Hidden in the urban setting, behind the houses across the narrow street from my city home, there’s a mud-stained lane that serves as a tiny reminder of my rural life. Along with my dog and cats, I hobble there in the mornings, my joints like steel, my footsteps like fire, my imposter of a body carrying me into another day. With my eyes low and my neck curled my view is that of an isolated country track, its treads committed to earth by time, animals, and people at work. It is fertile ground. It reminds me that there is a lot to be grateful for.
Earlier this week, on one such journey, the world was different but the same. The air was still, but sharp. The sky had gathered the courage to shake off the smoky grey current that had been smothering its spring reflections. Beyond the cloudy thirst the sky was naked, exposing an undergarment that swallowed the expanse in a chilling, but welcome, blue panorama. As I entered the lane I drew my scarf higher, pulling the frilled tresses across my lips. It had been on the radiator so I breathed in the warmth and felt it settle in my chest. When I looked up, a neighbour was approaching, her elderly dog’s legs stiff with pain, her swagger more to do with arthritis than confidence. I smiled at a tiny mirror of myself.
I pulled my scarf down and waved. This dog’s owner has a personality that could fuel the blue in the bright sky. I don’t know her well but she appears to be happy; a person so full of passion for life. Passing her in the street ensures a warm and joyful exchange. She seems to feel warmth in a situation, even if others have been shackled by the darkness. Nothing gets to her.
And yet it turns out I know nothing. We think we know someone but sometimes there’s a facade structured out of the expectation of others, the perception of the norm, the natural order of things, the incapacity of people to try and understand, to try and see things as they really are.
When we met we stood still for a few moments, the conversation unusually heavy, weighted in an inexplicable silence. A word, or a sentence, I can’t quite remember which, but with something I said a slow tide of sadness rose to the surface. At first it trickled then it became pungent in its intensity. She is tired, she has been battling cancer, she has been forced to say a lasting farewell to six of the eight girls she has been treated alongside, each death an inconsolable reminder of fragility and loss.
And more than anything she wants a child. She aches to have a child. Her child, her own creation, but her unfettered desire has been decimated by disappointment, an incongruous sabotage of what she has expected from ‘mother nature’. Her marriage is being swallowed hungrily by the thrashing monster of impending separation, friends are pro-creating in volume, other friends and colleagues have stamped her out as a ‘career girl’, one of those unpalatable creatures who selfishly choose themselves over the challenge of creating others. It feels like no-one knows her at all.
I hugged her. I could offer nothing else. Some words to tell her she wasn’t alone were gratefully received but they will do nothing to chip away at the loneliness or carve any hope into her crumbling landscape. We stood in the barren and desolate wasteland and clung to the maze of emptiness that a pressure to ‘perform’ instills.
Which brings me to my point. As we approach International Women’s Day please remember the day to day pain that women encounter. We don’t know the rational behind choices, we don’t even know if there have been any choices to make. Let’s take a step back, keep our counsel and offer our support. It can harmful to project opinion in the absence of understanding.
Fertility can suck the breath from your lungs. It can be a monster. It can be incredibly, incredibly sad. It can be lonely too.
I know of the pain she feels, I have experienced that inconsolable ache, that helplessness, that overwhelming sense of failure. But I am blessed with children and grandchildren, who despite everything have become the miracles that others crave and yet are cruelly denied.
Because of that, and not in spite of it, I know that others lie in wait, for what seems like thousands of lonely years, in a place where reflection and intellect mean absolutely nothing. Be aware of that place, today and every day because life isn’t always as it seems.