It is April 2013. I am sitting at a street cafe somewhere in northern Thailand, watching a clock tower situated in the middle of the road pass through a lurid series of colour changes accompanied by a slightly wavering and off-key sound track. In daylight the clock tower is beautiful and something of which the local people are justifiably proud but right now it looks like the cheapest kind of Christmas tree and I am suddenly overwhelmed with a fit of irreverent giggles. As I bury my head in my hands and try and gain control, an overwhelming burst of something explodes inside me – feelings of rock solid self-reliance, self-assurance, soaring confidence and most of all pride. Here is little me, making her way all alone through South East Asia, TOTALLY happy. Well – what do ya know!
To understand why this all equated to such extreme emotion I will have to take you back 2 years.
The Day Chris & Me Separated
On New Year’s Eve 2010 I had Chris, my beloved partner of 17 years by my side. We were in England for a few months, on a break from our constant world travels which had started several years earlier in 2003 when, following an all-too-close-encounter with the grim reaper, we had decided to sell our house and give away my business and almost all our possessions. We had roamed the planet since then in search of waves to surf while immersing ourselves in the colourful and fantastic and having more fun than two people have a right to. On our occasional returns to England we lived in a van – never once regretting our crazy decision to live life a little differently.
On New Year’s Day 2011 Chris and I separated. On that day my world ended. It was unexpected and profoundly shocking – both of us had considered this was for keeps. In the axe fall of one day I lost my lover, my best friend, my playmate, my confidante, my ‘home’ and my way of life. There is no need to go into the whys – these things are hardly ever easily explained……..or at least not until much later. For the next few months I lived like a hermit at a tucked away rural camp-site in a caravan. I couldn’t face the world, the pity of my friends or the prospect of living out the rest of my life. I literally shivered in the winter weather I was no longer hardened to and figuratively huddled into a ball, lost in a dark, dark place filled only with pain, grief and loss. Every minute of every day felt a torture. Each night when I climbed into bed I gave thanks for yet another day – which had seemed like 10 years – finished. Heading towards 50, I recognised in my twilight stupor that all of the best was behind me. I was very broken.
Going to Thailand for Voluntary Work
Around September something stirred within me. The pain was still almost more than I could bear but I started to think that maybe one aspect of my life could be recovered – the travelling. I could alternatively stay buried here forever, living a half-life without sunshine or joy of any kind. Although in my heart I held almost no hope of success I chose to try. On a grey day in November 2011 I boarded a plane bound for Thailand – a destination chosen purposely as one which Chris and I had never visited. I wanted no ghosts chasing me here. I was terrified.
I had chosen to sign up for a voluntary work placement in the south of Thailand – a social project which was attached to a special needs school called The Thai Child Development Foundation (TCDF). Looking back now I realise I was in no fit state mentally or emotionally to be travelling on my own. A total destruction of my self-confidence had turned me from an optimistic, smiling character into an introverted and colourless zombie-like creature.
TCDF, buried deep in the jungle, turned out to be everything I had hoped it would be and more. The selfless and amazing people who ran it inspired me and the wonderful people from all over the world who took up the project’s places seemed to see something in me which I thought was forever destroyed. They sought my company and whenever I attempted my usual retreat they dragged me back into their midst. They were mostly young, vibrant people and I was mystified as to what they could be seeing in a broken, almost-50 year old but I will never, ever forget the gift they gave me – the stirrings of belief. At some point I realised I was going for whole hours where Chris hadn’t entered my thoughts once.
When a Field is Harvested It Presents the Opportunity to Plant a Whole New Crop
In December 2011 I was sitting in the back of an open-sided truck, driving back with the children of the special needs school from a sports day at the nearest large town. A teacher smiled at me, a passing motor-cyclist waved at us……….and suddenly I realised I was happy. The moment was fleeting – no sooner realised than it disappeared but it didn’t matter – it was enough. That tiny, tiny glimpse of sunshine showed me a state of happiness was possible for me. Something was still in there – oh so faint but breathing nonetheless. From that moment on I started living again. TCDF saved my life.
So, here I am at the clock tower – remembering……. and feeling so,so proud. I have regained nothing – that was indeed all lost on New Year’s Day 2011. BUT it has been replaced by something else. When a field is harvested and ploughed and empty it presents the wonderful opportunity to plant a whole new crop and grow a field of rainbow-coloured flowers. I am not just recovered, I am happier than I have ever been. I haven’t just put the pieces back together, I have rebuilt totally and somehow managed to mould them into something even better. I didn’t do it alone. Along the way there were so many people who helped me dig strong foundations, plant seeds, paint parts of me all new and shiny again, to hold my hand and lead me back into the light.
I am Voluntarily Single & Having a Love Affair with Myself!
Today I am voluntarily single. I have no time or place right now for a significant other in my life – I am having a love affair with myself and it is the purest and most empowering relationship I have ever had.
I have learned so much from this phoenix-from-the-flames rebirth it would be impossible to put it all here but perhaps the most significant parts are that love can take many forms and I am joyfully exploring all of them. I have learned that people are incredible – the world is simply splitting at the seams with them and if you open yourself to opportunity you are always rewarded. I have learned that taking leaps of faith and stepping into the unknown is terrifying but so too is the prospect of not living life to its absolute utmost. Love has the capacity to wound like nothing else – by living and loving you are always risking pain but only a heart which is open to love can soar. I choose to have both rather than neither and the words of Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran puts it all far more beautifully than I could ever hope.
But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor,
Into the season-less world where you shall laugh,
but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.
– Kahlil Gibran