As a child I liked to climb onto the cliffs and gaze out to sea. Soon, a source as huge and wonderful as the ocean itself would stir inside me. Great adventures would unfold in my imagination. I’d choose a story, write it down, then stuff it into a bottle and toss it into the sea.
“I’ll write stories when I grow up,” I announced to my mother.
“Yes, you will, dear,” she replied.
An artist and his wife moved into the house next to ours. The artist trudged out to the great headlands each morning, lugging his paint box, easel and canvas.
“Can I come with you?” I pleaded, my tote bag already stuffed with paper, bottles and crayons.
“Yes, you can.”
The artist had travelled the world and told colorful stories of hiking in Kathmandu, Turkey and Peru.
“I’m going to see the whole world when I grow up.”
“Yes, you will.”
The artist painted a Parisian scene, and I became enchanted with the smartly dressed people sitting at small tables, drinking red wine and feeding tidbits of food to little dogs cuddled on their laps.
“I’m going to own a café in Paris when I grow up, Mummy.
“Yes, you will, dear.”
This new goal dovetailed nicely with my recently discovered talent for changing water into wine. My father had sent me a pop-up book of Jesus performing some of his most famous miracles. I saw little of my father as he was posted in India with the RAF. I expect he thought my mother would use the book to tell me the story of Jesus. She didn’t. I lay on my stomach on the floor, staring into the scenes, enthralled by the magical man. Jesus was on a lever, so I could move him through the miracles. With a push from me, he shot up off the cross, clouds opened and angels filled the sky. I could also walk him across the water—a feat I tried to emulate. Obviously, I didn’t succeed or I’d be famous and publishers would be in a bidding war for my new novel. But I could turn water into wine. I simply switched on the tap and asked my mother, “Is it wine yet?”
“Yes, it is, dear.”
I created a make-believe café in our back garden. Jesus stopped by regularly for a glass of wine and a chat. He listened while I dreamed myself into careers as prima ballerina, orchestra conductor and the ever-present writer.
The writer lay buried within for a long time. I worked in fields as diverse as advertising, fashion and real estate. I travelled the world over, hiking as opportunity permitted. I loved the feel of the earth beneath my feet and often fancied I stepped on the same soil as the artist who had inspired my adventures. Travel taught me many of the things I value most. Traveling equals being in a mini-version of my life’s journey. Everything is magnified. Free from routine, time seems to expand. People become more vividly who they are, probably because I’m truly looking at them. I notice how different or how similar they are to me. My eye roams over the details of each new place. I sniff the smells, marvel at the colors of the landscape and the particular swell of a foreign sea. I stride through the streets, measuring my step to the local pace of life, my ear tuned to the collective consciousness of the people. I am aware of myself as a member of the human family, and my capacity for compassion increases.
Between travels, I returned to Cornwall to visit my mother. The last time I stayed with her she had begun the long journey into dementia. One night she rushed into my bedroom, awakened me and said, “There are lots of people downstairs in the dining room and they’re very hungry. Will you come down and help me prepare a meal for them?”
In a split second our roles reversed. My mother’s question echoed in the chorus of the many I had asked her as a young child. The kindness she had invested in me resonated in the air as palpable as her breath. I inhaled deeply and took her hand in mine. “Yes, I will, Mum.”