I regularly meet a woman who is in total awe of anyone who can write. Whatever I say to this kind woman, however banal it is, however dull, even if it’s just about the flipping weather, she sighs ‘Oh, you see…. you’re so clever. You have such a wonderful mind.’ If only she knew:
A friend and I do a crossword two or three times a week – it’s not a clever cryptic one, it’s a simple sort of exercise requiring little brain. Occasionally we don’t understand the clue so there’s no way we will ever get the answer and then we just have to look at the few letters we already have and work out what the word might be from them. It’s not cheating, it’s creative. She does gardening and music clues, I do the Latin and trivia.
And Schrodinger’s cat. For me, this celebrated experiment in thought, raises only questions like ‘what the hell is quantum superposition?’ and ‘is there any way to understand the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Physics?’ and that old favourite, ‘is it too early to have a large glass of Rioja and that nice bit of melty cheese rotting quietly on the worktop?’
Yesterday I told a super-bright American that I can think properly only when I’m writing and she gazed at me as I might gaze at a lost child, with tenderness, pity and concern. But it’s true. It’s true that without being at the keyboard I can think at the basic level of shopping lists, and doing the washing, but anything a little more taxing than that and I need to put the thoughts down in words, in order to hear them coming back to me. Only when I write can I test thoughts for veracity and common sense, and stand any chance of journeying from one thought to the next. I don’t think it’s age, I think I’ve aways been like that. If the thoughts or ideas aren’t written down, they slip away and I rarely find them again. Occasionally I will come across one of these lost meanderings and then it’s a delight – ‘Ah! My old friend – yes, I remember you! Right, let’s go on from there.”
When I was about eleven I had a year of what they called elective/selective mutism. It drove my Dad round the bend. He was sure that a well directed heavy handed, flat-palmed slap to the side of the head would sort it. In a way it did because I’d be sent reeling and almost inevitably I’d cry out, a whoosh of noise rather than a word, but enough to make my Dad turn to my stepmum triumphantly ‘There! She can bloody speak. She just bloody chooses not to.’ Maybe it was part of the reason for the educationalists to class me as educationally subnormal (but my complete failure in the 11plus exam helped).
So, you have to understand that I am not a clever person. I have a facility with words, a God-given need to communicate, and an over active sense of the absurd or the funny, and together these three things can fool people. Some of the things I can’t do? I can’t make any sense of numbers. I confuse the letter D with the number 4, even as I write this I can’t see the difference between the two. And there are others. Noughts bamboozle me totally. What’s the point of them? And I struggle with time and memory. Two people talking at once frazzles my senses. Diagrams make no sense to me. I can’t follow simple diagrammatic instruction sheets even when they’re accompanied by written words, in fact the diagrams make no sense of the words and vice versa. That’s why when I buy something new it might stay in its box for a year. I had a new kitchen mixer a couple of years ago that I ended up giving away because I couldn’t work out how to put it together. I’m a bit face blind.
Sometimes, even now, out of the blue, I will wake up and just not want to speak; days when opening my mouth is like forcing open the jaws of a man trap, when I long to live in silence, to slip into total anonymity, to not be. These days are rare now, but always a shock. I don’t volunteer for them, they just arrive. And I do know where they come from; When I was about 7 I was told that if I ever spoke about something a brick would be forced down my throat, and to show how real the threat was, the man who said it bent down to pick up a bit of crumbling red brick, and he shoved it between my lips. I can still feel that brick on my teeth, and taste it. It is still real. On the days when I don’t want to speak, the brick is there, and the fear.
But God is, too. God is, too. And I know that although my childhood altered my brain in a very real way, paralysing some thought processes and distorting my view of the world, I have been left with a very special gift, the gift of words and here I am, all these years later, so happy. How did that happen? By the grace of God. Only by the grace of God. By the realisation that I am loved and was loved even then, by God. The only perfect and essential love.
So, listen, this is to two lots of people;
If you’re bright and articulate and easy in your skin, I want to say that if you meet someone who is silent, or shut-off, a little slow, who struggles with the basics, who is hard to get to know, they may be like me. They may be all these things, experience all these limits because of what they have already survived, what’s been done to them, rather than what they have chosen to do. They may be inside their heads watching and understanding but unable to respond quickly and openly. They may be electively or selectively self-protecting. Cut them some slack. Don’t give up on them. Understand that you have no idea what has made them this way. If you were blessed not to go through the same, have pity.
And if you are the one who is struggling, if you are having a difficult day, trying to step away from your past, if your past has left you with scars, take heart my chicklet:
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
That’s Isaiah 43:19 and I know I’ve quoted it before, but here I go, quoting it again.
God loves you, and has always loved you, and will always love you, whatever your past, whatever you are going through today. If your mind is tangled, if understanding the world and your place in it is difficult, if your life is a wasteland, He will transform it.
Only He can.