna oozes the arts through its every pore. Klimt’s “The Kiss” at The Belvedere, took her breathe away … much reproduced on greetings cards, nothing could take away the magic of seeing the real thing. And with immaculate timing, Vienna’s naughty boy, Egon Schiele, had just opened at The Leopold.
A city of imperial palaces – the magnificent complex of buildings that form The Hofburg, Vienna’s former Imperial Palace – the obvious place to start to dip into Austria’s history, with a guided tour of the state apartments, room after room of porcelain and gilded candelabra, and a special exhibition about Sisi, Princess Elisabeth of Bavaria, and wife of Frank Joseph I. Then to the south, the stunning Schloss Schonbrunn, former summer residence of the Habsburgs – reminiscent of Versailles with its grand mirrored rococo ballroom and formal gardens, laid out in the reign of Empress Maria Theresa.
Vienna, city of cake and chocolate – Demel tearooms, the heady sweetness of chocolate hitting the taste buds, Sachertorte and a cup of tea sitting at the bar in it’s dark mahogany interior. And city of a cuisine which exceeded any preconceptions. At Figlmuller, famous for its schnitzel large enough to fill the plate. Rich beef goulash at Weibel’s Wirthaus and the faded romantic “Kleine’s Cafe”, sitting in the kind of cobbled square so reminiscent of WWII movies, where the Gestapo screech to a halt on a side-cared motorbike. Tucked into a corner of this tiny cafe, with its smoke-yellowed walls, eavesdropping lovers in earnest conversation, their first taste of apfelstrudel. And Cafe Pruckel to mingle with the locals, drink late evening coffee, listen to piano recitals and mingle with the locals.
This was the life she imagined …. a culturally rich life. Her appetite satiated, for now …. she was living that life ….. and she had only just begun.
“When we hold on too tightly to our attachments we are trying to keep them just as they are, to make them permanent. But nothing in life is permanent.” (“The Restful Mind”, Gyalwa Dokhampa)
She always liked to feel it found her, just sitting there, waiting for her to pass by and pick it up.
It happened one afternoon on one of those days.
When she left her marriage, she had, of necessity, taught herself to embrace solitude, though still the thought of a day on her own had the capacity to leave a dull thud in her stomach and an uneasiness which she couldn’t quite put her finger on.
Some people have it all worked out, her daughter being one of them. She embraces her alone time and uses every opportunity to feed her soul, be it reading, creating, walking … an inspiration.
For some reason, it did not come to her so easily. In those days, after him, and before she knew the life that was waiting for her, she filled the empty hours between work and sleep with a determination to show the world she was getting out and moving on, a determination not to look her solitude in the eye. But there were days when there was nothing, no-one … and nowhere to hide from the panic that squeezed the life from her resolve. Those were the hardest days. The not-knowing-how-it -would-all-turn-out days. The too-much thinking-time days. So, so hard.
On that day, with no plans to speak of, she decided on fresh air and a walk.
The library was less than 10 minutes away …. so not much of a walk …. but something drew her in, perhaps being amongst people but not having to talk or make an effort to pretend. And there is was, on a table by the door, beckoning to her … a book, “The Restful Mind”.
Later, snugged back home, she read it cover to cover and for the first time in months, it felt like she truly understood how to mend. It’s all in how we think, she knew that. This book, written she later realised by a Buddhist, really showed her the road to acceptance of change, and how her busy, busy restless mind, so frightened of silence, could become calm, restful …. and truly move on.
Finally, her heart was ready to let happiness back in.