Have you ever felt powerless? Perhaps you never will, but for Angela this sensation had overwhelmed her. She felt powerless and weak and she had no appetite for taking up the challenge and get back in the ring of life. She had had enough and the really daunting part of it was that she wasn’t sure that there would ever be a way back from the pit of self-pity in which she found herself. All she really wanted now was peace!
Peace was an unfamiliar sensation to her because for all her married life there had been no peace, just a constant unremitting struggle with money and Mark’s dangerously liberal view of its use. The daily dose of arguments, blame and recrimination would have papered the house in post-it notes. It became the pattern of life to scream accusations at each other and travel an escalating path of insults. But, looking back, she had to admit that it hadn’t been just Mark’s fault, because her decisions and failings had played a big part too. She had deliberately chosen to spend years at home when the children were young, to be there for them and then when they were old enough she had lacked the confidence to really try for a well-paid job. That had annoyed Mark intensely and he would often refer to her as a £5 an hour girl!
And so, a long, twisted and torturous route of financial folly had led her and Mark to make one last attempt for a new stress-free life across the channel in France. The kids were grown now and there was still time to do something that made each day feel vibrant and satisfying. It started well and for the first time ever they even had some money to invest after selling their house in England. However, sadly, for many of the familiar reasons, there was soon the gradual and inevitable financial downward slide. Part of the problem was that Mark wasn’t a practical person. He liked to manage. He seemed to visibly swell with the power of controlling others working for him and, of course, having other people to do the work costs money. And so, all too soon they arrived back at the well-trodden point of desperation, with the conversion of the old barn partly done, bits of polythene flapping forlornly over the tile-less roof and no longer even enough money left to pay the rent on the house in the local village, where they had planned to live until the conversion was finished.
So, what now? Go home? Where to and to what? Bills and the credit cards absorbed any money that came in. Angela had tried to get a job, unsuccessfully. Mark said he would find work, but first of all he had to try! For her the move to France had held within it the last chance to start over again and an opportunity to find happiness with Mark. But now truthfully their relationship lay in ruins. Day by day, almost imperceptibly, the frail bond between them had been further eroded by the little drops of Mark’s increasing dissatisfaction falling on their shared dream. Angela had hoped that Mark would love everything about their new life and that they would share the excitement of discovery together, but there were things that she could never have foreseen. Having moved to France, Mark suddenly developed a deep sense of patriotism which she had not observed before and frequently in spats, he would slam the table with his fist declaring that he was an Englishman. He grew irritable and intolerant with the workmen and the unfamiliar bureaucracy. He complained that he missed culture and easy access to a city. Angela loved those things too, but she was happy to major on the quiet life. Mark struggled with the language and didn’t find his neighbours sophisticated enough. Angela had no problem linguistically and loved chatting with the locals. In fact, to be honest, for Angela she had at last found a place where she felt she really belonged and all that stood in its way was Mark.
It was hard to identify the blameworthy ‘last straw’ that surreptitiously tilted the axis of their relationship but after all those years together it seemed as if they suddenly didn’t know each other. Fighting had been a form of communication that they recognised and after the fights there was the making up, although it had to be said that most of the apologies had come from her. Now there wasn’t anything to say. All the justification, explanation had been expiated from their inner most private feelings and observations of each other. They were now empty hollow, dried out husks, looking at each other with a dangerously passive disinterest. If Angela felt anything, it was now just a gnawing desire for peace.
Mark decided that it would be best if he went back to England to see if there was any accommodation to rent for their return to the UK and predictably there was little that was affordable or lived up to the standards to which he would like to aspire and he said he would stay there with their son until he could find something. Angela was actually quietly ecstatic to have this ‘window’ of peace away from Mark and all that their life together represented. She actually wanted to be away from him, for as long as possible. That didn’t mean she didn’t care for him because in a strange way she was concerned about him, but then was that love? She didn’t recognise that word any more.
And so it was that circumstances contrived to give Angela the peace that she craved. But two days later, although she had always enjoyed really good health, an arthritic condition flared up in her ankle and foot and she was compelled to rest, almost for the first time in her adult life. Actually it was a good thing that Mark was away, she thought, because he would only have fussed and added to the pain, insisting that he was taking care of her, when in fact she would still be taking care of him. It was whilst she was alone and resting that she experienced the revelation of suddenly being able to hear her own thoughts without the sound of Mark’s voice filling her head and she even started to read again. Reading had always been relegated to the last fifteen minutes of the day before falling asleep exhausted but now she was re-reading the books that her children had given her by her favourite author and realising the importance of a little calm and time to herself.
As she read, she tried to block out the recurring thoughts about the real situation. Each day that passed she was nearer to having to leave this peace, the quaint rented house and the village which had already found a special place in her heart. It was like being in the amusement arcade waiting for the coin to be pushed off the edge, only she was the coin. This shouldn’t have happened. It would have been possible to stay she was sure, but Mark was unstoppable when it came to money. He could match Paul Daniels any day with tricks to make it disappear. The rent had been unpaid for four months and this time the ultimatum would be pay up or go and it was then that she recognised the very negative feelings that she held; anger, resentment and even, the worst of them all, a little sprinkling of something akin to hate.
As Angela lay propped up on the sofa looking up at the pale sunlight filtering through the lace curtains, she contemplated what she had just read, written by her favourite author. He was writing about asking the universe for what you truly wanted? What would she ask the universe, she thought? What would she ask the universe if it could grant her three wishes and the three words that came to her mind were peace, good health and happiness; the priceless graces of life. Health was the obvious one, because it was natural for everyone to ask for that. But then she thought more deeply about peace and as she read further she realised that what he was saying directly confronted her wish for this rarest of all things in her life, because, he asserted that by existing in a state of peace, you are not really living because you are becalmed and aimless and that peace, whilst it is beautiful, cannot be permanent. Even wars do not end in true peace but in the temporary ability to defend it.
As Angela reflected on that thought, she could see herself in her current situation, suspended between future and past; no pressures no fights. Total peace! How wonderful it would be if life could just be like this every day. But then, thinking about it, how long could it really go on for? Perhaps it would not be living but just opting out of life? And as for the last wish, happiness, well she struggled to remember the last time that she had felt truly happy and then it occurred to her that in reality neither peace nor happiness could be permanent states? They are like butterflies skimming over the tops of cabbages on a sunny summer’s day, she thought, illusive to capture? After all, she supposed, if it was possible to find permanent happiness, wouldn’t we all be on a perpetual holiday down by a warm sandy beach?
Then another thought crept in and took centre stage in Angela’s mind. Is it really possible to communicate with the universe and vice versa!? Had the bout of crippling pain and inability to move more than a few steps and the consequent confinement to the house imprisoned her for a reason? At that moment she had a strong feeling that these circumstances had indeed contrived to make her stop fussing with all the things with which she always filled her daily life. It was as if perhaps the universe was enforcing this period of peace and calm upon her so that she would really stop for a while and apply her mind to thinking about life; to taking a good long look at herself, her strengths and her weaknesses.
She acknowledged inwardly that she had frequently lacked courage and perhaps she had hidden behind Mark’s chronic optimism, kicking him when he got it wrong. And if she really had believed that she was right and he was wrong, then she should have found courage and made a stand then, saying right, “enough is enough!” And now, here she was calling a truce on life, waving a white hanky and asking to sink into oblivion and reclusive peace, confessing to herself a secret wish to just walk away. She contemplated her admission and what it would mean and saw just an empty space in which to exist for as many years as she was granted on this earth. Is that what her future would really be or should she be strong and pick up the bits and pieces from the rubble and face the challenge once again?
Very gradually Angela began to improve. Mind over matter she thought! It’s funny how strength comes in different ways to people. She had a lot of courage when it came to physical challenge but the turmoil of emotions left her floundering on the ground, like a bird with a broken wing. The pile of books by her favourite author grew by the side of the sofa. His wisdom was unerring in its ability to pinpoint and illuminate the questions that she was now asking. But was she any nearer to an understanding of where she had been and where she was going? What should she really be asking the universe? Should she perhaps ask for strength and courage to fight for her relationship with Mark? Could she be strong enough to face life with him again? Did she want to be strong enough? And, if she did, could it really be possible with increased patience and tolerance to make the changes that would be necessary? If she did then this time she would not deny her belief in what she thought was right although she would resist the temptation to attribute to blame. She would do her best to avoid returning the annoying little arrows from the past and at least try to jointly steer the direction of their lives. It seemed to her that the universe was asking her to take up the challenge and not to just to give up. It seemed to her that weakness was shunned by the universe and the human race had evolved through the ability to fight and defend life! Those who failed to fight fell into an abyss of uselessness. So, now it seemed to her that if she took up the fight her three wishes from the universe would change to ‘strength, courage and good health’ and where would she start.
Angela was beginning to feel well again and knew that she would have to make a decision. Too much had been said. A little forgiveness was needed to start the process of healing. Some people say that forgiveness bestows a sense of power on the forgiver, but it can also be a very humble gesture and the truth is that forgiveness is sometimes the only force which allows the “wheels of life” spinning in the mud-stained snow drift, to be dislodged. She began slowly to rebuild communications with Mark, not saying ‘I’m sorry’ for the past outright but gradually creeping closer; remembering shared memories and discussing the future, leaving aside any reference to the scars, letting the little demons of anger run themselves out. Together they faced the inevitable. The peace she had so desired would probably be a thing of the past but day by day she felt that perhaps her wishes were being granted. She was stronger now, more prepared to take responsibility for her part in the relationship. There were sometimes clouds of doubt but the past was slowly being left behind and together they were facing the future.
A year later Angela was gardening on beautiful summer’s day in their newly rented home, reflecting on all that had happened and all they had left behind. It hadn’t been easy, but although it was hard to quantify she had really felt that at the most difficult moments she had been afforded the strength and courage that she needed to make a stand and fight for a better future.
Suddenly she set her trowel aside and sat motionless on the soft grass by the flower bed enjoying the blissful calm. There wasn’t a whisper of a breeze or the merest sound. For that brief moment life was perfect. This was pure happiness she thought and she smiled to herself as she turned to see a cloud of butterflies frolicking in the sun.