A life lived in chapters
Years ago, a friend’s mum was splitting up with her partner of many years. We would have been in our early twenties and I’m guessing she was in her late forties. She was sad about the end of the relationship, but not as sad as I, with all my worldly experience, thought she might have been. She talked about how it was a chapter coming to a close. She also said that she felt grateful to have had so many other chapters in her life, including her marriage which had left her a young widow.
At that age, I kind of intellectually got the idea of being grateful for chapters, but it didn’t fit in with my still fairy-tale hope for life, that I would find The One, The One person, The One Place, the One Job and live happily ever after. Even though I was on Serious Relationship 2, Career 2 and had moved around a lot already by then.
The mountain climb to Shangri-La
I hoped for a point of stasis that I imagined I would reach, the top of the mountain where I could see the path I had trodden and I could look from the dizzy height of the peak knowing I was in the right place, that I had done good and found that thing that life was meant to be all about.
But, as the song goes, life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans and I now see that the mountain peak is an illusion, for the only permanent thing, really is change. I have climbed various peaks during my life, but often got lost and distracted along the way and been too tired to appreciate or even notice the peak until I was climbing another harder trail. There is always another crag, another crest, another mountain trail to hike, more blisters to earn, more aches and pains as well as more sunsets, valleys bathed in misty dew and forests clad in gold.
And so, to see life as a search for peaks feels exhausting, the relentless search for Shangri-La, the endless striving and never getting There, wherever There is.
Instead, my friend’s mum was right, I have lived a life of chapters. My junior school chapter with Miss Jay and the netball team, my secondary school chapter with my amazing English teachers and fellow prefects, pubs, boys, kissing, applying for university.
My university chapter was not the rave other people spoke about but my brief dalliance into 80s marketing had all the shoulder pads needed for a chapter on Beaujolais breakfasts and Pimm’s on the lawn.
Then there was the travelling, festival chapter with friends, in gangs, in beer gardens and tents and back packer hostels and late night, dusty front rooms.
The relocation chapter was about moving into the hills, home making and burying my mother before the next romantic but short chapter which was my marriage and entry to mother hood. The marriage chapter was not all I imagined and the single parenting chapter was hard work.
Or maybe the chapters could have been titled around my partners: The Musician, The Mercurial, The One That Got Away…..However I slice it, each chapter seems so different from the one before. Only one friend and my sister have appeared in all my chapters, other friends have faded out and new ones stepped in.
Change and continuity
I am the same person through all my chapters, and I am not. Every time a chapter closes there are losses and a void opens. A void of not knowing what next, who next, where next and it can be excruciating, because I like to know and I want to know NOW. But I trust now that the knowing comes over time. Moving towards what I like and away from what I don’t. Only knowing what a chapter was about as I look back on it.
Living life in chapters feels freer than the mountain peak climb where any deviation from the path can lead to a catastrophic fall. Chapters allow for change in direction, new characters and settings, plot twists and turns held together by underlying themes and values.
Chapters allow for the blank page, the opportunity to live something new, to throw it all up in the air and start again and I love that. And I am terrified by it. And that’s how I want it to be, because to live a life where every chapter is the same, just older is even more terrifying. I would still love to have a chapter called ‘Nomadic Living’ where I follow the sun and work on-line (when the kids are older). And a chapter called ‘Best Selling Author’ would be cool too! You’ve got to have a dream because we can only be sure of this one life, this one book, and I want to make mine as positive and exciting and inspiring as I can.
What are your chapters called?
What’s the title of your current chapter?
What chapters would you still love to write?
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