Reassessing

As I’ve got older, I’ve gone through a continual process of reassessing my priorities. You might think that’s absolutely normal – and I’m sure it is.
Think my reassessment is perhaps a bit strange though – I haven’t become more career focused and more responsible, but actually the reverse. I want to spend more time enjoying myself. I want to enjoy the company of my friends. I want to walk out amidst the glorious colours of Autumn and enjoy the last of the year’s warm sunshine, rather than hiding myself inside at work all day. And I’m quite ready to reduce my earnings a bit to gain that all-important time.

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Live each day…

We know what completes that: “as if it were your last”

I’ve known the phrase as long as I can remember, but I think I’ve only just actually got it.

As I was walking along in the sunshine, it just came to me – sometime, there will be my last summer. There will come my last day to sit in the sun by the waterside. There will be a final ruffling of my hair by a gentle breeze, and a final warmth of sun on my face.

I do not know whether it will be worse if I know it is my last summer, or just if I know after it had ended. The former might be spoilt by obsessively trying to drink it all in, but the latter – the pain of knowing what will not come again does not bear thinking about, and the regret for all the time wasted….

But I know I will not look back wishing I had a tidier house, or had gained a higher status job. I might well regret not spending time with my friends, and not embracing life, and making the most of each day.

I have made a resolution. I will enjoy the sun. I will look at the flowers. I will walk out, savouring the fresh breeze.  I will say “yes” more often.

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Lasting impacts

How much our personal experience determines what we care about and react to. Is that good? Probably not. But I suspect it’s inevitable.

For example – having experience dealing with a vulnerable old person who I loved very much, I feel there should be a special corner of hell reserved for those who abuse or mistreat the elderly, and accounts of such things have me in tears at once, and haunt me long after. For others, although they obviously consider such behaviour as very wrong, they don’t have this emotional reaction, but will react emotionally like this instead to, say, cases involving mentally handicapped people, or children, or dogs, or …

Likewise, when I saw the news of the terrorist atrocity in Nice last night, I know I reacted emotionally more strongly because I have been there and walked along that promenade, than I would have done had it been somewhere I’d never visited.

Our choice of charities to support is almost inevitably emotionally rather than rationally driven. I suspect that were it not, a number of the smaller charities would get little support – would any of us really think it more worthwhile, rationally, to help your local school develop a better play area, rather than to provide clean water to people, even if the latter are in another country?

I guess if I connected emotionally to more causes, I’d be a better person in the sense of putting much more of my time and effort into helping others rather than looking after myself, but I think I’d be an emotional wreck if everything affected me so strongly.

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I know what it’s like…

I’ve only recently come to understand quite how infuriating it can be for someone to say they know what it’s like for you.  I was on the receiving end of someone saying it to me, when blindingly obviously, they didn’t (in this case the comparison was between someone they loved dying suddenly of a heart attack (their side) and going through 7 months of suffering with no relief first (my side)… I’m sure it’s not just me that thinks these circumstances are very different?)

But after the inchoate fury had slightly subsided, I started reflecting how often I might have done something similar. I hope never quite so badly as that, but I am sure I have presumed to “understand” someone else’s position when I really couldn’t.

It can be done with the best of motives – wanting them to feel less alone in their misery, that you can understand and empathise (though of course it can also be done, consciously or otherwise, to stop them having to actually talk to you about whatever it is, or bring the attention back to them).  But whatever the motive, I’d be surprised if it was ever helpful, unless the experiences were so similar that practical advice can come out of it.

I sometimes wish there was some sort of instruction manual for dealing with distressed people!  One person might want you to be there for them to talk as they wish, but not to ask them anything. Another may feel it’s uncaring not to specifically ask them how things are. One may want those comforting noises about it being OK, whilst another will hate that.

 

 

 

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Guilt

I don’t get why people feel “guilty” about some things. I mean – why feel guilty that you had a lie in, or one too many chocolate biscuits? You aren’t harming anyone except yourself.

Don’t get the guilt about things you couldn’t possibly have done anything about, either. I know logic doesn’t come into it – but if, for example, your friend walks out under a bus, you honestly couldn’t have stopped her. If your kid cocks something up, it doesn’t necessarily make you a bad parent (and if it’s only very occasionally they act up or can’t cope, then chances are you’re a good parent).  And how could you feel guilty about passing on a genetic condition if you’d no way of knowing you had it ? But people do.

But then people don’t feel guilty enough about other things. Cheating on taxes, not paying your train fare – yes, you should feel bad about those.  You most certainly should feel bad about not going to see a sick person because “you didn’t like seeing them like that” – that’s just plain self-centred and inconsiderate.

Difficult to know where to stop, though. I think I should give more to charity and spend a bit less on myself, and do sometimes feel bad about this. Should I feel guilty that I spend anything on stuff I don’t need? Maybe I should, but I’d be a rarity in the Western world if I did.

How about time spent on others? I think after someone dies, we all feel we could have done more. But could we practically? It’s a question of what it would have cost us (in time, friends and family, our sanity…). Probably most of us could, but probably few would have expected us to. I guess we all feel bad about unkind words when it’s too late to put things right, but most of us aren’t the stuff saints are made of.

How can we make guilt constructive and not corrosive?  Maybe if I did feel guilty about wolfing those chocolate biscuits I’d be a healthier person…. or maybe I’d just be a more guilt-ridden couch potato?   Does regretting what we didn’t do for a loved one, or the efforts we didn’t make to support a friend, or repair a friendship, make us better in the future? I’m not sure. I think it often just leaves us absorbed in the “what ifs”.

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Funeral Blues

Funny things, funerals.

i was talking to a colleague who said that she’d only ever been to one non-religious funeral. I was rather taken aback – we are not a particularly religious country, after all.

Do people think of it as some sort of insurance policy – you didn’t pay any attention to God in your life, but giving him a slot in your funeral service will guarantee he knows you’re a good sort?

Or is it that they like the idea of the departed having some form of continued existence, so the mourners “get” religion at that stage?  Think I’d make sure it was a religion that didn’t offer any unpleasantness after death in that case…

Or is it that we don’t like to talk about the fact that death is final? Like those readings about “slipping into the next room” – arghhh, they aren’t in the next room, I can go and see people in the next room, talk to them and give them a hug! Yes, it is final, yes, it is a reason to be miserable, yes, we are allowed to be sad /angry/desperate without people describing death as “only” anything.

I guess another point about the religious model is it avoids having to think of too much to say – if we strip away pieties, hymns and hopes of life eternal, then there had to be much more about the deceased. I think more about them is good, but maybe not everyone does.

Another funny thing – imagine the job of being a funeral celebrant – going round talking sincerely and meaningfully at the funerals of people you have never met. What a bizarre way to earn a living. Do people go to careers teachers and say they want to be a celebrant?

i’ve heard recently that some people get metal-lined caskets. Why????  It seems about as reasonable as the Ancient Egyptians wanting their bodies preserved by mummification. Do folk really think keeping the worms from their corpse offers them some vestige of immortality ? If you want to go down those lines, best to be cryogenically frozen and have done with it.

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Character descriptions

Do you ever do those daft Facebook quizzes that purport to tell you your strengths and weaknesses, or how others view you? Er no, me neither of course…

But anyway, in a moment of aberration, I did one the other day. It was claiming to assess whether you are “left brained” or “right brained”, using the stereotype of left brain equating to reasoning, logic etc and right brain to creativity (which of course isn’t true – but hey, it’s a quiz!)

It said I was right brained. I got ridiculously annoyed by this.  WHAT!!! OUTRAGEOUS! I am not a woolly, creative person, I am a logical, analytical thinker through and through.   It annoyed me enough that I did the stupid quiz again to try to get my “real” answer. Guess what, it made me even more right-brained!!

OK, it’s just a stupid Facebook quiz. But then my friends mainly were getting results that actually tally with their own perception of their strengths…

So to distract from this apparent insult to my deeply-held perception of myself (and, in fairness, to what my qualifications and employment would say), I started thinking about this tendency to binary characterisation. Why must we be “extrovert” or “introvert”,  “science” or “arts” etc?   Like most people, I expect, there are times when I really need to be by myself, and times I really enjoy being with other people.  My interests don’t lie solely in one area, my musical or literary taste is not obviously characterisable either.  I’m sure I’m the rule rather than the exception here.  So why do we want to put people in neat little boxes?

 

 

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