This might seem a poor excuse, or selfish; I owe my parents for my very existence, after all. But since my birthday is on the eve of Mother’s Day this year, I thought it more appropriate to send a ‘happy my birthday’ card to my mum.
Over the past years, since my life went through colossal turbulence, I’ve been in touch with my parents far more than previously. Frequent texts, regular phone calls; letters by email, and even sent through the post are so important for them (especially a worrying mum) to know I’m okay.
There was a time when I was far from okay. I neglected my parents and their inestimable love, and chose to dwell on hatred of myself and the ‘shitty’ world I perceived. It was a cognitive dissonance that led me into a dark, dark place, and the coping mechanisms I employed went badly wrong.
I’m not going to spell out what I did, or why, or what happened as a result, but I will say this. Because I thought my life was broken, I found a way to ruin it. And I might have succeeded on my mission of total self-destruction, had it not been for my family and friends.
What prevented me was straight forward, pure and simple: Love. Not that love is pure and simple; it’s bloody hard. Knowing that my parents (and my friends) love me in spite of what I did has given me strength to re-build my life, earned me a great deal of respect, and made many proud of me.
This isn’t about forgiveness, which is a far more complicated issue, involving judgement and understanding. Sadly, society is far quicker to judge than to love. For anyone who is, or about to become, a parent, whether of their own or someone else’s child, the only way to protect children from all the ‘shittiness’ of the world – perceived or otherwise – is to LOVE them; totally, unconditionally.
We cannot LOVE while venting hatred on those we find abhorrent; nor while whipping up hysteria and paranoia about non-existent threats; nor by channelling energy into judging those who fall short of what we see as our own self-righteous paradigm. Chances are we are all deluded by a cognitive dissonance that leads us to do harm more easily than to seek for good. We can only LOVE with love.
Last year, Stephen Fry was a guest on Radio 3’s Classical Collection programme, and was speaking about Oscar Wilde, a man who was judged harshly by a hateful society, sent to prison, and became a thoroughly broken man. This is what Stephen Fry said about him on that broadcast:
“He was a giant brought down, and it was monstrous, really, how he was treated. When he came out of prison he was a wreck, a ruin, and he said, at the very moment in this Christian society, especially when you should be embraced when you have completed your sentence: that, in Britain, is actually when your sentence begins.
“He was utterly outcast; no sense of redemption or forgiveness at all - which is one of the reasons I continue to write to people in prison and support prison charities because, no matter what someone has done, although I’m not a Christian I do have the fundamental Christian value that the people for whom one has the most distaste are the ones to whom one should most reach out.”
I’ve never believed in life after death; I regard it as religion’s biggest scam. But I do believe (more now than I did ten years ago when my life was in a mess) that making the best of this strange and beguiling existence is the only way to give back to my loving parents what they have given me. And that is LOVE.
In the meantime, here is the next of my ‘tales of woe.’
from Charlotte & The Charlatan – and other cautionary tales
Kevin the Complainer
The complements came in as the requiem was recited: a sea of sycophantic eulogy and euphemistic excuses for what everybody thought: Kevin was a cunt.
“Kevin lived life to the full,” they said, meaning he was constantly drunk. “The life and soul of the party,” meant he filled his cup with others’ generosity.
“Kevin kept us entertained all day,” – aye right: and kept us awake all night. “He was gentle and thoughtful,” – allegedly, except when pissed; then became an angry, marauding maniac.
“Kevin never complained about being ill,” apparently – but when healthy, was a hypochondriac. They called him Kevin the Complainer. If you think he led a colourful life, it was, in fact, a great deal plainer.
And that was what made his funeral even stranger. A good (well, bad) Catholic, he knew to keep the priest and his lot sweet as he faced the final curtain. Agnostic about God (but not his illness – of that he was certain) Kevin attended Mass more times in those three weeks after his diagnosis, hedging his bets against religion’s prognosis.
“How long have you got,” asked Father O’Flannel.
“About three weeks,” said Kev, “At the most.” The priest gave a sympathetic, head-tilted look as he gently placed the host on Kevin’s tongue. Thinking it was a doctor’s spatula, Kevin said, “Ah,” then quickly turned it to “A-men.”
Piously, Father O’Flannel replied: “Bless you, son.” If the church can be trusted for doling out salvation based on spurious certainties, then a Doctor of Medicine surely must be believed in? More than a Quack of Divinity! If one was all in the mind, invented by mankind, the other was proof enough. Given three weeks to live, even a con-man like Kevin didn’t need to seek out a second opinion.
“But what if he’s wrong?” the Sceptics asked, knowing Kevin’s track-record for inventing more ailments than a fantasy-footballer’s hamstring. Kevin, overhearing, replied:
“Who – God, or the Doctor?” He considered the question so pointless. “I’ll find out, I guess, when I get there,” he scoffed, although whether he meant heaven or hell, nobody offered a thought. Not three weeks but a fortnight later, Kevin was dead.
“I told you he was ill,” the Doctor said. But as Father O’Flannel read the last rites, with ‘Placebo Domino in regione vivorum,’ that Doctor started looking shifty. He had a secret to carry to his grave: it wasn’t drugs he gave to Kevin the hyper-conman, but non-effective pills. Kevin wasn’t even slightly ill.
For two-and-a-half weeks, Kevin learned a lesson of humility as he came to terms with a made-up God and the truth of his humanity. No wonder he never complained in his final hours: his ailment was indeed in the mind, governed by the power of eternal punishment for his life of sin than the various claims of science, religion, or medicine.
“Living life to excess,” the Doctor said to Kev, “Will be the death of you.” In Kevin’s case it transpired to prove the opposite that was true.