‘The Maps We Leave Behind’ is an ongoing collection of personal musings. I write them for myself – they help me – and I offer them here for the simple reason that sometimes we are touched by the experiences of others; because sometimes we help, and are helped, by the maps we leave behind.
Last night, as we were walking back to the car after eating chips, a baby bird fell out of a willow tree. It took a long fall onto a concrete pavement, and its beak was bloodied. It barely had feathers yet, just naked pink flesh and scraggly bits of white and yellow. Its little body was heaving with breath. I slid a piece of paper underneath it, and scooped it up to the grass under the tree. I knew we couldn’t save it, and that nor could its mother even if she found it. For a moment I considered stamping hard on it with my boot to end its suffering, but I couldn’t do it, not while there was still life.
That baby bird has changed me.
We need to tell the stories that that help us to live better lives and be better to each other and do better for our world, because we’re all in this shit-show together, and I’m that baby bird, and so is everyone I love, and everyone I don’t, and everyone is that baby bird.
It’s Good To Talk
They say it’s good to talk. The trouble is, most of us don’t know how to listen. It’s one of the hardest things in the world to see someone you love in pain, and so instead of shutting up and listening we do the thing that makes it easier for us and much harder for the loved one: we fix. We fix and we jolly along and and we look on the bright side and we point out all the things there are to be grateful for and we ‘but what about’ and we ‘but at least’ and we ‘there there’ and we pity and we offer sympathy and oh for the love of god spare me the fucking sympathy.
And this is why I don’t talk.
This is why I write.
Face the music and dance
There have been so many lows, for all of us, during the pandemic. So much loss, so much feeling broken and hopeless about where our lives went, so much anguish about the heartbreaking fragility of life and all we hold precious. But in getting too cosy with that, in bracing myself for impact; I realised I was wasting the life and the joy that is real and present and right in front of me. Are ‘awful’ things going to happen? Well, yes – I’m going to die and so is everyone I love, and someone has to go first which means others are left behind, and there is going to be pain, in the future. But not only pain – joy too. And joy now, because I am alive and we are alive, and everything works, more or less, right now, and no amount of anticipatory grief and pre-emptive mourning can change any of what’s to come, but it can certainly shit all over what’s right here, right now. I can’t rehearse grief, can’t practise loss, can’t lessen future pain by trying to imagine it, can’t prepare myself for it. Ahh, and preparation is how I manage the things I’m scared of, ahh, interesting. All I do though, when I do that, is spoil what’s real and true and here, poisoning the nectar, turning everything bitter with fear. So I will get my hopes up, thank you very much, and I will welcome in the joy of what exists right now whilst it does exist, rather than half-living in the fear of losing it, trying to somehow manage the inevitable, fearing feeling too much joy because it might tempt fate. HA! Fate is coming whether you tempt it or not. Tempting it won’t make my pain any worse, all it will do is rob life of its colour and meaning. I might as well be dead already, living like that. So yes, there may be trouble ahead. But I choose, whilst there’s moonlight and music and love and romance – to face the music and dance.