“It seeps in and wears one away,” Nancy says, wearily. Then she brightens. “That’s why I don’t really spend much time thinking about the past, despite all this,” and with a delicate and distinctly feminine wave of her hand she indicates the hoards of memorabilia surrounding us. “I collected it to honour my Daddy, my brothers, my family, but not to dwell on it. Oh no! I've had too much other living to do!”
Like a manila Folder on the desktop (or screen) of her computer, marked USED PHOTOS, the memories are now stored away, minimized. Furthermore, within that single icon, once clicked on, there are some eighteen other sub-folders, and clicking on each reveals the assorted pictures relevant to the specific chapter heading or person that M’Lady includes in her Memoir. Then too, upon closing down on that Used Photos icon, there are some eighteen other icons on the desk-top, each actively gathering new photos (ones yet to be moved into the used category) since we keep scanning snippets from the wealth of physical information around us. Not so for life itself? We pack and unpack. At 716 documents and photos, we've re-examined The Ancestors; Sir Arthur; his wives Denise, then Angêle; sons Douglas, Pat, and Denys; The Great Escape; The War; The Blitz, and are about to... But is all this retelling necessary?
Other people’s affairs are theirs. We tend more easily to dwell on our own. We find it difficult to keep all the facts straight, the “who’s who” of the new Tome. Ever tried to read ‘War and Peace’? Characters do not live until we ‘know’ them. But most of us keep our past to ourselves; our lives mostly private (despite Facebook, ha!) We tend not to divulge the inner photo album of what 'was' and thereby engage another over-long. Yet every picture tells a... yes, platitudes persist. But the real past has faded edges, blurred imagery. Accuracy is easily suspect. Facts though, once cemented in the proverbial pen and ink, are unalterable. Yes, she would have had to be two months pregnant when she got married. Yes, he was in fact six whole years younger than she! And yes, that letter does reveal that... well, you get the gist.
But to brood over the past, to continue to succumb to its vicissitudes, to keep the inadequacies of one’s childhood or youth as an excuse in the present for one’s inabilities to overcome, or inability now to be ‘alive’ with the call to life in the daily breathing in and out, that’s what “seeps in and wears one away.”
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner conversations, about an hour each, are fascinating retrospectives, with their instant rapport between us; she in her hundredth decade; me in my seventieth. (Even the intentional use of that accurate and precise phraseology is enough to render us into a giggle.) Who would have ‘thunk’ it? After all these years of tests and trials we both are affirmed; there are no mistakes, only lessons. We see ourselves or we do not, and Jo and Harry, peeping through the window, may find us too esoteric, too obtuse, but our rapport is not for them. It takes one to know one. The intensity of our work and the revealed emotional drain on M’Lady of reviewing what has essentially been a harrowing past takes careful considerations, takes time to have a tender debrief, takes reassurances, takes understanding and compassion. But she quickly musters. And she gives forgiveness, grace, light, care, and love. The past cannot be changed. We grieve. We let go. We move on. Or we are indeed ‘our own worst enemy’. No one else but oneself knows our history, so we learn carefully to choose what to reveal, what to use as a foundation from which further to proceed with acumen, and how to be erudite with others, let alone oneself. Or surely, we’d be our own worst enemy.
And that essential homily, transcribed verbatim from the spirit of the conversations we are engaged in, is pretty accurate. Or as my old friend George Ferry often said it, “Good enough for the Gal I go with!” Ha!