There is a dent in my pride to match the rather large one on the side of my car, above the wheel, where the scrapes are. You can’t miss the scrapes. There is a dent in my car and it bothers me. Superficial damage in a car worth more to me than anyone else. I don’t care about cars, how they look, what everyone else is driving. I don’t care about cars, until tonight. Tonight I care. I lie in bed irritated and regretful, unable to find the perspective that is glaringly obvious, unable to care about anything else.
Sometimes, when I haven’t just bashed my car, I get into bed and kind of wallow in the comfort of it. I have done my fair share of travelling in the past and although I loved it I also love lying in my own comfortable space, thinking how nice it is not to be in a tent or a dorm room, on a greyhound or an overnight train. I guess it’s part of a little end-of-the-day gratitude, for what I have, for my small corner in the world.
But as I snuggle into the sheets, I feel a niggling discomfort, wondering about all the people who right at that moment are experiencing very different conditions and feelings – homeless, trafficked, refugees. I can’t say I leap out of bed to do anything about it, but I acknowledge it, and maybe that’s a place to start.
I’m annoyed about the car but I’m also annoyed because I was supposed to get my nails painted, and there was a mix-up. If there is one thing I care about less than the aesthetics of cars, it’s painted nails. I never have painted nails. But I was going to tonight, and it’s annoying me disproportionate amounts.
I lie in bed wallowing, not in its comfort, but in my disappointment and self-reproach.
I hoist Imogen higher up on my hip as we navigate our way towards the school gate with her sister. She’s too big to be carried but some mornings it’s just easier. She is fierce in her independence, fast on her feet, and committed to a new method she has developed of holding her OWN hand. I feel like I’m running a gauntlet from car to classroom – chasing my feisty toddler and coaxing my 4 year-old who just does not want to go to school – not on Mondays or Fridays, not last week, not this week, not today. I try to navigate them through the car-park and up the steps, round corners and through their Big Feelings. I feel fully deserving of a medal by the end of it all.
I text my husband to tell him we are having fish finger sandwiches. He replies, predictably, now desperate for a fish finger sandwich – that trivial sharing of common loves with the people we know best.
My computer is a throng of opened tabs – op eds and blog posts and petitions and videos. Syria, Syria, Syria. Some get my full attention, some get scanned, many sit there, blinking at me, being added to, and added to, as if clicking on them will help someone.
I watch desperate refugees on the news – see toddlers asleep in arms at border points – and I feel ridiculous and ashamed at how desperate I thought I was, half an hour before, for my children to go to sleep. I have talked on and on and on about it for 2 months now. This room sharing isn’t working. Maybe we should change them back? Maybe we should try this? These antics are unbelievable. Worse than newborn days. Will we ever sleep again?
I see a picture of a toddler in an anorak, hoisted high on someone’s hip, her big sister clinging to someone’s leg as they navigate a journey in stark contrast to my school run. I feel ridiculous and ashamed.
Recently, on the 52nd anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech, Gemma Brown asked people to think about and share their dream – for themselves, or their community or the world. People looked up, took a picture of what they saw and posted it on social media with their dream. I loved seeing and reading these. I’m a slow, slooooooow thinker so I am still mulling this one over. How would I finish the sentence “My dream is…”?
Mother Teresa said “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
I believe, and write often, that the small things matter. I believe that the daily caring for a few small souls matters. The school run, their sleeping arrangements, their Big Feelings, fish finger sandwiches. All of it.
And I believe in telling the truth when I find some of that hard.
I have dreams for my own little anoraked girls, and I have dreams for myself. (That’s a whole other blog post, but a lot if it is what Mel explores here, and what Elizabeth Gilbert talks about in her brilliant podcasts here.)
I feel peace when I feel the solidarity and care of belonging to others. We share common loves, we share tips about sleeping arrangements, people text to ask how did Olivia get on today? Some of it’s trivial, much of it is ordinary, but it’s good.
It’s good, and yet I know, they’re first world problems, or pleasures. What does it mean that someone else’s anoraked girls belong to me too?
In the afternoon we walk home from school. We go to the ‘wee park’. Every day. We have water and Nairn’s oatcakes and there is never anyone there. It’s not fancy, but it’s good. I look up to the sky. Isn’t this very ordinary life the one we dream of, believe in, for refugees? A little bit of space, a place to return to, somewhere to play for their children, where they can go down the slide head first? Isn’t it right that my peace is disturbed lying in bed at night when I think of them?
The truth is I struggle to maintain my attention, and my compassion. My good intentions embarrass me: unread, open tabs everywhere I look.
We belong to each to other. I think about that a lot. Connected with fish finger sandwiches and hand holding and those blinking tabs – trying to educate me, explain the war, tell stories and show me their faces.
I hit ‘x’, again and again. I’m not going to read them all. I start to choose more slowly, one thing at a time. I start to look more seriously at the small things I can do.
I’m paying attention to the niggling discomfort at night, the lack of peace when I forget we belong to each other.