A number of factors have persuaded me that perhaps it is time to live out the rest of my life exactly as I would want it. The last twenty years have been to say the least, quite traumatic: upheavals, long journeys, divorce and terrible betrayal within my own family. My heart has literally broken apart and been patched back together multiple times and usually with only temporary relief. There were moments when I felt as if my heart could not take more sadness. And so a wonderful opportunity has arisen and I took to my favourite form of meditation today to figure my life out: I drove for miles.
A long drive to nowhere in particular is a perfect opportunity to reflect. We are blessed in this country to see all of history around us. A typical meander in the British countryside with its ancient oaks- never lopped or mutilated, a sight of wonder- and grey skies frustratingly filled with clouds of varying shades of grey. At this time of year the sun is still in hibernation and may, on the odd occasion, pop its head out of the clouds just long enough to warm a newt. That is if the newt is lying on a piece of glass in readiness and not under the shade of a tree. The rest of us take longer to warm up but the sun is not quite ready to grant our wish to abandon all darkness for good.
The early spring is always a time of hope and anticipation. We know the spring has arrived when at last (!) the sun feels warm, its rays penetrating our clothes and skin and our bones are not frozen solid as they have been for most of the autumn and winter. With the sun comes a freshness that fills the atmosphere- a breeziness that makes light of sorrows. I am feeling that way now and as I drove deep into the muted countryside where the leaves remain coiled and hidden, and the hedgerows are in green-less abeyance, I wondered what I would do and who I was. My personality has changed over the years but recently I've seen the bad temper, impatience and bitterness return. Suddenly my eyes filled with tears at the thought that I am a waif and stray and I wished there were someone I could direct an almighty accusatory monologue at and blame. My unwillingness to ever have children caught up with me when I turned fifty and I felt that I had made a terrible mistake. The prospect of old age alone, dribbling in a residential care home where no 'kin' would ever visit me, filled me with horror. Worse yet, life is centered around family but that realisation only comes later in life when all the pointless love affairs have ended. Children, grandchildren, a perpetuation of ideology and tradition, passed from generation to generation. A history. A store of memories. People like me are the ever-changing chameleon- we belong nowhere and to no one. Our history is complex, too hard to explain and in my case, with siblings at war and parents who have died, not worth ever discussing. No one likes to involve themselves in the problems of others, after all.
And so I drove and drove and drove. Occasionally the odd duck would fly past, pigeons by the dozen and on the earthly level, riders on their horses would clip clop past. The fields were peppered with dairy herds, easy to spot by their distinctive white and black coats. Sheep were grazing and soon lambs would be prancing amongst the buttercups, guarded closely by their mothers. Some fields had been overwintered with crops, others would be sown by late April when the soil stops freezing and seeds can be sown. I knew exactly how everything would look in another month, and then the month after that and so on. You see, I've looked at this countryside for years. I know it intimately. But does it know me?
I used to go to a particular farm practically every week to buy their delicious eggs and the cheeses they produced. I became quite friendly with the owners of the farm- we would chat about this and that and once when I had a surfeit of Bramley apples, they bought them off me. I stopped going to that particular farm as I became quite busy in my work and could no longer squeeze in the two hour round trip. After a break of two years I returned to the farm and the owner didn't recognise me anymore. I had literally been out of sight for too long. Our changing landscape from spring to summer reminds us that all things pass and are ephemeral but it hurts to be so easily forgotten.
Whole lives can be of no consequence like the stones that lie at the bottom of a babbling brook. Life continues in spite of the way we want it to be. But then it dawned on me as I drove along that there was so much I hadn't yet understood about this green and pleasant land. That there were thousands of stories I hadn't unearthed, that hidden under the uniformity of streets full of branded coffee shops and charity shops and supermarkets all selling the same thing, that there was a soul to the place that I would never really meet and that we were destined to be strangers. It was my age that made me understand that I would not be remembered by the spirit of the place because none of human life belongs to infinity.
I once found a fossilized sea shell high up in the mountains and then I found four more. I often marveled at walking beneath the treetops which used to be covered in an ocean. Those shells were found thousands of years later- what would be left of me?
A life is of no consequence except to someone or something. And happiness or the absence of it is what defines us. The future was waiting for me and for once, the clarity I craved bolted out at me. Without a second thought, I chased the ghoul of the past away. I would carry on, just carry on and grab life hungrily with both hands. It was what I had always done best.
Photo copyright S.van Dalen