What I mean by spirituality is perhaps more of a coming to consciousness. And to quote the often quoted Jung quote, ‘Enlightenment isn’t about imagining figures of light, it’s about making the darkness conscious.’ Which means it isn’t always the bliss moments; it’s also a sudden awareness of horror, sadness, personal mistakes, regrets, pain, times when we accidentally caused pain to loved ones, and so on.
Becoming suddenly sensitive- the pitchfork photograph jumped out from the newspaper, me suddenly seeing gardening as an act of violence, tearing up the habitat of all the tiny animals and insects. (I am a big fan of No Mow May, Let it Bloom June, and just letting gardens go wild so that they become filled with the sound of insects, rather than the silence of a perfect lawn. Worse still, Astroturf, which kills everything beneath it.)
Reflections that make us better, or intend to be better, e.g. realising that I dragged my husband out on a walk with me even though he had sore feet and we should have just gone back.
This awareness also includes moments out of nowhere of total spiritual resonance, listening to Park Life by Blur and understanding it in a completely new way, not just a laddish story of drinking in the park, as I used to think of it, but of how a moment of mindfulness, in this case, feeding the pigeons, can stay with you and sustain you all day; which was actually something I had been thinking about only days before. Another 90s/00s anthem: ‘Once you know where you’re going, you can lay back and enjoy the ride, soak in the sights and drowning the senses…’ also resonated strongly.
In a flush of oversharing I had given two people books at Christmas, including my very personal spiritual memoir, and then later regretted it when it was returned only partially read. So I was really unsure when I felt like giving out books at work again, this time my travel memoir. I had told K about it, he had said he’d like to read it, and I know he’s interested in writing. And I’d had a big chat with F re travelling and she’d seemed interested. But still. I waited until almost my last day. I had to go and find K, make a real effort, ask him to bring his bag so he could put it straight in to take home. He said, ‘I have something for you too. It came into my head to give it to you but then I thought it was too mad and I wasn’t going to give it to you, but when you said you had something for me I thought, ‘’I have to now, that’s fate.’’ It was a perfectly good phone, Android like I am used to, in a case, with a charger. Mine had died just a couple of days before.
Elon Musk said when he was six people thought he was mad. He loved Sci Fi. He thought, What am I going to do with my life, for it to have meaning? Try and go to Mars. To have the self belief and determination to follow such an outlandish path having come from such a freakish base- being thought mad at six years old. Please let us not get stuck on Elon Musk, I know some people may not like him. It’s not about him and what he’s doing, it’s more about how can we do that within our own lives.
I was teased at school, felt like an outsider, an outcast at times. Can I go from that to believing that I can do something completely unique to me and in total accordance with my own values, in alignment with my own interests and talents?
Is it a quest, that we drop down into this world, everything set up for conformity right from the first days at school, peers, teachers. Creative thinking not encouraged, no real philosophical tuition. Teased, put down, alienated. But if you can rise above that, dare to be different, survive and then decide to do something totally mind blowing and say it with absolute confidence and work all day and all night to make it happen. Well maybe the reward for that is to see it. I want to go to Mars.
That sense of being in the present moment, of being on a different path, feeling my way along a totally different path, Journey to the East. At times at work I felt alienated like I did at school. But towards the end, when I really felt like myself, when I had done a workshop and made my plans to leave and do this independently, when I felt fantastic and full of confidence, they liked me just as much. More, really. Encouragement from all sides. Lovely words at my leaving do. A spiritual gift.
The reward of nothingness, as I’ve called it before; The realisation that we are all doing our best or at least we are all navigating life in the only way we feel able to. You do the best you can with the information and abilities you have at the time. Okay so some people don’t do their best, they just do. Then again, who amongst us really does our best, every day, every hour?
Accepting that we’re just like everybody else. Which goes against the human urge to separate and judge. And as well as all that, to realise that not every problem can be solved. As I saw on Instagram the other day, ‘If you can’t seem to solve it, maybe it’s not a problem to be solved but just something to be accepted.’ Again, this goes against human nature to overcome and master problems rather than simply accept them. But trying to accept something you can’t fix does feel like work, is work.
So we come face to face with these facts. The realisation that the work, the place to get to, isn’t a place at all but a realisation: That what you do each day is the thing, the task and the lesson. It’s both much better and much worse than you hoped. What you do is very important as well as not important at all. How you respond is the lesson. Stepping outside of the day to day to see things as they are, and then going back in. The emptiness at the end of the road.
Life imitating art, or at least the news; there’d been a story on the BBC about how a discarded carrier bag with a photo of a lion on it had caused panic about a lion. Then John came into the spare room where we were sleeping and saw this koala bag and thought for a split second it was his mum’s dog on the bed.
My fleecy zip breaking, at the same time my mum giving me a fleecy a friend had passed onto her, that is just right, better, even, as it is big and baggy, and now that we no longer have cats it’s no problem having a black fleecy.
And, Aldi car park gets very busy. I was prepared to go out again and park on the road and manage the shopping somehow. I knew I wouldn’t want to reverse into a difficult space. And then there right in front of me was an easy space, easy to drive straight into and get out of. I didn’t visualise or even hope for it, yet it still happened. ‘I want what I need,’ as Robert from Switzerland (a remarkable person we met in India) said, re conjuring up things he needed.
We have moved back to Northamptonshire. I am setting up relaxation/wellbeing classes.
Whenthings fall apart, is a book by Pema Chodron, Buddhist Nun and teacher of meditation. She has the best book titles, another is The wisdom of no escape. I read her in Varanasi, India when a sadhu told me to ‘Pick a guru’ *realising this could sound rather pretentious* anyway, back to the everyday present:
I had two weeks leave from work, unfortunately I had a bad cold which began in my last days at work and finished the weekend before I returned. It did make me slow down though, and that was a good thing. I binge watched Succession Seasons One and Two, and rested.
I went to Norfolk for health checks- blood tests and a consultation with the GP, having put this off for months, while worrying almost 24/7, and everything came back clear. I saw a couple of friends and did some Christmas shopping.
I returned to work to find three members of staff were leaving: my manager who interviewed and recruited me; one of my favourite people; and a new member of staff who had barely started.
And just like that, it seemed, work fell apart. Everyone got stressed, moany, demanding, and less likeable. (I include myself in this too, as despite my high ideals, I am not Buddha)
The foundation and the heart seemed to have vanished. An alternative job appeared in my inbox and I applied; chatting to the agency on the phone in the garden at work feeling like the beginning of an affair. (I didn’t get it)
I know, I know, I always know, that all I have to do is stay steady in the face of upheaval and things will settle. In fact I didn’t stay steady and things did settle.
A member of staff who had been off for weeks suddenly reappeared as good as new, like a good omen. Them, me and the favourite member of staff who is leaving shared some laughter and an emotional moment, eyes filing with tears. My manager’s replacement has been appointed.
I have at last started to become fully reacquainted with swimming, going regularly, building my strength and experiencing occasional moments of flow when the stroke really comes together. I’ve also been doing yoga at home.
After stagnating a bit (or as I call it, having a fallow period) due to both having long lasting colds, we have set new goals to switch off Netflix and talk about a topic at least some evenings. Last night we spent a happy evening on travel plans, excited by India and then Cambodia lifting tourist restrictions.
At work we have begun saying goodbyes to the dear member of staff; she has requested we all write her letters! Maybe this is what this will be?!
What I’ve really enjoyed about knowing you is our meaningful chats about spirituality. I’ve really benefitted from the company of someone who is religious. I have found it inspiring and enriching to hear your stories and to talk about your perspectives on mental health, which includes your own personal family experiences which you have been kind enough to share; about Islamic perspectives on mental health and the challenges faced by ethnic minorities in a predominantly white-European-centric system.
For example, I appreciated you telling me about the non-colour-blind mental health services assessment, which specifically asks questions about individual’s experiences of racism. I have found these conversations enriching and educational.
But I’ve also just really enjoyed being around someone who has such strong values, such a strong personal spirituality, and someone who continually reflects and tries to be a better person each day.
You have lit up the team. The staff love you, the patients love you. I always said when we did our groups we didn’t really even need to plan an activity (although you always did bring such lovely, beautifully presented and thoughtful activities for the patients), because they would have been happy just to see you.
I will miss you, it won’t be the same without you. If you want to meet for coffee on a Saturday sometime I would like that very much.
The Verse of Light (Arabic: آیة النور, romanized: āyat an-nūr) is the 35th verse of the 24th surah of the Quran (Q24:35).
Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.
The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp,
The lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a pearly [white] star,
Lit from [the oil of] a blessed olive tree,
Neither of the east nor of the west,
Whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire.
Light upon light.
Allah guides to His light whom He wills.
And Allah presents examples for the people,
and Allah is Knowing of all things.
— Translation by Sahih International Wikipedia
Thank you very much for visiting
Since August I’ve been keeping a stream of consciousness document going, some of which gets loosely edited into blog posts. Along the way I make a note of spin off ideas to come back to in the editing. It’s part work memoir, part meditation on boat life, and life in general. Working title Triangles are the strongest shape
My memoir of a year of travel in India and Southeast Asia- I fell in love with you and I cried– is complete and will be published sometime next year
Modern conveniences Things you take for granted in a house, electricity, water, sewerage… At some point we will go back to living in a house, and oh how I will appreciate running water that never runs out, a rubbish collection, a flushing toilet, a washing machine, electricity… Currently the invertor has broken, new one on its way, which means no laptop, no electric toothbrush, only things which can be charged on USB. Doctors Collecting prescriptions, blood tests, screenings, hospital appointments, X rays… All are a three hour drive away. I follow narrowboat femmes on Instagram, they recently did a reminder to get cervical screening done, as many boaters miss out on healthcare. However our doctors surgery is linked to a good and familiar hospital. The alternative would be registering as visitors locally. The physical hard work John does all this, carrying logs from the car, shopping, gas bottles (occasionally), opening locks. Moving the boat every two weeks Going out to scout out where to moor up and where to park the car on a Friday evening after a hard week at work, driving both cars there and one back. Getting up and moving on Saturday morning even if it’s raining and you’d rather stay in bed. Last weekend we moved the cars at 10pm Friday, and then at 8am John woke me up with a cup of tea and got going. I took a bit longer, finding my thermals and gloves, and joined him at the first lock. John had filled the water and turned the boat around while I was at work, to save time on Saturday. John has done most of the moves by himself, so when I do drive the boat again it takes me a little while to get my eye in. After my first lock I was okay again. At the third lock a man came down, shouting at John. We hadn’t noticed that someone had left one of the paddles slightly open, meaning water was running out of the lock: so that was why it was taking a long time to fill, me jogging on the spot to warm up in spite of my many layers. I was a bit worried about John and the stranger arguing, two men with windlasses in their hands; I do have a vivid imagination. As I came out of the lock I steered well clear of the angry man and his boat, but he beckoned me to the middle, it was shallow at the edges, he said, and he apologised to John for getting angry. Then we were there, past a sweeping bend, a little row of boats and just green all around. Beside the towpath a huge log with intricate silvery-brown ivy. Right near the bridge and the road, (our last mooring was quite a walk to the car) and a proper non-muddy towpath. I hadn’t wanted to get out of bed but getting up, getting going and being out in the elements, seeing nature, water, and just getting on with it, even though I didn’t have to do that much, was actually very soothing after a busy week. Space ‘Sometimes I long to stretch my arms up above my head,’ John said. I can only do The Tree yoga pose with arms curled not pointed. Some friends recently moved from a van in a field, into a house in Norwich. It was so amazing to be in all that space; two rooms downstairs, spacious bedrooms, big pieces of furniture, and best of all, big, big wardrobes! I miss being able to see all my clothes at once. Between us we have three large-medium drawers, and a canvas small-medium wardrobe. And a bag of clothes in the boot of the car, from which I remembered to fetch my thermal trousers the evening before the move. There are people who have boats which are neat as a pin, with everything put away in lots of clever cupboards. We are on the messy side but in our defence there isn’t a lot of cupboard space and 48 foot or 14 metres for two people living aboard full time isn’t that big. When it’s a mess it does irritate, but it doesn’t take long to sort out. Simplicity/personal growth/spiritual wellbeing Always being close to nature, the swans, ducks and moorhens, the sound of the rain on the roof, very loud on the metal, alongside gratitude for there being no leaks. Living in such a small space, with so little, when most people have so much and think they need so much, ‘You realise how little you need to be happy,’ John said. Whatever happens in the future, I feel that this is a lesson which will remain with us.
*I’ve been listening to Placebo on repeat, the Meds album, another charity shop find of John’s.
So we completed #NoSextember successfully. I told all my work colleagues about giving up sugar and caffeine, and actually told a couple of them about the no sex aspect. It’s the most open and natural place I’ve worked, emotional and expressive. People regularly say ‘I love you’ to me and to the whole team. Eyes fill with tears of empathy when someone shares a sad story. Hugs are freely given. It’s a strange and wonderful work office, hence I felt able to share.
One person said, ‘In all the religions there is fasting. And by stripping away all these things, you begin to find out who you are. Who am I without my morning coffee, who am I without this show on Netflix I always watch?’
For me, always an outsider, to have some of the individual/unusual things I do, be understood… well it is very gratifying.
So without caffeine in the morning or during the day, you find out how you really feel, and if you are tired, if you need to go to bed earlier. I was in bed by ten, sometimes half past nine. Also without morning caffeine and guarana (natural caffeine) my anxiety was much better.
On occasion I actually felt as if I could just get up and go to work, without the usual worrying and fretting and wandering maze of thoughts and mini existential crises that accompany my mornings. Also my OCD was better; one day I even left a light on! (a sin on a boat)
I’d already experienced a biscuit sugar spike and crash; this month I experienced one from eating white bread. Avoiding sugar in sweet snacks increased my sensitivity to it in bread. It made me think how many people are lurching from sugar spike to sugar crash, exhaustion to caffeine buzz, all day, every day, without even noticing.
So it was nice to notice awareness increasing, which after all is the primary purpose of all this, not (only) a health thing per se.
We’ve been living the life of continuous cruisers, moving every two weeks. We said goodbye to the swans of Kings Langley, my first swan friends since my dearly beloved in Northamptonshire. The Kings Langley swans were very pushy, not only tapping to get us to come out like swans do, but continuing to tap on the boat with their beaks while I was right there! At the next place the swans were different, younger (paler beaks) not as forceful.
There were birds I had never seen before, like a cross between a moorhen and a mallard, black with blue and red, matching the big rusty boat opposite. Each evening a woman in the house nearby fed a group of almost-grown goslings, again a variety I had never seen before, a milky orange colour, whilst mum, hardly any bigger than them, watched from atop the rusty boat. ‘I love it here,’ I said. ‘You say that every place,’ John said.
The boat next door had a giant cactus or aloe vera plant outside the back door. One day they were gone. ‘We never even got to meet them,’ I said. ‘That’s the way it is,’ John said.
I’ve started swimming again, three times a week, primarily for the showers before and afterwards but also hopefully the beginning of a long road back to some kind of physical fitness, that like many seekers, I have neglected on the spiritual path.
I fill up a 2 litre bottle of drinking water at work and bring it home each evening. John fills up the 5 litre bottles either at work or right now at the water point which is not too far away, and we put it through the freestanding water filter just to be sure. Soon we will pass the water point and fill the tank up.
Electricity has been manageable; John bought a little USB smoothie maker- the USB chargers are a different circuit and so far always work, as do the lights. The Nutribullet- which has to go into the normal plugs on a different circuit- runs out after a while, and the hairdryer is a complete dead loss. I give it a blast at the swimming pool but the only time I have shiny silky properly dried hair is once a month when we stay at John’s mum’s.
Getting rid of rubbish in public bins discreetly is another challenge…
For photos and more follow me on Instagram always_evolving_ever_real
I think I accidentally triggered her by what I said, just assuming she was a doctor so with the programme, I mean we were still just about at work.
The first time I gave her a lift she was out the gate about to walk, she put on a mask. I hadn’t car shared in Covid so it hadn’t immediately occurred to me, I put one on too and opened the windows.
The second time I’d offered in the morning, I’d said I might be late leaving but wasn’t, and waited for her, even searched her out. She had a sick child, one that had come in almost dead, from home. This time I put on my mask straight away, but said if she needed to take hers off to talk- she was handing over to the weekend doctor- I was ok with that. I’d been tested that morning, I said, her still seeming like a regular doctor.
‘They’re optional in America,’ she said. I said, ‘Oh yes, it’s crazy, what’s happening in Alberta,’ telling her something I’d seen on Instagram about a child at school, his parents sick at home with Covid, the teachers powerless to send him home, him at school potentially infecting everyone, no one wearing masks.
‘There’s no evidence of transmission if not symptomatic,’ she said. No warning bells yet. Me saying, ‘Oh is that why the doctors are not wearing masks?’ The locum doctor had stopped wearing a mask, following Boris’s advice to the public rather than the NHS and our employer’s rules.
‘How much medical knowledge do you have?’ she asked. There was a pause. ‘Well, I’ve done anatomy, physiology. Bones, muscles. A bit rusty…’
And then it began, ‘Research..’ ‘You can read it, I can show you.’ A big, pressured speech, no attention paid to me, to the fact that I’m driving or to what I may think.
I’m concentrating on driving, eyes on the road; as John always says, never look at the person who’s talking to you, it’s dangerous. We stop at the drop off point at the station, it’s busy, I want to go. Plus I want to go home, it’s Friday; I waited for her at work. She’s still talking. Eventually she starts to get out. ‘I don’t know what the company view is so don’t mention this,’ she said. ‘They promote getting the vaccine, that’s their view,’ I said. ‘It’s ok, I won’t say anything, I have friends with different views,’ I said, pacifying her, but giving her my word at the same time.
Although I was tempted several times, I haven’t told anyone at work. I briefly wondered, what if she’s Harold Shipman crazy, but I’m sure she’s alright, it’s a special confined madness, this Covid thing. At last, as she exited the car, after blasting me from inches away, eyes staring, ranting and raving with no mask, she finally thought to ask- a little late, I thought- ‘Are you vaccinated?’ ‘Yes, I said.’ She looked, a little horrified, a little disgusted. ‘Well take care!’ she said loudly, as if I had just told her I had leprosy, and hit the roof of the car as she left.
Well that was weird, I thought to myself.
I mean I can be flexible according to who I’m with. But I choose consciously; friends, family. I’ve been to an illegal gig, I’ve visited during lockdown, I’ve hugged people before we were vaccinated, but it’s the thoughtlessness, like someone in a religious fervour espousing their religion without thought to check my religion first.
I mean not that it is a religion for me, but once you’re vaccinated you can’t do anything. That’s what people don’t get, why tell me now, I mean I don’t care; their horror-filled world of doom isn’t the world I inhabit, but nor do I want to be dragged down or involved.
She didn’t say anything specific or scary and seemed so crazy that it was that which took all my attention. The vibe was the opposite of calm.
Admittedly it did scare me when my friend told me, when John and I had both just had ours right at the start- we were early being health care workers- that it’s going to do x. John said, ‘Tell me what she said,’ I said, ‘No, it’s scary.’ He said, ‘Tell me, so that we can bear it together.’ That’s how much he loves me.
John has a friend who is always sending him stuff to read. Why would I want to read stuff like that when I’ve been vaccinated? John told him. It’s the same as when I was pregnant, I had a book about it but I didn’t read the chapter on complications.
John’s friend still eats animals because he likes the taste, and kids himself that they can be killed in their sleep without them even noticing. Not hurting animals is really important to us yet we never bombard him with vegan stuff.
We avoid going down cul de sacs, or if we go down them, we don’t stay there long. We keep moving. We hold it all, the BBC news, the hospitals, the friends and family with Covid, long Covid, the people who have died, the people scared of Covid, the people scared of vaccines, the conspiracy theories, all of it, and make our own calm course through it. That’s the work, for us, spirituality speaking. We got vaccinated because it felt okay to do so. We work in healthcare so it’s going with the flow. We like to travel so it’s aiding that. We work on intuition.
It’s like the fact that we don’t have a religion to fall back on, it would be comforting, I’m sure, to have a certainly held belief to hold fast to, but we don’t. We make up rituals, meditations, purification months. We oscillate between philosophies. It’s not about holding onto a position, it’s the seeing past it, observing it all, navigating our own made up course through it all.
We find ourselves serendipitously in probably the best place from which to embark on this year’s cleansing month. We’ve already both given up alcohol, cigarettes and all other things in that realm. Our last hurrah was the end of May Bank Holiday; June, July and August have been completely straight edge.
After recent excesses- letting myself eat loads of the new vegan Jammie Dodgers (the ones in the dark red packaging) on my last day at work before my current holiday, experiencing a sugar rush crackle and a blood sugar crash; John’s birthday ice cream (Ben and Jerry’s cookie on cookie dough vegan) and the associated sick feeling of indigestion, and cakes, I’m really ready to give up sugar.
So for me, sugar and caffeine. It helps me not to eat between meals or get hungry during the day to take a guarana in the morning, but it brings on feelings of anxiety which I could really do without. At work, drink water or a nice herbal tea- bring some, add to the shopping list. If I get hungry, so what, I can take snacks and use it to top up on nutrients- peanuts, avocados, as well as my usual oat cakes and bananas.
The younger me would be horrified, and it still pains me a little to admit it, but giving up sex for a month is easier the older we are. With aging has come aches and pains and reduced fitness and energy as well as a subtle shift in libido. Or maybe not so subtle, I used to be a wild animal. The other day John was laying on the bed and I came though to ask or bring or get something and just held onto his feet, I could have held them forever, a kind of massage, holding, reflexology, it was really intimate and special. Sometimes I feel like just laying top to toe and holding each others feet is pure heaven. The menopause- I guess it’s that, so many symptoms, how do I know what’s what- has brought extra sensitivity so that discomfort is easily triggered, wearing tight knickers or trousers let alone sex. The mind or libido is willing but the body is often not so easy, not so comfortable.
John has recently got seriously back into meditation and tuning into his shamanistic energies. I’ve been doing some of the same guided meditations although not to the same extent. Hopefully we will do a ritual once a week, a circle or a four corners meditation.
As per last year, as much as we can, no processed food and cook from scratch.
How can we help others if we can’t do it ourselves: talk about or at least accept sex, aging; work together successfully, complete what we set out to do, eat well, overcome addictions, meditate, etc.
Already I’m changing, today I went into a cafe by myself and had coffee, diet coke and jam on toast (another last hurrah that I still feel sick from hours later), paid for on my phone. I went out with just my smartphone and a fabric mask both tucked inside my bra, and a bag of recycling to get rid of. Two people asked me for directions, which I take as a sign that I am going in the right direction.
I saw a lovely post on Instagram by one of my favourite bloggers about her relationship with her mother. In spite of very real failings and difficulties, she acknowledged that she is loved. She also said that she knew her mother had a very difficult life; and that Millennials and Gen Zers have a reputation for being ungrateful. The night before I had yet again, been processing my own difficulties re my son. I had begun to feel an acceptance that things will never change, that he won’t ever realise the effect his words have on me, or move towards a more balanced understanding that acknowledges the present and the past, the parent’s experience as well as the child’s. So that Instagram post really hit the spot. At the time I just dropped a few hearts in the comments; this is my longer response:
I love and respect the unique challenges and skills which each generation typically has, the Silent Generation, The Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials (Gen Y), and Gen Z. I enjoy reading about the characteristics, differences and culture wars between e.g. Millennials and Gen Z- side partings and skinny jeans beloved by Millennials and hated by Gen Z, Millennials fighting back when Gen Zers tried to cancel Eminem. I am Gen X, my husband is (just) a Baby Boomer, my son is a Millennial, my step son is an old Gen Z or a young Millennial and my step daughter is Gen Z.
I recognise the pain of the Gen X and Baby Boomer parents who are accused by their kids of being bad parents responsible for all their kids’ problems and who respond by calling them ungrateful. But I don’t think it’s helpful to fight across the generations, and I hope that in time there’ll be more of a discussion. (Please note I am not talking about wilful abuse and neglect of children here, I’m talking about loving parents who did their best with the knowledge and resources they had at the time) I spend a lot of time on Instagram and there’s two memes I see regularly:
1. ‘My parents when I try to tell them that my mental illness may have been caused by my childhood,’ (hand pushing away, not listening) This hurts my feelings because the meme maker/main character has no thought at all to the effect of their words on the parent. As I have experienced, there is no deeper pain than being blamed for your child’s problems. Maybe that pain was intended and revenge was justified in this case, but once it’s made and circulated then it potentially loses its specificity and specific target. Parents put their hands up in ‘stop’ because they aren’t strong enough to bear it. Do we all ultimately want to punish our parents into the same devastating pit of despair which we ourselves feel and blame them for? Maybe. But ultimately holding onto blame, pain and anger tends to prevent healing and growth.
2. ‘You don’t remember? Oh right, my childhood abuse was to you just a f***ing Tuesday!’ The second meme bothers me for different reasons. A very close friend of mine was repeatedly raped by a family friend from the age of seven. Her abuser knew what he was doing and would never have forgotten. So we can’t be talking about abuse like that, we’re talking about other things, things parents do that they may or may not know are harming their child.
I have an example of this. John’s ex, P, the mother of his children, invited her mother round to stay. During this time P confronted her about things her father had done when she was a child- he had locked her in a trunk (a blanket box or ottoman, not the boot of a car, for non UK readers) he had made out it was a game, but it wasn’t a game to P. P confronted her mother, herself a victim of what might be called coercive control today, emotional and physical abuse by the father/her husband, an angry, controlling man, about why she had stood by. More than twenty years later, John still remembers sound of the mother howling like an animal from upstairs. He didn’t but he said he wanted to wrap his arms around her; the mother’s howls years of suppressed guilt, or the sudden realisation of an unbearable truth.
I love memes. I’m fascinated by them. I love the way that, like graphic novels, the image and the words together become something so much more that strikes right into the heart in a super fast and very direct way, as well as being extremely specific (the man who forgot to add cow’s milk into Oreos being praised by vegans is a favourite of mine)
I think the reason that I, and other parents of Millennials and Gen Zers get upset by things like this is two fold. One, we didn’t have any memes. We had no social media. We didn’t have a powerful way to share our experience across the generations and the world. No one heard us. No one listened to us. No one asked us. We were left outside pubs or to sleep in cars when our parents went for a drink or to parties. Parents moved house or made big decisions and wouldn’t have dreamt of asking our opinion. My mum had a whole procession of male lodgers who she allowed to take me and my sister for drives or babysit us.
John’s mum was a lot more savvy re sexual predators, but took him across the English Channel in a small boat with no life jacket in a storm, on the whim of her tax evading boyfriend. To this day she is devastated, and if it’s brought up now she will be moved to tears, ‘I can’t believe I put you in danger.’ But mostly she won’t speak about it. The Silent Generation. Her own mother, she believes, died because her husband refused to buy her a washing machine, literally worked to death. My grandmother told me about wash day and boiling water in the copper, hands red raw.
The second reason that my generation gets triggered by these memes is, we tried. We read books, we were self aware, or thought we were. We knew we wanted to do it differently. Just like my mum when she raised me in a more liberal, hippy way than she had been raised.
My mother never mentions the lodgers, but I know she feels bad about the fact that we spent our childhood thinking we were going to be vaporised or die of radiation sickness, we lived in East Anglia, near the American Airbases with their nuclear Cruise missiles, and we were enlightened about the nuclear threat and very involved in CND. I never minded about that, but I suppose it’s the same as environmentally aware parents today (e.g. the guy from Extinction Rebellion saying six billion are going to die)
But the trauma and the mistakes and the love flows back and forth across the generations. Perhaps the only way forward is to accept it all and keep on living, in the present and in the future.