Linton, February 2018
I have to remember and remember again
the power of telling a story –
our own and others’ stories,
stories of love and shame and glory –
stories of loss that break and remake,
stories that deify, demonise, hate,
of forgiveness held out as love’s bait.
Stories so bleak that you cry for a week
and stories that fill you with joy so you weep.
Never forget to tell stories…..
(And don’t let your meetings be a series of monologues.
That is so f’ing boring. Listen too.
Tell each other stories and you’ll never need to warm yourself by a fire.)
I came home and whatever had driven me out to Spain was peaceful, at least for a while. It was snowing at Trumpington park and ride when the National Express coach dropped me off at midnight, and I was very pleased to see Paul walking through the freezing black car park. We were shoved along by a brunt wind, and then as we huddled in the car we babbled to each other. How are you? How’s your Mum? Did you eat? Thank you Paul Richardson – you are the best friend I have ever had.
Sinking onto our bed when I got home was an exquisite pleasure after the hard, single bed of the freezing hostel. The silk, the cotton, the feathers, the warmth – I savoured it deliciously while knowing I could live without it. A hot water bottle and a cup of tea, a soft pillow and unconsciousness, and when I woke in the morning I had no idea where I was, what time of day it was and why there was someone in the bed with me. There were several long lurching moments before I gained reliable consciousness.
What have I learned? That I have a lot more to learn. That journeys, both inward and outward are essential. That mountains are great teachers. Robert Macfarlane says, “The mountains that we climb are not made only of rock and ice, but also of dreams and desire.” And yes, also vision. We inhabit a darksome world where we are stretched between godly and demonic – how can we relate to ourselves and each other when so many people hate themselves and lose themselves because they try so hard, and fail at being someone else? A world that feasts on our hunger because we construct our lives on the things that we own, forgetting that we are so much more, that we are divine.
I had not been prepared for the splendour of the mountains, for the silence in which they dwell in perfect dignity. Description emerges very slowly within the one walking among these giants, the one like an ant clinging and crawling slowly up the flanks and along the ancient ledges. Waters sparkle and bubble on their joyful way down to the valley, rivers ripple and sing, foaming far below. The rocks all around are tortured in many thousands of ways, as are the mountains themselves, until they crack open into clefts and fissures. Rock of ages….let me hide myself in thee. Words do not reach easily into mountains like these, upon which light falls, travels and moves on. They emerge from a great silence and the only language you can speak is the language of prayer, and love, and you can leave them your tears. I found myself deeply and hopelessly in love.
The silence of rock, snow and water brought my heart to stillness and filled me with an inner peace that had been missing for so long. The wild energy and expansion that had prised me apart on my previous visit in October was transformed from an unbearable animal howl into a radiant energy that brought me skipping and running down the mountains. The pain that brought me here leaked out and dissolved into the rocks, the scree and the sky where it caused no harm. I had known that I had to return, it was already late enough, and I am so glad that I finally trusted the instinct had been insistently jabbing at my heart.
Thank you lovely friends and family for reading my stories, this is the last one from Spain. You are now part of my journey and I am part of yours. I hope my stories have amused, informed and inspired you a little bit, but more than all of that I hope my stories have given you courage to make journeys and stories of your own. A final word and perfect poem from Mary Oliver:
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.