That Horrid Time

I lay in bed last night listening to the news and thinking about the horrid days around us.  This sent my mind spinning back to other times (which were mostly moments) that were I thought were horrid and would scar me forever; whereas now they’re like half remembered films where I can visualise certain scenes, but the ending has faded away.  The memories bounced and swirled from sad to ridiculous to flippant to frightening, yet, flicking through them, eyes closed in the dark, had the effect of cheering me up, in an odd sort of way.  They were all what are called ‘heart sink’ moments, where one feels an immediate, overwhelming sense of being crushed by an event (many of which were attributable to idiocy on my part) and wanting to turn the clock back to when ‘everything was fine’.   Here’s what I remember.

Jumping into deep water at Bundoran only to realise there was a ferocious undertow and even my strongest strokes could not propel me forward.  Returning from the bathroom to sit down at a table in a Chinese Restaurant in Stillorgan and discovering I had walked the length of the restaurant with my pleated skirt tucked into the waistband of my tights.  Finding moth holes in my favourite orange cashmere jumper, then going through all my woolens to find every item had been part of the picnic.  Losing my toenail when I got my toe lodged in a rock in a river in Algonquin Park and camping for five days with a mushy mess appended to my left foot.  Locking my car keys into Peugeot 106 on the Magilligan to Rathmullan car-ferry when it was possible to do such a thing.  Dying my hair and then melting it all off and burning my scalp by wrapping it in clingfilm and blasting it with the hairdryer at the hottest setting.  Being held above my dad’s head at Duffy’s Circus when the alligator escaped.  Having my house broken into four days before Christmas and the practical, but unsympathetic policeman’s greatest concern was that I hadn’t put a Christmas tree up.  Sleeping (except I didn’t) in a van after going to the Castleward Opera and being the coldest I have ever been in my life.  Accidentally wiping my computer hard drive, forever.  Leaving my handbag on the Edinburgh to London train.  Explaining to a Paris Gendarme that my charge––a young man on a summer scheme on which I was a volunteer (and I wasn’t much older than he in my care)––hadn’t really been shoplifting, he had just forgotten to pay.  Deciding that I liked my boyfriend’s dogs more than I liked him, and I’m not very fond of dogs.  Crying the whole way to Newfoundland.  Putting my half-used chewing gum (there was still flavour in it) under my pillow one night and waking up with it bonded to my hair like ivy to a tree trunk and ‘fixing’ it myself with nail scissors so that I didn’t get in trouble from my parents (gum was not allowed; the haircut was not good).  My tent going on fire at the all-Ireland fleadh in Miltown Malby.  Dismounting a moving wagon on a visit to Upper Canada Village and understanding (by way of enormous bruising to my body and ego) that if I decant myself from a moving vehicle, then I’ll also be moving (yes, I am that stupid).  Eating a plate of liver and almonds in Prague leading to a virulent gastral eruption of embarrassing proportions.  Cycling downhill when the front wheel came off the bicycle, and there were two of us on the bike (it’s a metaphor but it’s also true).

I know these are tiny, inconsequential things, but they are helping me to remember that even horrid times, given time, lose their horror and do no harm.  May you all feel safe and guarded as a charm.

Sonnet 24, Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Let the world’s sharpness, like a clasping knife,
Shut in upon itself and do no harm
In this close hand of Love, now soft and warm,
And let us hear no sound of human strife
After the click of the shutting. Life to life—
I lean upon thee, Dear, without alarm,
And feel as safe as guarded by a charm
Against the stab of worldlings, who if rife
Are weak to injure. Very whitely still
The lilies of our lives may reassure
Their blossoms from their roots, accessible
Alone to heavenly dews that drop not fewer,
Growing straight, out of man’s reach, on the hill.
God only, who made us rich, can make us poor.

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