I realise that I haven’t blogged for ages. My health continues to be my main priority but there is a story that needs telling. Fragments of it seep into my dreams, and in the hours when I cannot sleep, I find myself pondering on it. The problem is that it’s not really my story to tell, it’s Diana’s. That is not her real name, but I want her to retain her anonymity and, most importantly, I want her to retain the rights to her very own story, should she wish to to tell it in the future. So she will be Diana, Roman goddess of the hunt, lover of woodlands, wild animals and all things mystical.
This is the story that ran parallel to my declining health and surgery last year. It was, and is, every bit as powerful, every bit as buoyant, but has up until this point remained underground (so has my surgery story actually but I’m leaving that for another blog.) The need to bring it overground spiralled out of one comment made by a counsellor on a television show about teenagers struggling to belong in this world. What he said was that teenagers are a red flag for society and that particularly resonated with me.
What did he mean beyond the obvious? Where could I take his comment to? Teenagers haven’t developed the sophisticated defence mechanisms that adults have in order to deal with everyday living. The world can be a very scary place. Information technology has speeded things up to almost breakneck speed but the human spirit has remained the same for generations. There’s a disconnect there that can make things astonishingly hard to absorb. I think it’s impossible to speed up the process of understanding and processing emotions. It takes time. It takes life experience. I, as an adult often feel incredibly lost and ungrounded, but at least I now have a fundamental sense of who I am. I have a home base to return to. Without that home base, life is simply unbearable.
I’m telling my side of Diana’s story because I feel it needs telling. What kind of life can you freely live when the ground beneath your feet is constantly shifting? When both you and the world are changing beyond your comprehension? Diana wasn’t even sure if she belonged in this world. She couldn’t find her place. That in itself made me incredibly sad. We’re failing the next generation if even a small number of them are questioning whether they even belong here. That should be their birthright.
I began the whole process by asking for permission to write letters to her. It was important to me, right from the outset to be willing to do things on her terms. Diana was old school. She didn’t do email. She loved history, especially the 1950’s and she had a romantic notion of letter writing with letters merrily crossing the ocean to be opened with a fancy letter-opener and read in the privacy of the bedroom, or bathroom. And so began a series of love letters from one female to another. They weren’t letters from a lover to a lover but they were love letters none the less because every word within them was written out of love. I’m a writer, I love to write. It turns out that Diana, a fellow creative, was every bit a writer too.
I went into those letter-writing months with an open mind. I don’t subscribe to the theory that just because I’ve lived longer on this planet I have much of the wisdom and all of the answers. No. I had as much to learn as she did. There were so many things I needed to tell her but I didn’t want to begin with them until I’d read and ‘listened to’ all that she needed to say, both the things she wrote and the things she didn’t have the courage to, and add to that the spaces between the words, the pauses, the silences that often times spoke more strongly than the words themselves. Never underestimate the power of listening either to words written or spoken. It breeds respect and tolerance and who doesn’t have more fun in the company of those who are prepared to listen and respond in kind?
I have to say I read Diana’s words, three, four times over before I was prepared to reply. I didn’t want to be arrogant. I didn’t want to write too much, too soon. I didn’t want to use big words, sweeping phrases and I especially didn’t want to minimise her pain. The words I wrote to her were more humorous than I initially imagined they would be. I think that’s a reminder that humour and hope are everywhere, even in the darkest places. I found myself referring to myth and fairytales on a regular basis and I discovered that she was a big fairytale lover too. I relished what we had, the relationship we were building together. It was a living, breathing, messy thing and it was ours, and the messiness seemed to make it all the more beautiful.
There were so many things I wanted for Diana. I wanted to keep her here on this earth, in love, until she found the courage to even begin to like herself. And I knew that I wanted to send small trinkets or talismans inside of the letters because sometimes holding onto something tangible is as good as standing with two feet on solid ground. It’s belonging. And more than that, if I’m giving you something precious and saying, please hold this for me, I’m trusting in you to keep it safe. I’m believing in you and that belief can set you free.
Here’s just a few of the things we discovered together:
Never for one moment listen to those people who label you as too sensitive or highly strung. What do they know? Being able to feel is a gift. Some of the greatest thinkers and creators in our world are sensitive souls. Yes it might mean your life isn’t easy but it will be rich and well-lived.
Never be afraid to ask questions.
Asking for help is hard. Asking for help from the right person/people is even harder. For if you ask for help and get nowhere it reaffirms your belief that there is no one willing to help you.
Find your own beauty. Be a beauty ambassador just be being yourself. I think this one particularly resonated with both of us. Illness and surgery have reshaped my body and caused me to question the collective concept of beauty. Diana was busy figuring out what aspects of herself she saw as beautiful.
Along the way I learned an awful lot about myself and many things about Diana. I learned that as confused and adrift as she was, she was also smart, angry, articulate, funny, exasperating and passionate. I learned that she lived and breathed life in her bones although she fought to quell it, to attack it because she wasn’t even sure she wanted it. Life is enriched by love, and if she wasn’t ready for the life part, I wanted her to see that she had the love letters, both the ones she wrote and sent away and the ones she received. She had something. And sometimes even a little something is good enough.
Diana taught me so much about myself, my own life journey, my steadfastness. What she gave me was remarkable for whilst the health part of my life was falling apart, there we were busy constructing a world of words that was rich, warm and powerful. It helped to balance the scales. Plus all the letter writing took me back in time to the dark ages, before email was ever invented, back to my time spent at boarding school. The post was a highlight of the school day and guaranteed to arrive by 11.30am which was right in the middle of an academic class for me. Each day during class one of us would ask to be excused to use the toilet and come back via the hall front table where the letters were sorted by form and then alphabetically. We were lucky, those having a dance class during that time weren’t afforded the same freedom and had to wait until lunch break to receive their mail. Slipping a letter into your bag to read after class felt like an exhilaratingly decadent thing. The words in those letters spoke of a world outside the four walls of boarding school, a world where not everybody lived and breathed dance. Can you imagine?! It was us and them and the words were the connecting factor. That memory has reignited in me the need to write, at least when I am well enough to. It has reaffirmed the power of words not only to shape a life, but to hold it, in safety, in security and in love.
Today Diana is doing just about OK. She’s taken up hip-hop. She’s keen on cooking. She’s found herself a boyfriend and she’s started to live again like she might really belong here. There is a place for her, as there is for everyone, if only she can find it. I’ve yet to send her the fairytale of The Ugly Duckling which I promised to do, and I will. I continue to write to her, but less frequently. Our days of writing intensely are over for the moment and her energy has been redirected back into living her life. That is how it should be. I’m incredibly proud of her spirit, her tenacity and I can never think of her without smiling. She is Diana, warily hunting down the life she deserves and that takes tremendous courage.