Last week, my life changed irrevocably. It took all of three minutes. I was sitting in my study at home on a sunny morning, when the telephone rang. It was the editor of the newspaper for whom I write a column, and have done for eight years. I was told that I was being “let go.”
When I looked up from the phone, it was as if the world had tilted on its axis. Everything seemed to be in a different place, although the cat still lay sleeping on a cushion, my laptop still blinked with the words I had been writing, my cup of tea was still hot. It was the same, but not the same.
I am sure we have all been there, in unchartered territory, when all our certainties drop away. We may shake our fists at the heavens, or stamp our feet at the unfairness of it all, but life is impervious to our concerns. It goes on, whether we like it or not.
And so does change. It is the law of the universe that nothing stays the same; good or bad. The trees will come into green leaf when spring comes, and retreat into statuesque skeletons in the deep, bitter cold of winter. The problem, I think, is that we forget to concentrate on the good and focus on the bad so strongly, that it becomes a dark and overwhelming present.
It hurts and it is unbelievably painful when the immediate shock of the fall still reverberates, but if we become mired in regret, or resentment, our gaze turned back so we always looking over our shoulder, we trip over our own feet and fall flat on our faces. We don’t and can’t move forward.
As a friend of mine is fond of saying, “don’t flog a dead horse. It is already dead.” Which always makes me laugh because the image (aside from the dead horse) is so comically hilarious. Since then, every time I imagine myself sitting on a dead horse, I get off.
Of course change is frightening because the future is uncertain, but we forget that the future is always uncertain. That’s scary but we can become so caught up in projecting whatever fears we have onto it (what if this happens? What if that happens?), that we can frighten ourselves witless even though it hasn’t happened, (and probably won’t) and only our thinking makes it so.
It’s like a kid, huddling under a duvet in the dark and staring at a pile of clothes until they take on the shape of a monster. That monster is real until the lights are switched on and the clothes are bundled away, and a mug of hot milk is produced. In those situations, when my demons run riot, I am fond of a nice cup of tea.
It’s pointless to worry about what might happen in the future, and what may be lurking in the dark, and infinitely more useful to concentrate on the here and now, preferably with the lights turned on.
We may not be able to control our future but we can remain in the present and take a step in a new direction. Once the shock had worn off, and the grief had subsided (and the ending of an eight year relationship, whether it is with work or a person requires a period of mourning, which is not to be rushed) I looked at the treadmill on which I had been running, week in, week out, with deadlines dominating my days, and realised that in all that time, I had never looked up. I had never considered any other possibility.
The first thing I did after that phone call, was to call my closest and dearest friend and she set me a task. I was to write down a list, however fanciful, of things I want to do with my life. “Walk on the moon?” She laughed. “You hate heights”.
And so I wrote a shopping list, because she is right, of course. Taking action, however small, is crucial because we can sink into lethargy and then into apathy with terrifying speed. I started putting in order a towering pile of paper, also known as my filing system, which is marked, from the bottom up in sequence: Urgent, very urgent, massively urgent, must do immediately, and do not ignore – which, naturally, had been ignored for months. I started to redesign my website, which has been sadly neglected to the point of embarrassment, and jotted ideas down for a book which has nagging at my mind but always dismissed because I didn’t have the time. And then I banished the scary “what ifs?” of an uncertain future and wrote, in bold capitals, at the top of my dream shopping list, WHY NOT?