The woods are lovely, dark and deep…
Walking home never bothered James much – he always enjoyed the moments of isolation at the end of a day. Working as a barista did give James plenty of time to think, but he always appreciated being able to escape from the people during that half hour walk home.
As ever, James had two choices. The first was to take the main road towards his small flat, the faster route for sure, and do his best to ignore the cars, the people and the lives that were going on around him. The second route was more indirect – a short walk uphill, cutting through the Belfast Castle’s grounds. This route added a good 20 minutes onto his journey home, but apart from the occasional hill walker; he was unlikely to run into anyone.
‘It all begins with choice’, James thought to himself, smiling & echoing the line mentioned in one of his favourite movies. James turned right and walked up towards the castle grounds. He glanced at his watch, November 21st, 707pm.
It was raining, as it usually does in Belfast at this time of the year. James never minded the rain – he often found it relaxing, even purifying after a days work. Walking up the hill, leaving the city behind him, his CD player blocking out any residual noise, he smiled to himself and toyed with his mobile phone and keys in his pocket of his coat. The wind ruffled his shoulder length, dirty blond hair – tied back into a pony tail.
As a person, James was prone to daydreaming – his girlfriend often told him so. However, she often mistook his day dreams for someone who could not concentrate – even lacking in true ambition. James would have told you this was unfair. Indeed, he could focus, but he found letting his mind wander was his way of mental exercise and it allowed him to explore all those thoughts and emotions that he enjoyed.
He approached the gates to the Castle and waited to cross the road, his black jeans and coat rendering him barely visible in the jet black night. He looked up and noticed that it was a perfectly clear sky. Before crossing the road, he glanced at his watch – 713pm.
He’d probably be home by 730.
James crossed the road and stepped over the threshold to the castle grounds.
Looking around, the first thing James noticed was the Castle looming over him, silhouetted by the numerous flood lights. This stood high up, off to his right, nestled in the foot of the hill. Once a proud sentry looking out over Belfast Lough, the docks and the city, it was now two things – part tourist destination, part restaurant. He sighed, thinking that so many things were transformed into tools of distraction.
James took the left hand path and walked steadily uphill, first on the public footpath, then taking the slightly muddied track that eventually wound its way round to the castle, but for now just meandered upwards. The trees gradually grew thicker, the path steeper and he turned off his CD player. He stopped. Utter stillness and silence, except for the trees swaying slightly and his breathing greeted him. This silence, he thought was nature at its finest – pure and beautiful.
He looked around and could just about make out the details on the tree’s large stumps – the moon penetrated the canopy slightly. It was dark, deep and beautiful. It never failed to amaze him how just 5 minutes off the main road there was this other world, fragile and transformed by people, but still retaining its original natural charm and beauty. He often felt overwhelmed by it. He looked around and saw the near by rock that marked the next diversion of the footpath, and sat down.
Directly ahead of him was the path to his house – to his distractions and life.
To his right, the path into the mountain and the woods.
To his left, the way he came.
‘It all begins with choice’ he thought again. He glanced at his watch – it was 717pm.
James stood up and turned to the right and began walking, slowly at first, gradually getting faster.
He turned on his CD Player.
He thought about, first of all, his girlfriend… He thought how much she meant to him, about how he couldn’t explain it, but how he’d felt like he had always known, from the first second, that he thought they’d be together. He knew that he hadn’t always been able to be honest with her – that he caused several of their fights due to his own coldness (or was it… being too dramatic?)… he knew, all at once, those things he wanted to tell her but never knew how… how he had sometimes struggled with his own past, with her past but ultimately all that mattered was the future…
He realised that he was not just a distraction to her – he realised that he mattered to her, and she to him. He had, for the first time in his life, no hesitations…
James sped up, running now – he could hear the wind whipping around him, his pony tail now totally undone… he thought about his family, his life and how he had perpetually disappointed his parents – but realised that he hadn’t disappointed them as such.
They just wanted the best for him – he realised that they were just disappointed that hewasn’t happy, not that he was who he was…
He thought… about the people he cared about the most, his close friends, how he hated that he could never really understand why he needed them, how so much of what they said and did was superficial…
He realised that this was the point of friendship – they give your life meaning through just being there for you – reflecting all those things you don’t like back on you. They care for you, judge you, give you company, but they don’t do it unrequited – they need that judgement back. He understood that, they ask for advice because they need it back at some point – it was beautiful… and honest.
He ran, at full pace, sweat soaking his back, the rain beginning to seep through his coat and jeans. He was now high enough in the mountains to be able to look over Belfast. He thought of all the pointless lives, mindlessness of the distractions…
Yet what he saw was a city beautiful in its night time intensity. He understood that all the distractions that he took for granted were there, not to distract him from the monotony of life, but to share with those people he loved. It was in sharing that that he could realise the importance, and value, of being alive.
Sometimes, he thought, as his heart pounded, it took isolation to see this.
With feet pounding on the uneven surface, he turned a blind corner and realised that, only in the isolation of the woods could he understand the truth – sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to turn around…
Slowly, despite his quick pace, the castle came into view. James turned his music up – and gazed at the castle- it gazed back; judging him, with a cold intensity.
The castle reflected everything he felt – created for one purpose, now nothing but an idle distraction and pointless existence in the world. The Castle hung for a moment, standing against the night sky like a cold beacon.
He ran… ran until his muscles burned and his veins pumped battery acid… and then he ran harder…
His clothes were totally soaked through – sweat mixed with rain water, his hair was plastered to his head. He was being cleansed, both by the rain and intense concentration that the run had given him – it was if a cold fury had forced him to push & punish himself.
James sprinted past the castle, turned right and ran down the hill, the Castle looming behind. Instead of being judged by it, he turned his own gaze inward…
James realised, that the only person who can truly judge him is himself – and that this was the first step to freedom.
He realised that he was not merely the sum of his choices – he was much more – he was his potential. He was everything he could become but never would. He was, all the thoughts he had but never followed through – in essence, he was a human, but he was also an independent being who sets his own standards of success.
James realised that his job did not define him – nor did his own self loathing that he sometimes had when he looked backwards at everything he had, and had not, done.
Instead of realising what he was not, he realised what he was.
He realised that he was someone who could love people, someone who could share things, someone who had the chance to make mistakes – and then make up for them. He realised that the beauty of his own existence was not in succeeding, but having the opportunity to fail and succeed.
James ran. He looked at the entrance to the grounds, for the second time this evening having done a full loop of the grounds, the castle well behind him.
The woods are dark, deep, lovely and he was about 30 seconds from his starting point and yet he felt like there were miles to go.
Running, maintaining the steady sprint and not tiring, he was on the last approach to his starting point and he realised one last thing.
James realised that he was not alone. He was not alone in the world – despite not always being able to express himself, he was not alone. He was able to see the beauty of life for what it was, and where he fitted in.
As he ran up the final hill – tears now mixed with the rain and sweat. James looked upon himself, sitting on the stone. Looking up the path that he had just ran.
This time, there was no choice. He had ran the path and realised that it begins with choice, but ends with decision.
James looked stood up and looked at the sky, thinking about all the things he had realised. There was only one decision for it – he looked straight down the path towards his house and his own life.
There may well be miles to go.
The woods may well be dark, deep & lovely.
However, he realised that this time, when he ran through the woods, he would be doing it on his terms, only being judged by himself, making his own decisions.
He walked down the path, towards his life, not afraid what was behind him.