Can you imagine?
They say that real-life is less believable than fiction and the longer I live, the more I see it to be quite, quite true. And yet, paradoxically, the way we survive whatever it is that real-life happens to dish us up, is generally all about fiction.
What we tell ourselves about ourselves, our lives, our situations – is sometimes the difference between keeping going (after a fashion), or not.
Take Decca Aitkenhead. We knew her partner Tony Wilkinson, back in the hood, for many years. Larger than life, nearly two years ago, Tony was suddenly dead. Not only was he dead, but he was dead in a moment in what would seem to be the most unlikely of circumstances. One minute he was drinking his morning coffee on Treasure Beach in Jamaica, watching his son play in the sand, the next minute he was in the water.
Saving his son.
Riptide undertow dragging him out to sea.
According to this article by Decca, Tony thought his life was blessed. And in many ways it was. I remember him when he had a blue Great Dane. He used to come into the pub in Victoria Park on a Sunday evening with the dog, and sit in a winged armchair by the fire. He cut a striking figure. Sometimes he held court in his gravelled and gnarly, Northern growl; other times he fell silent.
Tony was blessed, until he wasn’t. Decca found that counting her blessings in the days after Tony’s death helped other people to relate to her. But it seems she knew that story about her old life, did not suit the narrative of the new – one of insolvency, widowhood and then finally, unbelievably breast cancer.
Can you imagine?
The story had to change. Needs must. I am an unlucky woman. She has not written that exactly, but the blessed luck of the story of Tony and Decca has been flipped on it’s head, like a bad penny.
All I can do from this remove is wish her well, and hope that a new narrative can sweep in – one that does not rely on any kind of luck – and places the family’s trauma into a liveable context.
Whilst I write, I think of all the stories I tell myself about myself. I am quite strict with the categories. There is magical thinking which I try to avoid – or at least notice and rein in. There is perspective – wherein I circle round the thing like a predator – looking at the world through the eyes of a vulture, a coyote, an ant. There is the Buddhist-type reasoning – it is what it is – which can only take you so far before the fear of slipping into some kind of passive coma that life happens all over pulls me back into another more dynamic narrative.
When all else fails, I tell myself something similar every time. I was born on St Jude’s Day, St Jude, patron saint of hopeless cases. Whatever happens it will be alright. Until the day it’s not and then I’ll reach for the next story off the shelf.
Won’t you? Can you imagine the raw meat of life without the stories?