Do you ever come out of a situation wondering how on earth what just happened, happened? Feeling that your head's been taken off, messed around, blown away and then replaced? Knowing that, on the deepest of levels, your life has somehow changed for ever? Well, I'm in that very place right now - and I didn't even see it coming. Something totally unexpected. Completely left-field. Crept up while I wasn't looking - then again, ain't that just like so many things?
I've found love you see, just when I wasn't looking for it. That in itself is a huge shock to the system. But even more peculiar is the fact that it's not 'love' in the conventional meaning of the word. Or at least, certainly not in my usual understanding of it. This may not be easy to explain, so I'll just do my best.
It's all centered around a recent visit from Simon, a friend of mine I used to work with 20 years ago. I hadn't seen or heard from him in many years until we hooked up last summer on Facebook. Instantly we had the same easy click we'd always shared before. At that time, I'd only recently discovered about my husband's betrayals and I was just beginning to realise the enormity of the trouble I was in, so to re-connect with someone I'd counted as a good friend all those years ago was great, particularly because of the setting in which we originally became friends. For me you see, the time when we worked together was one of the most energetic, expansive and enriching times of my life.
We were part of a team of 20-plus people from all walks of life, who worked and travelled together selling advertising space for Yellow Pages. It was the first time I'd ever experienced the power of working in a cohesive team that really looked out for each other, supporting each other through thick and thin. To feel the pure magic of team spirit, the almost unquantifiable 'something special' that succeeded in pulling together a diverse and exceptionally colourful group of people with the most extraordinarily strong bonds. For me, that was the time when I first felt truly successful at what I was doing, and I loved every minute of it. It was also during this time that I fell totally and utterly in love with another work colleague - a passionate but illicit affair that was doomed to failure, but that none the less touched my heart and soul in a way that has only ever been matched by the man I went on to marry (another doomed relationship as we all now know, but this time for totally different reasons!)
Simon, of course, was there throughout all of those times - he was always the calm voice of reason, the person others could turn to for advice and guidance, and a loyal friend to everyone in the team. I was delighted to find him again after such a long time.
Over recent months, Simon has had his own issues to deal with culminating in the breakdown of his marriage after a 30-year partnership. It was clearly a very bleak and frightening time for him, and I could feel his pain. Although my situation was very different, I felt I could empathise and help him in some small way. I keep copies of the huge collections of emails, texts, messages and letters that I received from friends and family who continue to send me love and support over my difficult times - and I re-read them whenever I feel in need of a boost. So, appreciating the power of positive messages from my own experiences, I determined to do my best in supporting Simon in the same way. I'd post a message on his wall when he described a dark day. I'd send private messages with more details - words of encouragement, directional pointers, positive reinforcements. And I'd let him know that, as my friend, he was welcome to come over here and chill out. To relax in the natural healing energy that is abundant in this welcoming French countryside I'm lucky enough to call home.
Well, a short while ago he did exactly that, and arrived at my home for a stop-off on his epic journey that was going to take him way further south. It was great to see him again - I could see that the 'old' Simon I'd always known was in there somewhere, but the person who stood in front of me was a stranger - care-worn, fatigued and clearly in a great deal of pain. A brittle shell bravely fighting for survival, and my heart went out to him because he so closely mirrored my own pain from last year. And I promised myself, and him, that I would do everything within my power to help him through.
The first couple of days found us talking, sharing and laughing about the old stories as he gradually opened up - allowing me to freely employ the range personal and executive coaching skills for which I'm known. Every angle, any opportunity, without respite - I focused on re-igniting the spark I knew was there. On finding the true essence of who he is so that he could move as quickly and effectively as possible through the pain that he must overcome.
We talked. We walked. We cried. We challenged. We fought. We ate. We drank. We played. We sat in silence. We roared with laughter. And no matter what, we kept on going - kept on moving through, even when it was scary. And little by little the spark burned brighter as we breathed life back in to his soul. Before my eyes I saw the person I had known so well coming alive again. His eyes gave the first sign that things were changing - clearer, more open, as once more the deep hazel green hues started weaving the mischief and fun I recognised from our Yellow Pages days. Then came the smile - the dimple that suddenly appears from nowhere, the crooked cheeky smile and familiar chuckle that made him so popular all those years ago. And I was pleased. Pleased that my friend was returning, and pleased that I was clearly still as skilled in the profession I love so much. But it was more than that - because the more Stuart regained his strength, the more he started replaying the lessons back to me. And the more he continued to reflect back, I too started to change.
It was slow at first - creeping up so that I didn't notice what was happening. But soon it became clear that I was, perhaps, not as far forward as I had previously thought. Clear that, even though I had believed I'd done really well over the past 18 months, there was still room for growth and learning. Clear that although I'm now happy and feeling free, there was plenty more within me yet to be discovered - and, therefore, plenty more outside of me that I can achieve and accept as a result. So, with Stuart's help, I found myself starting to open to the idea of more possibilities and joy in my life...
At the weekend we travelled south to Bordeaux to the Sun Ska Reggae festival. Simon had secured VIP access all areas passes for us both and while it took us over three hours to foil the determined efforts of the French resistance security team who were hell bent on refusing us correct entry, once we finally got in it was amazing! It was Friday evening just before midnight, and there we were standing in the wings backstage while Bob Marley's Original Wailers performed to the crowd of some 30,000 fans. It was absolutely breathtaking! We were touching distance from these legendary musicians while they opened their souls and shared their messages with the crowd - I thought I might pop with the enormity of the experience!
I have always loved live music - but this was something else. To actually be there. To be surrounded by the sounds, the vibes, the people, the atmosphere. To see the backstage workings. To meet the legends whose music I had loved since I was very young. Bob Marley himself has always had a special connection for me, since he died of cancer in 1981 just a few months after my mother - who died on his birthday, 6th February. So it is somehow fitting that it was there, at that festival, that my own spark was jolted in to being.
Simon and I continued with our chats and explorations - bobbing and weaving, challenging and cajoling, encouraging and edging forward on our healing mission. And on the Saturday it happened. I don't remember exactly how it happened, but I remember with crystal clarity what it felt like. All of a sudden it was as though I couldn't breathe. My heart started fluttering, and I felt the crown of my head opening up as an enormous whoosh of light and love flooded down to me from beyond the clouds and right through in to my body. It seemed to reach in to my soul, and I was rooted me to the spot. I remember the stunned blinking, and turning to face Simon, my mouth opening and shutting because I was unable to speak. And at that moment I saw it in his face as well. It wasn't just me. He'd had exactly the same experience. As if from nowhere, like a bolt from the blue, both of us had fallen in love. With each other, through each other, as a mirror of each other... all of those things, none of those things, and so much more.
But this wasn't what you'd expect. This wasn't 'normal' boyfriend girlfriend stuff - no, it was something quite different and very very safe. A sense that the love was coming from somewhere beyond, somewhere much further reaching than either of us could comprehend. A feeling that the love from the universe had suddenly reached us - both at the same time. And suddenly I knew that I'd come home. I knew then that some of my antics in my efforts to find connections over recent months, some of which make me wince with embarrassment, were all OK. I'd been right to search for connection. For love. And in seeking it so honestly, finally it had been delivered.
Through Simon, on that day (particularly auspicious, not just because of the Wailers and my mum's connections, but also because it happened to be the very day when I'd made my commitment to Cam 12 years earlier... also in a field, and also camping... ain't life sometimes weird that way?) I had been given the gift of love.
And this time - now - I know it's for real. This gift is mine to keep, no matter what the future might hold.
NOW I'm alive. NOW I'm ready. NOW I am me - and I accept it all, at last. I've seen the light and I've felt the love... and it's absolutely amazing. Life has now begun. I AM alive, and things will never be the same again.