Glastonbury Tor
Novermber 19, 1997

Perfect moments . . . the one that comes to my mind first happened in 1988 when I wound up driving around the West Country of England for about eight days on my own. . . . 

Glastonbury Tor was a place I'd wanted to visit for a long time. At the top of the Tor stands a tower in softly faded red brick with white trim—all that's left of the ruined church of St. Michael. It's a dramatic sight, perched alone up there on that green hill which seems to float in the middle of the fields of Somerset. Sheep and cattle roam at will, keeping the grass managed. 

It was another cold, gray day when I got to the tower, and not too many folks around. People scattered about the hill here and there, but for the moment, I was alone at the top with the tower. It has doorless doorways on both sides—I think in a north-south alignment, but I wouldn't swear to it—and in the middle a pit where I saw evidence of a recent campfire. Inside the tower it's like a vast chimney because it has no roof, and when I entered I had a strong sense of stepping away from the world.  

An odd, strong realization overcame me that I was at a crossroads in my life. I remembered an image from a book I'd recently read about a doorway on a mountaintop, and had the unshakeable conviction that if I stepped through one doorway of that tower and emerged on the other side, my life would never be the same. But I had to choose to step through, at that moment in time, in the full knowledge that I accepted and welcomed the change, agreeing to something new and different in my life. I hesitated, known devils being preferable to unknown ones, but for once my timidity didn't win. I stepped through. 

On the other side of the doorway, the Tor descended gradually towards a plain of green fields and hedgerows, and to the northeast lay the ruin of Glastonbury Abbey and the town itself. A group of four sheep grazed just below the crest, their heads down and disappeared in shadow, their backs like tight balls of cotton floating above the hill. In the distance, the sun broke through the clouds, a shaft of silver light illuminating the sky and downslope lands, while the area around the Tor remained cloaked in shadow. All except the backs of those sheep, whose whiteness caught the sun and glowed white-gold against the dark, shadowy green. The moment pierced my heart with its beauty, and I felt . . . as if the bargain I'd struck with life had been accepted.  

I don't know if it was magic, or plain old motivation, but my life really did change after that. That year—that trip and the sense of empowerment it gave me—started a cycle of changes and set me on a new path. 

I have a photograph of that moment when the sun illuminated the sheep. A pale echo of the experience, but thanks to Canon, Kodak, a good color lab—and maybe a bit of grace—the dramatic lighting on the backs of those sheep came through. Whenever I really look at that photo, I am right back there, in that place, having just concluded my bargain, and realizing, maybe for the first time, that my life really was what I made of it and that the only one I really had to answer to was myself.

Copyright © 2010 P.J. Thompson