So, I want you to change these two men into Donegal cap wearing cronies. As they chat, it’s very possible one or both will suck their breath between their teeth, shake their head and say these two words:
It is the perfect response to bad news. News such as, ‘She’s not long to go’, ‘some lad got shot last night’, ‘the cows have got in and wrecked herself’s garden’ or ‘the house burnt down after yer man overloaded the boiler’. Anything, nearly anything, can be handled with ‘that’s life’.
When you say it, you’re either lost for words in the face of terrible tragedy or you just want to move on to another more palatable subject. It is most commonly uttered by world-weary, life-battered folk who have seen it all and worse. I like to hear it when I or someone close to me is going through a tough time. It is good to be that philosophical about things without making light of them.
However, I would propose that you also consider this saying:
‘This is the life!’
There are plenty of times when all we have to offer is ‘that’s life’. But there are also an abundance of times when we can be grateful, even joyful about the funny, good, comforting, delicious things and people around us. If you stop and think about it, you’ll find loads of them.
So this Christmas, I resolve to irritate everyone around me with that celebratory phrase, ‘this is the life!’
Many times over.
Who’s with me?!
I can reach people, see places and do things beyond my physical ability. On the days when it’s hard to get out of the car and walk into a coffee shop, I e-mail or text my friends and family. Mondays are the weekly reminder to myself and my readers that I am a writer. The rest of the week, I create, control and rescue fictional people. While my life is uncertain, in this make-believe world, I can make all things good. If happy endings are nearly impossible in real life, I will fight to make them happen in my books. That may well mean critics would pass them off as sentimental and twee, but I will never apologise for that.
The book I’m working on right now (I’m on draft 3 so nearly there!) handles a collection of ‘hopeless’ cases. There’s domestic abuse, a disabled vicar, fatherless children, runaway mothers, dysfunctional families, homelessness. Happiness is hard to find. But don’t despair, it’s there…
The thing that holds them all together is a run-down church called St Anthony’s. I chose St Anthony because he is the patron saint of lost things. The story is a twists and turns, highs and lows treasure hunt as we watch the characters search for all that they have lost, forgotten or never knew existed. Some of the people in the story are people I knew back in my past, but most of them I have put there so that I can reach out and help them. I will never be able to stand and serve soup in a soup kitchen, so I make sure my homeless man gets fed. I will never have the energy to help out at kids’ clubs, so I bring my fictional boys to one.
I don’t like being unable to fix things in real life, but I can do my darndest through my writing.
Right now, that’s all I have to give.
Maybe it’s just me, but most of the time I operate on a ‘need to know’ basis. I skim, never study, articles about MS, I do terrible checks on my children for head lice, I look beneath the cobwebs in the corners of my living room. If I don’t see it, then it’s not there.
Last week, my husband rescued a little hedgehog from our dog and put it in a cardboard box in the garage, leaving it to me to care for when he left for work. Well. For the morning, I put some water and food down, and checked it was still there from time to time. As the day went on, I tiptoed closer and closer. Eventually, I made up a hot water bottle to put beneath it. I still couldn’t tell if it was even alive. It took my daughter to lean close enough to confirm it was still breathing. A man from the USPCA came and took it away. That was four days ago. True to form, I haven’t phoned to see if it’s ok, because I’d rather believe it’s alive, than hear it didn’t survive.
Ignorance can be so disempowering. Yes, knowledge can terrify you, but it also gives you the tools to help others, and yourself. Like the hot water bottle. If I hadn’t got close enough to find out, I would have believed the hedgehog was dead. If I hadn’t read more, I would never have known that they are working flat out to find a cure for this disease I’ve got. The thing is, whether you hide your eyes or look straight at the facts, life will happen one way or another.
It took a bit of courage to lift my hedgehog up, but if I hadn’t warmed it, it may well have died. Which leads me to a more universal problem. We simply cannot keep telling ourselves that the crisis of our dying planet will go away. It is time to take our hands away, and face up to this horrible truth. Maybe we can still change channels or look away from the car engines pumping fumes into the atmosphere. Maybe we can say “Oh, it’s Christmas” as we pile sequinned clothes and plastic gifts into our single-use shopping bags. Maybe we can hide our faces and block our ears as more and more animals move over to the list of endangered species. Maybe ignorance will protect us.
But it won’t, will it.
“‘I don’t feel very much like Pooh today,’ said Pooh.
‘There, there,’ said Piglet. ‘I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.’” —Winnie-the-Pooh
Do you ever have times where you’ve lost any sense of who you are, or what you’re supposed to do?
Continue reading “Feeling like yourself.”