I finished reading aloud the story, an anecdote of my younger years. My son was looking at me with a very odd expression, almost as if he was seeing me for the first time. Perhaps he was… suddenly I wasn’t just ‘Mum’ but a person with strange and unknown stories in my past.
“I’ve known you for thirty-two years, but I suddenly realise that I know very little about your life.” I shrugged. My life is nothing special. “You’ve done so much with it!” I think of all the writers and bloggers who tell of their travels, adventures and the places they have seen and my own life seems to have been pretty staid in comparison. Not that I would change a thing. It is my life. It doesn’t need to be an echo of anyone else’s days.
My thoughts turn to my son’s life… the challenges overcome, the adventures, the daredevil escapades and his plans to see corners of the world I’ve only dreamed of. “Going places is all very well,” he replies. “It’s what you do with the experience that makes it interesting.” He has a point. I know a few who would come back unchanged from a trip to Mars and complain about the lack of English food or decent plumbing.
My attention turns inwards in one of those split seconds that can last a lifetime, as if we can see through the veil of time to a place where all the stories are happening at once. He is right, he knows very little. Yes, he knows all the broad outlines, but it is the detail, the small things that are strung across the years like pearls, that make a human life what it is.
Memories and faces, people and places, disjointed scenes from an ordinary life flit through my mind. It would make a good movie. It seems as if the chapters of a life have a definite rhythm, marked by the decades.
A childhood with its laughter and dreams, scenes of moorlands and woods, museums and books, all set to the music of dance. The small joys, the fears and nervousness that all growing things face… like a kitten stalking life only to be startled and run away to hide… before trying again. There is the wonder of discovering the world, a wonder I still feel… as though every day could be Christmas morning. And the deeper fears and tragedies, uncommon circumstances perhaps, yet a common theme to all too many childhoods.
Just an ordinary life. Would it seem so to others? I’m the last person to be able to judge that. ‘Ordinary’ is a moveable frame, but as we live our lives day by day they are what we know and set the standard by which we measure normality. We take it for granted that our lives are ordinary because we are living them, yet every moment of each of our stories is unique. No one else lives them for us, no one else can feel them as we do. Each of us leaves our mark on history, even if it passes unnoticed and fades unremarked. In that respect, every life is extra-ordinary.
A girl in her teens stands on the threshold of womanhood. The caring role began with her mother’s breakdown and her great grandmother’s needs. Twelve years old and working in a butcher’s shop every day after school… then her first ‘proper job’ as a window dresser. She leaves home to marry, full of dreams, makes a home until the dreams end in violence. Her mirrored face wasn’t really ruined by the drunk driver, though it felt so at the time as the scars cut deeper than skin. It was only changed, and all faces change with the years. Youth’s image and immortality is challenged and she sees it as a gift; the reality of change and growth begins as the second decade ends.
She finally begins to grow up, leaving to work in France, exploring a wider world that she loves. Exploring herself. Learning who she might be… could be. She finds herself at home far from home; the divorce from her accustomed normality allowing her to see herself outside of her habitual frame. Then there is a moonlit night, a seashore complete with shooting stars, that brings music into her life and romance and babies. A time of fierce joy, laughter and sunlight…years that sing. Then a reluctant return to England where she is left her to raise her sons alone, with a burgeoning realisation of her strengths as well as her weaknesses, and the joys and tears of motherhood. Another decade.
A childhood friendship rediscovered slowly blossoms unawares… A new life together…a few months of joy before the shock and the steady decline of cancer changes the flavour of life. Joys become more intense, grief a deep shadow following each footstep towards a final parting. A time when life is lived in high relief and with the knowledge of impermanence. Children grow as a life wanes and another decade is over.
A lost time… a time of mistakes, a swimmer drowning and grasping for any light that might mean a return to the world. Grief does strange things. A gasp of clean air, a time to clean up the mess and break free. New career, new beginnings… then a plunge back into the sticky mire. A decade of mistakes? Or a decade of learning the hard way to look into the mirror of the soul and begin to see true? Mistakes make great teachers.
Tragedy turns the page of a new decade. Her children, now grown, almost lost. The world is changed, turned inside out. Yet because of that tragedy there is access to profound joy. Only in the depths of that apparent blackness are the seeds of Life able to finally germinate and spring into being, reaching for the sun. New lives, new threads twine through the rich tapestry of experience. A decade that is defined by both contentment and passion… it is vivid and alive… acute. The contrasts clear and sharp. Possibilities, magical and unexpected, full of wonder, strew the way into a future whose seeds were quietly sown in decades past.
The next decade is an adventure yet to unfold, a garden of surprises waiting to bloom.
At each step along the way the choices and reactions of a single life… our own… define and determine the journey. Whether we take the ‘right’ path or a wrong turning does not matter as much as garnering the fruits of experience. Their seeds are scattered around us, germinating in the shadows and waiting for our seasons of growth and harvest.
An ordinary life? Yes it is. But there is a beauty in that.