The other day I did something very simple, yet quite profound. I walked along a beach. For quite some distance. Up, and back, taking about an hour and a half in total. Walked in the shallows. Got my shorts wet as the waves came in. Breathed the sea air. Appreciated the space and clear oxygen and clouds and view and the peace of the almost deserted expanse at dusk.
I’ve had a tough few weeks (getting into months, even?) with much playing on my mind from various directions, with a variety of difficult circumstances and external pressures.
But somehow, physically leaving the house and breathing the sea air, just seemed to blow the cobwebs away.
While I walked, I talked with a friend.
My friend is an extremely conscientious and hard-working individual. Who works very long hours. Who studies. Who has family responsibilities. Who is committed to the church in his rare free time. Who even looks after his health by going to the gym.
Who lives almost opposite the beach (although not the exact one I chose to stroll along). The proverbial stone’s throw in fact. But who confessed that he hadn’t put his toes in the water for a very long time, probably years.
Then, the next day, I contributed to a thread in a Facebook group of which I am part. We were “chatting” about the difficulty, worse in some areas than others, of getting into the housing market.
Having in the last 12 months gone through the whole process of choosing and purchasing a new home ourselves I wrote:
“There is a big argument for grabbing a house now while you are more likely to get a loan. Even if it’s not ideal. Because paradoxically once you get your toe into the housing market, stop paying rent and hopefully get some equity into the house, down the track will be much better to then sell and trade up to something else, if that’s what you want”.
The – somewhat sad – reply came in almost immediately:
“We always just don’t do it. Because of work and contracts. When we could have been paying off a house the whole time.”
Back in my Adelaide Uni student days, we had a musical friend visit from Melbourne. We assured David that he was most welcome to stay at our house, but that we had various commitments so he would have to amuse himself for some of the time. He was quite content with this.
Day Two he returned from a bus trip to Adelaide City and said quite indignantly: “You never told me you had such a great Museum!” My sister and I looked at each other and laughed, then realised that we had only ever visited the Adelaide Museum on Primary School Excursions. Yet it was within easy walking distance of the University and we could have called in any day.
Similarly, my elder sister visited the U.K. when I was living in Cambridge in 1991, and we decided to “Do London” in a long weekend.
We explored many well-known sites: Buckingham Palace, The Tower of London, Madam Tuassauds, Hyde Park, Covent Garden Markets, and so on.
At the end of the three days we were exhausted, but satisfied that we had experienced, and seen with our own eyes, places which we had only imagined or dreamed about, growing up on the other side of the world 10,000 miles away.
On my return to work in Cambridge (to “Iceland”, for those following along at home who have read my earlier Blog posts) I described my whirlwind weekend to my colleague Katie. “Oh!” she said airily. “I’ve been to London”. “I went a few years ago on a school trip”.
I was amazed. Here she was, living only an hour’s train trip away from that amazing historic City, yet she had only been there once on a school excursion. A place I had come literally half way around the world to see. But she was unfazed. Her attitude was that it was there, she could go down anytime.
We always just don’t do it.
And so often, I hear people express ambitions or aspirations. Unfulfilled dreams.
To move away from an area where they are unhappy or feel stagnant. To gain more independence. To change jobs. To travel. To make a fresh start. To get married. To have a child.
To catch up with an old friend they haven’t seen or spoken to for 20 years. To reconcile with a relative that there was a dispute with years ago. To apologize for a situation or wrong long past, but with the hurt still lingering.
To repair, restore.
But we make excuses. More to ourselves really.
It’s too long ago. Too hard. Too difficult. Others might think it strange. Not on the priority list. It’s not the right time. I don’t have time.
We always just don’t do it.
My stepfather was a widower when he married my Mum, herself a widow. They were both in their sixties. I grew to know something of his earlier life before he joined our family – I’d never met his first wife (although my Mum had), and felt that, over the last 20 or so years, I’ve known him pretty well and we have had a positive relationship.
So I was pretty amazed to learn that his first wife – to whom he’d been married some 30 years and with whom he had two (now adult) children, was not his first love. It transpired that Stepdad had a childhood sweetheart to whom he became engaged as a young adult, and they planned to marry. Circumstances kept them apart, he felt temporarily, but then his fiancée suddenly ended the relationship. He never understood the reasons for this, but felt powerless to do anything, and felt he needed to respect her decision.
Later it transpired that for motives now confined to the bin of history, both his and his fiancée’s mother had contrived together to break them up, and had forced his sweetheart to write and send him the “Dear John” letter.
Now, the incredible part of the story is that, recently, following my Mum’s passing, Stepdad tracked down his first love and they have become reacquainted. Now in their 80’s, they are friends and enjoy spending time together. More than sixty years after they were parted. (And two images of the once young couple are amongst the collection of treasured family photos today in his room).
Now he has a measure of peace, knowing that it was not his girl’s choice to reject him. But he had lived with that false assumption (and sadness) all of his adult life.
Now that’s a real “fork in the road” story. It really makes me wonder – if the Mothers hadn’t intervened – how different his life may have been?
As a teenager, I had many ambitions for the future. I had a “thing” where I would list these in a journal at the end of each calendar year. Then I’d have a check of the previous year’s page to see if the update had changed significantly.
Now, as a reasonably conservative young girl who did her school homework and spent many hours practicing the piano and violin, you’d suspect “Concert Pianist” or “Orchestral Musician” would be high on my list.
“Astrophysicist” was Number One for a good few years, followed by “Journalist”
(“Pastor’s Wife” was never on the list ! )
We always just don’t do it.
Yet, even in my younger days, I feel I had at least that concept right. The “Adelaide Bank” where I had an account at one stage ran a mortgage campaign featuring a poster with the words:
That was my motto for quite some time.
So…. Have I failed?
Do we all fail?
Yes, of course. We fail and fall down every day. But we can get up. And not give up.
I didn’t become an astrophysicist. Although I am still fascinated by science – especially Physics – the Mathematical Science of how things work. And I have a bent for Science Fiction.
Yes, I didn’t plan the “Pastor’s Wife” thing…but my now husband introduced me to the “Star Trek” Universe. (And we have all the boxed sets of DVD’s. Years of viewing. Don’t ask). So – Serendipity…
My parents instilled in me a love of travel. We try and take holidays. Yes, we need to work around commitments – including working Sundays. It’s hard with kids, especially youngish ones. But it gets easier as they grow, and become more capable.
And to North Queensland to snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef. And a few overseas destinations – thus far my kids have been as far afield as New Zealand, and also Tonga.
We are not high earners. (Indeed, the Taxation Office still lessens my annual tax burden with a “low income offset”). However we prioritize travel to live a full life.
And to create memories for our children.
If you talk to my 13 year old, she has no concept yet of a future career path, which is fine.
But she’s adamant she’s certainly going to be travelling.
Italy, apparently. Not until she’s finished school or even some Tertiary Study. However she won’t be caught napping. Last weekend was spent studying Italian verbs. (Please note she does not learn Italian at school).
Never say never.
My thought for the week?
In the words of poet W. H. Auden
“Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone…”
I’d add… turn off the TV, don’t take your mobile device with you, disconnect from the busyness of your daily life, just for a little while.
(I will allow you a pen and paper).
First, today, find a beach, a forest, a park, a rooftop, somewhere to walk or sit.
Sit in quietness and stillness. Look. Listen. Soak in the world around you.
Allow yourself to think, reflect and dream.
What are your dreams?
Something small for today, this week, this month?
Some ambition for the next year or so?
Or something huge. Life changing.
Now, before you put it in the “Too Hard Basket”…
Don’t dream it, do it.
Get on a plane.
Investigate a new job.
Look to study.
CALL THAT FAMILY MEMBER OR FRIEND. (Sorry to shout).
Especially with yourself.
Make first steps. Even tiny first steps.
Don’t live a life of regret over unfulfilled potential, chances missed, words unspoken.
Or Broken Dreams.
At the very least, put your toes in the water.