a winter’s tale

I lose myself. Amidst the rush of christmas, the passing of new year, the long dark nights and the short wet days, my soul retreats. It moves to a distant and far off place and I find I must search hard and long to retrieve the connection. I walk. The woods around my home that are my normal path and pattern are dark and mud filled. Instead, I take to the streets of a nearby town, mapping a route lined with the street lights that I do not have in the woods around my home. I walk. I seek the self I lose. I seek the path to follow that will bring me back to myself.

It is mid-January. The shortest day has passed. The nights are slightly smaller, the days slightly bigger. I seek the lights of the streets of this town I walk, stretching my legs as I walk fast on the well-lit path I find for myself. It is busy, this hour-long route that I find. Dogs are walked; terriers, collies, labradors of all colours, a large and overly-friendly alsatian. Women jog; alone, in pairs and once a group of more than twenty fill the pavement I pass. School pupils travel to and from after school activities; girls brigade, boys brigade, piano lessons. Horses are tended to. Sports men and women practise sports on floodlit practice grounds; tennis, rugby and football. I wonder at the busyness of the lives that these people lead. I wonder at the quietness of my own quiet life.

I wonder at the lives of the people whose houses I pass. They turn on their lights. They leave their curtains open. I see evening meals being prepared, homework being supervised, televisions being watched. A glass of wine is poured. A book is opened. A cat settles on a lap.

In the early days of these weeks in early January, there are few customers in the restaurants of this town whose streets I walk. Staff stand hopeful that more will enter and allow them to serve the food they enjoy serving. I become familiar with the shapes of the people who sit on the stools of the bars I pass. I wonder at the reasons these same people linger nightly on these seats. I tell myself the truth that I cannot begin to know their stories and turn my thoughts back to my own nightly routine, and my own reasons for making this nightly walk around these well-lit streets.

This is a long winter. Or so it seems to me. It began early with storms flooding the towns of my community. Not this one whose streets I walk, but others more distant. We have had snow, one clear crisp snow day that for a moment lightened my spirit and lifted my heart.

But as I walk these streets, I feel burdened, heavy. My steps are studied, my thoughts distracted. They drift to the weight of the responsibilities I carry: caring for my elderly mother, continuing the journey of being a single parent, fielding the demands of a busy workplace. But I know these are no greater, far fewer, than the burdens of the people whose paths cross mine every day, the people far and wide whose burdens I will never know about. This is not the answer. I walk further.

I berate myself. I do not listen to the messages that my body is telling me, the whispers my soul is sending me. I tell myself that I am foolish to be feeling lost. I look to my gratitudes and know there are many. I care for my mother deeply and my commitment is to keep her safe and in the home that has been hers for the past 30 years for as long as I can. My relationship with my daughter fills me with tremendous pride and I cannot ask for more in terms of the love and connection that we share. My workplace is convenient. Only five minutes drive from my home, it provides a good income and security, vital after years of financial hardship and the scars that linger. There is sharing, support and companionship with my colleagues that I value and learn much from. So I walk yet further, listening for the voice of my self and what it is asking me to hear on this dark night as I walk these well-lit streets. I hear that these whispers are deeply personal. I must listen deeply to hear the messages they bring.

Ah, there it is. Now that I have quietened down enough, I hear. I see. I have distracted myself with the demands and distractions of my daily life. My denial has been deep. But now I face the truth that it is not my self that I lose, but the connection I feel toward another human being, a man whose winter friendship was all I could ever have. Oh, I do not know if I can write of this here, not fully, because I do not fully understand myself. In a life where relationships have been short-lived, unsatisfactory, unfulfilling, this was a friendship that promised much. It began with an instant connection that filled me with such joy. Expectation. Hope. But, I should have known. I should have guessed.

I breathe. I am kind to myself. As I allow the feelings to surface, the veils to lift, the voice to be heard, I am kind to myself. I could not have known that our time truly would be brief, our time truly would be gone. I was open-hearted, kind-hearted. I could not have done more. I could not have done less. I could not have known. There will be reasons for this connection, for this time we shared, for the ending I now face. But for now I acknowledge the loss, the promise of what might have been. A foolish friendship. A winter’s tale. But it was mine. For the time that I felt that promise, that hope, that expectation, it was mine. I hold my heart gently. I shelter it from the storm that has raged. I make myself small so that I may heal and grow strong. When I am ready. When it is time. This is not a journey I need rush.

I return home from my nightly walk this night softer, gentler, calmer. I have the answer to the question I was not aware I had asked. And I have faced a fear this night. I have reached out to my self and even though the answer was not what I hoped, it remains the truth of where I am in my life journey. I will keep moving, now that I have faced that truth of where I am. With kindness, I will keep moving. I will honour the learning of this lost winter friendship and remain hopeful that in time, life will send me a love that even time will lie down and be still for.

Ah, I cheat at the end of my story as those last few words are not mine, borrowed, but words that I will always wish were mine to claim for they are a secret truth. The person who lives alone, secretly wishing and hoping for the deep, deep love that eludes her. I learn this about myself as I take these nightly walks through these well-lit streets. I accept this about myself as I return to my home, taking the light of what I have learned with me.

My cats greet meet me. There are messages. My mother. My daughter. A friend. Sweet messages on my phone that remind me I am loved and cared for. But I will honour the woman who has a secret truth she keeps secret about herself and on her behalf I will not give up hope. Of a deep, deep love that even time will lie down and be still for. She deserves no less.

Anyone who has known a lost love should add ‘A Winter’s Tale’ by handsome-boy David Essex to their soundtrack.The words I steal are from Practical Magic, a Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman classic that remains a memorable favourite from my daughter’s teenage years.

2 Replies to “a winter’s tale”

  1. I’m reading your blog as the snow falls on a Baltic-city-like Edinburgh, and wonder if you know how much your brave and honest thoughts and your beautiful images are a place I am so glad to have found when my own photographic journey is proving hard to make. Thankyou, Susie.

  2. Oh, Lesley you are so kind. The writing of this blog was not something I expected to find quite as helpful to this creative journey I find myself on, but it’s proving unexpectedly useful in terms of giving me a context for the images I take. I’m just making it all up as I go, some days more successfully than others! I love your images – I was given the gift of two for Christmas and have them in my studio for inspiration. Be lovely if I could make it into Edinburgh one day soon when you’re visiting your mother – I would be so interested to hear more about your own journey and what you have learned. Wrap up warm – it’s cold down here as well today but the snow due to stop this afternoon. Thank you, and hopefully see you soon.

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