September 11: the desperate self

The great sadness over the death of Elizabeth II is understandable. She was in all of our lives like a watermark in our text. And yet, the truth about any sadness goes much beyond this. When we are grieving for her, we are grieving for ourselves, our past, our hopes for a future that never materialised. The desperate self is that egotistical; it never grieves for others; it grieves only for itself.

I went to Blackheath today and was a few minutes early for my meeting so I went to look at the house where, a full lifetime away, my first crush had lived. I think I found it. I saw her last the day I left London for Paris. I had phoned her and asked if I could stay the night in her parents house where she was, as my train or bus to Paris went from London early and I was coming from Manchester. That was the last time I saw her. This is many decades away now. Even by that night I had ceased to be enamoured of her. And still the pull of a past self is bewitching, so I had to go and look through the garden gate, like the grown-up Pip looking through the weed-ridden grounds of Satis House where he had once played in the garden of Miss Havisham. You understand why so many middle-aged men and women are desperate to see old flames from many years ago. Of course, it has nothing to do with the past love, now an old and alien being, if they are even still alive. It is that lost flickering image of their past selves they want to glimpse.

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