The sun shines, glimmering on the water as the gentle breeze makes ripples. Up ahead is a thick pine forest clinging with determination to the steep slopes. There is a path on the opposite shore; the circuit of this small Loch is about 7 miles.
The steep slopes are the lower reaches of a Munro – that is, a Scottish mountain of at least 1000 feet (I think!) Behind me there are some lower peaks.
I’m sitting on the shore of the lake. John is fishing a short way off. There are lush blackberry bushes in flower, and a steady hum of myriad bees. They aren’t interested in me, and fortunately neither are the midges, probably as a result of the small driftwood fire I lit.
I brought paints and colouring projects and books, but in the end I’ve just sat here for hours, tending to the fire when necessary, but mostly listening to music and not doing anything really but watching the scenery and the changing colours as the sun comes and goes.
I have chatted to the few families that have arrived at the loch side. There’s one couple whom I guess are in their fifties, with three very excited dogs, one canoe, and two sons, in their twenties perhaps. One of them is experienced with the canoe and takes it in turn taking his mother, then father, then brother, out onto the water. Rather them than me.
The coals of the fire are red hot. Now we just need the fish, but we have a back up in the coolbox in case they don’t cooperate.
It is a lazy day, a quiet day. After the excitement of the previous retreat – small but still meaningful – and then my 3 day walk, covering 61 km, I am more than content to do nothing much at all. It is a luxury which I appreciate.
My walks in this part of Scotland have been harder than I anticipated. The paths are rarely flat, at least not for far – either they undulate gently and/or there are steep ups and downs. Even the glens and valleys have their challenges. When I first wrote about the Valley Journey of Grief, I pictured it as a shorter and easier road than I have since discovered. There are no shortcuts, no avoiding those ups and downs. Does the road even out, or do we find our strength and become more able to cope with the highs and dips of our way?
I think we can become stronger and develop our resilience, but it doesn’t mean that we never have our difficult patches. Still, when it gets a bit easier let’s make the most of it.
I sit here and watch happy families, and of course I think of Pax and Catherine.
(Next day:) I didn’t finish this yesterday as I ended up in a long conversation with the mother mentioned above. She got to telling me about her late father who was an avid fisherman, and how while she was on the canoe she had been thinking of him. Seeing John fishing on the shore had also reminded her. Then she described the battle another family member is facing with stomach cancer.
The conversation was a reminder – as though one was needed! – that virtually everyone lives with loss. I suppose the difference can come as far as the gap left by our loved one. If they were a big part of our life, it is harder to manage that gap.
Losing a child is definitely one of the hardest losses, being so unnatural, but I’ve also seen how big an impact losing a partner can have. So I don’t think you can make assumptions about other people’s grief.
All of this brings me to the heartbreaking news about the thousands of children being separated from their parents – including but not only at the US/Mexican border. It is hard enough to lose a child for an unavoidable cause. To lose your child because of circumstances and political decisions is incomprehensible.
And so my mind has wandered from the peaceful loch side to the world’s troubles. I think when you are living with your own losses it can make you more aware of the sorrows of others. Our hearts seem all tied up together, and I think that is how it should be. To care about the welfare and wellbeing of others is a part of our shared humanity – and certainly a big part of our Christianity, if that’s how we identify ourselves.
What more can be said but to leave you with a few views of beautiful Scotland where I have been walking and will continue over the coming days. Glimpses of peace and better moments, which thankfully are also part of our shared human experience.