Friday, 28 January 2011

The Bright Side

At school I was once chastised by a 'friend' for being too positive. Yes. Me. 'You always see the good in everything. It's so annoying.' Was it? Well, mum had taught me to 'count my blessings' and 'smile when the going got tough.' Clich├ęs featured heavily.

Still, seeing the good in people, life, in the world: what was wrong with that? In response I was nonchalant; a shrug of shoulders and the straightening of my school tie. But underneath my air of indifference, I ached. That one remark carved itself on me like an unwanted scar.

Unnerved, I thought about it for days. Sure, I saw the good in things. Championed happy endings. Appreciated silver linings. Tread in dog poo and I'd thank the stars I was wearing shoes.

Whenever something bad was said, I'd defend. In my eyes, there was a reason why that boy was so angry that he threw chairs across the classroom, or why that girl's uniform was never clean. I may not have know what it was but there was always a bigger picture. There was always a beginning - and middle - to everyone's story.

And yes, I had a penchant for smiling at strangers; the old lady at the bus stop, the pram-pushing mother on the street. Even if my smile could not elicit one in return, it did not matter. They were in a hurry; they weren't in the mood; it was a grey area. Understood.

Even so, I didn't think these things were noticeably a nuisance. But yesterday, as I voiced my anger on the news, mum sighed: 'You should look on the bright side a bit more often.' I wasn't sure how one could 'look on the bright side' of someone doing only two years for murder, but at that moment the point was shelved. Like the new pain of an old injury, memory stirred.

Looking back, to that moment outside the food hall, I understand. Confronted by peers, my thirteen year old self was afraid. Defend the foundations of my personality? As if: courage was just a word in the dictionary. My 'annoying' optimism was wrong in the eyes of my so-called friend. And so my ability to believe in the unbelievable, to treat people as I found them, was bludgeoned out of me with one cruel and unnecessary remark.

Well, I certainly thought so at the time. As a result, through choice or circumstance, I allowed it to change me. Like a guilty secret, I hid that side of me for so long it started to fade. But it never disappeared. It was always underneath the surface.

Life often makes it hard to be optimistic. Repeated knocks and obstacles only serve to dampen the spirit and lose faith. Black and white, ignore the grey. It feels easier to accept defeat and wallow in the gloom. I've done that. We all do. It's the norm. But sometimes it doesn't hurt to take a walk on the bright side. In fact, it feels quite good...

Monday, 10 January 2011

And so it goes...

I celebrated the New Year with family and friends in Wales. We stood outside holding glasses of pink champagne and watched the fireworks, faces lit with flashes of green, red and blue. We played with sparklers, spelling our names with the fading yellow light. The sky was filled with Chinese lanterns. Hundreds of glowing wishes soaring against a sky made of ink.

Auld Lang Syne played in the background, filtering from a neighbour's TV. There were hugs and kisses, toothy smiles and eyes that twinkled more than usual. Strangers, wearing silly flashing hats, passed us with a jovial wave and clink of near-empty bottles.

Minutes we were suspended, trapped in a time where nothing mattered. Woes and worries, fears and frustrations; forgotten. It was like they slipped into a place, a mere crevice, beyond recognition, beyond memory. But only for a little while. Only while the fireworks still had gunpowder and the streamers still popped and the champagne still fizzed in flute glasses.

But then the cold came. Clawing and biting at our reddened cheeks and ears, pulling at the memories, the past, logic. As the rest stamped muddied feet before going inside, I stood on the driveway amidst the carnage of those suspended minutes. Feet surrounded by the shards of scorched sparklers and a jumble of pink and purple streamers; a champagne cork and an empty bottle.

The sky was dark and still, starless. It hit me like a thwack against my wind-cold cheek; 2010 was really over. There would be no possibility of un-doing, no should-have would-have could-have's. There was no going back.

The finality of it was frightening; that time could really creep upon you like that. And it wasn't just the unexpectedness of it all; it was the reminder how fragile time really is. How little of it we have at our disposal.

The Rolling Stones once said: time waits for no one. And so, dearest reader, let's not be late.

New Year.