Continued from Part Two
So, this one day, considered in all its facets, resolves itself into a journey, a destination and an arrival – an arrival at a meeting with a French relative we have never met, and whose unlikely presence, here in the north-west corner of Wales, completes a cycle of mystery and loss lasting ninety-three years…
As we journey along the spine of Anglesey, to meet her by the Red Tower in the university town of Bangor, Juliette is waiting, over a coffee, in a place where she will be able to see us walking up the main street.
The car journey, fortified by all the strange connections, becomes an arrow; an arrow that completes…
On the road across the island, we talk of the wonderful good luck of finding the local guide cum historian in the church of St Patrick at Llanbadrig Head; of his smile when he had told us that, usually, he attends on only two afternoons a week, but this morning, he felt he should be there… Wonderful story teller that he is, he had walked us to the cliff edge to see the island of Middle Mouse, to point at the dark rock and bring to life St Patrick’s escape from the storm that wrecked his ship. He had told us of the deadly cliffs, below, and that we were standing right over the cave that gave sanctuary to the swimmer on the dawn as Patrick escaped from his isolated rock and made the relative safety of the shore, with its protective cave with the freshwater spring.
And then how he had taken us back into the church, the remarkable church rebuilt by Lord Stanley, the man who had fallen in love with an Islamic lady and been so ‘opened’ to the love in his soul that he had converted to Islam and devoted his time to ‘good works’, including the reconstruction of the remarkable St Patrick’s Church.
On hearing that, a shiver ran up my spine. What, I had asked myself, as our guided tour unfolded, did any of the history of St Patrick’s Church have to do with the fact that, on this day, we were due to close the gap between two parts of a family lost to each other for nearly a hundred years? Suddenly, in the guise of Lord Stanley – Adbul Rahman as he became, in his new spiritual tradition, there was a symbol of a man who loved a woman so deeply that he gave up his ‘home’ – physical or spiritual, for her.
My grandmother’s eldest brother, Stephen, had done that, too. He came through the war unscathed, and, while still in France, married Adrienne, the woman he loved. Then he brought her back to England and the northern working-class town of Bolton, where their first child, Madeleine, was born. We do not know what happened after that; only that the three of them returned to France within two years. Stephen, later known in the family as ‘The Englishman’, went to work in the family’s bakery business and, subsequently, ran a successful Tabac near Calais.
Elizabeth, my paternal grandmother, never saw him, again… Was there bad feeling, that the Bolton family had lost their eldest son to a French girl? Maria, Stephen’s mother, was said to be a strong personality, even refusing to have her photograph taken because it might ‘steal her soul’. Perhaps she and Adrienne, Stephen’s new wife, fought. More likely is that her lack of spoken English may have created great hardship and homesickness for her – especially with a young child. My aunt Mary, Stephen’s niece and still alive in her nineties, remembers Adrienne ‘being very quiet; she just sat there and said nothing…’
Whatever the reason, on returning to Calais, the family links seem to have fallen away… and were lost, eventually, to the knowledge of their English cousins and their children. They stayed that way for nearly a hundred years.
As a teenager, I remember my grandmother telling me the story of her eldest brother, and crying at the sadness of never having seen him again after his return to France. Other than the ancestral records and the fact that I, too, am called Stephen, I have little presence in her, or great uncle’s Stephen’s story… but the memory of her tears is very real and painful, and gives me a point of historical reality that suddenly becomes very raw, like a wound that needs healing.
Perhaps this is why we are here… on this day; to make good that gap in love. And, as Stuart would say, names are important; and mine is Stephen.
In the car, we review what we know: Stephen and Adrienne had four children. Etienne (Stephen in French) was their third, and is still alive, though in his nineties. His wife is Mado (Madeleine) who began her earnest search for their long-lost English family over a decade ago. It was Mado’s message that Bernie, my wife, found on the Ancestry website while she was conducting a parallel search.
One of their children is Christophe, who is a Green politician in Calais. His daughter is Juliette, the Erasmus Language Scholar, studying at Bangor University, who waits for us in Bangor, near the red tower.
We arrive with five minutes to spare. We walk from the car park in near silence. The events of the morning have been overwhelming on so many levels. I feel as though a great weight rests on our shoulders as we complete the physical act of climbing the hill to the Red Tower. I speak a little French, though it is rusty. Perhaps I need not worry; she is a languages scholar, after all…
Juliette has finished her coffee. She sits on a bench by the Red Tower, rising to her feet and smiling, as we approach…
I could have written: ‘we discovered that a long-lost branch of the family was alive and well in France. A younger member of that family is studying in Bangor, Wales. We happened to be on a short break, nearby, that weekend, so we arranged to meet up with her.’
But where would the fun have been in that? Moreover, where would the truth have been in that?
Any spiritual path, including that of the Silent Eye, requires that we examine the whole of our life, in detail, as it happens. We observe and let unfold; we do not judge – we simply let happen so that it may reveal its real nature.
This has been the story of that day’s unfolding. Everything in the three parts of this story is the truth, told as it happened.
Other parts of this series of posts
Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via low-cost, supervised correspondence courses. His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com