I don’t know whether the thoughts I have been having latterly about life are as a result of a) having a baby recently, b) giving up drinking recently or c) growing older recently (I understand that we are all growing older from the day we are born and therefore this can’t be a thing you do recently, or something that you used to do – it is something that you do, always. But I mean growing older in a different sense; I mean growing in wisdom).
I wrote in an earlier post (Robert the Geranium Plant) that in my view, you don’t grow as a person when you regularly get wasted, drinking to obliterate happiness and sadness and emptiness and joyfulness and loneliness. You only develop your character when you face everything that life hurls at you, head on. You can’t protect yourself by hiding behind the flimsy shield of booze; in doing so, you are essentially freezing your emotional maturity, and the day will come when life will demand a level of sensibility of you, and you just won’t be able to cut the mustard.
Anyway, today my thoughts turned to the circle of life. As I fed my baby, I realised that this precious life in my arms, the responsibility that I have for her life, isn’t simply for the living, breathing physical being that I was holding. It is for everything that should be hers during the next seventy or eighty years, or for however long she will live for on this earth. The life that sleeps in a cot as I write this, is an education, a graduation, a first kiss, friendships, nights out with friends, nights in alone, tears of happiness and of sadness, grieving, celebrations, a marriage, giving birth, wondering what to wear, being on a diet, feeling fantastic, having a bad hair day, walking a dog, flying a kite, achieving goals, fulfilling a dream, enjoying a good book, learning a language, passing a driving test, getting a parking ticket, grazing a knee, doing the shopping, falling in love, breaking up, getting a promotion, developing a crush. That is the weight of the responsibility of having a child – the life that you create is the decades on this earth, living in its entirety.
Later, as I pushed the pram through the park, Lily gazing upwards at the leaves wafting on the trees, I passed a trio of old ladies drinking tea outside the café. And when I looked at them, I saw their lives. I didn’t see old ladies, at a standstill in time; grey and wrinkled, forever stuck in a state of decrepitude as if they had been born that way and would always be that way. I saw a fluctuating motion of lives being lived, a recognition that we are all in infancy, and childhood, youth and middle-age, grey and dying. We cannot be characterised by age, when we are all moving through life in one perpetual process of growing older. Those ladies were not frozen in time, their proximity to the end static, with their deaths arriving like a sudden shock, a bolt out of the blue that nobody saw coming. Those ladies represented life.
At one time they were celebrating their weddings, holding their newborn babies, choosing a dress for a special occasion, getting frustrated in a traffic jam, soothing a poorly child, dropping the children off at school, passing exams, going for a job interview, losing a loved one, making a cake, going to work. The ladies drinking tea were once the baby in someone’s arms, the only difference between them and Lily being that they have had their time already.
So, there I was, pondering these thoughts and ambling along, and thinking that in all the time I drank alcohol, I never thought things like this. And I asked myself, am I experiencing this moment of clarity as a result of a) having a baby recently, b) giving up drinking recently or c) growing older recently?
Probably a combination of all three.
Nb. Monday 17th September 2012 is Respect for the Aged day in Japan.