A slightly more personal post following the passing of someone I knew, perhaps you may relate. All pictures taken during my time in Chichester, England.
We’ve all heard it before.
We’ve read it on hundreds of “setting-sun-on-the-calm-sea” Facebook pics, heard it on Oprah or read it in that “guide to a happy life” booklet we picked up in the cute shop down the road.
“Don’t wait until it’s too late”.
To make amends. To tell a loved one what they mean to us. To do that one little thing we’ve been meaning to do for such a long time for that special person…
Yet we still wait. And so I waited and missed my chance.
About a year ago, right in the middle of my two years of travelling and freelancing, I spent a blissful couple of weeks “house-sitting” for an older couple in Chichester, in the South of England. House-sitting as well as “work-awaying” have allowed me to travel for much longer than my mere savings would have allowed. Most importantly, they enriched my experiences with some of the most memorable moments of my travels.
One such moment happened in Chichester during the late summer.
I had agreed to house-sit and look after a couple’s garden, home and chickens. It was a delightful assignment as I was starting to get really hooked by the green thumb and had never experienced work with poultry… yet those feathery fellas had always intrigued me.
Upon arriving, the lovely couple, Lise and Ged, showed me around and then kindly took me out for dinner at the local pub.
As is the case in those rare moments of perfect timings in life, these two seemed to be landing in my life just at the right time.
I liked their outlook on life, their love for nature and truly enjoyed hearing their stories of past and present. Although quite reserved, Ged seemed to hold an Encyclopedia’s worth of stories from his time as a commercial pilot. Lise simply adored her dogs which she trained from when they were puppies and lived an active and what seemed to be a very happy life. They also spoke with such tenderness about their children and friends. Overall, they seemed to be living a life where things were “done right”. Where kindness and friendships were naturally and effortlessly at the forefront.
I liked them both from the very beginning.
The next morning they left for their trip and I stayed behind, getting to know the aloof chirping brood and getting to grips with the watering/trimming/admiring of the garden.
Time flew by. Each morning I was greeted by 2 warm eggs nestled under the ever-less-shy hens, the garden and greenhouse became my little natural sanctuaries where I seemed to learn a new thing each day.
Day after day passed to the gentle sound of the English autumn’s cooling melody.
Before I knew it, Ged and Lise were back. We caught up on all things house-related and took some time to get to know each other a little bit better, all three of us agreeing that we would have loved to have more time together.
After the goodbyes, Ged drove me to the train station and during that time our conversation drifted towards the importance of solid friendships, something that we both seemed to cherish.
As he swerved confidently from one winding country-side road to another, I felt his youth just millimetres below his wrinkled skin on the gear stick. I had to remind myself that he had once been a commercial pilot and that skilful speed was probably a very strong point, even at his age. I sat back and just enjoyed his storytelling and soft voice unshaken by the sharp curves.
He told me of a good friend of his. Of the friend’s early struggles in life. Of how if he had only had a different beginning things could have been different for him, yet were to become such a struggle at times. Of how he had tried to be there for him for many years. Of how he was one of his closest friends. And of his passing. Of how hard he found it. The hand of the gear stick seemed to soften its grip just a little.
He also told me of a place of solace for him – Lourdes, in Southern France. Lourdes, that “holy” place where one can go and prey for miracles for the ill. That place where he had been many times with a group of people who needed all the miracles they could get. He was there accompanying them, helping them on their pilgrimage towards hope. He seemed to be a deeply religious man and a strong man in his faith and commitment to others. I admired his calm storytelling as the green to my side kept whizzing by.
He dropped me off just in time (those pilot skills definitely helping!) and we said goodbye. I hoped to see him again.
Months passed, I continued travelling and all the while keeping in touch with the couple through emails exchanged with Lise.
At Christmas, when returning from a quiet few days away in the Pyrenees with my travel partner and husband Dan, we veered off course and stopped by Lourdes. I knew of Lourdes from my Catholic Sunday school days, but hadn’t given it much thought until Ged mentioned it a few months before.
We walked around the “sacred rock” where some children had supposedly seen the Virgin Mary all those years ago. We took abstraction of the souvenir shops all around and the clutter of cheap hotels and tried to enjoy, in our own pagan way, this great place of worship. Everyone seemed to want to fill little bottles with water from the stream that passed through the cold and humid Lourdes. It was said to have healing properties. We were hypnotised by the quiet piety of the international crowd and their silent prayers. We meditated, we remembered the quiet hills and holy rocks of the Himalayas where we stood among monks just a few months before. And we too filled little bottles of this “holy” elixir.
One of them, I filled for Ged. I would send it to him with a note explaining how I had been touched by our short encounter. And that if he was no longer able to go to Lourdes as often as he may wish these days, Lourdes would come to him this time…
More months passed. As I painted and wrote in my South of France studio, the little bottles glistened near the window sill. I had time, I thought. I would send it next time I got to the post office.
The fury of life would pass us each day. Calm days, busy days, they all passed the same. And the bottles still glistened on the window sill.
We eventually returned to the UK, drove through Italy, Austria, Germany and back home to Kent. The little bottles rattling somewhere among my art supplies in the boot of our Ford Focus. “I can deliver them by hand now”, I reassured myself. And the weeks passed again. We found a new flat, got ready for the fall, got stuck in new projects. And as it so often does, the day-to-day sped-up again, down the narrow roads of countless projects, meetings and deadlines.
And then it all came to a sudden halt with this email. “…I am so sorry to inform you…”. You know how it ends.
Ged had passed away.
…As I read the email, I could not even remember where the little bottles were anymore.
Let this be a gentle reminder of the speed at which our days pass yet the timelessness of a small act of kindness. I will forever remember Ged for the soft kindness he showed me.
I hope he knows I thought of him over there in Lourde’s humid caves.
For Lise, Carin and family.