Below is an interview with Cheryl Smith, author of Being Mrs Smith.
What is your book about?
On the surface, it’s about a journey I took to the Amazon jungle with my husband, Mr Smith, following his diagnosis of cancer. But I hope that it tells more than a story. I hope it says something about being human, about awareness of what our true values are, about facing our fears and overcoming them, about coming home to who we are. Being Mrs Smith has been described as a ‘real-life hero’s journey’. I like that take on it – with Mr Smith as the hero. People who have read it seem to take different aspects of it away with them, some of which I didn’t know were there as I was writing it, so I guess it is about what it means to you as you read.
The title of your book is Being Mrs Smith: A Very Unorthodox Love Story. What makes it “Very Unorthodox” and what makes it a Love Story?
I believe that all love stories – if they really are love stories – hold happy endings, because where true love exists (and it exists everywhere), all is well, and that is to be celebrated. This story doesn’t follow an agreed format, which is what makes it unorthodox. It features a more or less conventional relationship between a man and a woman – so far, so fairytale – and also, the love of family, friends and community. That’s what makes it a love story.
The description of book explains that “Far from home, the Smiths learn the true value of family and community as they place their trust in the wisdom of the indigenous elders, in themselves and in each other, and ultimately in Nature herself” What do you believe is the true value of family?
The support of our family extended across the world while we faced the darkest of times. Some of those people are our blood family, some not. For us, family are those whose presence we feel, even while we miss them. The people who occupy our corner, no matter what; those who will do everything they can for us – what we need, when we need it – without question. And of course, that goes both ways, and it’s true even when we don’t really understand each other. On a very practical level, we didn’t always understand the family we met in the jungle – most of them don’t speak English and our Spanish was negligible – but there’s a universal language that doesn’t need words. They shared their knowledge, their medicines, their traditions, their labour, their food and their skills. Sharing everything we had left us wanting for nothing. To be part of a family, in the broadest sense, is to have all of our needs met and to be held in safety knowing that we are loved.
How were the characters able to pursue their love without losing their own identity and sense of self?
We didn’t have to pursue the love – it was always there, unwavering. Love never leaves us; I know this for sure. We did lose our identities and sense of self, for a time. We were led into some very dark places, and of course, under the guidance of the tribal leaders we drank a lot of ayahuasca. This is one of the gifts that this plant spirit offers to humanity; she strips us right back till there is no self, just an awareness of unity. The ‘me’ that I identified with was fearful and resistant (Mr Smith less so, which is, of course, befitting of a hero), but as soon as I yielded, she became gentle. I was shown my real identity; my connection to all that is, and I am forever grateful.
Any advice for people who would like to pursue their love in life?
I’m not good at giving advice, but I can share my experience, knowing that it is unique, as all our stories are, while there will be enough common ground for people to see facets of their own lives reflected in ours. I am fortunate in this lifetime to have found a life partner who is a perfect fit, but we had to make it fit and it wasn’t always easy. The only thing I can really say to this with any certainty is that to get to the happy ending we need to go to the dark places and walk through them, whether that is with our heads high or wailing and bloodied. We created those places and we can walk free of them. And it’s beautiful on the other side.
It has been my privilege to set this story down on paper, and to have walked a hero’s path and held a hero’s hand. I would like to honour everybody who walked the path with us – our helpers, companions, cheerleaders… our family.