Things change. Everything changes. Every single thing.
But that doesn’t mean the things that passed away are no longer important, or beautiful, or true.
Tonight when I was putting my seven-year-old to bed I told him a story. At first, it was a story about how I stopped being afraid of the dark, and then it turned into a story about some of the most valuable and magical nights of my life. I didn’t know, at the time, that they would be the best memories I have, and yet they are.
The story went something like this:
When I was a young person I was afraid of the dark. I say young person, and not a kid because I was scared of the dark well into my teens. Even as an adult, actually. But this story is about when I was a young person and I lived with my Mom and Dad.
We lived in a small village called Bathurst. It’s still a small village now, but back then it was really small. Well, no, actually it’s big – but it’s big in a way that involves fields and cows and thorn trees and not much else.
Being a small country hick, there were no street lights.
My bedroom was at the back of the house, upstairs. The house was built on a slope, so while the front of the house was on the ground level, the back was a double story. My bedroom window overlooked the entire valley. It was the highest point for kilometers. There were no trees to obstruct my view, because the tops of them were below me, down the hill. The nearest house was on the other side of the valley, across about 3 kilometers of fields, as the crow flies, and then it just stretched on until you could see a slip of blue ocean against the sky, 12 kilometers away.
Anyway, being a kid who was terrified of the dark I used to keep my curtains closed and pull the covers up around my ears. I hoped that if I could cover up, and try not to breathe or move I might not be noticed by the vampires, werewolves, or the tokoloshe.
Then one night, for some inexplicable reason, I opened the curtain. It was hot, and I opened my bedroom window and switched off the light.
I remember exactly how the cold night air felt against my face. It filled my lungs and tingled against my skin. It was fresh and cold and full of magic.
And when I lay on my bed and looked out of that great, big, scary window, there was nothing but black sky and an entire universe of stars. I don’t think it’s possible to explain stars like that to someone who has always lived in a town or city. There are just so many of them and the starlight fills you with a feeling like infinity is a pulsing, live thing and you are both microscopic and huge. Both completely coincidental and absolutely perfectly lined up with the entire universe.
After that, I started sleeping with my window and curtains open. I stopped being (quite so) afraid of the dark and started looking forward to seeing the stars.
While telling my boy this story I was reminded of other nights with stars. Nights in Rheenedal, surrounded by just a few, special people. Nights with stories read aloud by the fireside to a special little boy, while all the adults present enjoyed listening to it as much as he did. Nights with meals baked in the wood-burning oven, or the gas oven, because there was never electricity on the farm. Nights with candlelight and fireplaces and a solar battery playing old CD’s. Nights with Ivan’s carrot cake and Lisa’s veggie stew. Nights with the magic mirror of coals spread out in the fire pit, under the stars and conversations with friends that lasted into the early hours. Nights full of frog-song and crickets and night birds, and mosquitoes. Plenty of mosquitoes!
I never really thought about how lucky I was back then. I was always ambitious and I think I have achieved a lot of my goals. The most important goal, though, that I didn’t realise I was busy achieving until now, was having a life.
While I have always tried to be grateful for all the good in my every day, and while I was lucky enough to have had some of those “holy moments” where you lie with your head on your lover’s chest, listening to his heartbeat and memorising the sound in case one day it was gone – I don’t think I ever really realised until telling the pretty version of the story to my own child, just how lucky I have been.
There is so much beauty, in so many unexpected places and so much love from so many unexpected people.
I strongly recommend, that if you’ve taken the time to read this far, you do yourself a favour, and go and tell your own story to someone who’ll listen. Tell your children, or your love, or a friend.
Take out the memories, brush off the dust, whitewash over the bad bits, and tell the beautiful stories from your life. How you overcame your fear of the dark.