I’ve had two lovely long chats today with good pals in the village, and it was really good, after so long in lockdown (still in it but relaxing a tad), to rekindle friendships and chew the fat. We all have stories to share – we think our lives are mundane but they are rich, rich, rich.
I remembered back to when I was a new Mum, when money was tight, and I really needed a job. I could work at night because my husband would be home to look after our baby, and I would be there during the day, napping when she napped. I belonged to a nursing agency and one night I was called to care for a dying woman in her own home. I arrived after dark at the 1930’s bungalow – nothing unusual about it at all, the traditional two bay windows, a decent sized bedroom, space to sit beside her through the night. The family left to return to their homes and I read her notes, checked her medications, all the usual stuff. There was not much to do except hold her hand, keep her comfortable and warm, maybe rub her heels, be ready to give comfort. By about 3am I was half asleep myself, in that hushed, peaceful state of a night vigil. The room was only dimly lit, cosy, the only sounds were her soft breathing and the tick of the clock in the hall. As if we were wrapped in a blanket, that sort of night. And then, right by my ear, strident and and rough, coming out of nowhere and no one, “What time is it?“
Well! I nearly hit the roof! It’s the nearest I have ever come to a heart attack.
The family had forgotten to tell me that, in the bay window, behind the curtain, there was a birdcage and a mynah bird. When I’d picked myself up from the floor and stopped swearing, I found myself answering “Twenty past three.” The bird put its head on one side, blinked slowly, and said again “What time is it?”
That bloody bird asked the same question every two minutes for the next half hour. Hardly an ideal deathbed companion. So much for serenely departing this life. I moved the cage to the other room.
Funny things happen in the strangest, most tense and emotional moments. Mostly, they’re not very funny at all, but we find them hilarious because we so need to escape from the weight and the emotion of the moment, to be silly old us, sniggling and giggling, rather than sombre strangers the occasion seems to demand. At my husband’s funeral, the hearse driver didn’t bother with signals and seemed to apply the brakes randomly. In the following car we got the giggles.
In my village there’s a woman I worked with on two films, she was the set designer, and strangely we’ve ended up living a quarter of a mile away from each other. Today we sat on the wall outside my house and remembered an old friend, now dead, a much loved actor – one of those precious ‘national treasures’ – and what joy it was to have him come alive to both of us, as we remembered his sweet and silly ways.
Stories draw us close, stories are windows to human nature, tributes to humanity. Stories reveal so much. They say to me “You’re not so different from everyone else” and they say to you “You are not alone.” and I think that a good story, honestly told, teaches us to forgive. It teaches us that we are all flawed, that we are none of us apart and better than others, that we all deserve love. That loneliness kills.
Something about the conversations I’ve had today has released the desire to write and so I’ve finished the first chapter of my second book. Hoorah! I think that when we remember how full of humour and nonsense and love and grief and rage and contradiction our lives are, we can’t help but tell each other all about it. These are our stories. I do love our stories.
A couple of days ago I wrote a blog about my newly discovered covetousness. I had an email from someone I’ve never met telling me that she has just had the very same experience! On the very same day, she had realised that her discontent wasn’t harmless ‘thinking’ but damaging, corrosive covetousness! Like me, she was a bit shocked. Like me, it woke her up.
Stories, see? They whisper “Me, too, sister.” They tell us that we are forgiven, that we are loved, acceptable, and that even when we are no earthly use to anyone, we are eternally valued by God, and that with his help, we can learn and grow.