Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Is it me or is it getting tough out there. I sense a shifting in the collective emotional state, as we gingerly stagger back into some kind of life. This thing hasn’t gone away so how are we supposed to navigate this “new normal”? Maybe, for some, if we weren’t directly impacted by this terrible thing, lockdown was fun at first. Maybe, a much needed reset on our mad mad world – but somewhere along the way I feel many of us have lost our footing and our heart aches at not being able to hug our family and friends, share that coffee, watch a film.
Oh the good old days, eh.
But most importantly how are you dear reader? No really, forget the “fine thanks”, how are you really doing? Does anyone ask you and if you dared to speak your truth would they stay and not turn away? Is there another human being who catches your eye and reassures just with a gentle smile “We’ll be ok. This too will pass”. Do they know exactly how you like your tea, your toast, the favourite cup, the right plate for each meal because – well just because that’s how love works.
Love and friendship, what jewels they are in life. As C.S Lewis says in The Four Loves “Friendship is born the moment when one man says to another ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself..”
It is never too late to connect. All one has to do is open up in the right circumstances to the right people and hey presto another human being to walk alongside you and to share your joys and your pain. Of course it doesn’t have to be a lover – although they are always nice to have – it can be a friend, a neighbour, a volunteer or even a help line. The key, I feel, is to recognise our own vulnerability and accept that sometimes the bravest thing we can do is to ask for help.
Life is so terribly hard sometimes. Sometimes we just need credit for showing up.
It’s the little things don’t you think? I lost interest in grand gestures, chasing perfection, acquiring more and more things way back when. They’d lost their razzle dazzle, for me, but in giving up I opened up my world to something way more unpredictable, seemingly smaller at first but ultimately so much richer.
I try to continually notice “the small things” and the more I notice the larger and more magical they become. Witnessing my daughter’s courage in standing up for the right thing always, (she doesn’t realise how brave she is), when a friend calls just to check in and share a little news, when he places a single flower next to my mandatory 6pm glass of something nice. They all make my heart sing and speak to a childlike place deep inside me that sometimes worries that “I did it all wrong” and “I’m not enough as I am”. Don’t we all have that place?
Ouch that was scary admitting that to you. I’m a strong, feisty woman who’s got it sorted. Right! But scratch the surface and, like you I suspect, I yearn to belong, to be accepted, to be liked for just the way I am. Isn’t this the human vulnerability that Brene Brown urges us to embrace if we are to make the best and deepest connections.
I quit judging a long while back, as I think judgment is the single biggest barrier to connections. And hey I’m so very far from perfect/sorted, I felt it wasn’t a great strategy to live by. I work hard to embrace humility and another of my regular mediations is drawn from those wonderful Leonard Cohen words “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
Philosophy, the Stoics and Aristotle have a lot to teach us here. If you want a manual for leading a good life it’s all there for the taking. The ancient Greeks have so much to tell us about judgement and accepting our fellow man. Central to their belief here is that all of us could quite easily come apart if ever events chose to make that happen. Fate, they believed, was so often out of our hands.
This is the opposite of the black and white morality pedalled by our Western society and most especially by our tabloid press (I’m guessing Piers Morgan is not a fan of the Stoics). They lie when they tell us that if we just work hard enough, bounce back from life’s knocks, develop resilience – they say it’s all in our hands. They are wrong.
What if, as hard as we tried, we don’t recover from cancer, our business fails and we can’t start it again, what happens when we get old, lonely, sick and we need to rely on people to help us? At the end of the day thing are going to end badly for us in one way or another. As Clive James said “nobody gets out of here alive”.
To keep the idea of fate at the front of the collective imagination the Ancient Greeks developed a particular kind of art form: tragic drama. Tragedy is seen as the sympathetic, morally complex account of how good people can end up is disastrous circumstances. They thought that people should continually see this happening to counter their otherwise strong inclinations to judge and to moralise.
Such a great lesson isn’t it. If we quit judging we can open up our hearts and start really listening. And if we all did that more maybe we’d all live in a place like New Zealand that seems to be headed by one of the most decent, sensible and clever politicians of all time. Oh, and she’s a woman:)
My friends embrace vulnerability, embrace humility and love as much as you can. It’s a much more fun, joyous way to live. Surround yourself with quality people and hate the bad behaviour, but never the person. We too are horrible sometimes aren’t we? My Grand Mother apparently used to say “There’s good in the worst of them and bad in the best”. My family story is that she never turned anybody away from the family dinner table whatever “their crime”.
I never met my Grand Mother, as she died before I was born. But I love whispering her name Mary McKay. A Southern Irish woman who married a man from the North – ha the rebel spirit started early in my bloodline. But the more I learn about this five foot tall woman, who bore 14 children and lost her husband in the Second World War, the more I think how cool was she. I feel her warmth, love and indomitable spirit flooding through my veins. But mostly I witness her kindness and empathy in all of my family.
I think people are really struggling now. Not me so much as for once, for now, I’m on the right side of fate. But I remember so well what it felt like when I wasn’t. I think we all need to be terribly careful with each other and kinder and more compassionate than we’ve ever been. We have no idea what is really going on behind those strained faces, closed doors, or reassurances of “oh it’s fine”. A smile, an understanding word and no preaching – that’s the way to go.
It could literally save somebody’s life.
Stay safe all.