My Most Beautiful Thing…

How to choose ‘My Most Beautiful Thing’? How do I meet a challenge set by writer Fiona Robyn for her Blogspash over at Writing Our Way Home today? Is it actually possible to have just one thing that you count beautiful above all others? I have two children – must I choose just one? My husband is wonderful – but beautiful? Hmmmm.

So my choice cannot be human; and in any event no other human is truly ‘mine’.

I am not a great one for buying beautiful ‘things’ either, although there are some wonderful books I would be lost without. My sister and daughter covet beautiful shoes and handbags, but they aren’t something I can get too enthusiastic about. It isn’t a money thing, although I can’t afford them, it is because I just can’t carry them off. I trip in high heels and I need a small sack to carry all my paraphernalia about. TKMaxx don’t seem to do pretty, small sacks as yet.

I could choose a beautiful poem – but again I cannot select just one. I have some beautiful places that mean a lot to me, but can one define a place as a ‘thing’? Am I simply thinking too hard about this?

Yes, to be honest I am. I WILL choose a place, but the ‘thing’ is my view of it; a view that has stayed with me over the past five and a half years as a reminder of my own ‘place’ in the world. It is something I could so easily have lost.

In August 2006 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was aggressive and growing quickly. I was in my early forties and my children were just 12 and 15. It was confirmed just before a family holiday in the Lake District, one we were still encouraged to take. The operation I must have to save my life was scheduled for the Tuesday after we were due back.

In those first days, when we were still in shock and sleep eluded us, it seemed impossible to imagine a holiday as anything other than a torment. But we went, and I look back on it as one of the most beautiful holidays I have ever had. The intensity of my appreciation of, and love for, the people around me; the landscape in the part of the world I love the most; the joy at seeing my children on a quad bike and the thrill of getting on one myself and hurtling down a steep bank; getting to the top of Dow Crag in a gale with rain lashing our faces – it is all still with me today.

At one point in the week we ended the day in the Langdale Valley. I stood at the Side Pike cattle grid and looked down into Mickleden, and across to see Bowfell, Crinkle Crags, Pike O’Stickle – fells I had never climbed and may never have the opportunity or energy to attempt  - even if I beat the cancer. But it didn’t matter. The weather was good and I sat on a boulder and just gazed at the landscape around me – the streaks of colour on the fellside and the slash of rocky scars into the valley, millions of years old. Yellows, greens, browns and greys. Dark one moment, then lighter as a cloud swept across in the brisk wind. I felt tiny. I felt as if nothing mattered; particularly not me, or the cancer or the next few months of treatment. I was a speck in time and literally a speck in the landscape. It seemed at that moment that there was no doubt I would beat the big C and that view over Mickleden would henceforth be the most special of places to me.

In all our trips back to the Lakes since (and there are as many as I can wangle) I have made a pilgrimage to that rocky seat by the cattle grid to say ‘thanks’. I am well, the treatment was successful and I believe that view, my most beautiful thing, gave me courage to go back and face what had to be faced if I were to see it again.

I returned to the operation and, as I lay waiting for the anaesthetic, the surgeon asked what I had done on holiday. I climbed a mountain, I said. And I had.

The view over Mickleden from the Side Pike cattle grid. Taken on a holiday last year – five years on from my diagnosis.

For more details about Fiona’s book The Most Beautiful Thing, click here. Today you can download it free for your Kindle, PC or phone. 

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3 Responses to My Most Beautiful Thing…

  1. Suzie, I don’t know what it is about that valley in particular – the Lake District has many beautiful spots – but I have to agree – there is something very special about the place. It became something of a place of pilgrimage for me and Tom when he was still prepared to holiday with his Dad. We stayed at Middle Fell Farm Cottage – it’s about where the stand of trees is in the middle of your picture. Stepping out each morning into that valley surrounded by the mountains was a dream. We climbed most of them too!

    So now you’ve set me thinking about my most beautiful thing. No contest. Like you, mine is something I don’t own, but it is a thing – a living thing. Inachis Io – the Peacock butterfly. Seeing one of these in Bedford town centre as a small boy (on one of those family visits where we went rowing on the Ouse) was what awakened my love of butterflies – a love which has stayed with me for 40 years.

    I cannot find a way to load a photo into my comment here, but you at least can see a picture of a Peacock in my Facebook photos – it’s one I was releasing and it is sitting on my finger. Truly a jewel of the air!

  2. Fiona Robyn says:

    very poignant & beautiful x

  3. Rivenrod says:

    Reaching out to you.

    Being told something like that slams your face up against rough caste concrete, it smells cold and unforgiving. I was working in Holland when I was told and although every day life gathered pace until it was streaming past, I was almost oblivious to everything other than what I was there to do, It was happening to someone else. Not me.

    Places, things, but not people at least not people I knew but strangers especially children took on a wholly different focus. That’s what I remember, what I want to remember. And how it was easier for me to deal with than friends because I had logistics to sort out.

    Dammit Suzie, in your beautiful and straight forward expression you’ve got me thinking about things again and how it was probably quite important and actually probably still is with regular check ups and innocent phrases like “keeping an eye” taking on a much more ponderous meaning.

    I can’t choose a place in isolation, but a place and a time, a memory if you like of the lounge at the BRI cancer unit and a conversation between a girl of 15 wearing a skull and crossbones head scarf and her father.

    RR

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