Life Gets Lighter

Mother’s condition was slowly getting worse. She went into hospital for an operation that might help the open ulcers to close. After she came home she had strict instructions that she must stay in bed. Mary and I took time off school to look after her and make sure that she didn’t get up. One day Mary had been out to do the shopping. When she got back Mother was pottering about on her legs. Mary was naturally cross with her. “I only thought I would make a bit of dinner for you.” This was typical of Mother. She knew that we were both taking valuable time our of school to give her the chance to get better and then she sabotaged us by not following doctor’s orders. At that time I was beginning to think that she did not want to get better. When she was ill she got attention and company, just as she received when, as a sickly child, she was sent for lovely holidays with the Lincolnshire cousins. Eventually she was provided with a very large and unwieldy mechanised wheel chair so that she could go out and do the shopping and we rarely had to take time off school. Yet her legs would still not get better. A long time after, when Mary and I were both married with children, she began to show signs of dementia. We found a good nursing home for her. She still retained her cheerful self and all the staff loved her. It is easy to be cheerful when we do not take responsibility for ourselves. At long last the ulcers closed completely. She got all the attention she had always wanted. I knew then that if people have a vested interest in being ill, nothing will make them better.

Once the war was over I slowly began to recover from my depression. My life was beginning to change. My time in the sixth form was the most rewarding because I was immersed in what I enjoyed: English, French and Spanish, both language and literature. I read English and Spanish metaphysical poetry and began to find some answers. John Donne, St. John of the Cross and Santa Teresa were my favourites. I found the concept of the dark night of the soul, when faith appears to vanish and a strong sense of meaninglessness overwhelms the soul. I wasn’t the only one. I felt comforted that some of the greatest poets had experienced this phenomenon and that it was another aspect of the life of the spirit.

I realised that I did not need to belong to an organised religion. We are part of a whole and have the powers within us to make the best of ourselves. If we want to feel secure we must all learn to understand ourselves and trust our own judgement. We should question whatever we are taught and decide for ourselves what we need. It is useless to ask people if they believe in God because we all have our own idea of what the word ‘god’ means to us. I developed a love for the golden age plays of Shakespeare and Calderon. I realised that the best of literature and philosophy can tell us all we need to know about the nature of mankind and spirituality.

My sister Mary and I became much closer because we both loved the theatre. Mary loved acting and I went to see her several times. I was astonished at her confidence to play parts that needed a lot of learning without drying up. At that time the best plays toured the provinces before they opened in London. We queued up at least twice a month at the Grand Theatre to get seats in the gods. We saw Edith Evans in “The Chalk Garden”, John Mills in “Five Finger Exercises”, Emlyn Williams in “Night must Fall” and many others. We attended our first operas, “La Boheme” and “Tosca” which remain my favourites. We both had a passion for jigsaw puzzles. To make it more fun we would take two or three, mix them up and finish them all.

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