Leaving the story behind

Villa Guilia
A bench with a view

Sometimes, I feel a bit sorry for myself. At first, it feels quite good to indulge in it, but after a few minutes it starts to feel like shit. Because then the ‘story’ in my head that goes with the feelings will start up – the one that begins with words like ‘if only’ and ‘what if I’d’ or ‘why didn’t I’ and which all boil down to a fairly core position: Why me?

I feel a bit sheepish writing it, but there it is. The stone in my shoe. The little Jody that wants to lie on the floor and have a tantrum about how ‘things’ have turned out. Even though, most days, I quite like how things have turned out!

I’m in Rome for a few days to meet my 3-month-old  Italian godson. His father and I were together for a while when I was an au-pair in Rome twenty-five years ago and it’s lovely that we’re still friends, and that his wife is cool with this!  I’m staying in his sister’s apartment, with a sunny roof terrace and the sound of birds amongst the cypress trees.  It’s beautiful, and it’s heaven because it’s a very long time since I’ve had any time off – creating and nurturing Gateway Women is a more than full-time job, and my passion for it and for making the world a better and kinder place for us to inhabit fills my days and nights.

But free time? Unstructured free time? I realise I don’t really like it much anymore as it has the potential to put me back in touch with loss, with the shadow side of my independence and freedom as a single, childless woman. A sense not of loneliness but of unrootedness. Of not belonging.

Yesterday,  I went on my own to one of my favourite museums in the world, the Etruscan museum at Villa Guilia in Rome. It was almost empty both inside and out, and I had the formal classical gardens pretty well much to myself. After the air-conditioned, dark interior of the museum and the thought-provoking and enigmatic Etruscan artefacts, I sat on a bench in the sun and tried to relax. Tried being the operative word because I was overwhelmed by memories: of being here 25 years ago with the man who would become my husband; of the hopeful young woman I was then who felt life was laid out in front of her in a comprehensible pattern; of the sense of loss that I didn’t have anyone to share this moment with; of the mistakes and wrong turns I’ve taken in life… etc.  You get the picture and I’m sure you have your own version.

And then, with the wisdom that comes with maturity, I realised what was going on and decided it was time for a personal intervention.

One by one, I opened each of my senses to the moment: the feel of the hot stone bench under my legs and my flip-flops on gravel; the sound of the individual birds that were making up the birdsong; the pleasing perspective created by the architecture and avenue of trees; the smell of jasmine. I brought myself back from the ‘poor me’ world of my inner dialogue and back into the ‘rich me’ of the moment in the hot sunny Roman garden. And as I opened my heart to life, I savoured both the pain and the beauty of being human as a hot tear popped from my eye and raced down my face. And then a couple more to follow. I licked their salty tang, smiled, sighed and got up, leaving my sad story about my life on the bench.

Modern Art feet 2013-05-19 14.10.17
My Modern Art feet!

The rest of the day was wonderful. I had lunch by myself on the terrace of the Modern Art Museum with all the fabulously stylish Italians (and a table of boisterous and glamorous old women having an uproarious lunch together). I strolled around and looked at modern art at my own pace and followed my own interests.

Twenty-five years ago, I didn’t ‘get’ modern art, and now I find it compelling.

We change. The trick is leaving the story behind.


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Photo of Jody Day, Founder of Gateway Women (UK)

Jody Day (48) is a London-based writer and the Founder at Gateway Women. She set up the Gateway Women network in 2011 to support, inspire and empower childless by circumstance women (like herself) as they develop meaningful and fulfilling lives without children. Jody runs groups, workshops and retreats for hopeful mothers-to-be who are ‘running out of time’, as well as for those women reluctantly coming to terms with the fact that motherhood didn’t happen for them. Jody also consults with individuals and organisations and she regularly speaks out in public, in the media and online about issues and prejudices facing childless women in our society today. Neither a bitter spinster nor a dried up old hag, Jody puts her heart, mind, and soul into lovingly and mischievously subverting the stereotype of the ‘childless woman’. She is living proof that your Plan B can rock too!

Click here for the latest schedule of Gateway Women events including talks & drinks, workshops & groups.

29 Comments on Leaving the story behind

  1. Thanks Jody. You rock. Thanks for sharing such a personal part of you. I admire you and you are an inspiration to me. I can relate to what you wrote and putting it out there takes lots of courage. I appreciate very much.

  2. Such a lovely piece Jody, thanks for sharing. I have these moments quite regularly too! Sometimes they last a moment or two, others a few days, but I’m working on it. Thanks for reminding me of how useful mindfulness is in those moments. *must practice more*!!

    • Practice definitely does help because it reminds me, when in a really tough place, that there is an alternative. I don’t always ‘catch’ them like this though… I’m a work in progress, like all of us! Jody x

  3. I don’t think it’s self-pity: that’s a horrible word. You cried (I have days on the train, leaning against the window) because you don’t have a family and children to share your love of life with. That is so normal. It is not self-pity. You’d be in denial if you didn’t. I think it is really healthy to cry. You are respecting yourself. Involuntary childlessness is a cross we bear, and it doesn’t get lighter, we just develop muscles to carry it, and we sometimes forget it. But it is always there, and some days it presses down on us. I think we’re allowed to put it down occasionally and rub that shoulder (cry and ‘feel sorry for ourselves). Then we blow our noses, hoick that cross back up, and carry on with things.

    • Thank you for your comment. I like your analogy of developing the muscles to carry our pain. I think because I was away from home, and in such an evocative place, it brought up a lot of feeling. And yes, that makes me human, like all of us! Thank you, Jody x

  4. This was a great post. I appreciate your candor. I’ve been struggling with leaving the past in the past recently and this was helpful. I love what you’re doing on this blog. Keep up the good work.

  5. I once heard someone say that whenever he thinks “why me” he then asks himself “why not me?” An interesting way to change your perspective, I’ve found.

  6. A very heartfelt post Jody, thank you for being honest and sharing with us. A very clear reminder that we are all human and all feel emotion – however hard the is sometimes. It’s natural for these feelings to come flooding back in from time to time, but I absolutely loved your ‘mindfulness’ technique of grounding yourself and bringing yourself back to the here and now. As you said to me last week (when talking about grief) it’s about feeling, acknowledging and accepting. You really are a true inspiration, keep up the good work and keep strong ((hugs))

  7. If you didn’t have these feelings, you might find it harder to relate to those who do, and you would never have created this wonderful community that provides solace for so many women out there. Certainly no reason I can see to feel sheepish about the stones in your shoes (but I can see from the photo you’re now wise enough to wear flip-flops, which make the stones less of a hassle to knock out!!).

  8. Oh, Jody Day, I do love you! I loved this post – it was so honest and brave. And I felt like I was right there with you. And I’m inspired by how you pulled yourself up and out of the story, and I loved how you used your senses to do so. Do know that there are a WHOLE lot of lovely women with you in spirit on your Italian getaway. (And I adored the photo of your feet.)

  9. Oh, Jody Day, I do love you! This post was so wonderful and honest, and I felt like I was there with you in that spot. And your ability to pull yourself back out inspired me. And I adore the picture you included! Sending you love. You have a WHOLE lot of women there with you in spirit on this Italian holiday, you brave woman. Love, Kyle

  10. I have promised myself that I won’t regret anything. It’s sometimes hard, but it’s an inner rule that I have set. Whatever has been done in the past, was done for the right reasons at that time. The decisions I have made were made with my eyes wide open, and were done with the best of intentions. We learn a lot through our lives and somethings are massive and life changing, but we have to learn them before we know any better. I could regret not starting a family sooner, and not sorting out my horrible fibroids, instead I chose to travel the world. I was happy and it was what I wanted. There are so many ‘why me’ moments too, but if not me, then some other poor person has to suffer. I am glad you came out of your pity party pronto to enjoy the beautiful surroundings, and appreciate your wonderful acheivements and special life that you have made for yourself. Xx

    • What an excellent rule! And what articulate words. If you don’t mind too much I am going to borrow your rule & words and set them for myself!! Xxx

    • I promised the same thing myself many years ago. Unfortunately I could not anticipate a medication screwing up my brain chemistry and rearranging my memories. Thanks to this site I am able to start sifting through the regrets one by one without the overwhelming grief.

  11. Thanks for sharing this Jody- it’s good to know that we all have ‘wobbles’ but it’s great that you were able to let this pass and have a wonderful day. I think acceptance is the key to moving on- something I feel I’m moving much closer to since being involved with GW- bless you for the work you do for us all x

  12. What to do with spare time… Read your blogs! I’m so glad you enjoyed your weekend so much jody. Thank you for sharing your feelings regarding fears of relaxing. its so easy to just keep busy as a distraction xxx

  13. I love it! I was also having a “poor me” moment on my walk yesterday afternoon. After a few minutes I started paying attention to the birds, the breeze, the beauty of nature and life itself. I was amazed that the feelings of pity just washed away!

  14. Brilliant as ever and a great reminder that we are not alone, thanks again, please keep going with your work, you are making a big difference. x

  15. Yes! I have a shuttle bus that whistles me down the self pity road in a trice and I find it both exhausting and overwhelming and I worry about how unattractive it is – I don’t want people to see me on that bus! And I feel shame about it too – I thought everyone else had already got over it. – I like your solution of putting yourself in the moment and grounding yourself in the wise woman you are now. Thank you

    It was a lovely post.

  16. Very reminiscent of the scene in Eat Pray Love, when she is dressed in a beautiful negligee, eating fresh figs and prosciutto…there are so many new stories to be told and we are so lucky to be able to tell them.

    • I absolutely loved this post- the writing, the sentiment, the intimacy, the photo, everything. Thank you so much for sharing it and all the work you do for us. It is indeed strange being transported back to the present of a past moment /feeling and then back to the actual present and feeling the loss of unfulfilled dreams etc. I imagine this happens to everyone, even those with children and families, as there is always a gap between youthful optimism and the reality of older years. Beautifully expressed thank you and you / we are not alone.

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