When the alarm went at 6 today, I wanted nothing more than to turn it off. It was dark. It was freezing. I’d slept badly. My heart was still heavy after the previous day’s funeral of a dear friend. There was every reason to stay under the covers. But “life must go on” and with two ultramarathons booked for next year, I had promised myself that today would mark the beginning of training after a 5 month rest.
I set off in darkness and after a miserable few minutes of wishing I’d worn more layers and wanting to turn round and go home, I gradually eased into a familiar pace and rhythm. Leaving the town behind, the road led up into the woods at Ashridge. As I walked, my head was filled with the music and memories of the day before. The trees above and beside me evoking images of her woodland burial; the songs resounding in time with my footsteps. Summer and winter, spring time and harvest; sun, moon and stars in their courses above…
At first it was just me and the deer – peaceful solitude. Later, I met others: a jogger, a delivery man who had lost his way and a group of cheerful golfers gathering for an early morning game. I only realised how cold it was when I opened my mouth to speak to them and found it almost impossible to form words. These brief moments of human contact stirred further memories of yesterday’s funeral. The heartfelt tributes from friends and family. The photos of her, from life’s first cry to final breath. Her Dad quoting Middlemarch to describe her as one who had “lived faithfully a hidden life” while contributing to “the growing good of the world”. The kindness of a friend’s little girl who squeezed my hand during the harder moments, saying “It’s OK if you cry, cos then I can comfort you”.
Turning back home along the canal, I was overcome by the beauty I saw at every twist and turn of the towpath. I felt greedy having it all to myself – it seemed like too much goodness for just me alone to see. It had to be shared, yet as my phone battery had died, I couldn’t take a single photo.
So instead, I will just tell you that if you were there, you too would have been awestruck as you walked into the sunrise. You would have seen a kingfisher skimming through the golden air, its feathers lit by the sun and gleaming almost emerald. You would have seen the white mist hanging heavy over the canal; fiery trees mirrored perfectly in the semi-frozen water. You would have felt filled to overflowing with it all and glad to be alive. And even if you don’t consider yourself to be a person of faith, I am convinced that on seeing these things, you would have felt blessed – not just once, but perhaps ten thousand times; that regardless of what you’ve lost and the battles you’ve fought, you might have felt cheered; that you too would know there could be strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.