I am writing this not from my usual perch in the Northern Hemisphere during yet another mild winter when the main weather – related problem for the earnest early morning cyclist is shielding his eyes from the blazing sun on the way to work three mornings a week. At least that is how I left it last week when I left for a fortnight of sunshine in the Southern Hemisphere.
But no cycling.
South Africa’s roads are too dangerous for pedals, drop handlebars and an aerodynamic position in the saddle. Sensible.
And before that, back home, up north? The roads are not too dangerous, the weather not so brutal.
But no cycling.
Well, hardly any. Seldom into double figures in a day. Commuting miles ( 3 to the station and back.) Visiting my parents ( a 6 mile round trip.) And there’s always a reason why.
Because in June the depression was back. Four weeks off work. I went back as much out of frustration at not feeling better than anything else – it was not such a severe relapse. I increased my medication, but not my miles. The accusing sun shone week after week.
Because in July the sun was still shining but I was visiting my parents, spending time with them, running errands, as diligent middle aged offspring do, right?
Because by the time August arrived it was just not a thing I was doing. There was always something more important to spend my time on. Like staring into space. Or poring over my regrets, sorting them into alphabetical order. Not getting things done.
Because in September I was overseas (for a fortnight.)
Because in October there were the Jewish Holidays (for 8 days .)
Because in November my bicycle was in need of repair; but I kept doing the short miles, ignoring the broken spokes and the worn down brake pads. Both good reasons not to ride out into the countryside in the late autumn sunshine.
Because in December, it’s, well, December. Who rides in December – only serious cyclists, right? Serious cyclists.
I was one of those once.
There’s always a reason. And then, one day, I realised that there wasn’t a reason. Which made it easier to sit on the sofa, watch cookery competitions on TV, and look surprised when I realise what time it is and I had meant to do …. what exactly?
And then, on another unremarkable day I remembered that there wasn’t a reason why I wasn’t cycling the good miles. I scrolled through the channels and watched things I had watched before.
Finally, I rode the couple of miles to the bike shop. The spokes and brake pads were replaced. At last, nothing to stop me pedalling north into the countryside.
Nothing to stop me but myself.
The fear that it had been too long. Not a fitness thing (in fact I had managed to lose 2kgs since I stopped drinking alcohol Monday to Friday.) The fear was that it just wouldn’t be the same. That cycling would have become merely a good way to exercise, like joining a Spinning Class at thee gym, and nothing more.
Likewise, over these past 6 months I stopped writing this blog. Eventually I started reposting editions from the archives. That replaced actually writing about what was happening. Well, not happening to be more precise. The same fear grew restless, that I wouldn’t be able to write anything new. Reposting felt like freewheeling. Pleasant, but not for so long. Not for weeks, moths, on end.
My father and my mother never quarrelled.
They were united in a kind of love
As daily as the Sydney Morning Herald,
Rather than like the eagle or the dove.
I never saw them casually touch,
Or show a moment’s joy in one another.
Why should this matter to me now so much?
I think it bore more hardly on my mother,
Who had more generous feelings to express.
My father had dammed up his Irish blood
Against all drinking praying fecklessness,
And stiffened into stone and creaking wood.
His lips would make a switching sound, as though
Spontaneous impulse must be kept at bay.
That it was mainly weakness I see now,
But then my feelings curled back in dismay.
Small things can pit the memory like a cyst:
Having seen other fathers greet their sons,
I put my childish face up to be kissed
After an absence. The rebuff still stuns
My blood. The poor man’s curt embarrassment
At such a delicate proffer of affection
Cut like a saw. But home the lesson went:
My tenderness thenceforth escaped detection.
My mother sang Because, and Annie Laurie,
White Wings, and other songs; her voice was sweet.
I never gave enough, and I am sorry;
But we were all closed in the same defeat.
People do what they can; they were good people,
They cared for us and loved us. Once they stood
Tall in my childhood as the school, the steeple.
How can I judge without ingratitude?
Judgment is simply trying to reject
A part of what we are because it hurts.
The living cannot call the dead collect:
They won’t accept the charge, and it reverts.
It’s my own judgment day that I draw near,
Descending in the past, without a clue,
Down to that central deadness: the despair
Older than any hope I ever knew.
James McAuley (1917 – 1976)