an open let­ter ...

on just not giv­ing a damn

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - MEGAN NICOL REED -

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.

FOL­LOW­ING ON

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. megan­ni­icol­reed@gmail.com

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.

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