…whilst the acquisition of knowledge can be painful, it’s the acquisition of wisdom that proves lethal
Call me Pilgrim. It has a certain connotation. It presents an image of someone walking to somewhere in quiet unassuming certainty that the journey upon which they have embarked is more significant than the destination. Enigmatic and alone, at one and the same time both social and anti-social, an apotheosis of contradiction. I am a spiritual gunslinger, like Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider, except I have a Bible in one holster and the Bhagavad Gita in the other and I’m probably a little more handsome. That’s how the image presents itself to me, but if nothing else I’m nobody’s fool and I know that Call me Pilgrim offers something else to my fragile self-perception… the smug satisfaction that derives from knowing that only people who have read Moby Dick, or at least the first sentence, will get the carefully crafted allusion to the painful, disturbing but sometimes insightful and happy journey upon which we all embark from womb to crematorium; fragments I have shored against my ruins, as T. S. Eliot would have it. Christ, Trevor, you’re such an arse, as my friends would have it.
I have never known adventure and I’m a stranger to uncertainty. A wife, three kids, two dogs and a weekly trip to Tesco; such are the idylls of my life. When confronted with Achilles dilemma, choose adventure and death in exchange for literary immortality or stay at home and be forgotten it was never any contest. Put the kettle on and see what’s on TV. I have measured out an average existence. But living this way I have discovered, much to my surprise, that average is good. There is alchemy in average, the distillation of reality from the confusion of children’s tears, the words of dying parents and the simple emotions of love turned to hate. There is potential and transformation in average, the world in a grain of sand. Well, maybe, let’s hope so anyway, it’s what we have.
Literary allusions quickly fade. Eight in the evening in a quiet house is not the time or the place of the anti-hero. Coffee to hand and an evening to confront I glimpsed the Moon before closing the curtains. I sit on a broken sofa and sip Columbian deep roast from the cup and the bitterness surprises me. I don’t know if she ever thinks about what happened or about the other path she could have taken. She probably does but I specifically asked everyone not to keep me informed. As a consequence I’ve heard nothing. I don’t know if that was a good idea or not. Perhaps I was wrong; perhaps, in the end, it’s not the knowing that destroys you, it’s the not knowing.
Laptop on the seat next to me, I try to think of a way in… articulate, evasive, funny. Nothing works, this is not the time for Achilles or Don Armardio, this is the time for Tiresias. I’m a middle-aged man, balding, grey-beard and belly swelled by a life dedicated to a gentle excess of beer. The rest doesn’t really matter because I’m leading you to the point of recognition, the point of writing all this…
It happened in March. Personally I think April would have been better because then I could have rehearsed more lines from Eliot or drenched my imagination in religious images of re-birth. Then there would have been some meaning to it, at least to me. But you can’t choose your moment; the turning planets, the sirens and the satellites do that. Our part is acceptance, either with quiet dignity or with anger. Or so I’d always thought. Because up until that moment it had never occurred to me that I could simply tell you all the truth.
This realisation, that I could simply tell you all the truth, came by a circuitous route. I had been crying on and off for days. I hadn’t eaten and I couldn’t sleep. It occurred to me that I might be losing my mind, or at least my already faltering control over it, because the point beyond which grief turns to melodrama had long since receded over the horizon. I was locked into my loss. So I phoned a friend of mine, a therapist of many years standing who invited me round for coffee that same afternoon, “no therapy man, just a chat, you can’t afford my fees anyway”.
The door was already ajar when I arrived and he called out my name in response to me calling his. Ushering me through the kitchen to a conservatory, I sat down and stared out at the daffodils. He entered with two freshly brewed mugs, passed one to me and sat on the opposite couch. This was already therapy of a kind, two friends in their middle years staring at each other, breaking to smiles, each trying to understand the presence of the other as if, somehow, the companionship of friends needed any justification. We sipped our coffees and allowed the silence to settle. I wanted to say “how are you?” as though me checking on his current state of health would bestow some sort of emotional equality to the proceedings, a joint sharing of concern that, clearly, he didn’t need. But, I never got the chance. Before I could deliver my line he pointed to a shelf on my left and as I looked towards it he said “the tissues are there”. “Tissues?” “The tissues are there, you said you can’t stop crying”. I let the silence descend again, it was comfortable and there seemed no point in pretence. So I allowed him to ask the question “what’s up?” and he allowed me to answer.