The pendulum swings… I was on a high for much of last year, loving my newly-found state of being single and free from being a domestic drudge (as I had felt). I loved my child-free time but also loved seeing them, and had enough money to treat them to things and take them places. Having felt trapped and resentful within a marriage which was plodding along, the love having died some years earlier, life then swung the opposite way.
It’s now settled back down a bit: but the interesting thing is that I now miss the children far more when they’re not around than I did for much of last year. I love my single time, when I can write or sing or meditate or see friends – but the house feels empty and I miss the touch of warm squishy arms and children’s kisses. It’s made me realise how very hard it is for people to separate when children are involved: how low David must have been feeling (and for a long time) to want to leave badly enough that he was prepared to risk not seeing much of his children. He and I have no feelings for each other, apart from a vague sort of friendship, if it can even be called that – the things that annoyed me about him when we were together still annoy me, but I’m now separate from them rather than living with them day-to-day: likewise I’m sure the things that annoyed him about me still irritate him at times in the same way. There’s no way we’d want to be back together, and the children seem to have adjusted happily to their new life with two homes: and at least we only live a few streets apart.
But the love you feel for your children… well, that’s surely the strongest love one can ever feel. Certainly I was overwhelmed on the arrival of all three of my children at just how much love I felt for them: a love which seems to take over and possess you, which you can’t deny. And with all three of them there is a special and individual angle to that love: the horrible ‘labour’ I had with Alex and the fear that he would die, so the relief when he was then finally in my arms, and the joy of my maternity leave; the beauty of Isabella who, even being delivered by c-section, was exercising her lungs and making her presence felt before she was out in the world; and the miracle that is Edward, who I had so late in life and yet who is – like the others – so perfect. And so Heavy Metal and funny and loving. Anything approaching that depth of love occurs infrequently between two adults and is a different thing in any case, a precious and rare thing.
As these thoughts and more whirled around in my head, I was reminded of something I wrote last year. Here it is:
Peace is, in the words of the hymn, the still, small voice of calm. It resides somewhere inside your ribs and runs like a silent light through your body from tip to toe. It doesn’t explode energetically with the vim and vigour of joy; it runs deeper than mere contentment and acceptance; it is less materialistic and self-centred than fulfilment. All those are elements which can lead to peace but the real sense of peace is that connection with the world – with the universe – when all is still and for a few moments you can just Be.
Peace can be found in the eye of a storm; in the tiny things which happen in the middle of the tumult and craziness of everyday life.
When I lived in bustling, busy, big cities, peace was often hard to come by. In the heart of the city a visit to a cathedral would provide some peace. I would step in off the rushing street and wander in amongst the shadows, small against the grandeur of the building, hoping that not too many tourists would be there chattering and clicking away with their cameras. The age of the building and the fact that I was just yet one in a long line of people who had trodden these stones, some perhaps with similar worries and woes, was a comfort. I might sit in a side chapel and contemplate life for a few moments; I might light a candle in the hope that somehow my anxieties and pain would be carried up and away and be eased. When I stepped back out into the hustle of the rush hour I would carry a morsel of peace with me: for a short time.
The countryside has always provided more peace for me than the centre of a city. There is something soothing deep into your being about sitting overlooking water, or pausing at the top of a hill or mountain with the wind in your hair, or running amongst the trees. It’s a force so much more powerful than man: it can take life but it also gives life. It can provide a tangible sense of escape: get on that water and where might it take you? All around the globe, if you choose. And ultimately it reminds us that we are part of nature; that we are made of the same matter as the stars: ‘star dust to star dust’.
Peace is running up to the Ridge and looking across to the Solway Plain and over to Scotland. It’s pausing for a breather with the sun on your face while running through Rowbank Woods, and looking across at the northernmost Pennines; or lolloping through Quarry Beck Woods with snow floating down with a whisper around you, creating a hushed world where only the crunch of your footsteps and the gentle rushing of the stream can be heard. Peace is running to the top of one of the hills overlooking Lanercost Priory, once so troubled and now so tranquil, to see it huddled there amongst the greenery, centuries of history wrapped in its walls; or having ascended Talkin Fell on a clear, sunny spring day to gaze across at the shadowy Lake District fells or towards Scotland where the ghosts of ancient reivers charge silently across the border. Peace is running up Carron Crag in Grizedale Forest and seeing a world of peaks spread around you from the top, pointing hazily up amongst the clouds.
But a deeply fulfilling peace is the children asleep at night after an energetic day. However fraught or frenetic with fighting or fears the day has been, when they are asleep they look seraphic. As I creep into their rooms to kiss each of them goodnight my heart fills with a deep, peaceful love. I have made lots of mistakes in my life but bringing these three people into the world was not one of them.
Goodnight, my cherubs; my best beloved.