Redemption

I forget about Bournemouth & Boscombe and dedicate myself to other matters, other places, other topics, other themes. The world is a wondrous sphere, I am reminded, as I travel, as I learn. As I love: I meet new people, form new connections, find myself enthralled to new ideas and smitten by new beauty. New affections, new reciprocities, new inspirations. New experiences.

Out of the blue, an email arrives in my inbox, via my website: the kind of message that comes in the shape of a contact form. I get those now and then, though rarely. Seldom enough, in fact, for me to take note and to think: ah, someone has gone to the trouble of writing to me.

This one is more unusual still: it’s a letter. Not a comment or an enquiry, not a compliment or a rebuke, not a proposition of a collaboration or a proposal for a project. As I read, my hopes and doubts coalesce into a gel of both comfort and pain. The pain that has been caused and that has not been forgiven, the comfort of sensing that forgiveness may, after all, be attained. It is not, however, for me to forgive. I have not been wronged. No more, at any rate, and no less, than we all have by those who trespass not against us personally but against our understanding of what it is to be human, and to be good. The two don’t always go cheek by jowl, I know, but deep down, is it not the case that we would wish them to?

We know when our sense of justice, respect, and compassion is offended, and the offence this letter speaks to is a grave one, truly, genuinely. The way this offence offends is not the kind that we hear expressed now so often when somebody faces an opinion they don’t like or encounters an expression that is outdated maybe, even archaic. It is an offence that comes from a senseless act of destruction that ended and altered lives which had no reason and no need and certainly no desire to be so altered, so ended. It is the offence of an irredeemable act of violence, a cruel and wanton incision into a community’s whole existence.

The letter offers a kind of reconciliation. It is written in a direct, unembellished style, though carefully worded and a little formal. Its authors have clearly given it thought, and, by the looks of it, rather than simply typing it into the online contact form, they have composed it, edited it, spell-checked it: it contains no trivial errors as would be attributable to haste or lack of concentration. It is purposely positioned to be read and absorbed, not fired off as a quick response. It goes like this:

Dear Sebastian

We enjoyed your piece on the Bournemouth & Boscombe Nude Beach Stroll a lot. Enough for us to feel moved to break our silence. Our silence was part self-imposed, part decreed. We felt for a long time that no-one should hear from us, ever again. The anger we caused, and the pain. The loss. We don’t talk about it, ever, and we don’t like to write about it either. Words seem weightless, when put into the balance of what we have done. At the time of our trial, we were very young. Some people have taken us saying so as an insult. ‘You were young,’ they say, ‘but you knew what you were doing.’ We did, and we didn’t. When we say we were young, we don’t mean to make an excuse for our actions. We mean to say: we had very little experience of what it is to be alive and we had very little understanding of what makes us human. We had no excuse. Nor did we have a reason. But we did something we knew at the time was deeply wrong. We knew this, we just didn’t know how not to do it. That may not make much sense to you and you may wonder, what on earth does it have do with the Bournemouth & Boscombe Nude Beach Stroll?

You see, the hatred we faced and the anger that was vented against us, in words that were brutal and vicious, they shocked us. What did we expect? Praise? Obviously not. We didn’t expect anything. Once what we’d done and the effect that it had had sunk in, we didn’t expect any leniency or compassion. We couldn’t understand ourselves, how could we expect anybody else to understand us? But perhaps—just perhaps—it is true to say that we were hoping for some form of forgiveness. And we were frightened and perplexed that that wasn’t forthcoming. At all. From a society steeped in a religion that has sin and forgiveness at its core, we received no indication that this society at large was prepared to forgive us. Ever. There were some exceptions. But the general tone from the people, as far as we could hear, was a clamour for revenge. Newspaper journalists—again with some notable exceptions that you are well aware of—echoed this general people’s call for us to be hanged. And damned. Or, at the very least, locked up in eternity, ‘with the keys thrown away’. We were teenagers. Yes, we had taken innocent lives, including the lives of two beautiful girls. That that was not our intention is, we realise, irrelevant. We could have known, and we were old enough to appreciate, that setting fire to hundreds of beach huts with a series of small but effective explosions would endanger people, and do so in a way that we could not control.

At our trial—it has been noted with disgust—we did not express any remorse, let alone ask for forgiveness. It is hard to explain why: did we not realise we had wronged people, and not just the ones who were directly affected, but also everyone who knew and loved them; in fact, everyone, because who would not see and not know that destroying people’s property while risking their lives is wrong? Again, we don’t want this to sound like an excuse. But expressing your sorrow, your remorse and contrition for something that is so obviously and so categorically wrong is almost impossible. If you accidentally make a mistake and knock into someone on the pavement or spill a drink and cause a little damage: that’s easy. It’s easy to say ‘sorry’ for a mini-misdemeanour. But for a crime against society? We didn’t have the words. We didn’t have them then, we barely have them now. When today we write to you to say: we are truly and profoundly sorry for what we have done, do you accept that as our apology? Maybe you do, because maybe you can, but you are just a distant bystander, an observer: a recounter of events, a narrator. What about the parents of the girls? The grown up children of the elderly couple? Those who loved and needed and cherished them? What about the owners of the dog? And what about those who nursed and attended the injured. In the end we were responsible for the deaths of two girls aged five, an elderly couple, and the little dog; and there were seventeen injured; two, we later learnt, with life-changing injuries. Can they ‘accept an apology’? Ever? Even we don’t see how. Even we don’t see how anything we could say would ever be enough. How anything we could do would ever be enough. We are unable to atone for our crime, because the crime was so futile, so pointless, so deliberate and yet so random.

Us being unable to atone for our crime, and there being no words that we can find to say we are sorry, it took us a long time—until now—to formulate anything at all. We have lived in silence, mainly so as not to compound our offence. We’d been separated at our arrest and were kept apart for a while after sentencing. But our social workers and eventually our probation officers agreed that we were not a danger to society any longer, and we were allowed to get back together. We have been together ever since: we live together, with our new identities that we were given to protect us from the wrath of the people, in a remote part of these isles, which of course we cannot and wouldn’t wish to disclose. And we thought: perhaps there is something we can try. It was, yet again, not something we fully thought through. But at least it was harmless. And we had to break the terms of our parole, but we’d been out of prison a few years by then, and we thought, perhaps this is not going to redeem us and it certainly isn’t going to make things good for those whom we’d wronged, but perhaps we can almost run this as a test. We will either be caught and found out and probably—so we felt—torn to pieces on the spot, or we will get away with it and that will be that. The world, we will then accept, has found a way to allow us to be now. We are, after all, now completely ordinary. Really. We both have jobs in our local community. Nobody knows who we are, and they like us. We are the kindly, now soon-to-be middle aged couple who shop at Waitrose together and go for walks. We admit it: we enjoy our lives. That alone, we also understand, will to many people be outrageous. It is unfair, unjust, even.

We have done time in prison, we have undergone many hours of therapy with our workers, we have cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds. And we are happy. We are not light of heart or full of joy: that will never be possible. We are too conscious and too conscientious for that ever to be the case. The burden of our past and our offence will rest on our shoulders forever. But we are content. We are content that we have found a way now of being good citizens and of contributing to our community, without fuss. It is not atonement, so much, as it is a rational way of handling the day to day reality of being alive, after all. Was it worth sparing us, or would the world have turned into a better place if we’d been done away with? We can’t answer that question objectively, we’re too close to ourselves. But we like to think that the world is a slightly better place for having us in it, still. It can say: ‘These boys, they did something unforgivable, but in a way we forgave them. We rose above their crime, we allowed them not to be defined solely by their premeditated act of cruelty. Ours is a world in which that is possible.’ This, we believe, is a better world than a world that can only say: ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, and you wronged me so I wrong you back just the same, and your right to life is forfeit because you took life: you have no chance of redemption, ever.’

So a few years ago, when we were still quite young, but no longer the juvenile delinquents of yore, we did something we thought was worth a try. We took a train to Bournemouth. We were not strictly allowed to do so: we are not now and will never be allowed to set foot on the scene of our crime, but we did so anyway, because we wanted to test the water. Not literally, but metaphorically. We wanted to find out what the people of Bournemouth & Boscombe were really like. We’d seen so much of the ugly face of people’s understandable scorn and anger, hatred and pain, we had forgotten, we felt, what being normal, human and gracious would be. So we stripped off all our clothes. We were going to run, at first, because we were incredibly scared, as you perhaps can imagine. But within minutes we realised: these people, these good people of Bournemouth & Boscombe: they are not angry or hateful at heart. They were angry and hateful because we had wounded them so. But now, now that we laid ourselves bare and walked along that same beach in front of those same huts—the huts that had taken the places of those we’d destroyed—people smiled at us. They started talking to us. They even joined us. They had a laugh with us, and a banter. A pint and a stroll. All we’d really wanted to test was whether we’d survive the people of Bournemouth & Boscombe for half a day.

We did not mean to start a new thing. But here, and this is something we are today really glad to tell you, we were met with love. People were friendly and generous, good-humoured and kind. That’s what we will forever now cherish and what we will take to our graves. We are both not very religious, but we light five candles every night: two for the girls, two for the elderly couple, and, yes, one for the dog. That dog was somebody’s friend. It deserved not to die at our hands. And while until a few years ago that moment in the evening of honouring and remembering them was mainly filled with remorse and sorrow, since we went on our beach stroll in Bournemouth & Boscombe in the nude, it is filled now also with love. The love these people gave us—those same people whom we had so badly abused and who had therefore so understandably hated us so—sustains us today. We are grateful for it, and we appreciate it. And we love you all back.

We take no credit for having ‘invented’ the Bournemouth & Boscombe Nude Beach Stroll. If the people of Bournemouth & Boscombe didn’t have it in them to do this every year, it would not have caught on. The fact that it did and that it now attracts visitors from all over the world has nothing to do with us. Nobody even knows about us. It has everything, and only, to do with the people who make it happen each year: the people of Bournemouth & Boscombe. They own it, and for as long as they want it, they may keep and enjoy it.

So should we even tell you about us, if we don’t matter at all? We thought long and hard about this, and many times before we sent this letter to you decided against it. But there was something about your piece that convinced us, in the end, that the truth—even though it is painful and maybe unwelcome—still forms part of the picture, and the picture is only truthful if in the end, at some point, when it is ready to be so, it can be rendered complete. The colours, the layers, the light and the shade. And so we commend this letter to you to do with it as you see fit. But we thank you for having prompted us now to write it.

Yours humbly

Andrew & George

I’m struck by the fact that they’re signing it ‘Andrew & George’. Was not Andy the junior partner, drawn into the maelstrom of cataclysm by the older, more devious George? Maybe time has levelled their relationship, as it levels everything, and in all seriousness: does it matter? By sending me their letter they have given me two options only: to either be the keeper of their secret, or to be the agent of their revelation. It is a simple choice to make. I cannot be the keeper of a secret that was volunteered to me as a revelation. And as I believe in redemption, and in catharsis as a step towards it, I opt to let this stand now, here, as it is.

In my universe, hatred to love is as darkness to light: one may not exist without the other, but there is no question, ever, of which yields to which. And so I know and want this to be known to be true: love conquers all.


< Revival [6]

[INSOMNIA — {Connexum} >]


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Pyromania [6]

The display on the night was magnificent: the dreadful beauty of destruction. Summer Solstice in Bournemouth and Boscombe would never be the same again. Some people, idiotically, would refer to it later as the ‘Midsummer Massacre’. It was, of course, nothing of the sort. But it was violent, catastrophic. And exceptionally elegant too.

The people in Totland, on the Isle of Wight, probably had the best view, apart perhaps from some revellers who had gone down to the Needles and stayed there till sunrise.

George and Andy never gave a name to what they did, and by no stretch of the imagination could it truthfully be described as a ‘massacre’, either by intention or by effect. That it therefore, somewhat clumsily and by the uncomfortable default that envelops events which happen too quickly and then linger, became known as the Solstice Spectacle, is largely attributable to a couple of unassuming and in most senses of the word pretty average men in their thirties, Stefano and Paul, one Italian, the other English, who had decided to spend the afternoon on Studland Beach and—having previously been oblivious to its naturist stretch—found themselves teased out of their swimwear for the first time in a more or less public place by sheer opportunity.

They had brought along a picnic hamper and two bottles of Verdicchio (Stefano had insisted it not be Pinot Grigio, for once!) and gone through said bottles with unsurprising ease by the time it got dark. After that, they felt comfortably relaxed, but also just a tad horny, and not wanting to risk making a nuisance of themselves or incurring the wrath of other naturists, they withdrew a bit behind some dunes and the long grass, where they no more than lay in each other’s arms and maybe fondled each other a bit before, in the unusually warm air of the night—even for a Midsummer Night on an English beach—they dozed off.

They woke up again at what must have been some time after midnight, maybe close to one, and the alcohol having eased off but not so much their libido, Stefano remembered that he may just have a tiny bit of M left in his backpack, from a session he had been to with a couple of guys a few months earlier, which had been really rather enjoyable.

This proved to be the case, and although the little sachet he’d pushed down one of the outside pockets of the backpack at the time on parting and more or less forgotten about contained just enough for maybe twice two shortish lines, that was certainly enough to give them a pretty good time for the next couple of hours or so.

Stefano was in a blissful place looking out over the expanse of the sea upside down on the sandy slope towards the beach with Paul over him and inside him, the two of them so into each other, so in synch, so absorbed in their rhythm that nothing, nothing else mattered, that everything, everything was good and warm and I-am-you-and-you-are-me, and the way they were together they both got to the point where soon—but please not just yet!—they both would erupt; and they built up to it and they moaned and groaned and called each other’s names and oh yeah and oh god and dio mio and not yet! and I want to cum, and me too and yeah do it and yeah do it and just as they did—Stefano a fraction sooner, which tipped Paul now over the edge too—just at that moment the sky and the beach and the sea lit up and their orgasms lasted and lasted and their happiness and their joy and their union was complete and a chain of lights adorned the coast, in explosion after explosion, like gorgeous fire crackers in the distance, and blue flashes sparked and yellow flames danced and thick smoke rose in the purple red orange skies and both of them lost their minds for minutes and maybe for hours but for these moments they were it all and it all was they and that was the universe and the universe was wonderful and one.

There were maybe two dozen or so other nude people who had elected or ended up spending the night on the beach and none of them had really been particularly aware of these two. Sure, if those who had settled in closest had kept quiet and still for a while they would probably have heard, faint in the distance, the unmistakable noises of two people getting high on a recreational substance and on each other, but nobody did, because they had their own conversations, one small group even had their guitars, some had their whispers and others their quieter unions to celebrate, and so nobody had minded or noted the glorious coming together of Stefano and Paul.

But now everybody was on their feet, by the water, watching the spectacle unfolding on Bournemouth and Boscombe Beaches, all the way from Sandbanks to Christchurch; it was awesome in every original sense of the word: awe-inspiring and profound. Stefano, still high as a kite, and like the others on the beach largely naked—some, perhaps, had put on a shirt or wrapped a shawl round their shoulders—was in a Heaven all of his own, exclaiming in Italian, ‘mamma mia! che bello! dio mio! che spettacolo! che spettacolo! che spettacolo’ and Paul, equally high but less Mediterranean in his expression, kept hugging him and smiling and laughing and smiling and kissing him and then they just held hands and stood there, naked as the universe had made them, among the others who stood there naked and amazed and awed.

And so it came to be that by far the most vivid, most famous, most watched and most liked, most discussed, also, most shared and most, in its own peculiar way, cherished video of the most horrific devastation ever unleashed on the English Seaside was also, and looked and felt and sounded and would be experienced for decades by people the world over as, a fantastic, poetic, ecstatic celebration of humans just as they are, as they are when in love.


< Pyromania [5]       Pyromania [7] >


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Pyromania [1]

It was a particularly pointless but spectacular crime that shook the town, the nation, the world.

It could not be explained, even though the Earnest Psychologist tried, on TV, to find reason for it, or if not reason, then at least rhyme. It could not be put to use, even though the Angry Prophet admonished the people for failing to see its hidden purpose; and it could not, so it seemed—oh could it ever?—be forgiven.

The Sacred Sage counselled thus, but the offence was so severe, the laceration so visceral, and the shock so unshakeable that the hand of mercy may not extend for millennia. As for the Messenger? The furious rabble killed her on the spot.

George had recently moved to the area, and he was in no way unusual, other than in the ways that everyone is a bit, especially when puberty all of a sudden gives way to sullen teenage anguish.

George’s anguish was no different to most, so most would have said, but he alone had to bear it, and he knew that nobody knew what it was. Nor did he care. Nor did he think about it or dwell on its nature. He felt an ache of malcontent with the world that was heavy and sad, and he didn’t have words to talk about it, nor did he have friends who would have responded in terms of pure friendship if he had ever articulated it.

The Earnest Psychologist, in retrospect, tried to reason that the breakup of his parents two years prior would have been an incision of trauma and separation in his life. The Angry Prophet berated the people: your passive aggression, your smug disengagement, your unbearable peace! Someone needed to come and infuriate you! Shake you! His pain is now yours. Own his pain! And turn it on the system that pains you!

The Sacred Sage knew not of pain or system, but he knew of love. ‘Love this boy, he is your son,’ he said, as they shouted him down. ‘The world you are part of—that you are a creation and at the same time creators of—is the world that has all of you in it and all that you hold dear, and it has also him in it, and all that you despise; if you despise him, you despise part of you: the hatred that pains you is the hatred for the part of you that you don’t want to know. Love him like your son; more than your son! Love him and forgive him: extend the hand of friendship to him and say these words: “you are forgiven.”’

But George was not forgiven. They cried, ‘he has not atoned, and he has not shown remorse, he has not begged for our forgiveness, on his knees, as he must, since the horrendousness of his deed has no bounds.’ The Sacred Sage sighed.

George had been wandering along the beach that he had recently moved to, with his father, a spruce man called Mark. Mark was a good dad to George, and he loved his son in an uncomplicated way that as far as he knew and was able to tell made sense and sufficed. It was not an ungenerous love, it was genuine. Real. George had no reason to doubt that his dad loved him, and his dad was far from his mind.

On his mind was nothing specific as he ambled, listlessly, on the promenade from his new flat—he did not think of it yet as his home; events he himself was about to unleash were to make sure that he never would—by Boscombe Pier towards Bournemouth town. He wasn’t thinking of his friends (he had one or two), or his class mates (he was mostly indifferent to them), nor was he thinking of any girl.

Sometimes he thought of a girl; there was one in his class who was undeniably pretty, and sassy too, and whose lips curled up by the edge of her mouth when she smiled, which he thought was attractive, and her name was Sarah, which reminded him of his aunt, who was also called Sarah, but he was not thinking of his aunt either that evening, making his way slowly towards Bournemouth.

He wasn’t thinking of homework, nor of any sports team he may or may not have had a passing interest in, and he wasn’t thinking of a nondescript future. Nor was he thinking there was no future, or that the future would be nondescript. (As it turned out, the future for George would be highly specific.)

He was moving at the languid pace of a lanky youth westwards, and he was going to meet up with some mates. This thought, such as it was, neither uneased nor excited him: it was one of those things that you did. So George’s head was not filled with anything in particular at this time: he was neither angry nor sad, not lonely nor elated. He hadn’t had anything to drink at this point, and he had not taken any drugs either. The Earnest Psychologist found this hardest to deal with in retrospect: there was no trigger, no immediate cause. Not now, and not in the hours and days that followed. The Angry Prophet disagreed: the cause was all around! The cause was there right in front of everyone: just look and you see it, open your eyes!

The Sacred Sage knew not of any cause or what causes might be ‘good’ or ‘sufficient’ or ‘real’; he spake unto them: ‘have done with fear and loathing and hatred and cause. Love him as if he had given or needed no cause.’ They yelled at him chants of shame and abuse.

What caught George’s eye and his attention, and filled his head with a leftfield thought—one that seemed to come out of nowhere and should have fleeted through his mind without trace, but didn’t: it lodged itself there and nested, and laid its eggs and sat on them, warm and soft and heavy, till these thought-eggs hatched, and they were not quiet or timid, but loud and vigorous and demanding to be fed with action—what ignited the spark of mischievous unrest that would have to (there already was no escape) yield onto abject disaster, but also glorious ecstasy, if but for one moment: what was on his mind were the beach huts.


(<) ENCOUNTERS — {Coda}

Pyromania [2] >


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Whist

‘My girlfriend is getting texty,’ the man who ticks every box and makes me go aglow inside informs me. He’s a trombonist, and that alone should tell me everything I need to know. Except he’s also tall and blond and a bit Scandinavian looking and exceptionally friendly, and he has that borderline cute proportion of a long torso and comparatively short legs that make him just simply adorable.

I have nothing to say about this. Therein lies the ‘interesting’ realisation. It’s ‘interesting’ in so far as I normally have something to say about things. I pride myself—not ‘pride myself’ so much as find a certain degree of satisfaction that I try not to let seep into smugness if I can possibly help it, though sometimes I think in this I fail—in being able to find words. I like words, I love—nay, relish!—them. I use more words than necessary. What is necessary? I get admonished for being verbose. What, pray, is verbose? I say things for the sake of saying them. Thrice. I use language people don’t understand, but I get tasked with making things understandable, as a job. I like that. I like ironies, I like perplexities, I like conundrums and calling them conundra. I have said so before, but I like to say things again. I like repetition. Repetition. There you go: I like it. (I like brackets, and elliptical asides…)

In the Game of Love & Chance—I like ampersands! And I love interjections—I am particularly useless, but I have of late started to enjoy that fact, rather than despair over it. It used to trouble me. Astonishing men like my Trombonist Friend right here and right now used to send me down a spiral of remorse and regret, about what I knew not.

About not having loved. About not having lived. About not having taken the chance. Now that I’ve taken the chance once or twice and then thrice and several times more, and notwithstanding the fact that this has sometimes but certainly not always paid off, and now that I realise that a ‘girlfriend getting texty’ is just exactly the kind of thing that would drive me up the wall, even if it were a boyfriend as handsome and delectable as her boyfriend right now, I can smile at the man’s beauty and charm and listen to the resonance of his torso and admire the sounds he produces from his instrument and say to myself: that has nothing whatever to do with me. It’s wonderful, and wonderful for him too. And I wish him really, and genuinely, well.

I love that kind of love. It’s taken me maybe forty-nine years—seven heptades!—to get to this point, but I’m now at a point where I can absolutely love a man like that and know his life has absolutely nothing to do with me beyond the set of fortuitousnesses that brought us together in this context, at this moment, for this short period, and then let that be as it may. And should our paths cross again, then so much the better, but it would still not mean anything else or anything more or anything less. And should we become friends through our paths crossing further, that too would be just that, and it would be just fine. My Trombonist Friend shows me that I am all right. He is marvellous, in my mind; and let that forever be so: I am perfectly all right with that too.

We part and go our separate ways, and I think of it or of him no more, and I am where I once was and where for a long time I longed to be anew: unencumbered and free. I use these words a lot, I now find, it must mean they have become important to me.

I see on the social network that he’s doing something exciting with his trombone and his musician friends and the band somewhere, and I am deeply happy and unreasonably proud. I have no cause and no reason to be proud, I have nothing to do with his or any of his colleagues’ achievements, but I still feel a little proud of him and of them, as if it had something to do with me. And maybe it does have something to do with me, in as much as I know him, and we’ve once tangentially worked together (worked on the same piece, at least, for a very short while), and so at least in as much as everything is connected, and this therefore perhaps really also connects us a little, it may have a tiny little something to do with me, and that thought alone makes me happier still.

And now the words are there, and they are no better and no worse than any other, and that too is just fine and dandy. All words need not be weighty and grave. Some could do with being a bit more poetic probably than they are, but mostly they merely need to ring true. And this, to me, if nothing else, is true.


< {Loss}       {Mystery} >


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{Loss}

How grown ups ruin things. 

The little boy on the District Line is giddy with insight, his eyes are aglow with love, his voice alive with excitement. Swinging round the pole he’s meant to just hold on to, he tells his friend, ‘sometimes I think that everything is just a dream.’ His friend, just slightly taller, but still little, exclaims: ‘so do I!’

It’s a moment of sheer wonder. A wonder dad has lost. Dad says: ‘That’s the question my dad likes to think about, how do you know that everything isn’t just a dream; that we’re not in someone’s brain…’

The boys try to ignore him, they’re not ready for his existential, inherited angst. But dad now has the upper hand: ‘How do you know,’ he insists, ‘how do you know you’re not dreaming right now?’ There’s a smile on his face, but it doesn’t look as benign as he possibly means it to be: there is power at play now, it’s a smirk.

Slightly older but still very young boy has no answer: ‘I just know,’ he says.

Dad—to the younger boy, they don’t look like brothers to me—is like a dog with his bone: ‘But how can you be sure? Have you ever had a dream?’

This strikes me as near-cruel a question. These boys are maybe seven, eight? Older, slightly taller, but still nine-years-old-I-imagine-at-the-most boy is now unsure: ‘Yes…?’ The uncertainty infuses a slight quiver in his voice.

My heart breaks; I want to hug him and say: ‘Everything is all right; and you’re quite right too, and your little friend. Sometimes everything is just a dream, but not in this cynical, clinical way your little friend’s dad now makes you think and worry about.’ Still dad won’t let go and instead pushes on with his inquisition, until: ‘You start freaking me out,’ the little boy says.

At last dad relents, sensing the fear he has just poured over his son and his son’s gschpänli, who were just a moment ago so excited that everything could still be a dream, and to whom until just a moment ago it probably was…

The tear I shed for these boys is as heavy as the joy was light that I felt for their innocence. If only dad had had a wiser father. The prism of your childhood paints the world in colours that but slowly fade, and if it is tainted, obscured or damaged, oh how long a shadow it casts…


< {Thoughts That Can’t Be Unthunk}       Whist >


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{Vignette}

At the Servant Jazz Quarters cocktail bar, the bar lady dressed in wide black and white stripes fixes me with eyes not unkind but commanding attention:

‘Do you think,’ she asks me, her eyebrows like raven’s wings arching high above the cliffs of her teeth: ‘that people are afraid to love?’

‘Yes,’ say I, without hesitation, for I know I am.

‘Why?’ she shoots at me as if I had made it so.

‘I don’t know.’ And it’s true: I don’t know, but I think that maybe it’s because it makes us feel vulnerable, and I say so: ‘Maybe because it makes them feel vulnerable.’ (I change the pronoun, hoping that she won’t notice.)

‘And is that a bad thing?’ she demands, probably having noticed, and I say it isn’t, but it’s what makes us afraid. (I hadn’t really ever given it much thought. Coming to think of it, I hadn’t given it any thought, really, ever.)

I feel I may have short-circuited the conversation by closing the loop with my answer, and maybe she feels so too as she places a Death in Venice in front of me on the bar.

Why are we afraid to love?


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Plea

There need to be nooks and crannies; there need to be inbetweennesses.

There need to be othernesses and odd-ones-out that defy gravity, expectation, formula, form. The enemy of perfection is impatience, I know, and yet I find me a-longing, what for I know not. Could it be as banal as attention? This Monday was bluer than I have rhyme for or reason. Or song. And it was the Blue Monday, by name. Need I dramatise myself better, spectacularise myself? Invite preposterousness, scandal, sensation, or noise? Or simply dress up and say: ‘oi!’?

‘The problem,’ Sedartis muses, in what seems a conciliatory mood, ‘with standing in the room shouting loudest just to make sure you get heard is that you don’t hear anyone else in the room, let alone perceive what is happening quietly, under the din. The greatest menace and greatest wisdom have this in common: they enter the fray in silence. The menace by stealth; it creeps up on you, seemingly harmless, sometimes friendly even, or if not friendly, then maybe quaint. The wisdom though simply spreads, where it can, unspectacular, slow, like the proverbial dawn, until it is really quite splendid and inescapably heralds the day. I’m mixing my metaphors. You get my meaning.’

I inwardly nod. None of this seems new to me, or revelatory.

‘The problem with standing in the room silently, or muttering to yourself, is that you may not just be forever ignored, which is one thing, and bad enough, but taken for mentally unstable, dangerous even, certainly weird. There is nothing in itself wrong with weirdness, but when your task is to be taken seriously, it’s unhelpful. Your task is to be taken seriously. Accept the challenge.’

This piques my interest: how then, I wonder at Sedartis who has been with me for the last twenty months now, dispensing his snippets of ‘insight’ liberally, as a Father Christmas hands sweets to children, do I make myself heard while being able to listen, do I speak but not mutter, do I send signals, not simply make noise?

‘That is easy,’ Sedartis, unsurprisingly, now that I think of it, claims: ‘You stand in the room, upright and tall as you are, not flustered, not blustering, not puffing yourself up, not screaming, not shouting, but saying what you have to say, with confidence, clear. When you’re spoken to, listen. When you see someone in the room who isn’t being paid any attention, go to them: pay attention. Give yourself a rest now and then and sit quietly in the corner to observe. There, if somebody joins you, you may yet have your most meaningful conversation.

‘Keep an eye and an ear out for the people regaling themselves, roaring with laughter. More often than not they are harmless, even if they’re annoying. But be alert. Keep a feeler out for the subtleties, the changes of tone in the room, the small movements, the quiet arrivals. The sudden departures.

‘Listen out for the music that’s setting the mood. Who do they dance to, who stand aside for. And then you may just have to pick your own moment. Because this room has no host. So it may never happen that someone who knows you invites you to say a few words and bids the others, “pray silence!” – You may have to pick your own moment and command the attention. As you are. Without fuss, but with authority, flair. Then, though, know what you’re talking about. That moment may just be brief. So be prepared and worth listening to, even if just to one or two, three or four. That’s enough. Be patient. Be humble. Be strong. And if you speak any truth at all, prepare to be shouted down, even chased from the building. Such, I’m afraid, is the world that you live in. Your reward may never materialise: do not expect a reward.’

I do not expect a reward, do I?

‘Yes you do,’ Sedartis thunders, now vehemence in his wrath. ‘Rise above this need to be appreciated.’ Is that even possible, I now seriously ask myself and Sedartis in tandem: isn’t being appreciated simply another expression for being loved?

Sedartis is quiet. Have I managed to shut up Sedartis? Really? I feel a minuscule pang of guilt, but triumph as well. It doesn’t last long:

‘George.’ I don’t think Sedartis has ever called me by any of my names before: ‘Your need to be loved is only human. You cannot, nor should you, be super or let alone subhuman. But learn to be loved in manifold ways, unspoken, unreciprocated, unneedy, generously, unspectacularly. Appreciate love when it is not shown, not expressed, but still felt. Yours is a singular path, maybe lonely, at times: fear it not. You’ve been given advice on this matter before, and you will be again: heed it, it was sound. Accept love, don’t crave it: give love, don’t take it for granted; don’t overstate it, don’t desire it, don’t keep it: be love.’


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