an open letter ...
on just not giving a damn
On Friday night I lay upon my unforgiving bathroom floor, clutching the toilet bowl as tightly as a lover I had believed lost, and all the while the party raged on. (It was still early; I’d only had a drink or two, so I’m blaming my state on a dodgy prawn taco.) From time to time my guests paid me a visit, bringing water, blankets, a pillow, soft words. A long time since I’ve been that violently ill; I felt as wretched, as miserable, as I can ever remember. But even at its height, in its very depths, an unexpected edge of euphoria eased my ordeal. It was the liberation of being beyond caring, of being oblivious to the chaos and comings and goings, to any interplay or incidents. Oh occasionally, between the bilious waves, I wondered whether someone would think to put the salsa in the fridge, whether it would occur to my husband to serve the Mexican wedding cookies I had slaved over. Mostly, however, I just didn’t give a damn.
When you’re young and angsty, people will tell you that it all gets better, lessens, that when you’re older, you won’t care as much. They hold it up as some sort of major prize, that after making it out of your teens alive, martyring yourself upon the serrated blade of your 20s and not crashing and burning in your 30s, that after all that, wait for it, you’ll be rewarded with the gift of insouciance. I never took them at their word. Thought it was merely their way of consoling themselves for the rampant indignities of aging, for the sagging flesh and flagging libido. Besides, I thought, how can it even be possible? How can you spend your formative years so tortured by what everyone thinks of you, only to suddenly decide that they can like it or they can lump it, that this is it, this is who you are. To my joy, though, to my utter relief and surprise, I’m discovering it’s true. That although some will get me, dig me, some won’t, and that’s okay. It’s probably mutual.
I would describe it as a gradual dawning rather than any particular eureka moment. Possibly it’s been helped by my growing awareness of the Earth’s vulnerability. Recently Stephen Hawking has reiterated his claim that the only hope of humankind surviving decimation by climate change or an asteroid is by sending a Noah’s Ark of people, animals, plants and bacteria into space within the next 30 years to forge a new civilization. And so, if this is the case, then I guess there’s little to be gained in worrying whether I’ve somehow offended that mother at the school gate who has started avoiding my gaze or whether that acquaintance took my husband’s joke about her real estate aspirations the wrong way.
I used to think if you cared less about the small things that you must lack for compassion. Now I realise a refusal to tie yourself up in knots over the minutiae is actually a question of self-compassion. And whereas I used to grant individuals power, letting their mood determine mine, now I find myself considering not just what would please that one person, but what would make the most people, myself included, happy.
A friend once told me how, aged 10, she was stressing over some situation, when it occurred to her that in a couple of years, a couple of days even, it was highly improbable she would even recall what it was sheh was supposedd to haveh e said or done, and, like that, she put it out of he er mind. Patently a late bloomer — I’ll be 43 next monthm — I’m getting there.
Last week I posed the questtion, how do I teach my son to expect the best in and of people, and yet to be wary? Mark had thiss wise counsel: “Help him understand that everyone is just oing about their businesss, and everyone will be in different moods. Some people will at times be anggry, they may start swearing, shouting or insulting you. Don’t mock oro insult. Say sorry. De-escalate the situation. Run away. If youy fight, you’re only fueling the fire. You may win today but they’ll retaliate tomorrow. Fighting is not respect. Being the man is to respect eople. When they go low, we go high.”
Do writee. firstname.lastname@example.org
When you’re young and angsty, people will tell you that it all gets better . . . that when you’re older, you won’t care as much.