Beginning the last third of my life, I wonder in the words of that Talking Heads song, “how did I get here?”
We all have informative experiences that shape us in our early years. These are mine. My message to the reader is about learning from what life throws at us and to keep an open heart despite an automatic wish to protect ourselves from hurt, breakup, or pain. Ultimately coming to be at peace with yourself faults and all is a liberating place to be. After so much heartache, I can really say I am looking forward to life after 56.
I still connect with my teenage years through my prized vinyl collection from the 1970s, including the electronic tones of Trevor Horn’s Buggles, the psychedelic groove of Pink Floyd’s dark side of the moon, the teenage angst of the Who’s Quadrophonic, Frank Zappa’s Apostrophe* and of course, “Since I’ve Been Loving You” by Led Zeppelin. More recently it is the somber music of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Leonard Cohen’s last haunting album, which occupy me with their melancholy lyrics about sex, death, and God—akin to an Iris Murdoch novel also from the 1970s.
How did I get here? What a question!
On the face of it, a successful Director of a nationally-respected dementia charity, a part-time musician playing the moody bass-man, married at 37 but subsequently twice divorced, the son of a Church of England Minister now orphaned with the recent death of my mother last year. A product of a middle-class English family I was sent to boarding school at the age of six. Rupert Everett the English actor of a similar vintage made the comment in his recent biography Red Carpets, “why do the English still send their children to boarding school ‘a product of the now defunct British Empire and the stiff upper lip a child with a soft vulnerable heart soon had it calcified by abandonment and beatings.”
The 1979 Supertramp ‘Breakfast in America’ vinyl in my collection has the Logical Song which is about boarding school “life was so wonderful, a miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical… but then they sent me away to teach me how to be sensible, logical, responsible, practical. And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable, clinical, intellectual, cynical.” Powerful and true.
Leaving Boarding School at 16 and meeting girls for the first time, I quickly found myself working a summer in the late 1970s in Hawaii at an evangelical children’s camp and being exposed to Californian rich kids who, of course, loved my accent. Memories of playing Beatles tracks with a friend and my sudden departure from a Talking Heads gig, no less—passing out in the parking lot due to my inability to drink—remains an abiding memory from those far-off days brought back in my memory every time I hear the lyrics of “Take me to the River.”
Back in England, life progressed as I went to University where I trained and commenced a career in social work as a mental health specialist. Over the proceeding 30 years as a Managing Director of several national social care agencies, I would have a successful career helping others.
I realise now that my heart was not open as I pursued my career. Boarding school had taught me to be independent but little else with a well-developed suit of armour to protect me from the outside world. A string of broken relationships merely confirmed my inability to feel and connect with emotion rather let fear of commitment.
About 12 years ago, I met a spiritual healer who ran therapy sessions and group work with like-minded lost souls looking for the meaning of life and direction on their journey. I have participated in these sessions, which allowed me to begin to open my heart over time (although crying is still a challenge) and space to find the answers to how I tick, trusting the universe, having self-belief, and ultimately straightening me out. Somehow the sessions have given me an inner confidence in all I do and take responsibility for my actions.
My career has taken off, as has my personal relationship with my new wife, whom I met in these sessions and who has since shown me daily her amazing capacity to be loved and accept love. I also find myself a step-dad to a 13-year-old girl, learning a whole new set of parent skills! And how have I ended up in a band?!
What this all comes down to is finding simple belief in myself in all that I do, my daily interactions, and how I communicate with confidence focusing on the positive in life and taking responsibility for my actions. No more stories of what was done to me by others as a child rather ownership of me and all I am and want to be at 56 with no need to impress others anymore.
A powerful example of this last year was the time I spent with my 89-year old mother just before she died. For most of my life, I had held some blame and anger for being packed off to a boarding school at the tender age of 6 but my ability to forgive and embrace her moved our relationship to a different place before she died setting me free. I really loved her.
Part of my teenaged rebellion which has lasted until now has been my inability to feel or grasp a faith which was so strong in my parent’s right up to their deaths and being at peace they were going to a better place. Watching both my parents die and experiencing that strange feeling of becoming an orphan has made me re-evaluate the values and beliefs my parents have given me to equip me in my journey in life.
My Mother’s conviction from her own tough childhood in waiting until she was in her 70s to finally become an Anglican Minister made me realise she had done her best for me as I did for her in her final days, creating a powerful bond between us.
Learning to have an open heart at 56 and being open to what life brings both good and bad, accepting vulnerability and love and the capacity to be hurt and feel pain without the need any more to hide within a suit of armour has taken me back to these opening lines of the Logical Song before I was sent away.
I am now reading a fascinating book “Falling Upward” by Richard Rohr, who talks about us all living life to find success, start a family, build a career and so on but points to finding the second part of life which is about “filling up the life container” we have built not least in developing the spiritual part of us. There is so much more for me to find in myself and in life; the journey has only begun, now that I have an open heart.
So, to any reader of my story learning to stay open and not run away from life events, going through that pain or grief barrier brings you to a better place in knowing you. Finding self-belief and taking responsibility for all you do is both liberating and gives so much positive energy to how you are seen and how you navigate daily life successfully.
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