Friday, 22 October 2010

Seven people or things who changed my life (7) Eliza

All these posts have been about people I did not necessarily know very well, and who were not necessarily in my life for very long, but who were there at important moments or who have been part of an important change.

Eliza is my granddaughter, born in November 2007, and much longed for by me for several years before that.  She is of course a very important person in my life, but she doesn't yet know that, and she doesn't yet understand what I think about the difference she made to me.  She has curly red hair, a terrific vocabulary and an excellent memory.

Some time after the 2001 general election, in which I was re-elected Labour MP for Reading East with an increased majority, having seen off a deselection attempt in 2000, I began to think about my future.  And increasingly I began to think I did not have one.  I knew they would try again to deselect me, and I knew that if I did not have protection from the powerful they would probably succeed.  And I knew I did not have, and never would have, protection from the powerful.  Of course, having no future in politics does not mean having no future. But I really did begin to think there was no future for me.  It felt a little like it had felt in the last year or two of my first marriage, when I could see nothing ahead of me and no way out, and only - what? alcoholism? a breakdown? as prospects.  I did get out though.  One day at the end of that marriage I put on a Bob Dylan track, "Idiot Wind" from 'Blood on the Tracks', a lot of which is about the break-up of his marriage, though it didn't need to be.  The lines
"I've been double-crossed now
For the very last time
And now I'm finally free"
spoke to me as they never had before, although I had heard them at least fifty times since the album came out in 1975 (the year I got married for the first time).  And a few days later I walked out and into my future.  I don't know why those words spoke to me as they did - but if you have been double-crossed then power has been taken away from you.  Once your power has been taken away from you then there is nothing left for anyone to take.  You are free.  Free as a person with nothing is free.  To save your life you must lose it.

In 2001 significant other and I took a long-planned month-long trip to Australia.  In the weeks before the trip I begged significant other to change his mind.  Let's not go, I said.  Something bad will happen.  For weeks I woke up with a start most mornings, in a cold sweat of fear, with images fading behind my eyes of planes crashing from the sky into buildings.  I don't claim to have "the sight", though some members of my family do have something very like it.  We went to Australia, flying out of Heathrow on - you're ahead of me - September 11, 2001.  It was our wedding anniversary, and we had planned to order champagne on the plane.  But I sleep so well on planes that I was never awake enough to order any, so we had no champagne. We were glad afterwards that we didn't. We found out what had happened just before landing at Singapore.  But the dread did not go away.  I dreaded the void that was in front of me.  Sometimes it seemed as though it was physically there.  I even know what colour it was, a pale bluish-grey, streaked here and there with a sickly dark yellow.  And that was all the future I had.  Nothingness.

In 2002 we went to Mexico on holiday.  Cancun.  A concrete strip on the Caribbean.  The wet season, so rain every day and tropical storms.  But it was one of the best holidays I have ever had.  It was an all-inclusive deal, so every other day we stayed around the hotel, pecking at the buffet tables like scavenger birds and drinking at the bar and swimming in the pool, and every other day we went somewhere.  We swam in underground cenotes pools, we were fed in a Mayan village, we had a barbecue in the jungle and had things thrown at us by monkeys - and I can remember every word of several conversations significant other and I had during that holiday.  About the future.  I told him then that it might be better if I simply wasn't there any more.  If I didn't exist any more.  Because there was no point.  There was nothing ahead of me but emptiness.  I wasn't depressed.  I wasn't suicidal in the way people usually understand it.  But that was how it seemed.  He did not like it at all.

On the last night of that holiday I dreamed of a newborn baby.  It was a baby I had to save - I had to keep it warm and make it safe, and as I tried to get to the baby before it got too cold and hungry to survive I heard mocking laughter from behind me.  I woke up with the sound of that laughter in my ears, and I understood that even if there were people around me in politics who would let a baby starve to prove a point if they thought they could get away with it - and there were - human beings do not, by and large, want babies to starve.  Human beings want humanity to continue.  The continuation of one human being's life doesn't particularly matter.  The continuation of humanity does matter.  Why, is another question.  Babies will be born, grow and lead their lives, and that will be the future, I understood that morning in Mexico.  My future had been taken away from me, at least for a while, and it was only by having no future, or seeing no future, that I could understand what the future really meant.  Then I wondered for the first time if I would have a grandchild.

Not everyone has children.  Not everyone who has children has grandchildren.  But children will be born, and they make the future we cannot see.  I began then to long for my grandchild, but comfortably.  Maybe there would never be a grandchild, or I would never see a grandchild.  But the future was there, just out of sight.  Now I knew it was there.

When Eliza was born it was a gift.  It wasn't that I wanted something, a grandchild, and I got it.  I had already got my future back, even though I couldn't see it; Eliza would bring me joy for as long I had the opportunity to know her.

And so it is.


Anonymous said...

Read 'What to Look for in Winter: A Memoir in Blindness' - I have nearly finished this amazing book and 'Eliza' links in with it.

Anonymous said...

It is perverse that hardship and unjustness is often what makes a person.

Perhaps our lives these days do not allow sufficient time for contemplation so it is only with the starkness of rejection that we are forced to reassess what is important to us and what to make of our lives.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the last anonymous - and also, again point to the relevance of Candia McWilliam's book as listed above.

Unfortunately, and sadly, there are not always happy endings or resolved endings - or 'life is better than it was before I went through fire and tribulation' endings.

Becuase life isnt' like that;it should be but it just ain't. It is for some people and it would be good to feel happy for them,. But not always easy I am afraid.

Anonymous said...

Freedom just another word for nothing left to lose?

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately there is always something left to lose.
Even things you had forgotten you had and did not value until you didn't have them and therefore realised that they had been there.

To him that hath shall be given.
To him that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath.
Or in modern parlance - life just ain't fair mate. So lump it.Long time dead and all that and sooner than you think too.

jane said...

Interested in the take that commenters here have on this. This post was written in hope and optimism - but those commenting seem rather depressed - "life ain't fair" and so on - and that is not how I feel, and felt, at all. So we are not communicating veery well at all on this thread. Pity.

Anonymous said...

I suppose that optimism and seizing the future is not always possible.
Not that it isn't sometimes and not that it doesn't work sometimes but it doesn't have to. There is no guarantee at all that it will.

Hardship and unjustness is often what destroys a person.

I used to believe thast what didn't destroy you made you stronger but I don't now.
In my experience it just nibbles and erodes away -- until nothing of any value or resilience is left.

It is no good being a brave little resilient soldier if the door is shut, the key has been taken and everyone else is partying elswhere.Just a load of old cliche really.