People who know me know that I am an all – weather cyclist, all year round.
I was out on my bike for a 4 mile round trip today in the pouring rain. The kind of downpour when the rain bounces off the ground and I have to take off my glasses to see where I’m going. Today I discovered that my rain coat that has served me so well for more than 12 years is no longer water – proof. Underneath the arms of my dark blue rain coat the arms of my jacket and then my shirt were soon soaked through. I arrived at the traffic circle nearest to where I live to find that there is a four-way control traffic light system in place due to gas pipes maintenance. So I stood astride my bike and waited as the rain crashed down about me.
We were all waiting. Me, the cars in each different approach to the traffic circle. But I was the only one who was soaked to the skin, and could not move. And then as the lights changed we moved off in the same direction. I rode slower than usual, and with a heavier heart, too.
My rain coat has accompanied me on longer, and more difficult, journeys than today’s rain – sodden ride. I wore it in all weathers, extendable hood up from 2001 until….until I don’t know when. There was a time when I couldn’t leave the house without it. Under the hood I was safe, in danger, at ease, petrified. But I was dry. Bone dry. In a previous post entitled ‘Tears’ I wrote about how through the years of my depression I never cried, and then one day, as I rode down the hill where I live the tears came.
This time the tears are ready.
I know they are part of the pain, and part of the comfort, that heals. I know that they represent the unwanted visit of a friend at a time when friends are better than any tablet. But they are a legion of accusers, too. Tears are masters of remembering. They will never let you forget, never really let you – me – recover.
Do I sound like a Stoic? You can read about the approach of some philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome in a previous post. Tears are a bad thing. Stiff upper lip and all that stuff. Not quite what the Ancients were thinking. Their approach was a bit more like – you cannot control all of your environment and the impact it, and those around you have on you, but you can be the master of how you react to circumstances; even in the most extreme circumstances.
That’s a discussion I will return to another time.
For now, forgetfulness is on my mind. It’s a common symptom of depression. How many times have I walked into a room with intention and stood there without the faintest idea why, a minute earlier I had a reason for being there? It’s a bad thing, right? There’s a whole load of Good Advice about how to cope with forgetfulness. Write a list! Tell some one else what you want/need! Tie a knot in your handkerchief! (That’s one for er, older readers – like me.)
Sir Thomas Browne (1605 – 1682) didn’t think so. He lived long before the invention of the bicycle but I like to count him as a fellow traveller. He wrote medical texts, and, as was the style of the times he was described as suffering from ‘melancholia’. He wrote the following: ‘To be ignorant of evils to come, and forgetfull of evils past, is a merciful provision in nature, whereby we digest the mixture of our few and evil dayes, and our delivered senses not relapsing into cutting rememberances, our sorrows are not kept raw by the edge of repitions.’
Did he have it right? If we can’t remember how can we ever learn from experience? That’s the equation isn’t it? But when I remember it just forms a crust over the wound that my memory picks and picks at until it’s raw once more. Sure I have learned lessons and hold fleetingingly onto insights, which I all too keen to share. The American writier winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1949, William Faulkner (1897 – 1962), put his finger on it for me: ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.’
This is where I come from
I passed this way.
This should not be shameful
Or hard to say.
A self is a self.
It is not a screen.
A person should respect
What he has been.
This is my past
Which I shall not discard.
This is the ideal.
This is hard.
James Fenton (1949 – )