The View from Here: when life doesn’t quite go as planned

After all, I only get one crack at this next decade!

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I’ve been in a dilemma.  I want to write a birthday blog yet why would anyone want to read it?  I remind myself that essentially one blogs for oneself.  But the purpose of publishing is that others should read what is published, and if there is an audience, then surely the audience deserves consideration.  And really – can I expect anyone to want to read about my birthday?  So with the subject matter made clear, feel free to move along if birthdays aren’t your thing. 

This birthday has meant a great deal to me.  Despite none of it taking place in Cornwall, it deserves its place here because it marks a milestone and because it was rescued in a format quite different to how it was envisaged.  September saw the swallows swoop away to warmer climes and with them went my fifties.  A chapter closes; a new decade dawns.  I’m playing with clichés because among many other things, this birthday has made me very aware of the power of words: or more specifically, the ways of the mind in responding to words.

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I have no problem in turning sixty, though a few weeks earlier I had found it remarkably disconcerting to contemplate my eldest child turning thirty-six.  And I find it almost impossible to acknowledge that I’ve now entered my seventh decade.  Ah, but age is merely a number!  I’m going to focus on that particular euphemism and let the rest go.

There was a lot of thought and day-dreaming went into this birthday, none of which, on my part, translated into concrete plans or productive action.  There were big ideas. “What would you like to do?” B asked me, back in January.  “I thought we might take a trip – perhaps to New England.  Your birthday is just the right time for New England in the fall.  And maybe on the day itself you’d like a party to celebrate with the family?”

How lucky am I!  I thought of a venue for the party: back in Sussex for the convenience of guests.  I envisaged an all-day affair with friends and family from near and far coming and going throughout the day and into the evening.  It was all going to be effortless: a feast of bonhomie and joyful celebration. The idea of New England slowly shifted further north and became Atlantic Canada.  Trains were involved as well as planes.  Autumn leaves were augmented by colourful coastal villages, dramatic beaches and sites of literary interest.  But none of it happened.  Ideas drifted before they became firm plans and instead became daydreams that hung for a while on wisps of summer air and blew away with the dandelion clocks.  As poor health persisted, it became clear that this wasn’t the year to expect grand plans to do more than remain as day-dreams.

If I want to emphasise a message here it must be that almost always it seems, the simplest things are the best.  Grand plans dissolved – and I had a wonderful birthday.  My darling daughter called about a month before the day to tell me that she and Steve would like to host something for me and who would I like to invite.  I kept it simple.  On my sixtieth birthday, the view from here in my daughter’s mid-Sussex garden, was filled with love.

Bernie and I travelled the day before and stayed at a pretty little inn where we had a celebratory meal on our own.

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On the morning of my birthday we took flowers to my sister’s grave – a simple gesture and one I so rarely get the chance to do.  The sun was shining, the churchyard was beautifully tidy, warm and peaceful.  The cherry tree that had been little more than a sapling on the day of Karen’s funeral now spread it branches wide, casting soft dappled shade over her resting place.  As I sat on the bench close to her grave I was in contact with both my other sisters.  It was coincidental but it was fitting.  To me, birthdays are best with family.

And it was a family effort at Ellie’s.  She and Steve had worked so hard.  They’d completed all kinds of projects in the garden in the hope that the weather would be kind enough to let us celebrate outside.  It was, and we did.  Her little boys played their parts by remaining on their best behaviour whilst Mum & Dad were otherwise occupied.  And my somewhat bigger boys played their parts running a taxi service, helping to set up and generally following orders.

It was lovely.  We had music, laughter and conversation.  “This is great music,” I remarked.  Others of my generation said the same.  Steve smiled knowingly.  Spotify is helpful like that, apparently.  We had food, drink, balloons, candles and birthday cake.  Beautiful cards and thoughtful presents.

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One part of my daydreaming did come to pass.  For me, the day was effortless.  I was entirely free to enjoy it all.  As I said earlier: how lucky am I!

There was plenty of hard work from everyone else, and my sister and brother-in-law moved heaven and earth to be able to join us.  Kent to Mid-Sussex – normally a trip taking under an hour – but on this occasion via Leeds University and their local A & E: a herculean journey of love.  Mum and Dad were collected and safely delivered, despite Mum nursing a heavy cold.  And Brenda, my delightful, diminutive ex-mother-in-law was on sparkling form despite the personal fears I knew she was facing.

I don’t need to wax lyrical about how much all this meant to me.  As a family we are frequently undemonstrative, but feelings run strong and deep.  We know.  To those involved, I say: thank you.

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And New England in the Fall which became Atlantic Canada in the Fall has now become New Zealand in the Spring.  For B this will be a trip home after an interval of some years, and I’ll get to see his homeland, which just happens to be a country of breathtaking scenery, myth and good wine.  Trains will be involved, and beaches and mountains.  It will be wonderful.  And I’m still intending that one day we’ll get back to those plans for New England…. And New Brunswick…. And Nova Scotia….  After all, I only get one crack at this next decade!

 

56 thoughts on “The View from Here: when life doesn’t quite go as planned”

  1. Many happy returns of the day! I enjoyed reading about how your plans morphed. In the end it sounds like it was a perfect birthday celebration despite not being a major trip. My in-laws turn 60 and 70 next year and have been throwing out ideas: the national parks of the American West, a big cruise…but I have a feeling it will end up being train travel in Europe — less ‘exciting’, perhaps, but more manageable and just as enjoyable. (They are also planning their own do at home, for which I am guiltily relieved!)

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    1. I completely understand that feeling of guilty relief, Rebecca! I have it in reverse – for having let my daughter take on all the work and responsibility! But you’re quite right, settling for something manageable is much less stressful and no less enjoyable.

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  2. What a lovely post. Happy Birthday, it sounds like you had a perfect time and you now have NZ to look forward to. So sad about your sister though, she was born the year after me.

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    1. Thank you, Katrina. I did have the most perfect time and New Zealand will be wonderful. Karen died just before her 21st birthday. It was a difficult time. It was good to sit quietly in the churchyard for a while.

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      1. I do think this is a beautiful place, and it’s especially stunning in September and October. I’m really looking forward to a road trip along the South Shore of Nova Scotia later this month, to visit family. Someday I’d like to visit your part of the world! I’ve never been to Cornwall and it’s been several years since my last visit to the UK.

        Was that gorgeous set of Austen novels a birthday present?

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      2. Sarah, yes, the Austens were a gift. I wanted a lovely set that I could keep. They’re beautiful! I’m looking forward to a re-reading of Jane 🙂 (And hopefully I’ll finally get to blog more about her novels.) Your part of the world looks so lovely. I hope you’ll post about your upcoming road trip. There are some similarities with Cornwall – the coastal villages in particular. But the colours are stronger with you and the building materials differ obviously. There are so many beautiful places in the world!

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      3. I’d love to hear what you think when you reread Jane Austen. I’ve been admiring that set of the novels for quite a while and I’m tempted to add it to my collection. The covers are so pretty. I’ll see if I can get some good photos from our trip along the South Shore.

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    1. Thank you, Helen. Yes, it was a lovely birthday – just as it was. I’m amusing myself thinking about NZ in the spring – when it will actually be autumn over there of course. So in a way it will still be a trip in the fall 🙂

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  3. How lovely to read this gentle post about an important milestone in your life, Sandra, thank you and happy birthday! Trains, beaches and mountains in NZ sounds like the perfect way to celebrate.

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  4. Happy Birthday. I just turned 70 and we went to Maine, having visited Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia the two previous years. We are planning to visit Cornwall next year for our 30th anniversary.(second marriages for us both.) Enjoy planning for the New Zealand trip. I think the planning is nearly as much fun as the trips.

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    1. Thank you, Elizabeth. You’ve visited much of where we were thinking of going. I hope I’ll get there one day. Cornwall next year! I’ll look forward to hearing about your plans 🙂

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  5. Happy birthday! I’m glad you had such a wonderful day – spending time with the people we love is always as good as the most exotic trip, often better! And how nice that the weather played along… 😀

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  6. You were the other cherry tree casting your dappled light on your sister’s resting place. Congratulations on your birthday! Here is a poem I wrote a few years ago —I dedicate it to you at this special hour:

    The chariot of time
    halts not at intervals
    of weather, wind or sun.
    There is no end of year,
    no beginning, only movement
    from nothingness to nothingness.

    May you never falter, never halt,
    over pebbles or grass,
    through hail or high water,
    sand or marsh;
    may the flag of success
    flutter ever on your mast
    through winds rough and kind,
    earthly and divine.

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    1. Uma, I am speechless. Thank you! I shall keep the poem safe – and bring it out to read again at special moments. It is truly beautiful. And I suspect that all cherry trees may have a particular meaning for me now. Ever since my sister’s funeral I have held the image of that young cherry tree – in blossom as we stood around the grave on that day. Now, I shall think too, of the older, mature tree, casting it’s soft shade and offering protection under its spreading branches. Thank you.

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  7. What a lovely post. I think you’re absolutely right about the motivation behind blogging; I write mine because something inside me impels me to do it, though it is definitely a good feeling when someone else likes it!
    Rest assured that your writing is always welcomed and enjoyed.
    I’m glad you had such a good celebration with the people who are important to you. Have a happy year x

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    1. That is so reassuring: to know I’m not the only one who feels compelled to post something despite another part of me feeling that I shouldn’t. Happy year looms large!

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  8. Happy birthday, Sandra! And it sounds like you had a perfect day and will have a bunch of wonderful adventures during this decade. Do come to the northeastern US and do come in autumn–it’s worth the trip. I turned 60 almost 2 years ago and I have found that I appreciate small things more–visits with family, a quiet holiday, a purring cat, those one-on-one dinners with my husband. Savor it all!

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    1. Thank you, Kerry! Yes, I certainly find that as the years pass I find more and more to savour, to enjoy, to appreciate. And frequently they are the simple things. I hope we will make your part of the world one day soon. And it will definitely be in autumn!

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  9. J > Never underestimate the power of the unimportant, the everyday, the unassuming, the uninteresting, the mundane or trivial to bring light to the furthest corners and darkest moments in others’ lives. Write for yourself, to please yourself, but with honest striving to always give of your best, and send those words out into the world.

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  10. Wonderful words, as always Sandra, and thank you for so generously sharing your special family day with us all. A day to bottle up, methinks, and to take out for a brief memory sip when life feels at a lower ebb. Enjoy these lovely Autumn days too- the light and the skies here are amazing at present, and must be more so for you , with the vastness of the ocean for reflections. Precious, precious days.

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    1. I was thinking along just those lines, Pat, as I walked the lanes earlier this afternoon. It’s a gorgeous day here – so invigorating. But it’s not only the autumn days that are special at the moment. There have been a couple of nights recently when I’ve been unable to sleep. The skies in the wee small hours have been astounding. Beyond words 🙂 x

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  11. Belated birthday greetings, Sandra. A lovely piece, describing perfectly how first thoughts aren’t always best thoughts, but that given time, a Good Plan will emerge. Your celebrations sound a perfect mix of family, your relationship, and exploration: lots to look forward to – and mind you blog about it all!

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  12. Happy Birthday! What a beautiful post. And, yes, I agree that sometimes simpler is better. Especially when it involves being with family. If birthdays aren’t a good excuse to get together, then what is?
    Enjoy your trip, even if it morphs into something else between now and spring. 🙂

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  13. Best wishes for your birthday, Sandra. I enjoyed your thoughtful post, and agree that the simpler things are often the best things. Seems we have to learn over time not take the so-called ordinary things for granted, and to appreciate the good things we may be fortunate enough to have right where we are, rather than yearn for what we have not?

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    1. Thank you, Carol. Yes, I think you’re right. As the years pass I find it easier to appreciate the here and now, the ordinary as well as the extraordinary. In fact, as your wonderful posts and photos regularly illustrate, it is in the ordinary that we find the extraordinary.

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    1. Time marches on, Lynne! (Although in doing so, I realise how much it enables me to appreciate each moment rather than rush through the day taking life for granted.) And yes, I very much hope to visit your beautiful part of the world. Getting so close – in my mind at least – has really whet my appetite!

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  14. I am so excited to see you blogging again!! Yaay!!! What a wonderful post. You were surrounded by love on your birthday, and that’s all we can hope for. Hope your mother is feeling better. Xx

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    1. Thank you! It’s good to be blogging again – a sort of barometer of health at the moment 🙂 Mum has quite recovered now, thanks Betty-Ann, and yes – it was a love-ly birthday 🙂 x

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