My memory is atrocious. I read a book several years ago, but can’t for the life of me recall it’s title, or who wrote it. I thought it was The Assistant by Bernard Malamud, but having googled it the storyline doesn’t fit my memory of it. However, the one I’m thinking of is the story of an emigre who, little by little, loses everything he owns. Then he’s arrested, thrown into prison without any window or contact with the outside world. He will not confess to a crime he didn’t commit so he is tortured. He thinks that is as bad as it gets till the cells he is put in get increasingly smaller and he is unable to lie down. Eventually he ends up being tied in chains, unable to move. It is then that he thinks how wonderful it was when he could pace his cell, have freedom to move his limbs, people to talk to. The story isn’t all doom and gloom because people start writing letters demanding his release and eventually he has his day in court, but it is very thought provoking about what we take for granted and what we should be grateful for.
I was thinking about the story this morning as I looked out of my window. I’ve been ill for the last few weeks so my windows have become the eyes for my soul, watching the fall of leaves, the whisking of branches in wind, the last blossoming of late flowers. October has been a glorious month of golden sunshine and I have been desperate to get outside. On a few occasions I have managed it and been able to sit in the garden and read a book, before the cold and fatigue have driven me back indoors. The nights are drawing in, the hours of darkness get longer and longer and reduce the amount of time I have to look outside. Most days I have no physical contact with anyone or anything, some days I never speak to another human being, on others it’s just by telephone; it is so easy to just tumble back into wallowing.
I wrote the following poem a few years ago, about a time when I lived beside the sea and was having an emotional crisis.
My Changing World
silence, except the hum
and occasional squeal of tyres
surreal sky, where horizons
and ploughed fields feed
broken foreshore, where rocks and shells
and islands ride the fog
I drink uncoded landscapes
smashed and stilled, yet luminous
glazed and silhouetted in the boundaries of my window
from“The language of Crows” 2011
Different window, different crisis, same feelings of isolation and disconnection. But when I remembered reading that book about the emigre, everything took on a different sheen. I realized that the walls that are confining me are also protecting me. I have a roof over my head, food in the fridge and cupboards, hot and cold running water and a comfortable bed. I’m not in a refugee camp, or in a war-torn country, I’m not undertaking chemotherapy, or seeing my whole family executed. Through my windows I see nature flourish, no matter what the weather or how much I try to prune it, to shape it to my designs. And that’s how we humans are, if we can only recognize it. We get battered and bruised a bit, but most of us bounce back and keep going. So I take deep breaths, savouring each on the inhale and exhale, and remember how privileged I am and how narrow other people’s worlds can be.