An untainted heart

Google popped up with a memory this morning dating from 2013. On this day back then I was visiting Lords, in London. A few days later, I flew home, and I haven’t been abroad since.

I knew it had been a while, but to be confronted with the facts like that was disturbing. There was a string of about twenty years when if I wasn’t away every year then certainly I would be the year after. They weren’t just ordinary trips away either. There were a few long trips to Europe, a couple of extended breaks in Asia, another through North Africa, some working trips here and there, as well as the short holidays away to places like Bali and Fiji and New Zealand.

I’ve said it before, but this regular travel made up a part of my self-identity. I never felt more myself than when I was away. I’m someone who, in general, embraces change and difference. I’m naturally curious. I like to get beneath the skin of things and feel myself in it. There’s a restless inquisitiveness in all that, but also a desire for authentic experience. And I like to live by my wits – as a western tourist you’re a member of a privileged class, but I was always aware of that and sought to catch the same busses and trains the locals do, and eat the same food, go to the same bars. And I always did it off my own bat, bar once for a brief period, organising things myself and following the restless whim where it took me. Gee, I miss that.

At work yesterday, I was a part of an exercise in setting SMART goals. At one point we had to note down the things we hoped to have achieved by this time next year. I could’ve written down a hundred things. What I did write related to my writing – getting two books submitted for publication by then. But I might easily have put down more practical goals, of which I have many. An outcome of achieving some of those would mean more money and the hope that I could get back to travelling sooner rather than later.

I’m aware that writing about these things might sound a little whiny. Believe me, in person, I’m anything but whiny. I give myself some grace here. This is my private space. And these things are real. These are the things that pass before my eyes, the thoughts that occur to me. And, you know, I like to understand, and the act of writing helps me do that. That’s why I write in general, I think, the desire to parse experience into some more meaningful. This is a record, and I want it to be true to my experience.

I’ll give another pretty innocuous example.

Last night I was in bed reading, and a poem by Rilke is in the text. I read the poem and appreciate it, but something is off in me. I’ve always read poetry, if not frequently, then at least regularly. Rilke is one of my favourite poets. I pause in my reading, wondering how things have changed. As I lay there, I realise that I was a different person when I read poetry before. I was never a dilettante, but I read from a position of comfort and security. Poetry was a pretty thing in my life full of pretty things. It was just as poignant to me then as it is now, I was sometimes moved and occasionally inspired. It would warm me. But then I would go off and live what was, generally, a pretty life – and that includes the easy travel.

I read these things differently now. Last night I began to articulate it to myself. Looking back, I was hardly innocent, but I was undamaged. I was worldly, but I had the easy expectation of things falling my way and the general belief that all I aspired to would, in due course, become mine. There’s a kind of innocence in that, really, and I’ve lost that completely and it changes the way I experience and see things. It’s a great loss.

This explains the general sense these many years. I am burdened when I wasn’t before. I’m healing, but I’m damaged. Where I was light previously and easy, I’m now hard. I wish so much it wasn’t the case. It feels tragic.

I’ve said occasionally that I still don’t feel like I’m living a ‘normal’ life. I don’t know if what I think is normal is long lost and unreasonable to expect now, though I tend to frame it in simple terms. I realise my life was privileged before, that what for me was normal was likely abnormal for most. I would like to return to that but have no expectations. I’m happy to expect the same as anyone else, that normal will do me.

I will get to that, I think, and perhaps beyond it. Unfortunately, in the time between – my lost years – the things I fully expected to attain, I know will never be now. I won’t be a father now, I may never become a husband.

In the end, it’s not about dollars or cents, but state of being. I want to be carefree again, to be part of the world without having to struggle, to be just another person. I’ll never reclaim my innocence, but I’d be happy to read poetry again with a heart untainted by loss.

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