“Time, time, time is on our side”

Dear Richard,

As I write this, I know you’re in New York. And I’m hoping your back didn’t give you trouble on the flight. And I hope that C. is feeling stronger, and has a forward tug now.

I suppose if I say that there’s nothing worse than the helplessness we feel when our children are in pain, it’s only repeating a truism. But I also believe these experiences are unavoidable and have a purpose. As much a part of living as ageing and death. We have to give them meaning, I suppose. We’re supposed to name things. Give them meaning. Though I’m not convinced we can actually help our children with that.

We seem (as a society) to be stuck in a martyrdom trope: people who have been hurt go on to be saints – better people than everyone else on the merits of their suffering. I think this only makes it all the more difficult to share our pain. We risk being accused of self-righteousness, or worse. Especially now, perhaps, with social media and every post looking like a cry for attention, for the sake of attention.

Last year I read an interesting book about the history of happiness (as people have defined or shaped the concept). It touched on how Christianity, with the promise of happiness after death function(s, -ed) as a tool for oppression. “The meek will inherit the earth” is a promise that coerce (s, -ed) people to accept mistreatment in the present. I think this pressure to look upon evil with compassion is a way to coerce us into forgiving the unforgivable. Our reward being complacency: we can be confident we’ll have a leg up in the final hierarchy.

We’re caught in society’s catch-22 of being unhappy: do share, but don’t share. There is an invisible line you can’t cross, and it’s like a game of chance. A mine field. Will a troll run a spear through my heart if I use this word instead of that one?

There’s also that related trope, that worries me: “evil is the result of pain”. Our rewriting of so many  and contemporary tales that give us the back stories for our “villains” to explain why they are so mean. It seems to me a whole genre has developed these past twenty years or so?

I believe these stories reinforce the idea that evil or cruelty is simply cause and effect, and that people are “damaged goods” when they have been a victim. It casts suspicion on victims. We harken back to the Naturalists, who lead us to eugenics and other solutions to attempt to avoid passing on our pain. (Well, now I’ve crawled into my own bubble of parental pain and am projecting a parallel in your situation where none exists. Sorry about that. But since I’ve landed here…)

What a crap binary to get stuck in.

What is it about our human nature that drives us so desperately to categorise and sort ourselves into strata? Who wins by virtue of conquering – in the current climate, who’s winning by virtue of perceived wealth, and popularity – who wins by virtue of loss and disadvantage?

I guess it’s more complex than a binary, isn’t it? I’m just thinking out loud. Last week I was talking to a friend of mine who is also bipolar. I was saying the most difficult part of the disorder is never actually being allowed to be happy. All joy is suspect. I’ve been wondering if, maybe, that isn’t also just human nature? Everything is suspect if we are living the examined life. Maybe Socrates was wrong.

But back to C., whose pain isn’t caused by “the evil people do”, but of some unique alchemy of chemistry and spirit that varies in each of us? It’s good to see she reaches out to you and M. for support as she does. And that she dares to reach forward to others through her blog. She has your bravery there, and your generosity that is expressed by the willingness to be vulnerable. I am certain you have made a difference there, as helpless as you might feel now.

Maybe as we age we will learn to give in to helplessness? Our bodies being only a small part of it. You know, if you did have a body transplant, I am sure M. is telling the truth here in that she wouldn’t be delighted.

Old things are much more interesting in the light.

I find younger men quite beautiful: as animals, like sinewy leopards. But I view them with the same objectivity as I do (as a heterosexual woman) when looking at a beautiful woman. I’m not sure if it is because I have grown sons, or simply because I love that a body reflects life experience: there are stories in the aches and the sagging flesh. It’s what makes it all more interesting: less ornament, more art?

And if that’s not a truism, it’s certainly a cliché, I know. It also feels slightly hypocritical coming from me, I’m aware of that, too.

In my twenties, I had a lover who was nearing 60. It was different, being with him. He brought his whole self into the bed. It was like having a tiny window into his lifetime. There was a depth to his experience, and consequently to mine.

And it was rich, in a way that had nothing to do with sexual skill. (And certainly not acrobatics.)

Maybe I’m lucky, in that I wouldn’t have back my experience of “youth” for the world. Even if that means I have pain in my big toe, in my knees; bifocals and a tendency to say, “Huh?”.

I’m lucky that because of my youth, I know that the rain that beats on the roof will eventually stop. And that all this political turmoil will pass, one way or another. And one way or another we move on. Regroup. Grow.

Forgive. I guess.

It is all contained, after all: “our little lives don’t count at all”*. Just a tiny sliver of time. That’s kind of comforting, in a way, isn’t it? It means that being nice – loving – is good enough. In my cosmos, we are all rewarded for our effort: no tallying of wins.

I hope things are good in New York now. That you are home and safe soon. That C. is healing, and that M.’s gorgeous baked goods (Instagram) are helping everyone. Homemade food. I just realised that every time I get depressed, I stop cooking.

So, with that revelation, I need to go make the week’s menu. (I am writing again, but not ready to write about writing.)

Much love to you and yours,

*I would love to quote poems, but I’m afraid show tunes always spring to mind. This time and ear worm from Les Mis.

This is one of a series of weekly open letters to friends – friends who write back to me on their own blogs. Please click through.  Category: Correspondence.

If you’d like to catch up, read the letters in chronological order here.

One Reply to ““Time, time, time is on our side””

  1. The touches of anhedonia made me smile since I found myself in the funky binary you describe, this morning while folding laundry after a truly awful 50 hour work week. (Someday I promised myself I’d do something besides public service but it won’t let me go just yet. I tried hotel management but it turned out to be clinical work with less pay plus toilet plunging.) As for Jesus… he’s still the place I go when I’m tired of people and existing. Somehow sitting with him almost always reveals something good about human life which makes it possible to tolerate all the (un)rest.