Thursday, 7 October 2010

Hope brings a suitcase

Saturday 11 September was destined to be a day of reflection and some resolution.

It began however rather less promisingly in the wakeful small hours with tearful calling on God to spare my life. It is far far better to give in to tears than to hold them back: calmer feelings can come sooner that way and I began to feel more peaceful after my surrender to the wave of emotion.

As dawn came and the easy rhythm of the daylight hours asserted itself, it appeared as if this episode of distress was part of a larger working through of the aggregate of emotions that had—or so it felt—simply landed on me in the preceding few days. After all, I had not engineered most of these recent events, but merely cooperated as facts were presented to me and procedures carried out upon my person: I had simply shown up when summoned, so that the overall tone of my life at this point seemed to be one of resigned passivity.

What better time, then, for my cowed psyche to reassert itself, move to centre stage and rebalance my thinking?

I found myself meditating on the time of death, not just mine but the inevitable, for the most part mercifully unpredictable, mortal endings of all of us. I was drawn to reconsider the picture I have used for my profile, which shows an “infinity pool”, this one being at a very swanky health club in Monte Carlo, where my drumming partner and I had gone in January 2003 to run a team-building exercise for a well-known security company. This had involved an energetic session the previous evening surrounded by Prince Rainier’s gleaming collection of classic cars, in the course of which, among many other choice moments, a former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police proved himself no slouch on a West African djembe. The following day we were able to take a gentle wander through the mild warmth of the ridiculously opulent principality and this was how we came across the pool.

The pool on the edge of the world

The pool being on a level with the sea, it was hard to see where the fresh water ended and the salty Mediterranean began. I had a vision of us all walking through the pool to the sea, none of us knowing where the edge was between the two. We would each reach the infinite sea at a different point on the undulating edge of the temporal pool, but reach it we surely would. In a sense therefore, nothing about my life had essentially changed and I was not marked out and isolated from all my fellows. All that had happened was that I had been given the opportunity to think about my mortality in a new way, as if a marker had been set on a route mapped for me before the beginning of time. I therefore had a chance to live my life in a more focussed, determined, concentrated way. As I said to one friend, the colours of my life, even the mundane parts, had been turned up and I was living in Technicolor (probably old-hat technology in this digital age, but there it is). How could this not be a great gift and a blessing?

One of my heroes is my old Latin master—referred to in one obituary as “a schoolmaster of genius”—and he came to my mind around this point. He left us, his fortunate pupils, with many sayings on his retirement, including this one from the comic playwright Terence:
“Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto”
(“I am a member of the human race: I consider nothing human to be foreign to me”).

Here then was precious encouragement to think openly and without fear about anything under the sun that was part of the human experience, even the edgy scary stuff about the end of life, loss and departure and what those can mean.

Some resolution was granted me then and a gentle day ensued, which included a walk with my wife by the Thames, about 15 minutes from our house, in the lazy sunshine of the Indian summer.

A good day.

John Milton (1608-1674), another mighty poet

"The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n"
Paradise Lost, Book I, 254-255

I quote these words, put by the poet in the mouth of Satan, with some trepidation and out of context, but they do assert a universal truth about our psychology. We are given a chance to choose our attitudes.

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