“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.