4th February 2019
My dearest Bink
I’ve started a letter to you several times over the last few weeks, but have so much to say that other people’s demands have taken over, each time, long before I finished.
And now, again, I’ve thought a great deal about all you said last night, as well as on previous occasions, and again there are so many issues I’d like to talk to you about that I’ve decided to pick just one. Maybe I’ll write you another letter about the next one... and so on.
The first thing I want to say is, Sorry.
There seems to be an aspect of my approach to life – because I don’t accept things that aren’t what I consider the best they could be – which is unhelpful to you. Because it means I don’t accept your being ill. And that makes you feel I don’t accept you. So the first thing I want to do is apologise, if this has been hurtful for you. Please forgive me. If you can.
Of course, I immediately wondered whether I could change. But I’m not sure I would want to even if I could, so instead let me try to explain my attitude. It’s not unique to you, specifically: you know this. I have the same approach to everyone and everything.
Basically, my interpretation of the first three chapters of Genesis is that God created us good and well and to live for ever, and this is our natural state. Anything less is not how He made us to be. And therefore not our natural, true, real selves.
Consider the pronouncement that, as a result of the Fall, man will rule over woman. (Or that there will be pain in childbirth, or work will be tough and frustrating, or any aspect you like.) There have been plenty of (male!) theologians who have argued that God is decreeing this superiority of men over women, rather than simply describing it. (And plenty of women I know who have gone along with this.) This is how we’re supposed to be: men ruling the world.
I don’t accept this: not at all. Everywhere around me I see men (still, even now) having the upper hand: the privileges; the advantages; that so-fruitful freedom to focus, undistracted by cares and multitasking. The effect of superior strength in a fallen world. I see this bias as something to challenge and overcome, because it is not the original, egalitarian and co-operative way we were created to be.
Similarly, this is my attitude to your illness, just as it would be to my own.
I’m really sorry if, in some ways, it’s unhelpful... but I’ll come on to that.
So I fight things which aren’t as I’d like them to be, or believe to be the best they should or could be.
Take our time in Oxfordshire. The church (eventually) housed us in a cottage far too small for us and miles from anywhere.
I was well aware at the time that many people would have put up with this. Many godly vicars’ wives would have seen this as God’s provision and embraced it, to support their husbands. I was realised such an approach almost certainly would have led to an easier, and happier in the short term, life for everybody. (Possibly even for her, if she were genuinely reconciled to it.)
I can’t and don’t do this: put up with second best. All the time we were living in that pretty little village in that pretty little cottage, I was chafing and struggling and wanting something better. So I was living with a deep dissatisfaction, rumbling under all the joy and friendship and happiness we managed to scrape together there, all the time... until eventually I changed our future.
Or take my inability to write a novel for twenty years. There was part of me, for all those years, utterly miserable at my failure. I often wondered whether I should just give up being a novelist and content myself with cooking or something... Wouldn’t that be easier? But I knew I would always be disappointed in myself if I did.
And now, because I wouldn’t and couldn’t give up, I have another novel on my bookshelves.
I can quite see that this may not be comfortable to live with. And I’m very sorry if it makes you feel rejected. Really, very sorry indeed.
On the other hand...
Many people have said, one way or another, that no one else would have got you to where you are now. Other parents, mothers even, might have felt obliged to accept things as they were, because getting anything better for you – any help at all – was so completely and utterly impossible.
I couldn’t tolerate this: the idea of your being ill for the rest of your life – or even the prime of your life (do you remember that lovely, ineffectual Irish shrink who said these things often resolve themselves in midlife?) – so I strove and strove and strove until I found a better way for you: a programme of treatment.
Simon Scantlebury likes to quote my “Impossibles” as he calls them. Impossible things he says I have achieved, which he shows to his clients. He had a list of twenty-one at the last count: things I had been told I couldn’t do, or Shaun couldn’t do, or no one could do. That other people considered impossible.
The impossible I am most proud of is getting you into the Priory. That seems the most impossible, to me. I scarcely even believed it possible myself. I just had to try. Because it was even more impossible to give up and accept the idea of your being ill for the rest of your life.
I’m nearly at the end of the page and that’s enough for one letter. Please believe that I accept you. I love you and always will: ill or well. I just don’t accept your illness as being the true and real and best you for you to be. Hope this makes sense.
Love you, always,