This year, I am undertaking a four-month leave of absence from my work, studio practice and teaching in order to travel the UK and Europe with my 16-year-old daughter. My studio is packed up, my home rented out and my life on hold.
We are now nearly seven weeks into this 15-week adventure. When I left off my last post, we were still drifting about Norfolk in idle exploration. Since then, we have completed more than three weeks of WWOOFing – volunteering our labour on organic farms in exchange for food and lodging. Evenings and days off, we bus around Cambridgeshire, endlessly curious to discover, see and experience.
The intellectual tasks of planning and organizing placements could not prepare me for the profound impact this life would have on my spirit and psyche. The trip was intended as a gift for my daughter, yet has filled my lap with gifts of a different sort.
The greatest gift has been to my relationship with my daughter. Teenagehood and menopause make for volatile housemates. After a couple of years of constant conflict, we were far apart and individually worried about how we could possibly survive this trip. Prior to our departure, I joked that we would either grow closer or only one of us would come back alive.
These weeks have seen us in each other’s company 24 hours a day, sharing a tent or a room. We ought to have been ripping each other’s throats out by now. Yet, curiously, the reality has been quite different. We talk. Deeply. We laugh uproariously in a way we never have. We cry sometimes as the multiple griefs of the last two years work their way out of our flesh. And we are silent together. The little conflict that has arisen has been openly resolved. I see a deepening maturity in her. I see a deepening wisdom in myself. The profound gift of an opportunity to see each other differently has allowed us to break the pattern and forge a new path. I love this girl more fiercely than ever. Over these weeks, I have come to know how very much I like her. Better still, I have learned to truly respect her. I have witnessed a similar dawning in her eyes. And through the gift of this time, I have finally learned to let go.
As this learning has come home to me, I have felt my spirit open like a flower. We have spent these weeks living alongside others, often complete strangers thrown together. Through it, I have felt by times exhilarated, anxious, joyful, scared, happy and resentful. Everything about this trip has stripped me bare and hammered me hard in the areas I most desperately need to learn and develop. Every day, I learn lessons of restraint, of humility, of service and sacrifice. Of circumspection and respect. Every day, I find these gifts within myself, resources to draw upon as I feed my soul from the land’s beautiful cycles. From this time, new friendships are growing, my circle is widening and I am learning new things and remembering old ones I thought I had long forgotten. Through it all, I am deeply, profoundly, lastingly in love. Prayers of gratitude tremble on my lips a dozen times a day. I am so grateful for the learning.