A Bad Time

When we’re young, we’re thrown together with other children and told to go and play in an effort to gift our long-suffering parents with a blessed hour of peace and quiet. Before we begin to play, we have simple, rudimentary ways of assessing each other:

“What’s your favourite colour?”

“Blue.”

“Me too! Will you be my friend?”

Then we each grab a stick with twigs sticking out the bottom and start studiously brushing the dirt in an attempt to clean our “house,” which is really just the space under a bush where the frost killed off the lower branches, but thankfully we have the imagination required to bridge that minor gap in realities. It doesn’t present too much of a challenge to our world view.

That same imagination is, I think, what helps us form these fast friendships. We make huge leaps of logic from stepping stone to stepping stone of assumption. We decide that since we like blue and are okay, if they like blue they must also be okay. That’s enough. It’s enough to have a shared interest in the colour blue, or in ponies, or in holographic stickers, or pogs (are they still a thing?), or whatever we have our open little hearts set on at that particular moment.

As children, once we’ve established that one binding fact that cements our friendship, we don’t act passive-aggressively forever more if one person claims that Skipper is better than Barbie. We don’t thump each other until we need medical assistance over a difference of opinion on whether Micro Machines are better than Hot Wheels. We don’t refuse to speak to each other ever again because we don’t both want to watch Aladdin. We accept these things as valid and skip over these differences because the important things are still true; we both like the colour blue, and we like each other.

As time wears on, our lives grow more complicated. Our requirements for friendship grow more complex. We start to write people off for small, niggling reasons. That one person who breathes through their mouth. That other person who won’t watch movies with subtitles. Chasms open up where opinions on religion and politics diverge. Instead of the simple acceptance we had as children, we now debate and argue – viciously, ferociously – in an attempt to change other people’s points of view. Race, class, beliefs and values all get dragged into discussions.

Nobody cares about your favourite colour anymore.

It seems like the world is fracturing at the moment. Cracks have appeared as if from nowhere and I can’t tell how deep the damage goes. It seems like the planet is tearing itself apart at the seams, with untidy, fraying stitches just barely holding everything together. What used often to be educated discussion is now aggressive shouting. Disagreements are now total incompatabilities. Apparently there’s a worldwide chronic deficiency of imagination at the moment and people are either unable or unwilling to understand opposing points of view.

Facts have been sacrificed on the altar of audience engagement and squeaky wheels everywhere are getting the grease of media attention, no matter how insufferable the squeak.

The cracks might not worsen. They might stay as they are, never worsening but never healing completely. Or they might at any moment become a break. A split. An insurmountable challenge.

An impassable chasm.

The worst part is that I think a few more seams are going to rip open before this is over. I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better, and I don’t know what to do in the meantime. I definitely don’t have a manual for this. What I do have is a history book, and it’s not exactly reassuring me if I’m honest. If anything it’s making me think we’re about to be in for A Bad Time. A Bad Time with a lot of shouting.

And I hate shouting.

So if anybody wants to hide out and be friends, I’ll be hiding out in my blanket fort with a few micro machines and (since we’re grown ups) some bottles of vodka and gin.

Only people with the password* allowed!

*The password is your favourite colour.

Love & Sonder

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Yup. It’s that time again; tomorrow is Valentine’s Day!

I know, I know.

But don’t stress.

Ignore the mooning couples goofily grinning at each other across restaurant tables. Ignore the harried looking men rushing by with bouquets of flowers the size of refridgerators. Ignore the overabundance of retina-scorching red and pink that follows you from store to store. I know it’s difficult. I can’t untangle the precise reason why, but the annoyance just seems to come naturally; it’s one of life’s dependable irritants… but this year maybe just block out all that extra nonsense.

We both know that’s not what Valentine’s Day is about.

Yes, you can gripe that it’s a Hallmark holiday that’s been commercialised, and it puts couples on a pedestal, and part of you is disappointed that (get ready for a Choose Your Own Adventure…) 1. a Jamie Dornan doppelganger isn’t about to show up at your house with a box of Norman Love Chocolates and a pair of handcuffs – that he would only ever use on you with your full-throated consent – OR that 2. Margot Robbie’s adventurous and previously undiscovered twin won’t be sitting on the edge of your bed in lacy underwear and a smile when you get home from work. Those good old Valentine’s stereotypes are alive and well, after all.

If we take a step back though, it’s a lot less sleazy than it looks. I mean, not to get soft on you*, but first and foremost Valentine’s Day is a day about love. It’s a day for taking the time out to appreciate the people around you. Your friends and family, yes, but try to take it a step further. Take some time out to think about the strangers you interact with on a daily basis; the people who flicker through your life. That sour-faced receptionist in your office building, maybe. Or the barista who hands you your coffee every morning. The lady at the check-out till at your local shop. Or your neighbour from a few doors down who often nods hello despite the fact that you have never spoken.

Here’s an exercise that always makes me feel some kind of way.

Think about all the people that you come into contact with during the day, and try to think of three compliments you could give each one. It’s fair to say that with some people you might struggle to come up with three, but even one is a good start. They don’t need to be deep, meaningful compliments – after all, you barely know most of these people – they can be as inane as, ‘He always wears a matching pocket square and I appreciate that attention to detail‘ or, ‘She seems really hard-working‘ or, ‘He smiles when he hands people back their change and I think that’s lovely.’

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows has the following definition for the word sonder:

sonder

n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own, populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness. An epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

I think Valentine’s Day is a good day for sondering.

I also think Valentine’s Day is just a good, solid, red-and-pink-booted, kick-to-the-face reminder to appreciate the people around you. I don’t think it’s just for coupled-up lovebirds. People are always saying you shouldn’t need a day to show the people you love how much you love them. I do think that’s true, but do you know what’s also true?

People are eejits sometimes.

We make mistakes. We take people for granted. We’re busy and stressed out and we have a lot of stuff on our plates. We have more to do than we have time to do it in, and things can slip through the cracks. We’re all fallible. So if there’s one day a year that gives us a gentle nudge to remember the people we love, sure, what harm?

Happy Valentine’s Day, you lovely person. I appreciate you.

*I got soft on you. Sorry. One time thing, I promise.