In my huge decluttering bid in order to make more space for the Painter and me to work in the flat, I am going through boxes and boxes of papers. Some of these go back more than 30 years – I found the paperwork for my flat, and the life insurance policy attached to the mortgage, lots of stuff from my wedding, (you may be surprised to learn that the Painter is not my husband) and too many birthday and Christmas cards to count – as well as hundreds of old receipts and letters, out of date copies of my cv, etc. You get the picture. For a long time it has been too painful to go through this stuff, so it got boxed and put away. Now I am being forced to deal with it, and finding it quite hard, although it has its bright moments. Like today, when I found a card from my father who I miss terribly, commenting in an amused way on my fondness for champagne. I shall never let that one go.
I also found a card from a lover from the very early eighties, sent to me after we separated and wishing me a happy life. It’s made me think about whether that was what I got – the happy life, I mean. It certainly hasn’t turned out anything like I thought it would – it’s been a lot longer, for a start! As a fairly wild youngster I didn’t ever really expect to turn into a sensible middle aged lady – and in fact, I was right, I didn’t turn into a sensible middle aged lady, but I did get to middle age – which is quite an achievement in itself considering some of the company I’ve kept.
Yet here I am, older, not much wiser, certainly a lot more tired than I thought I would be – and about two dress sizes bigger. I have made some appalling choices, but usually for good reasons. I have lost some very good friends and family, all of whom I still think of and still miss. I have been at the top of the league in some of the things I’ve done but got bored and moved on, instead of sticking at it and really making something of it. I’ve failed to produce any children (although not for want of trying, trust me), and had to live with the disappointment that has caused to me and to my parents.
I have loads of skills – that sounds awful, but really, I have. Lots of experiences and information and general knowledge acquired along the way, I’m confident (usually) and I try to be kind. Yet here I am, sitting in a pile of shredded papers which previously documented my life and wondering what on earth happens next. How many times can things fall apart and how many times can you move on, re-start, re-imagine and get going again on something new? It’s making me wonder if previous generations had things better sorted than we do – they would just stick with whatever it was – job/marriage/whatever, through thick and thin, making the best of the choices they had made. We seem to do things differently now, if it’s not working and can’t be easily fixed we leave it and move on.
I don’t expect they were any happier back then, they were often continuing in jobs or relationships which were unfulfilling or worse. But are we really any happier now? I remember thinking that I was, and that it was wonderful to be able to make the choice to move on, and not to have to endure when things went bad. Now I’m not so sure. Continuing growth is probably the key to happiness, but that should not be confused with continually changing your environment or relationships. If the same person keeps moving on, similar problems are going to keep raising their heads.
I thought happiness would come from feeling ‘settled’. The problem is that I never really settled, just rested for a while and then went on again.
And all this from a bag of shredding and an old card. The conclusion is that I have not had an UNhappy life – it has certainly never been boring, and there have been some glowingly happy moments in it, but maybe everyone gets to 50 and starts to wonder, what if…
What about you?
Here’s a snap of the card:
I hope he’s having a happy life!