In a couple of months, if all goes ahead with my house sale, I should be moving. Last week I began the great sort-out. This is the 5th or 6th ‘downsize’ and you would have thought by now that there wasn’t a lot of sorting left to do. But there is, and I quite enjoy the process in a silent and determined way.
Every day I go through a cupboard or a couple of drawers, and today I was sorting through small pile of photograph albums. I have a couple of photos, black and white of course, of my mother and they always pull me up short, slow me down. Was this really my Mum? Can I see any shadow of me in her eyes? What did she sound like? What were her gestures – and have I inherited any of them? The other photographs that make me catch my breath a little, lingering over them, are of my husband; walking the boxers, building a clock, playing swingball in the garden, rowing on a Scottish loch two days before he died. And then it hits me like a sledge hammer blow – you really are alone. I wonder what he would think of this latest move? You really really are alone, Luce. In this world you are alone.
In this world.
I have many married friends and as I sit here I can think of several couples who are finding it hard to feel happy about their marriages. They’re not on the brink of splitting, or warring or even miserable, but they are just… you know… struggling to feel happy about their married state. It’s not easy being married, not all the time, and there are seasons when it’s just plain difficult – even lonely – I get it. I really do. George and me had our lean and struggling years, we were on the brink of splitting up, but gradually, painful bit by painful bit, we reached a place of loving and liking and appreciating each other, all the time, not just when the mood took.
Here’s a little true story for you: on the day he died we were returning from a holiday in Scotland and in separate cars. I was driving my dad and step mother and he was driving our daughter and her friend. George was not a great navigator and so when we stopped for coffee I said to him, loud and clear ‘Don’t come off the M1 until junction 25. If you come off before we’ll have to drive through Ripley and Kilburn and it will take hours.’ (we were trying to get my frail dad back to Derby before he pegged it) George dutifully nodded. As we travelled down the motorway in a convoy of two, I couldn’t contain my exasperation when he indicated left at Junction 27 and then exited. I was bloody furious! I flashed my lights and eventually, a couple of miles on there was a lay-by and he stopped. As I got out of the car, and he got out of his, and we met on that busy lump of tarmac, with lorries and cars whizzing past us, I somehow knew this was important. All the frustration I had felt, all the words that had sprung to mind, died away. George looked tired and I loved him. He came towards me apologetically and I found myself saying something like ‘Never mind. Not the end of the world..’ and we had a quick peck on the cheek and returned to our cars, this time with me leading the way. What a gift that was. What a blessing that was. We arrived home probably a couple of hours later (the road was awful!) and I didn’t even get out of the car but drove on to the hotel where my dad would be staying that night. Half an hour later George was dead. So the last words I spoke to him were soft words, the last touch we had was a kiss. A gift from God.
I do understand that every state we live in, married, single, widowed, they all have their difficulties, but right now my solitary state is just exhausting. I long to have someone who knows me, who knew me a while ago, who is facing the future with me, who will talk and discuss, and weigh up pros and cons, who will share the decisions, and come off the motorway at the wrong junction but it won’t matter because we’re heading towards the same destination, someone who will pray with me, and help me to know what to do and where to go. Someone who will make mistakes with me and share the picking-up-and-dusting-down afterwards. I would give my right arm, my left arm, my legs for that. My heart for that. I have friends, good friends, but they have their own difficulties, their partners, their own responsibilities, and there’s, quite rightly, no space for mine. I wonder, is this the time when the presence of Jesus Christ is made even more real, when my dependance on him and my trust in him will save me? It’s certainly a time of humbling. As a writer I learned that no experience is ever wasted, and I think that’s true of the Christian life. I’m going through this for a reason, having these thoughts for a reason, for a purpose, to teach me what I need to know.
Anyway, anyway, whatever your state is, married and murderous or single and lonely,
‘In this life you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’
I know I quoted those words of Jesus in my last blog, but they’re in my mind a lot just now.
Think of me and George, there in that noisy wind-battered lay-by, in our last moment together. It could so easily have been very different, I could have exploded with “Bloody hell! Typical! You never listen to me, you great Scottish twit.’ and he would have replied (quiet but withering) and I would have replied (hot and hasty) and… and… and…. I would now be living with regret. Don’t explode. Instead look at your partner and thank God for them, for the future you share however short or long. For all their lovely flaws and annoying habits.
That’s reminded me to thank God, right now, for the years I had with George. To close the lid on the old photos and get on with this new adventure.
Hey, talking about losing an arm and a leg or two, I’ll tell you a funny story; when I lived in South Africa I knew a very kind and gentle Afrikaans woman, a sort of cross between Laura Engels and Patience Strong, if that means anything to you. She was Sweet with a capital S and very lovable. She had a little boy who was just about as tender as he could be. She told us one day, chuckling at the memory, that when he said his prayers one night he had said “God, please bless all the children, and all the little children who have no mummies and all the little children who have no daddies…. ” somewhat impressed with the tragedy of his own prayer he went on earnestly “and please bless the little children who have no…..” he struggled to find something they really needed to be blessed about and found it…. “the children who have no arms… and the children who have no legs… and the children who have no….” he thought for a moment and finished triumphantly ” and please bless the little children who have no heads.”