A Window of Opportunity - Hampstead, UK
Gillian Cornwall, c. September 2015.
The one thing I know is that life is precious - fleeting and precious.
It is hard to remember that there are moments of incomparable joy and beauty in the times when we feel as though we are in competition with the biblical Job for worst life ever. We lose our job, our partner is gone, we are ill or all of the above.
How best to respect the sadness, loss and lack of well-being while maintaining the knowledge that there is beauty and there is hope where life remains?
How best to remember that in the midst of our greatest suffering, the birds still sing without hating them for it in the face of our own loss or sadness? Remember W.H. Auden's poem, Funeral Blues?
"Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come...."
Auden speaks of how the world must stop and that "...nothing now can ever come to any good."
Our loss can overshadow all the good in the world. Our heartbreak can create a pall that covers our lives in a dark emptiness. Thank heavens we have the capacity to feel our sadness so truly and completely for, if we could not, then how would we know its opposite - the euphoria of the birth of a child, falling in love, finishing a work of art and knowing it is your best or simply staring at the waves roll in from across the sea in a moment of complete contentment.
Last evening, my girlfriend and I watched some of my old 1960's home movies as my parents crossed the Atlantic for the second time to create a new life for themselves in Canada as immigrants from England. From a great distance from my childhood and a great deal of counselling later, I am able to view these with a less self-centered eye, with the understanding of an adult rather than the need and grief of a child.
While, certainly, the movie camera only came out for celebrations and epic adventures, it is fascinating to look back on one's life from the perspective of being older now that my parents were in the film we are watching and to have a greater understanding of their experience. I am able to see how many things they did for us, how many adventures they took us on, how damn lucky we were to have the resources to travel and explore, to stay at lakefront cottages and travel through Algonquin Park - not to mention, travelling back and forth to England to visit the family there.
My parents battled like wildfire and eventually divorced when I was 13, but before then and after, there were so many celebrations for us. There were birthday parties and homemade cakes, Christmas after Christmas with a sea of presents for us, trips to beautiful gardens and visits with friends and family.
I truly hope that my parents are able to see and know, from a post life place, that I understand better now, that I am grateful for all they did and that I am endlessly grateful for my life.
I am getting older. I worry sometimes about how much time I might have left and how I want to spend it. I have the luxury of considering this at all as opposed to the majority of the population of the earth who have an endless, daily focus on survival - food and shelter. I have the luxury of deciding how I wish to live and what I might want to change about myself. My entitlement lies in the luxury of living in Canada as a white woman with resources and loved ones to help me through the difficult times.
Okay, I know two things, not just one:
- Life is precious.
- Worrying won't help.
Let us stop and think of life itself - the greatest gift we could ever be given and look no further for heaven than to the beauty of another day, as the bird sings outside my window and my girlfriend tells me my tea is ready and I sit here writing to you. It is enough. It is plenty. I am grateful.
With love to every single one of you.
I dedicate this piece to my parents for the life they have given me and in the knowledge that they did their best to raise four children and give them a good life. To my mum, you were amazing. I can't believe how much you had to do and the grace with which you did it. Thank you. To my dad, thanks for taking me to all the soccer games and allowing me to be the tomboy I was. Too bad, we couldn't convince mum to let me have the drum set - I'm still sure I would have been a rock star. ;-)
-Gillian Cornwall, c. May 22, 2016
Gillian Cornwall, c. September 2015