Thursday, 22 January 2015

And Nobody Lived Happily Ever After, Which Was Fine - Day 54

Day 54 (January 23rd 2015)
54 is the number of independent countries in Africa, created during colonial times.
Before colonial rule Africa comprised up to 10,000 different 
states and autonomous groups with distinct languages and customs.
Africa has approximately 30% of the earth’s remaining mineral resources.
Africa is the second most populous continent with about 1.1 billion people 
or 16% of the world’s population. 
Over 50% of Africans are under the age of 25
The 2014 CIPD Annual Conference was an excellent event, with some exceptional speakers. However, for me, Paul Taylor was the highlight. His passion, wit, knowledge and authenticity are infectious. Paul is an Assistant Director, responsible for Organisational Development, at NHS Employers. He is active on social media (follow him on Twitter via @NHSE_PaulT) and always keen to connect and share. Paul is naturally creative and comfortable challenging the status quo, to ensure a better outcome for all. Paul's energy and drive can be seen outside as well as in the workplace - he is a multiple marathon runner and fund raiser for great causes. Paul is a man with vision and compassion - a rare combination and I am honoured to know him.

Isn’t childhood weird? I mean, not childhood itself but some of the things that happen early on. We are raised on stories of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. 

Stories themselves become part of our daily lives and night time routines. I wonder how many times we hear ‘once upon a time’ and ‘happily ever after’ as kids? They’re powerful promises of a beautiful start and perfect ending. The ideal path is set out for us to follow.  As grown ups we are still asked to buy into the ideas of dream holidays, and fairy tale weddings. Happy ever after is a goal to be pursued.
But the thing about happiness is it’s impermanence. Being happy is a finite state that comes and goes, ebbs and flows. Yet our narrative about happiness frames it as something that can be solidified, permanent and attainable in perpetuity. We use phrases like “life is a roller coaster - full of ups and downs” as if the downs are to be avoided and despised, when actually those are the best bits of the ride. 

We’re led to believe that a steady state of happiness is the only way to live; that it’s a straight path from birth to death and the aim is to achieve optimum happiness at all times. What’s the point of riding a flat roller coaster?
It’s not surprising though, for what are the alternatives? There’s things that are supposed to be avoided at all costs. Embarrassment, awkwardness, rejection, humiliation, pain, sadness. Who’d want to live in a state of constant cringing and crying. But often those feelings give us the richest experiences to learn from. They give us moments of despair that transform over time and take us to deeper places of understanding when the sting wears off. They make us search our hearts and ask ourselves questions. They turn the sky dark and our thoughts red hot. They make our heart pump and our blood boil. They help us to change and to move on. They remind us what it feels like to be really alive. If it was possible to achieve a state where you could be happy all the time, who would ever change? And isn’t change ultimately the point of life?

And this, dear reader, is where I’m going to pause the blog, break the fourth wall and look you straight in the eye to say “Hello”.  I wrote that first part of the blog a few weeks ago and I just couldn’t work out how to finish it. I ran dry. I thought the ending would be something like…. “Why not accept that life is both beautiful and horrifying at the same time, and that’s ok. Happiness is one emotion in an unlimited range of responses that may not be so pleasant but will all teach us so much more than the blissful-eyes-shut face of happiness. Nobody lives happily ever after, and that’s fine.” But it just didn’t happen.

Then two days ago my cat died.

Robbie was 16 years, 3 months and 8 days old. For his first fifteen years of life he was a handsome, confident, cheeky presence in our lives. He was the captain of his own ship and like a miniature pirate in a black fur coat he stole our hearts and gave us many adventures.

Illustration from The Ship's Cat,a narrative poem by Richard Adams
illustrated by Alan Aldridge, 1977
Just after his fifteenth birthday he was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism which more recently led to renal failure, hypertension and blindness. This week we acknowledged that the time had finally come to say adieu to mon capitaine. 

I didn’t think it was possible to cry so much.  I thought the vet might need to hook me up to a saline drip in case I just dehydrated and crumbled into powder on the floor. Robbie lay in our arms as we stroked him, kissed him, squeezed his paws and told him how much he was loved. As he fell into his last sleep I felt my heart break.

Our flat is now so still and quiet, apart from the random and unexpected guttural sobbing that breaks out when one of us thinks we’ve seen him behind a curtain, or when we look at the place his food bowl sat. I heard someone laughing outside yesterday and I thought, how dare they find anything funny.
I am in the middle of what feels like one of those massive metal hamster balls that you see on american tv stunt shows, the ones filled with blokes on motorbikes criss-crossing each other and narrowly avoiding impact. It’s like I’m sitting on the floor at the bottom of the ball while they spin around me. Thoughts, memories, feelings, ideas, questions...zooming by in a blur.  How am I supposed to make sense of anything? How should I feel? What do I do now? What happened to my happiness?

Well, it actually helped to go back to the beginning of this blog and think about what I was trying to say in the first place. Life is amazing and frightening and delicious and dangerous and exhilarating and exasperating and every single thing you can possibly imagine. Isn’t that what makes it so vivid? Just a week ago, when I felt like I was sitting on the top of Happy Mountain, I couldn’t find words to finish this blog. As I recently read, “Happiness writes in white ink on a white page”.
We set out on our life path hoping that we’ll be happy ever after.  It’s good to be happy. I truly believe that. I also believe that the journey we take on our life should not just be signposted ‘Destination Happiness’. Despite the alternatives being, at times, much more raw and rough, I’d rather be walking along an unexpectedly bumpy path with occasional stones that trip me up.

Life is a bumpy path
Sitting on the ground feeling like the wind has been knocked out of you gives you the time to stop, breathe, look up, think about what you’re doing and then shakily stand up, dust yourself off and keep walking. Nobody lives happily ever after, and that’s fine. Just keep walking along the path. Just keep walking.

Harry Lauder singing 
"Keep Right On till The End of the Road" in 1926


1 comment:

  1. All good wishes to Robbie (and you and yours) - he looks like a fine beast!

    here is my tribute to the strange and wonderful world of cats :