The Grace of Letting Things End by Mary Sharratt


Ms. Boo, aka Queen Boudicca, in the heart of Pendle Witch Country.

Though I was born and raised in Minnesota, I have wandered the world as an expat writer nearly my entire adult life, living in Belgium, Austria, and Germany, before moving to Pendle Witch country in northern England in 2002. I fell in love with the beautiful, rugged moorland, haunted by its history of the Pendle Witches, who cast their everlasting spell on the land. This was the landscape that inspired my 2010 novel, Daughters of the Witching Hill, which casts the Pendle Witches in their historical context as cunning women and healers. Indeed I was inspired enough to write seven out of my eight published novels in Lancashire. The mythic name for that part of Northern England is Brigantia–simultaneously the name of the Celtic Goddess of the land, the tribe of people who made their home there, and the land itself.

As a novelist, evocation of place is my passion. The question I ask myself is what makes this place I’m in now unique, unlike any other place I’ve ever been? What song does the land sing? What stories does it have to tell? What ancestors and elders cry out from the depths of the earth? I am obsessed with local history and regional folklore and myth, and how these stories merge with the landscape itself. History is a fluid thing that, together with folklore and myth, continually shapes the present. As contemporary storyteller Hugh Lupton has said, if you go deep enough into the old tales and can present them in an evocative and meaningful way to a modern audience, you become the living voice in an ancient tradition—every storyteller’s dream. This is what I aspire to do in my life’s work.

Northern England is also where, after a lifetime of loving horses, I found my equine soulmate, Ms. Boo, aka Queen Boudicca, a most spirited Welsh mare. I thought Britain was my forever home and even became a UK citizen.

And then Brexit happened, a seismic right-wing shift in the UK that was as devastating as the election of Trump was in the USA.

Hate crimes increased dramatically, along with social inequality and tension brought on by years of economic austerity. I lost track of how often I was asked, “Where are you from?”, not in a curious, open way, but an accusing way, along with, “Why are you here?” I experienced this as a privileged middle class white person. I can’t imagine how people of color or those who are socially or economically disadvantaged experience this confrontational British nationalism. My Jewish friends have encountered anti-Semitic harassment from people on the political right and the left. Both Brexit and Trump made it okay to hate again.

The final straw for me was being harassed and physically intimidated for taking part in an anti-Brexit march by the manager of the stable yard where I had boarded my horse for nearly ten years. I no longer felt physically safe there and made the decision to move my horse to another yard. This was a very bitter wake-up call. It was also a sign from the universe that the UK was no longer my home.

As I grow older, I tend to resist change and cling white-knuckled to the safe and familiar. Yet in a world that is changing so rapidly and unpredictably, it often seems like there’s nothing left to grasp on to. Life is flow. Everything is impermanent.  A special grace comes from knowing when things have reached their end–some things must end so something new can be born.

My Belgian husband and I spent a long time thinking where we could move. As Euro-philes, we wanted to live in the European Union. After investigating Belgium and France, we settled on Portugal, having spent our 25th wedding anniversary there and falling in love with the country and the people. In December and January we looked for a property on the Silver Coast, about an hour north of Lisbon, and in May this year, we completed purchase on a beautiful house in a fruit growing area outside the medieval walled town of Obidos. Our property has a field out back where Boo can live with a companion horse. We were set to move in May, but everything was delayed due to Covid.

Finally in July, when the Portsmouth-Santander ferry was running again and the Spanish-Portuguese border re-opened, we were able to make our move, 24-year-old Welsh mare and all. These are early days, but I hope we can put down roots in this beautiful country, learn the language, and make a beautiful, lasting home. After all the turmoil we’ve endured, I want to embrace the bliss of a new beginning, this chance to slow down and re-invent the life I want to live. And I hope I find an abundance of new stories to tell.

In these troubling times, may we all be blessed with the gift of new beginnings.

Ms. Boo mows our Portuguese lawn.

The view from our Portuguese veranda–sunset over the Atlantic Ocean. 

 


Mary Sharratt
is on a mission to write women back into history. Her acclaimed novel
Illuminations, drawn from the dramatic life of Hildegard von Bingen, is published by Mariner. Her most recent novel Ecstasy is about the composer Alma Schindler Mahler. Visit her website.



Categories: General

Tags: , ,

45 replies

  1. Thank you for such a thoughtful post, Mary. I am so sorry to see you go. Northern England is where we met and although we have both now moved on, I hope we shall share a few more memories yet. I am sure Portugal will provide a wealth of folklore and inspiration for you and I am looking forward to reading your future writing. Good luck in your new home x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Stunning, satisfying read, Mary. These words hold a poignant and resounding resonance,

    “In these troubling times, may we all be blessed with the gift of new beginnings.”

    Sawbonna,
    Margot Van Sluytman

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I had to leave my dream home in Lesbos for similar reasons. I wish you well and am glad you and your horse are together!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh Mary (of the sacred name), my heart breaks for you – and us. I am English and returned ‘home’ (as I had thought 8 years ago) to find what you describe. Yes, England has changed horribly and I feel like an outcast. I remember with such fondness the London of the sixties and seventies (indeed the whole of western Europe but such freedom and joy and openness is gone. I admire your work and was so happy to find a(nother) ‘foreigner’ as I am beginning to feel myself. You are fortunate in being young enough to leave so it’s wonderful that you have taken courage and moved on. I am in my seventies and now without a partner so it’s very much more difficult to think of moving – yet again. Nevertheless, it is still constantly on my mind. It will be even more interesting to read your articles now.
    Very best of luck, love and blessings
    Suzannah

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your beautiful words, Suzannah. It’s heartbreaking, isn’t it? Also what’s going on in the US–may the upcoming election change that! I hope you do find a way to move if that’s what you want or at least find a haven of like-minded souls in the UK. Blessings to you. <3

      Like

  5. Loved reading this Mary thank you and happy landings in your new home.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Mary ! Love this . I love the fact you said it as it was. I have to agree you about Britain, and admire you for for moving lock stock and barrel.
    Hopefully it will turn out to be the home of your dreams.i love Portugal and spent my 25 wedding anniversary there.
    Stay safe and love to Miss Boo xx

    Like

  7. Wishing you joy in your beautiful new home, Mary. I believe I have read most of your novels. Witching Hill holds a special place in my heart and imagination. I look forward to the stories the land in Portugal will tell to you and with you.

    Where is home? What is home? You know what has happened/is happening to us in USA is as bad or possibly worse than what has happened/is happening in Britain and clearly related. Even as I child I never had any patriotic (emphasis on p) attachment to my country. Maybe I sensed even then that there was something rotten at the core (genocide, slavery) but I loved the land and waters of the Valley of the Mahicantuck (River that Flows Two Ways). I always disliked calling it the river Hudson even before i knew the history. I am moved by the ongoing struggles for racial justice and indigenous sovereignty. I want to be as aware and supportive as I can.

    In these times, my home is most intimately my back yard, coming to know all the plants. I am awaiting result for a covid-19 test (days of fever, chills) so literally won’t be going anywhere. It is the plants and the birds that remind me the planet, stressed and troubled as it is, for so many forms of life, is home. And yet I am also overcome with homesickness.

    I am glad you have found a beautiful place to be with Miss Boo!

    Liked by 5 people

  8. Thank you for this essay, Mary. This sentence is so appropriate for me right now: “A special grace comes from knowing when things have reached their end–some things must end so something new can be born.”

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Thank you for this enchanting essay, Mary! It struck a profound chord in me because I, too, have a difficult time letting go of people, places, and customs.

    England has always been the country of my heart, and the photograph attached to your essay illustrates my feelings perfectly. The English countryside, horses (I must have been a rider in another life), the traditions…yes, all of those.

    Sorry you have had to move, but your new home looks delightful! Please keep us apprised as to how you, your husband, and Ms. Boo are adjusting to the new way of living.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Blessings to you and your husband and Ms. Boo at your new home! I’ve been wondering where you were going to move ever since we had lunch together in Anaheim a few years ago (I don’t remember quite when) and we talked about homes. You’re right, of course, that Brexit and Trump have stirred up old hatreds and prejudices. It’s awful. Covid makes it even worse.

    What are you writing now? I hope you’ve gone back to Alma and she gives Mahler what he deserves–a swift kick in the pants. I have several of your novels, of course. Maybe I’ll reread them while I’m staying home here in Long Beach and staying as safe as I can in highly infected Los Angeles County.

    Blessings and good health to all of us, including the horse. Love the photos.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Sometimes my heart just weeps over the present ugliness in the world, but I have to remind myself that it’s probably always been there and that there is just now enough light on the planet to shine on what is hidden in the darkness and bring it out of the shadows. . . .

    Liked by 4 people

  12. Yes, good for you Mary! Can relate to the hesitation to ‘move’ and/or ‘change’ when you get older. Similar in that I finally, after years of my husband trying to get me to move, with circumstances said, ‘now is the time’. A little voice whispered in my ear (or from deep within), ‘change or die’. Well, when you put it that way …. :) My husband lived in Portugal for about a year and loved it. Best wishes and blessings on your move!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. That is amazing to pick up and move like that! And a blessing to know when to let go! May your new home inspire you as the old one has!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. “In these troubling times, may we all be blessed with the gift of new beginnings”
    A beautiful wish, Mary. Happy landings for you, your husband, and the beautiful Boo.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Reblogged this on Gabriella West and commented:
    I met the novelist Mary Sharratt in the Bay Area in 2000, if I recall right; we were in a small writing group together which had become more of a “women’s group,” for better or worse. Skilled at adapting to wherever she lives, Mary has had quite an odyssey over the years, as this personal essay on the Feminism and Religion blog describes. I never imagined she would leave England because of Brexit—but it makes total sense. As she writes, a lesson that’s been personally hard for me: “A special grace comes from knowing when things have reached their end—some things *must* end so something new can be born.”

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Congratulations on your move, however sad and distressing the reasons was for the decision. Knowing when to leave and acting on that is so important and so hard! Your new home is beautiful. I look forward to all the new stories you will find there. I’m so sorry to hear of your experiences in England. May all our home countries move out of this challenging time soon!

    Liked by 2 people

  17. I have long wondered about the reasons behind your move. I find I relate to your rationale, as a person who emigrated from Europe to Australia in the 80s. Now I find we have something in common in addition to being writers and our fondness for history and tradition and how they underpin what and how we write … my husband is also Belgian! I wish you all the best. Boo will settle well, and so will you.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Wishing you, your husband, and Miss Boo much health and happiness in your new home!

    Liked by 2 people

  19. A beautiful essay Mary. As one who grew up in England and now lives in America, I return often. I mourn the changes and yet hold hope for the future. I wish you joy in the next phase of your journey, for ultimately we are citizens of the earth, and wherever we live we make a home.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I loved this post! It’s sad to lose what felt like a forever home, but so lovely to find a new place to plant your roots and your heart. I find it very economical of you to have a live-in lawn-mower, I hope she has a happy life.

    A friend recently gave me that same message–that some things must end, and new things come in their place. It’s good to get that message and see how you have responded to it.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. I love this line: “As contemporary storyteller Hugh Lupton has said, if you go deep enough into the old tales and can present them in an evocative and meaningful way to a modern audience, you become the living voice in an ancient tradition—every storyteller’s dream.”

    I love your writing! I am so looking forward to what calls to you in Portugal. Since you have already been drawn there I am sure it will be deep and, I hope, fun. May your journey continue to be fruitful!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Christina Baker Kline sent me your essay and said that a bit, which she quoted, reminded her of Daughter of Black Lake. Couldn’t be more flattered. Here’s the quote (I love it):

    “I am obsessed with local history and regional folklore and myth, and how these stories merge with the landscape itself. History is a fluid thing that, together with folklore and myth, continually shapes the present. As contemporary storyteller Hugh Lupton has said, if you go deep enough into the old tales and can present them in an evocative and meaningful way to a modern audience, you become the living voice in an ancient tradition—every storyteller’s dream.”

    Wishing you every joy and many words in your new home.

    Like

  23. Thanks for the frankness of your info on the changing circumstances in England. I personally have been trying to leave the U.S. for many years yet family and minimal funds have made it difficult and of course now we are locked in.

    Best of luck in your new home. I look forward to reading what your new place inspires.

    Like

  24. Mary, I share much of your history – being a writer, moving from country to country, married to another national – owning horses (last of the 4 generations now 24) – and I also share your thoughts on Britain. What happened to my country? Will it ever be decent enough again to return? Thank you for sharing your thoughts and enjoy Portugal. I have been many times and love the area around Cintra especially. Lots of intersting history, too.

    Like

Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: