My mother was probably the happiest – as well as most loving, contented and appreciative – person I’ve ever known.
One of her most memorable pieces of advice to me, frequently repeated, was: never regret the past.
She would demonstrate the wisdom of this by pointing me to someone else’s life, soured and twisted by such self-flagellation: dragging out how it might have been; dwelling on paths mistook; deliberating about how much better everything could be now.
If only. If only. If only...
The fact that my mother urged this on me tells me it could be a weakness of mine. And the fact that she urged it on me tells me it doesn’t have to be.
It a temptation I suffer from. And it is one I can resist.
Thus, my mother still guides me, from her dear patch of sodden, cold grass, scampered on by squirrels and nestling in the quietude ignored by the roaring traffic passing by, now sadly locked against tramps and the homeless. Where she waits for my father, in the Garden of Rest in our parish church.
I often notice tendencies which Bink and I share. We are in some ways very similar, she and I.
My mother is guiding her, too.
Bink had a childhood full of astonishing promise. An adolescence of breathtaking pain. And a first decade’s adulthood of desperate, yowling breakdown: estrangement; mutism; abuse; ambulances and sirens... Her situation exacerbated by factors which could simply have been caused by utter hopelessness but could equally cruelly masquerade as choices which she took.
Where is all that promise which sparkled through Bink’s childhood? What might we, and she, have reasonably expected her to achieve by the age of thirty?
Andy Murray is younger than Bink is...
I remember wonderful, eccentric friends of my mothers, hilarious sisters, one at Girton with her. We were staying with them as a family.
“Just think darling,” said one of them, self-deprecatingly. “Mrs Thatcher is younger than we are...”
It doesn’t do to compare.
On Friday Shaun and I went to the Priory for a meeting to discuss Bink’s future. Still very ill. No discernible plans. Not even any obvious course of treatment.
Bink herself was quiet and subdued.
I’m not surprised, Serena said.
No, neither am I.
If I had lost all my adolescence and young adulthood, I would be quiet and subdued. When not howling with horror at what I had lost.
If only I hadn’t gone to so-and-so’s house for my books.
If only I hadn’t taken the path below the cliffs not the path above, and met such-and-such, who persuaded me to go back.
If only I hadn’t been so desperate to get off the meds...
When asked what she wants for herself (when she doesn’t say, “To die,”) Bink mostly says, softly, I don’t know.
It doesn’t do to look back.
A close friend sent me this recently.
Not great poetry, she admitted; but it does the job:
New Every Morning
Every day is a fresh beginning
Listen my soul to the glad refrain
And spite of old sorrows and older sinning
And possible pain,
Take heart with the day and begin again.
Susan Coolidge 1905
It is a new morning, Bink.
Please. Be kind to yourself. Don’t look back and be sad. Look forward and be glad.
(Above is a picture of my cat – or possibly a cushion someone abandoned on my bed. Her name is Sophie Afternoon. When I’ve got a moment, I’m going to change it to Artemis. Serena always said her name should be Artemis, and Serena is usually right.
I just can’t quite remember how a cat changes her name.
Her relevance to today’s post? I can’t quite remember that, either.
Perhaps it is her attitude to tragedy. She is quite philosophical in her approach, as you see. Sophie Afternoon, aka Artemis, has had three pregnancies, that we know of. She has only raised one live kitten. Her response when she lost the last one – after spending twenty-four hours looking for the fluffy little grey body I’d already disposed of, through my tears, while she was still warm – was to catch a moth. And eat it.
Oh look, and here’s my other cushion, which Serena gave me at her wedding. Aloysius. Almost as much of a workaholic as Sophie Afternoon Artemis. Here they are franetically competing as to which can be more productive...)