As long as I can get out into my garden, I am okay.
On bad days, the breeze kisses my cheek and whispers: ssh, ssh. It’s alright. It’ll be alright. On good days, the sun wraps me in a warm hug and I turn my face towards it, like a sunflower, and bask.
I lie amid blankets on the grass and watch clouds pass and birds of prey wheel overhead. I listen to the trams and aeroplanes go by and wonder about the people on board: their lives, their troubles, their plans. I become accustomed to the orchestra of local dogs and children, birds and wind chimes.
One day, some time in September, I notice that the sun has dipped below the height of the nearby sycamore tree, so the lawn is now in shadow in the mornings. It must be autumn.
A few weeks later, a blizzard of helicopter seeds falls from the same tree and I watch them spin to earth. I realise it’s a sight I’ve never seen before. Nature is incredible. I pick one up to show my son.
It begins to dawn on me that I have missed out on more moments of my life by going too fast and trying to do too much than by being forced to go slowly and do almost nothing.
As the weather gets colder and wetter, it’s harder to get outside, and I have to adapt. I watch David Attenborough documentaries and marvel at this insanely beautiful planet we live on. I think of the friends I can’t see and hold them in my heart. Little things, small ways to feel connected.
I renew my relationship with music, something I somehow never usually seem to have much time for. I listen to Brahms symphonies and Rachmaninov concertos, Bach cello suites and Joni Mitchell albums. I fall in love with a new band, The Amazing Devil, for the first time in years. I spend entire days stanning the Kanneh-Mason family on Youtube. I cultivate a sheet music habit, and, on days when I feel up to it, I play the piano a bit.
I no longer expect to find happiness or fulfillment around the next corner, if only I could land that book deal or that job or that speaking gig; if only I could visit that spectacular place or go on that retreat.
It’s a cliché, but it really is true that now is the only time we have to be happy. And when the future is so uncertain and scary, there’s something deeply comforting in that. The world is on fire, and my life has fallen apart, again. But this? This tree, this sunshine, this sky, this bird? This melody, this body breathing, this moment cuddling my son in bed? This is glorious.
Of course, I know I’m lucky: I’m not cold or hungry or homeless. Most of the time, I’m not in pain. I’m lucky to have the luxury of rest – which, in the absence of a functioning welfare state, is only possible thanks to a savings cushion and an incredibly supportive partner. And I don’t want to pretend that I’m not still frequently frustrated and pissed off. I have days of fatigue so deep it’s difficult to describe, days when the brain fog makes it harder to access inner contentment and what I mostly feel is boredom and despair.
I want to get better because my son deserves a mum who can do more than sit and watch Bluey or read the occasional bedtime story. I want to get back to work because the country is collapsing and I want to be of use. I am worried about money. My book manuscript taunts me, the finish line tantalisingly close yet so out of reach.
But I no longer presume that these things will make me happy. I no longer identify my selfhood with being hyper-productive or busy or high-achieving. If there weren’t an apocalypse on, I think I might be content to live out my days sitting in my garden, playing with my son, helping my neighbours and sharing food with friends, making beautiful or useful things out of words or music or plants or thread.
But that life is not open to us, or at least, it is open to very few. It is not open to us because our world is shaped not around our needs for happiness and fulfillment, but around the needs of capital. I want to get well because I want to help build a world where that life is open to us all.
I say “get well”, but as I sit here, I wonder what it really means to be well. I have days when I feel a greater sense of wellbeing than I have in months, maybe even years. The difference is that before, I could push through my pain or exhaustion, my confusion or distress, my emotional turmoil or broken-heartedness. I could – at least temporarily – squash it down or put it to one side and keep on functioning. Now, my body simply won’t let me. For the first time in my life, I am forced to learn how to rest with whatever arises; and in that resting I find a certain peace.
I want to write all this down now – in fits and starts on my phone, in between bouts of sitting with my eyes shut – because it feels important; because, if I do get “well” and once again become busy, I do not want to forget.
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