Friday, September 27, 2013

"To make much of time"

Guest post by my daughter Emma

The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant. ~ Richard Curtis – Doctor Who.

There’s a mistake that people make when they look at their lives, because they think that everything that ever hurt them should be shut away and forgotten. I came across a beautiful thing while I was reading Slaughterhouse 5 earlier this month. One whole page in the novel is taken up by a drawing of a gravestone, and on it are the words, “Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt”, and I sort of stumbled around the school for quite a while with that page open in front of my face, trying to take it in.

That naturally brought me along the avenue of thinking what I might like to have on my gravestone, because all the best ones have a message, a message from beyond the grave, something that defines the person whose remains now beneath the ground. I thought that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if I wrote on mine, “Everything was beautiful, and everything hurt. But that’s okay. When it hurts, you know that it means something”.

That brought me to thinking that perhaps the things we lose define us as surely as the things we have, or even more so. We’ve all lost things. Some of us have lost parents or friends, whether it’s because they died or an argument took them out of our lives. We’ve all lost pets and books, phones and toys and little bits of our lives we wish we could remember. Our losses define us so much more than anything else, because humans never appreciate what they have until it’s gone.

I came across a very touching poem written from the point of view of a young girl who had committed suicide, and she’s looking down at her family. She noticed how that year the Christmas tree didn’t go up, and her friends stared at the presents they’d wrapped for her and cried, and wouldn’t come out of their rooms. She was confused by all of this, because these people had treated her with what seemed to her like indifference when she was alive. Watching them cry and scream and miss her, she became more and more agitated and regretful of what she had done, because it was only from beyond the grave that she could see how much she had meant to them.

I suppose the lesson in that is to show your love for the people around you. If they call you at two in the morning crying, sit up and listen to them, offer to drop over the next day, include the people you love in your life, because if you don’t they’ll fade away from you. Some people need to be reminded that they are loved more than others, because in their minds if no one in the world loves them then there’s no point in existing.

Most people need others to witness their passage through life and knowing that; we should always try to pay attention to the people around us. We should make sure they know that someone is watching, and someone cares. You can never tell what’s going on inside another person’s mind, because most of us are very good at smiling even though inside we’re dying, so just be there. Be a friend, be the person who cares, because you don’t want to end up running your fingers over the beaming Santas on the wrapping paper of a gift that suddenly has no recipient.

If our lives are a pile of good things and bad things, then we have a duty to do all we can to keep adding to our loved ones’ pile of good things. We have duty not to turn our backs. You don’t get to be indifferent; you can’t afford to do that, because if something happens you’ll never be able to stop blaming yourself. People seem to have this idea that their time is too precious to share, and they scramble to do things and leave their mark on time, but eventually all things are forgotten, and every achievement fades away. Immortality is a myth, so stop hoarding your time and start giving it to the people who need it. Stop clinging to every second and pay attention to the people who need your time.

I used to be so obsessed with achieving things. Publishing books, ‘winning’ at life, getting A’s, all these superficial things, but in the end they mean nothing if your smile hasn’t touched the heart of another person. I’ve decided that whatever I do in life, its primary purpose will not be to make me happy, but to make others happy, and if by extension that can make me happy, then fine.

I think that in order to realise the value of something, you have to lose it. The key to being happy is appreciating the things you have while you have them and not just because they’re gone now. When we are old and struggling to keep our eyes open all we have to do is count the scars to know that we lived and we loved and dying is okay, because at least we did something that meant something. At least we felt things and went places, at least we laughed and at least we cried.

I will not count success by the things I own, or whatever great things I might do. I will look at my heart and trace the outlines of the people I’ve loved and they will be the most precious things I have in the end. They will remind me that I’ve lived when I’m trying desperately not to die. The good things and the bad things will all add up to make me who I am. I’ll know that the people I used to know will be looking at their hearts someday and I’ll be there. That’s all the knowledge I need to be content in this life.

Emma Tobin