I've just finished re-reading 'The King's Curse' by Philippa Gregory: it follows the life of Margaret Pole - daughter of Prince George, the younger brother of Edward IV - through the increasingly turbulent reign of Henry VIII, and might be my favourite of her books.
The theme that runs through it is one of persistence and determination: Margaret Pole's desire to live and go on living, even in difficult and distressing circumstances, and in spite of the execution of her younger brother for the crime of no-more than being born close to the throne. The dominant characteristic of Margaret that shines out from the book is her constant curiosity to see what is coming next, and her tenacity to meet her fears rather than run away from them. One gets the sense of a woman who sees herself as the main character in the writing of her own life, and has a tenacity to hold on to her sense of self, despite finding herself in situations in which she feels deep and resonant sense of fear.
As we navigate our own lives - and recent times have had more than the usual quota of uncertainty and challenges - maybe we can draw inspiration from the fictional rendition of a character who is resilient and curious about how events will unfold. I picked up this book for a re-read after a particularly stressful week of modern-life, and the release in to the Medieval world, so wonderfully evoked by Philippa Gregory's detailed and fluid descriptions, did not disappoint. I was struck by the experience of holding in my hands a book telling the story of a whole life - well, from around the time that Margaret's brother Edward has been beheaded, and she is already married to Henry Pole, up until her own death - and the contrast between the fluid journey described within, page by page, and the solid hard covers that bind them. At times of stress, the sense of being out of control is one that I think we all know; the fictional re-working of the life of Margaret Pole reminded me that those sensations are not apart from life - a problem to be solved - but a part of it, and integral part of our individual story as it unfolds.
Of course, we don't have a book of our own lives to refer to; our own stories are developing, and were they not subject to being mounded by our actions, life would seem rather pointless. So perhaps there is a balance to be struck between the intensity of decision-making that comes in to our lives, which can make us feel under pressure, and appreciating those moments of choice that permit us to write, even in small ways, the text of our own stories. Regret, bitterness and feelings of helplessness don't create new chapters: making positive choices (even difficult ones), trust and appreciation do that, and help us to connect to the stories that other people are making of their lives, albeit very different to our own. Curiosity about others' pathways is the link that can unite us, and allow us to reflect on our own choices anew.
Jan Morris, the author of so many books relating to myriad places from Everest to Wales, commented that 'there is so much to write about without having to go very far'. In the last year when our wanderlust has been necessarily curtailed, I have found that to be very true: there are horizons around us which can yield new perspectives, and landscapes within us that we can explore in varying light and seasons. These, in turn, affect how we see the people and environment around us.
Perhaps it is fortuitous that we can't read the last page in the account of our lives; despite the pressures and the misfortune that we encounter on our paths, some of which are beyond our influence, we can still maintain appreciation that we wield the pen to write.