I’m reading a book on loan to me. S. brought it back from a trip to Australia earlier this year. ‘Any Ordinary Day’ is by Leigh Sales. It’s a collection of stories about the very worst things people can experience that rise up, out of the blue. The title is important; they are stories of waking to another ordinary day, getting on with life, oblivious to what is about to unfold. As Sales explains, “The day that turns a life upside down usually starts like any other.”
These are stories of death, mayhem, natural disaster, accidents, terrorism, sudden terminal diagnosis – sounds like a depressing read, doesn’t it? Yet, through it all she picks up the threads of strength and hope and humour she finds along the way and fashions a rope for us to cling onto should we (when we) arrive upon that place ourselves. The rope that saves you and pulls you out can take a while to find, it takes a practiced grip to keep hold of. Before there is any sight of a rope, most of us fall into a fast flowing meandering river, one that turns back on itself, breaks its banks with hopelessness, sometimes dries up altogether in a confusing drought of not being able to feel anything anymore. But there is an inevitable forward flow towards somewhere more tranquil, in time.
My ordinary day happened not to be all that ordinary. Let’s call it, instead, an ordinary act: dropping plates of sandwiches wrapped in cling film and sausages rolls covered with tin foil to the Parish Hall on a windy, wet day in April. The not so ordinary aspect of the day was that it was two hours before my dad’s funeral. I got back from the catering run to a phone call telling me my husband had died in Canada. Reading ‘Any Ordinary Day’ I’m reminded of what I always knew: I’m not the first, I’m not the last, the world turns on its axis, regardless. Stories from this book don’t put my wet April day into perspective – mine is just a different story – they don’t make me feel there is a pecking order of trauma – they are all traumatic – but reading it reminds me how people manage, as time passes, to rise, to fashion a rope from shreds of and to haul themselves up.
We wake this morning to news of people going about their lives in New Zealand, setting forth, as with any ordinary day, only for it to turn into a terrible, terrible day. It could be any of us.
Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot (this extract is from Little Gidding– abridged)
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning
The end is where we start from.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew tree
Are of equal duration.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.