“Life is the moment we are living now.”
The days passed by slowly after my father died.
Sometimes, feeling very lonely in the early morning, I went to talk to the young gym teacher called Miss Williams. Her room was near to the Matron’s office and she was very good at listening. I felt as if I had fallen into a dark pit and did not know how to get out of it. She would listen quietly as I told her about the many different things that had happened to me as a small child. One day, she suggested to me that maybe I should try to do an audition for the school choir. It was quite a surprise, for I never had really tried to sing, except for singing French songs with our Nanny Dingding. I became silent. Miss Williams said, “You never know unless you try.”
The audition to enter the school choir was going to be held a few days later and, without me knowing, Miss Williams had put me on the list registered me. That year they needed a soprano soloist good enough for the performance of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, which they put on in the chapel almost every year before Easter. It was a great honour if you were chosen as the soprano solo for that year.
On a dull misty grey morning in November with cold showers of rain, I went to Miss Williams’s room after breakfast and knocked on her door. She took me by her hand and smiled and told me not to be too nervous. We walked together along many corridors and down the stairs to the music room. She asked Mr. Franklin, the music teacher to allow me to do the audition on my own, as I was so nervous. Mr. Franklin’s music room was full of dusty music sheets and there was a large shiny black grand piano in the centre of the room. It was near the red brick, cobble stoned courtyard by the ten small music rooms used for practicing the piano. Mr. Franklin was a small portly man with grey hair and he wore round metal rimmed glasses. He smiled and asked me what folk song I liked to sing. I thought for a moment and said the nursery rhyme “Lavender’s Blue Dilly Dilly.” He laughed and said that was a short song and he began to play it in a high key. With my heart pounding, I started to sing the rhyme and was surprised I could reach the high notes. When I finished they both clapped and smiled. “You were very good my dear,” he said, “You have a lovely voice, you know!” Surprised, my face turned red and I smiled back. He told me that he would make the final decision after he’d auditioned all the other applicants.
I went back to my bedroom, smiling a little, realizing that the sadness in my heart had faded away while I was singing. I returned to my room and began to think. If I just tried to walk away from the darkness and start to smile maybe my heart would light up and all the darkness and thinking of all the injustices and suffering, would disappear. I knew that if I lost myself in the darkness it would not make any of the three people, who were the most important to me happy. Those three were my father, Dudley and Dingding.
I got down from my old brass bed and went outside to get some fresh air. A wonderful fragrance came from the fallen camphor leaves. A delicious perfume floated from the trees. It was now the late afternoon, and the sun had used the last warm hours of the day to dry off the trees and the flowers. The pink and white roses growing below my bedroom window were bathed in the golden sunlight. I walked through the school playing fields, past the tennis courts and took the path on the right going towards the woods. The sun was beginning to set and the sky became a soft rosy pink.
The wind on my cheek suddenly turned chilly. The moon slowly rose into a cloudless sky and I was happy watching the end of another day. I sat down for a while on an old gnarled stump of a tree and gazed up at the sky. I realized that many people learn a lot from painful experiences. I thought, I began to think about my father’s life. Why did he have to die so young? Life is transition movement and growth. I began to see that it must have been his time to leave this world. A little bird nearby was chirping on the branch of a tree. Listening to his song I began to smile.
“Why wasn’t my Father satisfied?” I thought. “He had a happy marriage, his house in Geneva, though small, was in a beautiful place. He could live quite comfortably from his income from Lloyds Company and yet it wasn’t enough to satisfy his heart and soul. He was still looking for love. It seemed to me that when we fall, we are all helpless. Each person has something they fall into, some desire, pride, anger or even some unobtainable hope. The way that we think each moment of the day, can make us feel happy or sad. Our thinking mind judges everything that is going around us, but does it make us happy?” I wondered. I came to the conclusion that it’s all in how we look at things. Each of us can choose how we want to live. We can choose to live looking at the beauty of all things, or we can choose to look negatively around us. It is up to us which we choose.
I slowly began to see that I was judging my very own father. How was I going to learn to forgive him and forget what had happened on the last day that we had spent together? I felt that maybe the best way to forget was to try to remember the good things and not dwell on the negative things. If I could learn to do that, my heart would slowly become more open and grow stronger. A gust of wind started to blow, the copper coloured leaves of the trees rustled and some withered leaves fell to the ground. The trees with their golden colouring looked strangely beautiful in the soft dusk of the early evening light.
I felt that my father was somewhere nearby talking to me, “Do not be sad, shine in your life, be like the sun.” I began to think that everyone must want this journey of life to be as beautiful as it can be. We never know when it can be suddenly snatched away. I felt that in our everyday life everything is always changing, yet inside our heart it is always the same. Ever since I was a little child I have been experiencing ‘change’. “Maybe it’s to teach me something about life,” I wondered.
Tranquillity hung in the evening air, I began to breathe slowly and then a wonderful thing happened - I stopped thinking, and my mind became still. It was as if time seemed to stop. I closed my eyes and all I could feel was my breath going in and then returning ……….I don’t remember how long this experience lasted. I felt as if I was in heaven, the feeling was so deep. The woods around me seemed to fade away. Gradually, little by little, I opened my eyes and found myself back in the woods again. It was getting dark, a pale half moon had appeared in the dark blue sky. One more day was coming to an end. I suddenly understood. It was so simple. Everything we want, everything we are looking for, is within us, in this feeling of inner peace. I realized that the most magnificent moment was the coming and going of my own breath. I felt so much at peace. . The serenity that we are all looking for in each moment is in ourselves!
There was something magical lingering in the air around me, the leafless trees of early autumn allowed me to see the moon gradually rising in the cloudless sky. The wind had dropped and everything was filled with a soft silence. “What loveliness at the end of the day.” I thought.
I slowly walked down the path, thinking about what had just happened. Stars were shining brightly in the night sky, lighting my way. I wondered if I would ever have the same experience again, for it was so uplifting. When I returned to my room, somebody had left a tray of sandwiches and a flask of hot tea on my bedside table. It had been a very long but special day. I ate the sandwiches and got ready for bed. I fell asleep almost the moment my head hit the pillow and I slept soundly that night.
A few days later, the results of the auditions for the choir were announced at the morning assembly meeting. “Three girls have been chosen to join the choir, Tasha, Diana and Venetia!” Everyone began to clap and many of my friends were happy that I was smiling again. The head mistress smiled, “We have one more announcement. The soloist this year for St. Matthew’s Passion is Venetia Stanley-Smith.” Everyone cheered and I began to cry with joy. Me, a soloist! I could hardly believe it.
The experience that I had in the woods became the turning point in my life. For it made me understand that there is a place of serenity within us that we can be in touch with for the rest of our life. It is ageless, timeless, beautiful and so simple…….For the first time in my life, I could see that something deep inside of me was driving me to find true happiness.
None of us wants to feel pain in our life. None of us wants to suffer in this world. If things don’t workout as we expect, we become distressed and confused. Our thoughts gradually become negative and we start to blame the circle of people that are around us, thinking that it is their fault that we are suffering. Some of us, like my own mother, think that if we try to change something - our school, our profession, or even our partner - we may then become happy. However, very often, even if we do make a change, true happiness somehow still seems to elude us. We keep hoping that one day in the future, after we retire or when the children grow up, we will then be able to attain a happiness that stays with us every day.
From a young age, looking at my family and my friends around me, I could see clearly that, even if they were born wealthy and could do everything they dreamed of doing, many of them were still not satisfied. Now, fifty years later, I realize that, in this world today, we need to keep focusing on what we have that is good in our lives, not on what is bad. If we sit down and write a list of all the good things that we experience every day and then write a list of all the bad things, we will I think, be surprised, to discover that the good list is longer, for more than often our thinking mind is quick to look at the negative side of things.
I began to realize as a young girl that, every day, the vibration that we project to the outer world is very powerful and affects everyone that surrounds us. Sometimes unknowingly, the bad energy from some person’s negative projections can really hurt the people surrounding them. They can make other people around them and their own self very depressed and they maybe even become ill. We each have the choice to project our own wisdom or our own insensitivity, our radiance or our gloominess! It’s our choice every minute of the day. We can either frown or feel depressed or we can listen to our heart and try to smile and, even better, laugh!
Everyone goes through hard times at some point in their life. It happens to all of us. Sometimes we experience something so painful, like a loved one falling fatally sick, a betrayal of some sort, or maybe even physical or mental abuse of some kind. When anything like that happens to me, I refuse to let it get me down…”Makeruka” in Japanese. I may feel like giving up, I may feel very hurt, but I remember that time when I was depressed as a child and how in the end I managed to come out of it and so I tell myself, ‘where there is a will there is a way’.
We know that we have a need, for inner peace in our lives. We know that. No one needs to tell us. Even when things become hopeless, something within us pushes us to continue. Many of us are so busy, caught up in the many things that we are supposed to do each day that we forget to give time to ourselves. If we have a problem, put it to one side and smile. Breathe in slowly and smile…..and remember Never Ever give up your dream.
Years later, I discovered that my father was buried in a small Celtic church in Cornwall. Looking for the name of the church and finding his grave is another amazing story!
Dudley kept his promise to be there for me. He re-married and went to live in the Isle of Man. He helped me a lot through my teenage years and I was always welcome in his home. He passed away in 1983.
Dingding stayed on the island of Jersey. Great Aunt Anne found her another position looking after an old lady. I secretly went to see her often in my school vacations. I kept in touch with her through letter-writing until she died from cancer in the late 1990s.
Aunt Helene wrote to me every year. We were always very close. After my father’s death, she worked as an interpreter at the United Nations to pay back my fathers debts. She was able to speak five languages. She kept the small house in Ramatuelle in France. A year after my father’s death, she married a banker and they lived in Switzerland. Tragically the banker died in a traffic accident, while she was driving. She then entered a convent in Switzerland and became a nun. In about 1972 she married a Count with five children and lived in a chateau called St Trys near Lyon in France. I went to visit her there in 1974. She looked very happy. Finally at the end of her life, she moved back to Argentina to live with her grandchildren. I planned to go and visit her in 2005, but sadly she passed away in 2004.