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.