It’s come around astonishingly quickly, this weekend. Right now I’m in a small western town, settled into a cheap but comfortable hotel, getting ready for the counselling residential to start tomorrow. I knew it would come around quick, but the fast passage of time when it happens never fails to surprise me. I haven’t gotten used to the fact that time is always passing, even though I’ve seen the days slip by at a phenomenal rate. At the beginning of the week I was dreading the days I had to get through at the office, wishing it was over so I could say I was on holiday. I already had full knowledge of how soon the holiday would come, how it would get to today and I’d feel like the week had passed in a flash, but I still had that dread, as if this might be a slower week than usual. That’s the critical misjudgement that my anxiety feeds off – the inability to judge time properly when something’s in my way.
Yet there’s evidence that it is getting better. My dread at the beginning of the week wasn’t as bad as it used to be. I’ve spent so much time practising mindfulness that I know it’s me getting in my own way, that when I feel that fear it’s just resistance to the inevitable thing that’s coming. I can see that the link between fear and time in my life is definitive. This is how it works: nearly every day since I was a child I have woken up fearing something in the near future. I may want to put the arrival of that thing off as much as possible, yet at the same time, I want time to hurry up so I can get to the far future where the thing is no longer a problem. It’s a battle I can’t win, this battle with time, with myself. With mindfulness I put a space around the whole thing and let life carry on flowing as it would anyway.
The town I’m in is nicer than I thought it would be. It’s the sort of small English town that people from my part of the world wouldn’t think of visiting unless they had to. Which makes its charm all the more surprising. You wouldn’t think somewhere that’s mainly known for business headquarters could be picturesque, but its cobbled central streets, its winding river and its pretty church certainly all fit that description. As with all English towns, its high street is full of the same recognisable chains that you find everywhere – I don’t know any other country in the world that sees the dominance of such a small number of brands in all its towns and cities. But I’ve never minded the chains, and unlike many, I don’t think the homogenisation of the high street has ruined it, yet. The place maintains its charming village-y character nonetheless. I like it.
I experienced a mood wobble during an afternoon stroll through the park. I’d just finished When Breath Becomes Air, which is quite possibly the saddest book ever written. I had such a big lump in my throat, I felt like crying as I started to think sad thoughts about mum, who’s on holiday from work at the moment and spending her entire day at home, watching TV. When reading a book about death it’s probably natural to think about mortality, the elephant in everyone’s room, so I had that at the forefront of my mind when I remembered how mum is spending her week, and how she will probably spend the rest of her life after retirement. Her life is shrinking in front of my eyes; after the sickness last week I can’t even say that she’s still in full health.
Having spent the past six or seven years worrying about her ageing, I’m having to try and make peace with it, because there’s no other way of living with it. I think today may just be a bump in the road. I’m about to be away from home for the next two weeks, I can’t help worrying about her more than usual, since she’s back there on her own. I can’t help feeling guilty for leaving her without company. She probably won’t speak to anyone until she returns to work in a couple of weeks. Of course I didn’t think of that when I booked all this time away, I was just thinking about myself. What can I do about it now? Phone her every few days? Yes, and not much else. We’re stuck for other options.
I can only walk around this bump and keep practicing the acceptance that I’ve been trying to practice for years. My mood improved when I got back to the hotel and remembered to breathe. That’s all I can do. Gradually I’ve remembered that she has made her choices, this is how she wants to live. She is getting old, her days are numbered just like everyone else’s, just like mine: that is a fact that nobody can change. Breathe, and it will be fine anyway.
Not so many years ago I’d have crashed into a bottomless well of fear and anger over this. The underlying anxiety that sits there every day of my life was much more volatile until recently; anything like this would set off the explosion in my head that was always waiting to happen. Today I notice that I’m no longer so fragile. I can call today a bump, rather than a disaster. I can let the time pass freely and welcome tomorrow, when I’ll be another day closer to the inevitable. As a wise woman once said, all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.