Being There ..... Where The Divine wants us to be!
There is something very spiritual about being separated from normal life. Some of the people at college have been on retreats and isolated themselves purposely. The idea is for some uninterrupted time to be with their god and their own sense of self. I’m told the experience is very cleansing but I’ve never done it myself. I can’t tell how much difference there is between such intentional retreating and an unexpected isolation but my own recent experience of being ‘cut-off’ was certainly a valuable learning.
My Partner Pat and I had booked a holiday cottage in Dorset, a beautiful little village called Winterbourne Steepleton. The weather had been a little wet in the days leading to our departure but we didn’t see that as a problem. We were looking forward to some time away and the opportunity to visit places like Stonehenge and Glastonbury and even visit my childhood favourite of Western-Super-Mare. Neither of us are sun worshippers, we are just as happy in wet weather as we are in sunshine, although we would both prefer the latter.
On the drive down it rained a little but it was quite warm in the car. When we made a stop for lunch, the clouds gave us a little respite in order to keep our dog, Harry, dry (he doesn’t like the rain, in fact, he doesn’t like water in any other form than to drink).
As we neared the end of the journey we suddenly hit a problem. The ‘Sat Nav’ was telling us to use a road that the police had closed due to flooding. How do you tell technology that it needs to think of an alternative? Pat rang the cottage owner on her mobile to advise that we were going to arrive later than planned and see if they could guide us as to an alternative route. While she was on the phone I decided to back track and go round Yeovil the other side so that Brenda (which is the name we have given to our ‘Sat Nav’) would have the opportunity of considering our journey from a different point. As our journey expanded by 20 miles, Pat chatted to the cottage owners like old friends and it became apparent that they would not be able to meet us at the cottage as originally arranged because of some flooding at their end (in Dorchester). They told us the code for the key safe and apologised for the unexpected difficulties, especially the fact that they didn’t really know how to solve our journey problem. In the meantime, I did the re-route so well that we started seeing signs for Winterbourne Abbas, which we knew was the next village along from where we were heading. Brenda was redundant.
We found our little cottage and despite a little more rain we unloaded the car and set about investigating the cottage and garden.
The following morning was beautifully bright, sunny and warm and it really felt like the holiday had begun. We got washed and dressed, got ourselves and Harry in the car, got to the end of the lane and turned on to the main road and that’s when we had to stop. There at the side of the road was a hand-written sign saying “Road Flooded – Turn back”, it wasn’t wrong!
Back at the cottage, Pat had to find pen and something to write on, and although we had no idea what supplies a farm-shop would have, she wrote down as much as she could think of for an emergency supply.
Later in the day, we took Harry for a walk. We knew that if we turned right out of the lane the flood was about sixty yards in front of us, but we hadn’t been the other way and our curiosity was as strong as Harry’s need to stretch his legs.
Monday morning came. I tuned in to Wessex Radio and realised that I may be hoping for miracles regarding our plans for the day. Harry and I went to have a look as to the flood situation at the end of the lane. Nothing had changed.
As the day wore on, I began to notice how uncomfortable Pat felt about being so isolated. She was almost continually on Facebook using her mobile phone and even rang a friend for a chat. The fact that I was quite relaxed and absorbing the humility of village life, I had to come to terms with the fact that my partner was not getting the same kind of spiritual nourishment from the situation. It felt strange that after ten years together we had never discovered such differences before. I found myself learning about myself and Pat and our expectations of each other. On the flip side of this, Pat must have found it frustrating that I wasn’t worried about our situation and even appeared to be enjoying it. Sometimes spiritual journeys can teach us things about ourselves that we would rather not learn, but it was an important learning and we both grew from it as well as complimenting each other’s outlook.
Tuesday morning and Wessex Radio confirmed what Harry and I fully expected, the water looked mildly shallower but not enough to even contemplate driving through. I met
Later that day, Pat and I decided we would get in the car and find out what the flood looked like in the other direction. We hadn’t seen the flooding towards Martinstown. We drove for about two minutes, up and over the hill which we had avoided on foot and there was a puddle. “Looks like the water has gone at this end” said Pat. A bend in the road brought to light the reality. The entire road was like a lake and there were cars abandoned in it with water up to their radiators. We returned to the cottage, Pat was quite obviously feeling stressed about how long we would be stuck. It may sound a little bit ‘over-the-top’ but I began to feel that God had designed the situation in order to be part of my learning. That this holiday was not in any way our making apart from the location, I realised the importance of understanding everything that was going on around me.
On the Wednesday morning, Harry and I went to view the flood again. I stood and watched while a van stopped, a young driver got out, took off his shoes and socks, rolled up his trousers and began to wade through the water. He disappeared around the corner for about three minutes before returning. By this time another car was behind his van and he went to advise the driver of his findings. I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity of finding out if it was passable. I waited for him to finish talking to the other driver and watched as the car drove ahead. “What’s it like round there?” I asked him. “I only walked a few yards round the corner, I can’t tell how far it goes on for but the bit I walked seems passable as long as you keep hard to the left.” I didn’t need convincing. I returned to the cottage and told Pat “We’re going, get packed.” All the supplies that we had left were put in a bag and I took them to Tara’s house. “We’re going, would you like our left-overs?” Tara thanked me for the bits and pieces which would come in handy and we got chatting. “Steve went to work this morning, the water is drivable but you need to go slowly. If you’re going to go, today is the day to do it, there’s more rain on the way and the water will rise again.” She advised.
About an hour later, everything was in the car, including us and Harry and I turned to face what was left of the flood water. The first few yards were ok, it was like driving through a large puddle, but then, round the corner, the full extent of the flood was still evident and I was now committed. It has to rank highly amongst my most scary driving experiences. Our car is not small and yet I could feel the pull of the water. It was like a tide. The sensors were beeping like mad as the water danced over and around them. I was beginning to wonder if I had made a mistake. It took about ten minutes to go through half a mile of flood water. What I had been viewing on the road in Winterbourne Steepleton was only the end of it, I had no idea how far it stretched until now. My heart was in my mouth. As the road ahead became dry I could see our turning which would take us up hill toward the main A37. Both Pat and I were relieved as we began our ascent and I just wanted to get home.
I should feel robbed of a holiday which had cost a lot of money to book and ‘acts of God’ are not covered for a refund, but instead, I reached Manchester aware that I had learnt more than any teacher or lecturer could ever divulge. Although I have had to shorten the telling of our experiences during those four days, I hope I have managed to capture at least a small part of the value of what should have been a disaster. There is a line to a Lorie True song which Pat and I often quote when things happen that we don’t understand and our Dorset experience certainly deserves the quoting:
“God’s got a plan and it’s bigger than this.”