To use the words of the fabulous Robbie Williams, ‘I sit and talk to God’. On a fairly regular basis to be honest, passing the time of day, discussing what’s going on. For a long time I have avoided this topic as I know it turns many people off. But, as part of an online course I’ve been doing, I’ve been encouraged to speak my truth – just put it out there – because what’s the worst that could possibly happen? Much like my Grandparents, I have a deep, rich faith that guides me in everything that I do, like a core of steel that runs through my middle. I will also admit for a few years now I have tended to avoid it, and pretend it’s not there, and treat it as an inconvenience, not something to be cherished. I have reached the point where I want to own it and share it. I’m not going to stand in the middle of the town with my microphone pretending I’m on speakers corner! I must admit, and I probably shouldn’t, that some of the best comedy moments in the centre of Bristol occur as a result of such speakers. There is normally an avid audience of drunk, surprisingly knowledgeable homeless people sitting watching and giving their thoughts on the various points raised. Nor, am I going to try to convert anyone! For me faith is a quiet, private thing, that just fills my being, makes me who I am and influences how I live my life.
There have been various moments in my life when this has been evident. The main one was in November 1997 when I found out it was highly unlikely that I would have children. I knew in that moment, with a certainty right through my being that this was meant to be. I don’t think I have ever been so certain of anything in my life. (The day I met my current husband probably ranks up there as well, but that’s a whole other story). I was never offered IVF, nor did I request it, but I’m afraid I knew and still know that there is a reason for everything and whilst I’m not sure I will ever know the reason why, having my own child wasn’t going to be a feature of my life. Obviously, not agreeing with IVF is a difficult path to tread and so I tend to steer well clear. As the saying goes ‘different strokes for different folks’. But when I got asked the question, which I frequently did, as to why I didn’t have children and why I hadn’t gone for IVF, I got more than a few raised eyebrows when I said I didn’t believe in it! Yes, I know I could have adopted too – but it’s not quite that straight forward and at the time when I was of an age where I would have considered it, I wasn’t in the ideal situation to adopt, further evidence that for whatever reason, children weren’t meant for me. My favourite discussions on this topic were with children I taught. I never shied away from the facts of why I wasn’t a mother but the best thing I ever heard from a student was ‘Well, that’s a shame Miss, you would have made a great mum’! Unfortunately, as the years have gone by I have begun to doubt my initial reaction, with the constant questioning (because apparently, as a woman, the only thing in life that matters is having children) the constant bombardment of family focussed living, the numerous friendships that ended because our lives were headed in different directions – nobody’s fault, it’s just the way life is. Gradually as I found myself increasingly isolated I did begin to question my faith and my initial certainty that being childless was meant to be.
There is also the issue of having a purpose in life. I won’t be leaving my mark on this world in the way most people do – that of having a child or grandchildren to remember them by. This is where a lot of my seeking and searching stems from, that I must leave my mark on the world. Like it or not, there is still so much pressure on people who don’t have children – people say there’s not, but 9 times out of 10 they have children. So much of life today seems to be based on making your mark, making a difference, having a purpose, achieving your true purpose in life. I have probably tried my hands at most things since I stopped teaching in 2015, trying to find that ‘thing’ which will give me a purpose in life. But when you don’t know what that might be, it all becomes a little bit tricky. If you add in very bad FOMO and raging impatience it all becomes even harder! ! I struggle with trusting and waiting. I want to know now! I want to know why I didn’t have children, I want to know what my life’s purpose is and I want the answers now. So, I seek and seek and seek a bit more to try and find the answers – rather than just sit and trust and enjoy where I am now. I start a million things, but finish very few. I do very much fear that I’ve missed out on having a purpose, I might have already done it – maybe teaching was my purpose, maybe it’s yet to come – who knows, but I really, really would love to know and find trusting that I will know very difficult and incredibly frustrating and exceptionally slow!
As a consequence of not having children I’ve had to develop other ways of engaging in conversation with other people. You know how the conversation goes. ‘What’s your name?’, ‘Where do you live?’ ‘Do you have children?’ ‘No’. Oops, drawn a blank, move on. So, I can now talk to anyone, about anything and it doesn’t have to relate to children. It’s not really a skill I realised I had until I was chatting to a friend recently who said, ‘It’s all right for you, you never had children, you can talk to anybody about anything’. Whilst I ignored the ‘not-so-subtle’ slight at the start of the sentence it did make me realise that actually, I can do that, I can chat to anyone about anything and I am not particularly intimidated by walking in to a room full of people where I know no one. Handy hint, football gets you a long way in this world and if you listen to the headlines on Radio 5 you will find out all you need to know about what’s current in any sport! I have also done so many things that I wouldn’t have done if I’d been a mother – I wouldn’t have been a teacher, I wouldn’t have competed in triathlons, or run half marathons or visited any of the places that I’ve been fortunate enough to go to. I wouldn’t have learned to make my own way in the world. I have had to face up to my fear of the world every day and just get out there and get on with life.
Before we left Bristol for Portugal I gave the Coffee Boys who had kept us going through lockdown a thank you card. Husband commented at the time that not many people would have bothered with that. But I felt it was important that they understood the difference they had made to us at a difficult time. The Coffee Boy was a bit bemused when I gave the card to him, but then after I’d explained what it was, his face lit up. There was another chap that went to the coffee hut occasionally. A lovely chap, and in keeping with my ability to chat to anyone, one day I asked him if he’d like a cup of coffee. He was so shocked that a stranger would offer a cup of coffee and bizarrely I was the second in that week – so he clearly had something about him! But sometimes that’s all you need in a day, a stranger to talk to you, to offer you a cup of coffee, just to know that someone noticed you that day – it turned out that he did live on his own and he came to the coffee hut, just to get out and see somebody different. We spoke to him regularly after that, but I never did get to buy him a cup of coffee – but he did give me a thank you note which I stuck in my journal. I also wrote letters to people during lockdown – so they had a nice piece of post coming through their letterbox to brighten their day.
Perhaps that is my purpose in life, just to make someone smile every day, and do you know, I’d be happy with that. Perhaps it doesn’t have to be grand at all. I also need to trust more, trust myself, trust that everything does happen for a reason and that I am in the place that I am meant to be. Trust in my faith, trust that it will stand me in good stead in both the good times and the bad, and I also trust that when I do talk to God, he doesn’t laugh at my plans. I just wish he’d be a bit quicker with the answers! Although, as a friend of mine recently said, ‘God does seem to work to tight deadlines’.