I am recovering from a 6-week chest infection (covid negative), the like of which I have not experienced since the 1960s. Childhood memories of standing at the open bedroom window in the middle of the night trying to get air into my lungs. Susan is about a week behind me, as it were.
There are several reasons why I might have fallen victim to this, but what it really tells me is that (a) my lungs are 65 years older than I am in my head, and (b) viruses and other creatures that can take us over will win. It is entirely likely that these “extraordinary” times will last longer than I will. Talk of “post-covid” is well-premature. So, have no expectations other than that you’re gonna die. Get busy living, and as the well-known American theologian Dolly Parton might say, “if you’ve got it, flaunt it” before you lose it.
Susan had her second cataract done early in the year. She can see clearly now the mist has gone. She drives with more confidence. Her hair has turned pink with age. Stanley’s one functioning eye has glaucoma and a mega-cataract. He expects to have said cataract attended to in the next few weeks. Will he be able to drive again? He’s not done so for over 18 months and has no wish to start again. The local taxis take him to the gym and back and – added bonus – he is picking up a smattering of Urdu. His eyesight or lack of same has provoked the great renunciation of giving away most of his sheet music, organ and piano. Liberating in a way. But what if the surgery means he needn’t have done so?
In 6 months’ time Stanley will have outlived father (he outlived mother a few years ago). Susan has yet to reach the age of her mother’s demise. Stanley’s retirement more or less coincided with lockdown 1. “What Is there now to live for?” is the question. Facebook has yielded more people crawling from under the stones of the past, and he’s struck by the number of friends now in their 70s who have said to him that left to their own devices they wouldn’t have made the choices in life that they made – or that were made for them. Him too.
We are of course not often left to our own devices: parental expectations, quirks of circumstance, economic realities, consequences of actions, all conspire to set us on pathways and before we know it we’re too far gone to go back.
Stanley was brought up at a time and in a culture when the man was expected to husband – to father and provide. We made decisions, took the consequences, made the best of it, then another decision had to be made. Repeat ad infinitum. No complaints, no complaining – he’s not – we’re born, we struggle, we die. The molecules that once made us are used again. This cosmic cycle is satisfyingly reassuring. If Stanley had to name one event that marked expulsion from Eden (garden not river though the river is appropriate), it was when he was 5 and his sandpit was tarmacked over. He still feels the outrage. He was never the same again.
Maybe going off into the jungle with a begging bowl is the answer. It might be tolerable in warmer climes, but it’s not for him. His idea of roughing it is running out of ice cubes. He could live in a community of gorillas or orangs, kind of returning whence he came, but there’s still the ice cube problem. Decluttering, giving away possessions (downsizing forces this – it’s very refreshing), having no expectations, living in the moment (eternal life – Jesus was a Buddhist), and being mischievous. Why do people take themselves so seriously? They must think they matter.
Where have we visited this last year? Some of our friends have done so much travelling they must have needed indulgences from The Holy and Blessed Greta. How they can live with the guilt I simply do not know. We in contrast have been models of environmental restraint. Leeds, Derby, Newcastle under Lyme (Susan’s eye) just about sums it up. It’s been thrilling.
We hope to be in Ireland for Christmas, though Dublin is more cautious about covid restrictions than Westminster so we’re not banking on it. It’ll be the first time in two years we’ve seen Vic face to face. Ed visited us a couple of months ago.
In many ways life is like being back in the Eden valley in the 1950s. Small world, don’t go anywhere much, a 4 mile trip to Penrith the highlight of the week. Forced onto one’s own resources. I am now thankful for a solitary childhood that allowed an inner life to grow. Neither of us has a bucket list of places we’d like to see (just as well now) and Susan has long been of the opinion that world heritage sites should be visited only through the pages of the National Geographic.
I’ve been reading a lot. I return to Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet (Jewel in the Crown) and find something new each time. He has a great line about the British in India in the 1940s who “came to the end of themselves as they were”. I feel a bit like that myself. Retirement, sensory loss, lockdown, restrictions, all forcing an end to me as I was – and therefore a beginning. What next?
The phrase is certainly true of our way of life in the west. It is unsustainable. The aforementioned Greta is right, but wrong too – it’s way too late and has been for over a century. We might as well carry on and hasten the end. The sooner we humans are wiped out so that evolution can do its job again, the better. Homo sapiens is an odious species, far from sapiens. I’d like to be reincarnated as either an octopus or one of them sea squirts that come together with their mates to make a tube that glows – pyrosomes. Glowing in the dark is something we’re both used to having been brought up within spitting distance of Windscale (or Calder Hall or Sellafield) in the 1950s.
Two MUST reads: (1) Skyseed by Bill McGuire (he lives in Brassington where I was a curate). (2) The Swarm by Frank Schatzing (he doesn’t).
KBO. Klaatu barada nikto. Happy Advent. Nollaig Shona agus Athbhliain Faoi Mhaise