Another cafe closed. This time, Coral’s which is what Lerryn’s morphed into a while ago. I went to it once or twice, but it wasn’t Lerryn’s, although the owner and some of the customers were the same.
It has figured large in my life over the last couple of years. I discovered it with Mark, so there was a sense of continuity, and it was a place I would take myself to work when I needed to be among people. I like the mix that went there, different ages and lots of other differences, but people who seemed joined by a common thread. It’s unusual to find a place like it in London, somewhere you can chat to the owner and the staff, find yourself having some left field conversation involving people at other, a place where someone would spontaneously get up and dance to Bob Marley at 10am.
I haven’t found anywhere to fill the gap yet, but I am very grateful that it was there during those excruciating, bewildering early days of grief. It meant a lot to me that I could had somewhere to go when I needed to get out of my flat, somewhere I could sit among people, not to necessarily talk, but to feel myself connected, feel life beyond me, and hear people’s voices.
Recently I read this piece about homelessness, and was struck hard by the words of one of the contributors John Doe, who urged readers to give to homeless people “without moral judgement” adding that people who use drugs “will stop when they are able to, not when they run out of money”.
…what I think many fail to realise, in such common ideas like they “would never revert to drink or drugs”, is that every man and woman has a breaking point, somewhere, even if most will thankfully never have to meet with it.
I lost my wife, but I also lost myself – every ambition, every hope and dream, every enjoyment and passion, every possibility of happiness, and in short, everything that defined me as a person. If it happens that a person is stripped absolutely bare, becomes a stranger even to themselves, who can say what they are or are not capable of doing, and of becoming? The moral superiority of those who look down on drug addicts and homeless people, or presume to know what is best for them, hangs by a thread.
Reading this undid me for a while – I recognise that sense of being “stripped absolutely bare”. But also feel immense gratitude that I didn’t fall through the net, even that I had a net at a time when I was completely lost to myself. This new place I find myself in, is less about the powerful torrent of grief that carried me along. And it’s not full of horror like those early months. But the struggle to rebuild, work out what life is all about – to actually live – isn’t easy.
I’m not anywhere near cracking this new phase yet, and I seem to have been in the place of trying for quite some time now. Life often feels barren, cold and bleak, and I imagine myself on some far off plateau, watching and waiting. The challenge seems to be to fall in love with life again. But I don’t want to build a life in which I become immune to the reality that John Doe describes.
And if that’s going to be the case, then I sense that the things that enabled me to get through this far are key to the next stage. I know that ultimately, only I could get through the storm that Mark’s death unleashed, but I also know, without doubt, that I couldn’t have done it without others. Different people offered different things, but the network of relationships I had held me during that time of disintegration, and I was also fortunate that people I work with were incredibly understanding, supportive and generous, which meant I could work to my limited capacity without added financial anxiety.
I know that while I have agency, and my choices determine the direction of travel, I am completely dependent on others to help me take those steps, to hold the space when I’m unravelling, to listen and simply be there, steady me and challenge me when I need it. One of the grief books I’ve turned to often talks about a phase of life re-entry, and it seems to me that the entry point to a new life is that connectedness, the substantive relationships that exist between us all. And the question now is who/what am I and therefore what can I give towards this flow of life?
It seems a remarkable time to be thinking about ‘re-entering’ life when there is such tumult about, when there seems to be an escalation of bigotry, cruelty, racism and xenophobia. I sense instinctively that it’s in the context of what’s happening, in this country and beyond, that I should wrestle with my questions about life.
This blog started out with the question of whether people had the power to change the world. Since then, remarkable changes have taken place and the notion that the established order was unshakeable has itself unravelled. Many seem still to be wedded to the idea that it can all be normalised, but there are increasing numbers who know the system is broken. I want to shift this blog towards the exploration of love-based politics, and our responsibility towards love, justice and kindness not only in the ways that we look out for others and care for those who are suffering from the cruelty of what’s happening, but also how we can forge alternative ways of being that also shape our resistance.