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Category: Reflections Date: 26 Dec 04

 

Let me guess. You are reclining in your favourite chair, with scraps of wrapping paper scattered around the Christmas tree, reluctant to open your heaving fridge, (how sorrel spills, how sticky it gets) sated and quiet finally after the huge anxiety of Christmas preparations.

 

But something niggles at you—some anxiety, over a slight at work, a troubling child, or money, or illness, keeping up with the Jones maybe.

 

Even if you are sated, in your cosy slippers there may be some irritability in the way you respond to a query from a child or spouse. You’re longing, as you sit there reading this for a few moments of respite to be able to say without reservation that “Gods in his heaven, all’s well with the world.” That you are content beyond doubt with your lot.

 

But here are the wretched international headlines, genocide, famine in Darfur, dead young soldiers, blown up Iraqis, suicide bombers in Israel. Turn the page. Enough guilt already. You have a hard enough time to cope with the accumulated debris of the years in your own head. Here are the mangled remains of some childhood hurt, the pangs of regret of lost time or opportunity. But mostly there is a sense of injury. There is so much to sort out.

 

I was struck with a mini epiphany while reading the biography of the writer Doris Lessing who grew up in the colonies, in Rhodesia, (now Zimbabwe), flirted briefly with communism, two marriages and three children (she left behind two of each) before returning to London to write.

 

In her autobiography “Under my Skin” Lessing unearths old hurts against her mother who she felt was cold, critical, and manipulative. But she prefaces it with something that essentially tells us that no matter what our childhood, it’s time to get over it, and more importantly to get over a sense of entitlement of perpetual happiness which ironically leads to perpetual discontent.

 

“For years I lived in a state of accusation against my mother..the anguish was deep and genuine. But now I ask myself, against what expectations, what promises, was I matching what actually happened?”

 

Lessing wonders what event in history, what revolution, French or American, “made the pursuit of happiness a right with the implication that happiness is to be had as easily as taking cakes off a supermarket counter. Millions of people in our time behave as if they have been made a promise—by whom? When?—that life must get freer, more honest, more comfortable, always better. Has advertising only set our minds more firmly in this expectant mode? Yet nothing in history suggests that we may expect anything but wars, tyrants, sickness, bad times, calamities, while good times are always temporary. Above all history tells us nothing stays the same for long. We expect gold at the foot of always renewable rainbows. I feel I have been part of some mass illusion or delusion.”

 

Here you are in your chair, and I in mine, looking at the baubles catching the light on the Christmas tree, spying a bit of red wrapping paper that makes you think of the schizophrenic nature of the season—the quickening of the pulse as you think of all the people you love and like, the desire to honour them, coupled with the other thing, the need for happiness for oneself.

 

Now that we realise that our equation was false, that there can’t be any measurement for perfect happiness because it doesn’t exist. You give yourself permission to feel the weight of expectation sliding off your back. You take another sip of the drink burning pleasantly in your chest, and shore up with gratitude the good times you’ve had, of the people you love now. Happy Boxing Day.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur