July 3rd, 2014…
I have a sore throat. For the past three days I have spoken almost exclusively in French and that uses a whole different set of movements. Once upon a time I spoke nothing else for years. It has been quite curious to see the simple words I have forgotten, yet the conversation has flowed and covered an awful lot of ground, highlighting too, to my delight, just how much I have remembered. Over the course of three days, an awful lot came back as the habit of conversation clicked into place, and habits are hard to eradicate.
My visitor has now gone back to Paris; it has been an interesting few days, sharing laughter, memories and music, reminding me of why we were married so long ago, and why we are not. It is easy to slip back in memory to a time and a mindset that relate to a then, rather than to a now that is real and actual; the habits of years of thinking and feeling centred around that very young family are readily accessible and it would be all too easy to allow the valse musette to whirl the emotions round a dance floor of roseate romanticism that bears little resemblance to the here and now.
Much water has passed under that particular bridge. It was good to be reminded of the fun, the songs, and the music. For the most part, those years in France were the happiest of years… certainly the most carefree years of my life. There were dark spots, of course, there always are, but not many that I noticed at the time; in Paris and Vichy there was light and laughter and the magic did not begin to fade until we moved to England, where the grey skies and rain brought a different reality into play.
“If we’d stayed in France, perhaps we would still have been together…” Perhaps is a big word. Who can tell? Destiny isn’t that simple; it is based on the choices we make at the crossroads of every second of our lives. Perhaps we would… although it is impossible to say, so much has changed, including me. I would certainly not have become the person I am today, because the living of this past has brought me to the present and today I observe myself in a new light. I can look back on the younger woman with more kindness these days, more compassion for her mistakes and frailties as she was growing and learning; more understanding of her weakness, and of the strength she didn’t realise she could call upon. I can look back on the young man too with the same lens and see that we were, quite simply, who we were… we are never anything else, no matter how much we may try and hide behind the masks of justification, blame or excuse… and the life we lived then was the life we chose, deliberately or tacitly.
The visit held up a kind of magic mirror for me, in which I was permitted a glimpse of past and present side by side and the chain of choices, actions, and reactions that bind the two together; a chain that does not begin or end in any one place, or with any single decision or person. It stretches far beyond those reflected in that mirror to parents, grandparents, and our most distant ancestors… any single choice ever made would or could have changed the course of our lives.
Yet that does not absolve us of responsibility… far from it. Because the choices we make now reach far into our own future, and into that of those who will follow us one day. We cannot predict what is to come any more than we can know what happened at a personal crossroads in the lives of our ancestors. We can only live here and now with what we are, now… in this moment. And because the consequences are so far-reaching it is, I believe, our responsibility to choose and to live with all that we are. Life is no bed of roses, they say… though if you include all the thorns, aphids, and caterpillars, perhaps it is; that will not stop me burying my face in the silken petals and drinking the perfume of the rose.