“Who writes the story?
I don’t know any more,
And maybe nothing’s what it seems,
Spare me the glory
Just get me safe on shore
And I’ll only put to sea in my dreams.”
The Victorians were wiser than I imagined, having a year of mourning followed by a period of half-mourning. The convention wasn’t just a social restriction; as I’ve found, you need a couple of years after the death of a spouse before you’re ready for normal life. So, with that need in mind, and with the second year anniversary of Trish’s death approaching, I’m declaring the end of widowhood.
I don’t mean, of course, that I’m forgetting our life together. I still have memories that paralyze me in the middle of whatever I’m doing, and that make me frown in the effort not to tear up. I’ll probably have such moments for the rest of my life, like a joint that aches in the rain, although they might become less common.
Nor do I mean that another woman is in my life. I’m laughably unfit for online dating, and while I’ve met several women in the last two years who have become friends, that’s all they are. The only woman in whom I’ve had the faintest interest isn’t speaking to me, and is unlikely to, and I’m not much concerned. I’ve had one spectacularly successful relationship, and I can’t expect another one.
I am not even suggesting that I have a new direction in life. I don’t, and I’m not likely to. Three years ago, I thought I knew what the next couple of decades would be like, and, with those expectations gone, I don’t see any point in aspiring to new ones. Despite some recent efforts to find new directions, I expect that thirty or forty or fifty years from now I’ll be found dead or ill among amid my books, music, computers, birds and exercise equipment, living much the same as I do now. The thought doesn’t worry me much, and I’m not in the least suicidal; it’s just the way things are likely to happen. Generally speaking, I accept that, just as I accept that I’m on the short side of medium height or have heavy shoulders.
So what do I mean? Simply that a time comes when living in the past feels like futility. For me, that time has come. The immediacy of the thirty-two years I spent with Trish is fading. Not that I forget much, not even my failures. Yet, emotionally, that era seems so distant from the way I live now that at times I have trouble believing that I am the same person who did or said what I remember. To deny that my past is gone out of loyalty or nostalgia would be perverse, and not at all what Trish herself would want for me. I know that, because in the final weeks of her life, she was often worried about what would happen to me without her.
Maybe to you, embedded in your relationships and children, what I’m saying sounds melancholy, or a sign of depression. But, contrary to our cultural expectations, none of us has a natural right to be a happy idiot smiling through out days, although, if you haven’t been widowed or traumatized yourself, you probably don’t understand that. However, from where I am, that’s a truth so obvious it hardly seems worth repeating. To you, it may not seem like much of a step to stop living in the past and start moving into the present, but trust me – it’s an immense one.
But what about the future, you ask?
I don’t rule anything out. However, right now, the future is more than I can think about. I have half-formed plans and intentions, and I’ll probably realize a few of them as I look for ways to fill my time. But they don’t have the urgency they did a few years ago. In that, I’m not much different from most people, if they would be honest with themselves. I’m just more likely to express uncomfortable facts.
What I am trying to say is that I’ve decided to quit feeling sorry for myself. Instead, I’m cultivating stoicism. My intention is to keep moving, one step at a time, not looking backward and not looking ahead, either. And if that seems inadequate to you, all I can say is that from running and writing, I know that’s the only way that most things get done.