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.