lacrymose or runny nose

Today is the tenth anniversary of the London Tube and Bus bombings. A short while ago Sherri Matthews made me think about grief and grieving with her post on the tunnels in Jersey that were built by slave labour during the occupation in World War 2. The Textiliste and I saw them, when we were aged around about 21 or 22 when we holidayed there in 1979. We bought a book ‘Jersey under the Jackboot’ which was horrific in the stories it told, mostly because they were personal and individual rather than describing battles and advances and retreats and huge numbers of casualties that just blur.

My mind grasps a single person killed. Or ten. But 100, or thousands and while I know it is dreadful, I can’t really imagine it. A tube carriage full of people or a bus yes. A whole  football stadium full? No, not really. There’s a lack to reality to such grievous slaughter on such a scale, if you’ve not been involved in such a thing directly.

As I confided to Sherri, there is also a difference between my reactions then and what they would have been now. In the shape of tears. Which is really about empathy. Back then I was sickened, upset and angered yes, but it didn’t occur to me to take it personally in any way and certainty not to allow any particular overwhelming emotion to take hold. These days, when confronted by loss or hurt or pain I want to cry a little. Or a lot. My throat swells and aches, my eyes sting and my nose runs, seeps, suppurates. It ain’t pleasant and makes me wonder if I hydrate too much.

Why is that? Have I been unmanned? Is it just a part of the ageing process that means muscle control isn’t what it was? Or is it something to do with an increased sensitivity?

And if the latter, is that bought in by an underlying concern for what happens daily, about me and my family?

I doubt that last point. My mother insisted that her two boys had to be optimists. In the same way that she wasn’t about to let us leave home without the core skills needed to survive – cook three meals (one of which included being able to carve a joint of meat), fix a plug, sew on a  button, iron a shirt and trousers, polish black shoes, put up shelves, change a tyre and grow your own cannabis  – of course, not the last: she said we should find a reliable source). Optimism could be learnt and I’ve certainly adopted it as my default. I do believe that gradually, and generalising a deal, the lot of the human species improves. Perhaps I’m really a meliorist – a term I learnt from Norah Colvin – and which I think captures my approach.

So, if I am of a positive turn of mind, why is it that the news, a documentary, a newspaper article, a conversation in a coffee shop can set me off? Why is it that today, when the news comes on with tales of loss and heroism, I well up?

I noticed it first with Rom-coms. The Vet and I try and watch Love Actually every Christmas. I will not hear a word against it: compelling script, utterly fabulous cinematography and the funniest porno ever. Nowadays the family watch me as much as the film wondering at which point the snuffling will start?

Perhaps that was a safe harbour, an easy place to let go of some emotion, rather than allow such an outward display for something that deserved it. Now however it isn’t so limited.

It wasn’t the advent of children. My two were born in 1990 and 1993 respectively and I didn’t cry then or later. Nope, I smiled and grinned. When the Lawyer was in an oxygen box as a small child being threatened with an adrenaline shot if is bronchiolitis didn’t react to the antibiotics I felt sick to the marrow but I didn’t cry.

If I go back to Love Actually it hit our screens in November 2003 so would have gone to video or DVD in mid 2004. My  dad was diagnosed with cancer in February 2004 and died in March 2005. We held a deliberately upbeat funeral, celebrating his life before he was buried in a woodland burial site that one day will be a glorious English wood. I was surprised when the Textiliste and the Lawyer cried as his coffin went into the ground; not so much at their tears as the lack of any from me.

Roll the clock forward to August 2005 and I watched England win back the Ashes at the Oval, in circumstance where, had he been alive Dad would have enjoyed that moment with me to the maximum. Others amongst the crowd cried – grown men do at sporting events – but my tears were for my Dad, the first I’d shed for my old man. They weren’t to be the last.

Grieving is an uneven and troubling process at the best of times and it works on one’s defences in much the same way that water does on a sea wall or dyke, seeking out a weakness and exploiting it. And once weakened it is so difficult to plug the leak. Ever.

I think I must resign myself to being a bit of a blubberer from here on in. If that is Dad’s legacy then I don’t really mind that much. So tonight, I will snuffle with those devastated people using my own loses to join with theirs. And tomorrow, when the first ball is bowled in the first test against Australia in Cardiff I will think about that determined face, that lopsided grin and weep just a little for my loss, but mostly for those many remembered joys. I hope those left behind by the events of ten years ago can also find their own ways to some remembered joys.

97280011

‘I bloody did it, boy’

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About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published three books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars and Salisbury Square. In addition I published an anthology of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand this summer. A fourth book will be out soon. This started life as a novel in a week on this blog and will follow later this year. I blog about all sorts at geofflepard.com and welcome all comments. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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27 Responses to lacrymose or runny nose

  1. colinandray says:

    I believe that aging has so much to with sensitivities towards death. We don’t “realise our mortality” until around 40. If you are not familiar with the phrase, it simply means that until around 40, death only happens to other people…. or at least that is ones perspective. The under 40’s take far more risks than the over 40’s which is why military service always targets late teens thru 20’s! That age group will take chances simply because nothing (they believe) will happen to them. Us over 40’s group know very well that we are as vulnerable as everybody else and so incidents of terrorism, catastrophic events etc take a very personal place in our minds.

    I would suggest that because we can relate more realistically to a bad event (i.e That could have been us!), we are more likely to be more emotional. Just some thoughts. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I’m sure you are right that our awareness changes; my dad was beyond sixty before you saw any evidence of that impact on his outward emotions whereas I was younger. But still my son cries more easily now we have shed the notion of ‘boys don’t cry’ so part of it is also the social conditioning. I feel a larger part is our own sense of loss, not so much our own mortality. But then I know we are all different so each of us will be impacted by different factors that lead to such changes. Thanks so much for the thoughts; they are all so helpful in understanding oneself.

      Like

  2. Nicely sensitive Geoff. It takes a lifetime to learn that ‘big boys don’t cry’ is a fallacy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sacha Black says:

    What a lovely, genuine and heartfelt post. I have to say, I am a bit dead on the inside. Although since having a kid, I can’t really cope hearing about bad things happening to children. I just can’t comprehend it – you know like the stadium full of dead people. Just… just no. Maybe I don’t want to believe it. One or the other, but I definitely can’t cope because of my son.And in a way I would never have had a problem with before.

    I reckon some of it is the old softening with age adage, but you know what, I think we become wise with age too. We understand more, and our emotional intelligence becomes more developed – attuned to the subtleties of human emotion. With that tuning and heightened perception comes the understanding and comprehension of all the shit in the world and a real understanding of the emotions others feel. We are social beings and if we understand the pain of others to a certain extent we feel it too. Just like – when you picture a face you activate the same areas of the brain as when you actually perceive a face. Did you know, that supposedly humans can’t actually tell the difference between a genuine laugh and a polite laugh in conversation until they are 40…. what does that say for the complexities of other emotions….

    *shrugs* or, you could just be a soft old git. :p

    p.s. lovely photo of your pops 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • TanGental says:

      I think I’m a soft old git and more aware. It disturbs me a little that I don’t have the control I once did. I am glad I am better able to empathise but I don’t enjoy the loss of control involved. I remember a study, after the Hillsborough disaster that said the deepest grief, if it can be measured was felt by parents of teenagers – they were people whose futures it was easiest to imagine but who had not enjoyed them yet. It sort of made sense to me. I watch these awful events and stand in someone’s shoes. I can’t help it. It is easy to be flippant; I’m naturally flippant but it just postpones real feelings, like today. t doesn’t ever stop those feelings.

      Like

  4. I don’t know why that should be. I just think of the old guys you see on Remembrance Sunday who take years to finally cry.
    Did you hear the final anthem, Vox Dei, at today’s service? I was a bit blank up to that point, having switched on shortly before the minute’s silence, but the pure voices echoing each other at the end just stopped me in my tracks and I hope answered some questions in troubled minds.
    I was a great blubberer but have lost that capacity recently, although that photo of your joyous dad made my eyes prickle!

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      No I haven’t seen Vox Dei; I’m sure it will be repeated. You make a good point about the older soldiers; there is something in ageing tat allows us to let go more. An accumulation of life stops us from being so rigid.

      Like

      • trifflepudling says:

        I’m inclined to agree with others on here in that it seems to have something to do with mortality, life and death, which sounds gloomy but it’s really not! You appreciate humanity and beauty in behaviour, and so on, more because you learn how much they matter. The emotion can manifest itself via different scenarios. For me, random recent things have been Sir Nicholas Winton’s actions, and then a recording triggering my remembering the audience watching Andy Murray win Wimbledon on the big screens outside and cheering and waving every time the camera turned on them: it was such a community and happy thing! Both events revolve around life and living. Of course, an immediate key straight into all-out blubbing was when Sue B interviewed Andy after the 2012 Final! Boo-hoo!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        good examples

        Like

  5. I think that as we grow older we become more emotional. As Colin points out above, it could well be that we are starting to realise our own mortality. Perhaps we are also more empathetic towards the feelings of others; the devastation for those that have lost loved ones, or whose lives have been changed dramatically by horrific events.
    This post was so touching and honest, Thanks so much for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I suppose I try not to analyse things like mortality too much but I do agree about empathy. I think it should be easier with a few life experiences to put ourselves in others shoes.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Ali Isaac says:

    Yep, exactly the same has happened to me. I always had empathy, but was able to disassociate myself when I was younger. Can’t do it now, and I cry quite easily. I think some of if is down to our experience of being writers, believe it or not. To write with quality and conviction, you have to be able to put yourself wholeheartedly and completely into the shoes of your characters, feel what they feel. It forces you to imagine all kinds of things beyond your actual experience. It makes you see things differently, become more sensetive and considerate.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. noelleg44 says:

    I’ve become like that, too. I seem to cry at the drop of a hat – I think it’s age. And a longing for things lost, old memories, and the recognition that life is indeed too short and fragile.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Norah says:

    Love the pic of your Dad. Love his legacy. I like how you have grown more compassionate as you have aged. I agree with you about “Love Actually” – great movie.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Norah says:

    Sorry – hit ‘Post’ too soon. Thank you for the mention and the link. I’m pleased you are also a meliorist. Some days it is a struggle, but it’s what keeps us plodding on!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Sherri says:

    What a touching, wonderful post Geoff. I always enjoy reading stories of your mum and dad and of your growing up years. Thanks for the link back, I enjoyed sharing our mutual experiences of the Jersey War Tunnels. It certainly is in the personal, human stories, that we find compassion and sometimes tears. I hope that you find many memories of those glorious times of joy you shared with your dad…even as you shed a tear or two along the way. Ahh…the power of emotion. Grief slices us in the gut just when we think we are immune. But we aren’t. We just have to find a way to live with it without letting it consume us. Back to the joy as we look back and remember…
    Love the photo of your dad…and the caption 🙂 And a great film that.

    Liked by 1 person

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