One year on

Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of mum’s death. Unsurprisingly it’s been on my mind the last few days. The other night I went back and read this blog leading up to and out of this event. It felt so fresh and vivid. I remembered all, remembered the strange state I existed in for a few days, the extremes of emotion, the melancholy contemplation. It was a horrible time.

A year on I’m past the casual absence of mum. I no longer pick up the phone to call her, or think ‘I must tell mum that’. Occasionally things crop up and I wish I could pose a question to her. There are pangs of regret sometimes that I didn’t ask some questions I’ll never have answers to. I know she’s dead and gone though, I have absorbed that truth into my daily routine. I still miss her though when I think of her.

In the last few weeks there have been a couple of things that brought home to me the difference in a world where she no longer exists. It was my birthday early in the month and for mum this was always an excuse to put on a show. If we did not go out for lunch or dinner then she would cook something at home for us. Gifts were presented with great fanfare, and I think mum was always more excited by it than I was. It was infectious nonetheless. There was none of that this year.

I had a couple of drinks with friends spread over the weekend. I had a birthday lunch with my sister and her kids the following weekend. That was pretty well it. Now I’m not one for extravagant displays on my birthday. I guess I’m more inclined to the cool end of things. I sort of missed it though because it brought home to me the great loss mum has been. It was so low-key that it was not until a week later that I had only received my present this year – a bottle of beer Cheeseboy brought with him to share with me on the occasion. Another gift I later bought on behalf of my sister. That was it. A far cry.

Then I had my operation. As it has turned out it has been much more intrusive than I ever expected. Up to a couple of days ago I was really struggling (the miracle of anti-inflammatories – Prednisolone – has worked wonders since). Now I had the Cheeses offer to help me out through this, but the only real problem I had was getting my trousers on. The offer was much appreciated all the same. I like to be self-sufficient, and will always try to get by before requesting help. Still, I couldn’t help but think of mum. She’d have been all over this. She wouldn’t have nursed me – that isn’t her style – but she’d have been in constant contact, she’d have come by bearing pastries or something, she would be just ‘there’, as good mums are.

We don’t always see that until we miss it. So, a year on, it’s probably worth repeating, thanks mum, for everything, and I love you.

Filling in the blanks

This morning I lay in bed with the sun streaming in through the window reading Saturday’s newspaper. On the table beside me was a fresh made latte, and on the other side of me Rigby lay happily resting close by his dad. This is pretty standard, a scene repeated in one way or another hundreds of times over the last 15 years.

The pattern extends to how I read the paper. I’m up by about 8 to collect the plastic wrapped newspaper from outside. This is Rigby’s job, and one he delights in. He quickly observes that I’m about to go out, and bounds ahead of me as I open the front door. The newspaper will be there lying in the driveway and he’ll grab it hungrily, looking back at me with his tail wagging in anticipation. Sometimes – often – he’ll drop it momentarily to go sniff at something, or wander part way down the road, before returning to grasp the newspaper again and precede me through the front door.

With coffee made and paper freshly unfurled I’ll scan the front page of the newspaper to check the headlines, and read anything of immediate interest. Then, like many a man across the globe, I’ll turn to the sports section and read it from front to back. After that I’ll read the news exhaustively, and then begin on the feature articles – the magazines I’ll get to later in the day.

Much as I enjoy this ritual there comes a time when naturally I become restless. The clock has ticked a little past 9, and my coffee is drunk. Part of my mind begins to look ahead: what am I doing today? It begins scheduling things, an easy task as I tend to follow a pattern in that regard too. Unless there is some extraordinary event ahead I’ll generally get up, pad around a bit checking email, having a light breakfast, before showering and heading off up the road on foot to the local shops.

That is ahead of me still though, as that part – a small part – of my mind ponders that I continue to read, unwilling as yet to commit to anything. I need, I know, a transition – a staging point –  into the day proper.

I felt that again this morning, and for one of the first times ‘since’ actually considered what that meant to me. You do so many things in life in a state of semi automation that it comes as a jolt sometimes to step back and observe the mechanics of it. In this case the jolt has come about because of a fundamental change in routine. What was there before is no longer, and I’m at a loss without it.

In the past, through much of the last 15 years, I would put my paper down and pick up the phone. More often than not I would call my mum. I was hardly aware of it then, but looking back now it seems very much a part of the ritual. I wonder if mum came to expect my Saturday morning calls – I suspect she did. I would call, generally, without anything particular to discuss. I might tell her of what happened during the week (though we would have spoken one or two times during it), and report what my weekend held. Like the best conversations our conversation would take off in different directions, unbound by any particular convention. She would listen to anything and everything I said, gratefully I think, and with the love I feel more now that it’s gone than I did when it was all around. We would speak like that for anything up to 30 minutes, at which point I was good to get up and enter the world again.

Naturally none of that has happened since she died in March. I’ve missed many things since then, but this less so because I had no real routine to speak of. The last 9 months have been a time of great flux and unpredictability. I’ve been without a home, my life has been boxed up and in storage, and the routines of before where on hiatus.

Now I am back in my own space again, and settling slowly into a familiar groove that I am made to feel the absence of things that were just there. No doubt I took it for granted. The thing is though, you miss most when they’re gone the very things you expected without anticipation. So it is now.

This morning then I felt a little lost. There were others I could have called, but the conversation would have been different. And wrong. I wanted that easy, familiar conversation that I still can’t quite believe is gone forever. Life is like that now. There’s the shock of mum becoming ill, of her dying, but it’s the little things that bite. Even after this time it seems strange that she is gone from us forever now, and awful when I am forced to think of it in those terms.

Perhaps I need to make a new routine. Inevitably that will occur. For now it’s like a familiar picture hanging on the wall that has had huges swathes erased from it. I’m still managing the blank spots. In time I’ll paint them in again with something new, but for now they remain empty.

Time for my shower.

On love

This works for me too, and good to have it articulated like this to remember. It’s a good reminder of the person I want to be too, and the journey I’m on. I want to be worth loving yes, but for myself and the person I am I want to burn, like she says, want perpetually to be in a state of transformation. That’s where the life is.

About love, missing it, etc

I slept in an extra hour this morning. I could blame it on the advent of daylight savings, or even the fact that it’s Monday morning, except it wouldn’t be true. I woke up at the usual time and realised I had no interest in getting up. I feel that quite regularly, as I’m sure many people do. The difference this time was that I had just woken from a long dream. It felt warm, and I didn’t want stark reality intruding on it. I wanted to succumb to the sleepiness and return to the world the dream presented to me, and so I slumbered for another hour.

Over the weekend my sister visited. It has been school holidays, and she reported that she had felt mum’s absence more keenly now than she had before. It’s no surprise – it was in the school holidays that mum was most active with my sister and her kids. She’s gone, and left a great hole. We fell to reminiscing. The auction on Saturday had us recalling the time many years ago my sister bought her home, and how afterwards mum took us all out for a splendid lunch to celebrate. Mum was a great one for celebration, we both agreed. The smallest excuse was sufficient to pop a bottle of bubbles, or go out for a big meal, or have an impromptu barbecue. It seems hard to believe now, but those days – and for years on end – were rich with that. Looking back they seem days full of colour and noise, crowded with people and activity. Now all that is left is my sister, her kids, and me. It seems hardly conceivable.

For the last week or so I’ve missed things very keenly. I’m sure it was there before, but kept at bay. In retrospect the perpetual struggle to get things right has probably kept me so occupied that I haven’t really had the time to feel these things, but rarely. And it’s true, I’ve probably shied away from them also. The time for that has passed though.

Yes, I miss the warmth and community of family life as it was before, but accept that these things can’t last forever. It’s sad, but it’s also reality – people pass away, nothing remains in stasis, no matter how permanent it may seem. What I miss really are more intangible things. I miss being in love. I miss being loved. I miss that sense of anticipation and mystery and urgent need that goes with being in love. I miss the hope and light it showers you with, the shining star you can fix on even while everything else crumbles to ruins about you. I could use that, and regret that I did not use it better when I had it. I’m hard put to say that I’m a different man now, though the dramatic events of the last 6 months must do something. What I do say is that I’ve never been more ready for love than I am now. I feel I’m right to accept it as I couldn’t before. The problem is, I can’t.

I’m not exactly the misty eyed type. I’m directed by my mind, though with crazy-ass mix of instinct thrown in just to keep things interesting. I’ve been pushing shit uphill for a long time now. I’ve been resolute much of that time, and largely because I’m rational. People don’t see it, but I waver sometimes. There are times I feel very fragile inside. At those times I really miss the things that make life bearable. I’d love to have someone – other than this damn blog (and this only gets a fraction of it) – I could speak to. I’d love to close my eyes sometimes and be comforted like a boy. I’d like to switch off and know that someone was there on the look-out for me. I’d like to feel cared about.

I’m not fragile though. Fragility suggests something that could break at any time. That’s not the case with me, at least I think not. I feel I’m being used up though. Like one day I might reach for that thing that has kept me upright and find that there’s nothing remaining. I don’t want to be stoic.

Which brings me back to my dreams. I’ve been feeling wistful, and guilty of that masculine foolishness that blinds us to the important things when they’re there in front of us. My mind has drifted off. I find myself day-dreaming sometimes, closing my eyes to recall people and moments, laying in bed in the dark and feeling drawn back towards the things I no longer have. I find myself sentimental, desirous, angry. I fall asleep with it.

So I dreamt a serialised dream. The details elude, as most times. I know I worked with a girl. She was from the country, but was a long way from being a yokel. She was good and intelligent and caring and through the dream, like in a developing soap opera, I fell for her, and she for me. It felt good. Easy. Unfussed. Natural. In those brief moments of waking clarity in between I wondered why it can’t be like that in life. Or why it isn’t. Then I would return to the dream, and though nothing dramatic happened, you could believe that this was something that could go on forever, that in truth one could live happily ever after. She was no-one I knew, and waking I realised what I missed was the truth of a loving relationship. I had personified it in my mind, which is probably natural, but it was no more than a symbol.

I drifted off to sleep again past my get up time. Just to complicate things I had a different dream this time. Again, not much happened – I visit an office where a friend works, while I’m there I bump into a woman I know, visiting herself from another office. Nothing happens, we nod, or something, and as she goes off my mind spins.

Things I want to remember

I’ve discovered some things over the past few months that I want to record here, if only for myself. I’m bound to forget at some point, and it will be good to have this prompt to my memory.

The first observation was sparked by the death of my mum. A lot of emotions run through you, not just at the time, but in the weeks and months after as well. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to write of the transition from one mental state to another, but it is not something I can do today.

What I can write of is something I realised I have lost. Obviously the death of a loved one entails great loss, and most of that is pretty obvious. There are subtleties though you can’t comprehend until you go through it.

Grief is a selfish emotion I’ve always thought, though both perfectly understandable and necessary. We lose someone we love and while a part of us grieves for what they will never do now, the great part of us grieves for the relationship we have lost – the love, the support, the understanding, the things we’ll never get to share now they are gone, and so on.

All these I anticipated intellectually, and in fact have felt at different times in different degrees. There may never be an end to those. What I didn’t expect was something much more personal.

How do I explain it? With my mother gone I feel one less set of eyes on me. With her death I have become a little less visible.

My mum loved me greatly. I knew it and probably took it for granted. I always complained that she never understood me, but she certainly saw me. I found myself reflected in her eyes. To be seen gives weight to our existence, and in that reflection of ourselves we find a part of our identity. Perhaps that’s the greatest torture in solitary confinement – not merely the loneliness, but the utter abnegation of self that occurs when there is no-one to observe us.

I knew when mum looked at me that I was loved. No matter what I did or wherever I was I knew I was in her mind and that she hoped for me. Now she is gone though I feel something less than what I was. When we lose people we love we lose a little part of our selves. Without her gaze upon me I feel one less bearing point in my life.

The other thing is in similar vein, but from a much different source.

I’ve always said that we can learn a lot from our pets. They love unconditionally, as we have learned not to.

Like for many people I exist at the centre of my dog’s universe. He has no greater joy in life than to be with me, to be seen by me (yes, that again), and for the opportunity to express his perfect affection. Oh, and food.

I’m very good to him. He gets plenty of my time and attention. I’m always giving him a pat or stopping to crouch down to his level, I’ll ruffle his years or absently caress him with his head in my lap. Often I’ll just talk to him. He takes that as his due, but it never becomes dull for him, he never takes it for granted, and it’s always fresh and wonderful for him.

I’ve come to realise that he draws this affection from me in his expectation of it. It is a pleasure to provide him so much pleasure, something that fills my heart as much as it does his. He’s always available, ready and willing for the love which is fundamental to his meaning of life, and he doesn’t think twice about it. I respond to that by giving him exactly what he wants.

I’m not like that, I know that much. Like many people I think it too much, too often. I get embarrassed sometimes, or awkward, unwilling to commit or to show what I feel. I think that’s actually pretty common – those few who express their feelings openly and without fear always stand out.

More than anything though I’ve realised that we have the power to compel love and affection in our simple expectation and availability to it. Love comes to those who put it out there, who are ready to receive and believe it to be no more than their just reward. So, open people, don’t close off.

You too H.

In the mix

Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women'...

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Last night, halfway through dinner, I was asked by the woman I was with what my attitude towards ‘protection’ was. We’d come from having a few drinks together to this small Italian restaurant off the Block arcade. I was in good form. (Despite everything, it’s rare that I’m not these days, no matter how I feel.) She was entertained and flattered, attracted I guess, and puzzled that I had so long eluded the grasp of another women – a question I answered with my usual nimble evasions. And so midway through my penne ragu she asked what I thought about protected sex.

The question wasn’t entirely out of the blue, though it did surprise. We’ve met perhaps three times previously, and sex each time has lurked in the shadows even if it hasn’t been explicitly discussed. She’s the poly-amorite, and the variety of expression, sexual and otherwise, seems central to how she lives. I’m not poly-amorous, but I give off the vibe as a sexual individual apparently. Sex seemed an inevitability if I got by my poly-amorous misgivings, and didn’t fall in love (eleswhere) first. Still, this was the bluntest expression of that desire.

I answered without thinking, feeling a little discomfited by the query. Yes, well, absolutely seemed to be the generally fumbling tenor of my response. She looked at me archly: but not always? Well no I had to admit. Sometimes events overtake you. Sometimes there isn’t a condom close to hand. Or the need is just so urgent you just think fuck it. I wondered if she understood that. How its like a locomotive that has to pull into the station and nothing’s going to stop it. And of course the truth that every man knows: that it feels a good 40% better going bareback. Regrets are tomorrows business, though I assured her that 95% of the time I was all good.

She expressed her surprise – she thought I’d be different. She asked me then how often I had myself tested. She asked me with a smile. She wanted to know because she wanted to fuck me. Not tonight maybe, but sometime soon. It was in the diary, marked on the calendar, sex with the dishy H.

I answered again, but by now I was a different person to what I had been 5 minutes before. I enjoy sex. I have a hunger that seems rarely sated. I like women. I like discovering their mysteries, enjoy bringing them pleasure. I’m spontaneous with it though. I don’t mark it on my calendar. I don’t want to schedule it. It like how it naturally occurs when the different elements you mutually bring combine in some kind of intoxicating and irresistible brew: now, must be, yes… Passion I guess, and desire. For me they are warm, if not hot emotions, they flare like flames burning on a rich fuel. To lay the groundwork, to clinically anticipate the logistics of sex is anathema to me, a turn-off. And so that is what I experienced last night. Talk about it afterwards if you want, now just lets do it.

We parted sometime after that on the tram home, she happily looking forward to catching up before Christmas. I stood on the tram home alone, listening to my music.

It has been one of those interesting weeks that seem to mark out the boundaries. On Wednesday night I caught up with Becky. We’ve been friends, and just that, for a few years now. She’s a lovely person, fun, generous, kind and considerate. Sometimes I wonder at the nature of our relationship. We meet every month when we share everything between us with a spicy candour. Sometimes I wonder if her feelings for me are more than just platonic. I wonder if I imagine the long moments of sexual frisson, but I think not. It’s because I doubt, and because I am older than her, and because I value our friendship that I have done nothing.

This last Wednesday I sensed it again, though saw in her feelings perhaps something my desire had blinded me to before. It seems very strange to write it down, but I think she adores me, in the old fashioned sense of the word. I felt humbled as I cottoned to the thought. I watched as she talked to me, her eyes bright, running her hands through her lustrous dark hair. She’s a good person and she adores me, I thought. I began to see myself as through her eyes, different, separate, to what I felt within myself. I was surprised to discover that in myself I didn’t feel worthy of such devotion, but through her eyes understood completely. It was a revelatory experience. Here I am the cocky, smart, witty, confident, clever, aggressive character and all that is outside; and inside, the bits she favours, is the kind, gentle, sensitive, strong, optimistic and resilient character (she is another who compares me to George Clooney in personality). One is hard and thrusting, the other soft and accepting.

I guess in a way this dichotomy harks back to the post here a few days ago. I am all those first things I noted down, but are they me? I have assumed that mantle, if not persona, and it’s fit because there is nothing false in it – but equally the other parts that fit have been put towards the back, me, but not the me I want to project on the world. The private me. Ought I be that private?

It’s odd. Here I am last night with this woman who likes, as so many do, those alpha attributes of mine. I like them too, mostly. Becky appreciates them also, but she also knows me better than that. She knows they are but one side of the coin. She genuinely admires me I think, respects me, and though I go around as if I expect that I find myself moved by that. As if it’s for me, not for who I appear. Lately I’ve been given cause to reflect on that often as my friends come rallying. It’s not something to take for granted. It’s a great privilege, and each time I am made to think about why they care so, and in my moments of clarity wonder why I can’t be both things, the hard and the soft, rather than just presenting the one.

Since Wednesday I’ve been a lot more conscious of my underside. Why can’t I be good as well as interesting? I’ve always thought myself a good man in that square-jawed manly way – loyal, honest, true, steadfast, determined, and so on, like a boy scout. There are other, gentler ways of being good also, and I feel as if I’ve always discounted them. Not now.

So this brings us to the next moments.

I wrote about the disappointment last week of the girl I liked fading away because of an ex back on the scene. I sent her an email – you read it here – and that was that. So I thought. But then a few days later she responded. She liked the email, much I think. And I don’t know if it made her re-consider her feelings, but at least her stance had changed. She didn’t want to lose me, but understood if I felt different. She would like to see me again if she could.

I was glad of her email. I wondered what it meant. Did it mean she wanted to keep her options open? Was he not working out as she expected? I wanted to see her again, but not as some sexless male BFF. Truth of the matter is that if I see her again I’ll still want to seduce her. I felt like telling her that. That I couldn’t be second, that I couldn’t abide taking my turn. Even as I thought that it struck me as a tad hypocritical. Still. In the end I put it back onto her. At some point she will have to choose, though not yet. I didn’t say that though. I told her sure, love to catch up, give me a call. That was it. I put it all back on her. I don’t know if I’ll hear from her. Maybe not. I hope so though.

So, that’s in the background, there’s Becky and the things I learned from her, and the woman last night. I got home last night nearing 10 and put on a movie to watch: Crazy, Stupid, Love, which was pretty good, and much that seemed somehow familiar. In the meantime I had tweeted something about the evening, and as I watched the movie I continued to post tweets about the things that occurred to me. Not for the first time I had a particular follower respond to me.

I think she began following me on Melbourne Cup day, and there have been few days since where there hasn’t been some interaction. She’s smart, has some wit and attitude, and is fun to exchange tweets with. I don’t know much about her except that she lives OS somewhere, Malaysia being my pick. She’s a mystery woman, and has resisted all my enquiries, happy to remain an enigma. Fine by me, it’s kinda fun, as she points out, to leave it mysterious. In any case, thanks to the strange medium of Twitter, we’ve formed a strange bond.

Last night she was following me and asking questions. I answered, honestly. At a certain point our conversation veered from the public view to direct messaging each other. By this time our conversation had become more personal and probing, with conjectures on love and attachment and personal loss. We continued even as the movie ended and I got into bed. I lay in the dark waiting for my phone to ding signifying another response. In the dark then I would type my answer, or my question. This went on till about 1.30am. By this time it had become intimate in a way, experiences exposed along with the raw feelings associated with them.

It was strange, but very 2011. Here’s this woman I don’t know from places I have no idea of, with whom I’m exchanging quite deep and meaningful missives limited to 140 characters. And at the same time her probing and my answers have served to clarify my own perspective on many of the things I have written of here today. It’s odd sometimes forced to articulate a position you find yourself learning from your own words. So it was last night.

Today, it’s nice to know, but I don’t know where it leads. That’s the mystery I guess. I’m glad to live through these moments nevertheless, happy to be in the midst of things rather than outside of them. At some point it must mean something.

Turning points

I went to sleep last night thinking about that girl – let’s call her Eva – I met on Saturday night. I thought a couple of things. I thought she seemed very much my type.

I’ve been with a lot of different women of different types, but it seems to me there are two types I am predominantly drawn to. The first I think of as the Katherine Hepburn type – smart, sassy, a little quirky, a sharp sense of humour and good with words. I’ve never been one for the glamorous types – I can appreciate a Marilyn Monroe say, but she does little for me otherwise. I always used to like watching Katherine Hepburn exchange repartee with the likes of Cary Grant and Spencer Tracy, that whip smart, challenging nature and unconventional good looks. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I always found Hepburn sexy. Give me unconventional any day.

The other type is more classic I guess. It’s epitomised I think by a feminine grace. It’s sort of girly in a way, but not dumb, conventional girly, but rather an independent, free-spirited femininity. Generally she is good looking, though often times there is something unusual in the good looks – the obvious has never turned me on. Combine it with intelligence, engagement, and an earthy zest for life and it’s an alluring package.

Like I said yesterday, of all the women I see and know there is just one – plus Eva – who I like, and she, like Eva, is of this second type. We are Facebook friends only and exchange the odd online conversation, but my aspirations don’t go much further than that. I like her, I figure she likes – and appreciates – me, but for now she is all tied up, and that’s that. And so too is Eva I guess, but it seems different.

Funny, as I write this I can see Eva in my mind – a sensual cast to her features, and a prettiness that verges on the beautiful, her eyes soulful, and, though I saw her immaculately groomed, she seems somewhat windswept in my mind. This relates to the second thing I thought last night. I went back in my memory to those very first moments when we looked at each other and so much seemed to happen. She looked at me as if she knew me, as if she expected me to speak to her. She saw me before I saw her I think, and maybe in that glance she saw something I had to catch up with. It was like she was there, waiting, and so when I opened my mouth and began to speak she accepted me, my words, as if already written.

I flirted with her, but found myself reacting to her in a physical way, and not as you might think. I wonder in what seemed our mutual attraction if there was some kind of physical dichotomy at play. She feminine, delicate, beautiful, me tall, masculine, robust. In those moments together I sensed something that afterwards I put together piece by piece in my mind. I wanted to shelter her. I wanted to be her rock. I wanted for her to take my strength and use it for herself. I wanted to be that blunt edge clearing the way for her. As these thoughts built one upon another they took me to a place unusual for me. I had a moment of divine clarity.

Maybe I extrapolate too much: fantasy runs away with me, but I felt as if I might be more with her. Not that I become better or more complete, or any of that nonsense, but rather that as an individual I become more meaningful with her. Meaningful: that was the word, indeed, it was the concept. Here I have this great strength and resolve and it’s lovely, but it benefits little but myself. There is no meaning to life, no purpose as such. What meaning there is we find in ourselves if we’re lucky enough, and only when we understand how to use what we’ve been given. And, perhaps, why.

I have an IQ over 160. I’m glad of it. It makes me good at puzzles and playing cards, and I guess it helps me professionally (though being a smartarse can be counter-productive). Likewise being tall-ish was an advantage when I still played sport. It helps filling out a suit and generally helpful with people’s perceptions. Like my intelligence though it is a singular thing – as other things are. The benefit of these has been to me as an individual. I’ve lived the life, I’ve travelled the world, I’ve done the work, channelling these things into a narrow focus like a beam attached to my head. No regrets, and grateful for all I have, but as the sole the sole beneficiary of these advantages the value has been halved.

Suddenly it occurs to me that I have gifts that I might share. That might be attractive to others. And suddenly I realise that by sharing them they multiply, they become meaningful in a much border context. And I realise in myself without thinking of it that that’s what I want, a surprise to me, that these things might be made so much more, that there are so many more possibilities. And that’s what I want, what I felt in those moments of mysterious connection, those parts of me open up, rouse, and seek the meaning hitherto unknown. And with her.

This is how it works I guess, I give something for her, and she gives something for me. Together is something more, ours, something new made of old and familiar things, and something beyond my imagination before.

No-one extrapolates like me! Maybe that’s what this is all about – me learning something I should have known long before now. In any case, regardless of what happens, I take this encounter as a positive sign of better things to come.

Wikipedia: much definition: great in quantity, amount, extent, or degree.