Forty years ago I stood at the altar next to my beloved, repeating the marriage vows after the minister, surprised to find they were different from how I remembered, somehow finding just enough voice to be heard down the aisles, full of trepidation, full of confidence anyway, with my life spread out in front of me like a pile of presents waiting for me to unwrap them.
Two weeks later we were on our way to Gadaffi's Libya, where I would take up the post of English Language Teacher at the Petroleum Institute. That was followed a year later by a similar assignment in Saudi Arabia. Those two years changed my life. Returning to England I retrained as a computer programmer, bought a house, and brought forth a child.
Twenty years later my children had flown the nest or were about to, my parents were dead, the computer work had finally dried up, my house was sold, and my dream of becoming a Church minister was history. At this point my life as I knew it came to an end.
I bought myself a canal boat to live on and the next twelve years were spent wandering the watery wilderness. As the old song goes, “Life goes on, long after the reason for living is gone”. Probably the only reason I can sit here writing this now is because my wife never gave up on me, which I suppose proves I married the right one, no-one else would have stayed the distance. I survived as best I could, taking whatever work came my way – shop assistant, driver, chambermaid (yes!). Canal life was beautiful but hard. I remember one night searching for firewood in the pouring rain so that I could light a small fire, as there wasn't enough money to buy fuel for the stove. All through this – and more – my wife stuck with me, keeping me going, because I just didn't care any more.
There's a great passage in Ezekiel where the prophet is taken in a vision to a valley where the bones of Israel's dead warrior's lay strewn. God asks: “Man, can these dry bones live?”, and all Ezekiel can say in response is: “Only you can answer that” (my rendition). That was exactly how I felt about my life, and so apparently did God. Because bone by bone, piece by piece, he reassembled my life.
It hasn't been easy. I'm older and I hope wiser now. Almost all the older generation who witnessed my marriage have gone from the Earth, Gadaffi is dead, my best man (and best friend) won't talk to me, my children are forging careers in art and music, Jenny is managing a holiday business in France, my photographer friend became director of a well-known company, left (to run a hotel, lost it) then made a heroic come-back. Time passes.I don't know what the future holds in store for me, but I hope I will live it authentically, and I hope I never stop until I get to the very end. This weekend the two of us will celebrate with a quiet couple of days on the coast and a meal out. I think we deserve that.