Gabriel Byrne, the Irish actor, had a book out last year, I heard him talk about it on a radio interview. I didn’t know it was him at first, I just thought, ‘there’s a man with a lovely accent who knows how to tell a story’, and so I kept listening, mostly because of that voice. He’s 80 (I was surprised too), and the book was memoir for which he had to dredge up old stories – a process both dangerous and cathartic. He spoke about addressing someone from the past, someone who had wronged him. He said he phoned this person, got as far as asking, ‘do you remember me?’ and then he couldn’t bring himself to speak about the wrongdoing because, as he put it, ‘sometimes there is no resolution to trauma, the answer is in the acceptance of the trauma and moving on from it and whether one can forgive or not.’ I don’t know what the trauma was – it’s a big word and there is a huge spectrum – and although that glib sounding ‘moving on’ might rile some people, it was the right action for him, and it obviously resonated with me, because I remember it.
Moving on could be seen as capitulation, defeatist, brushing something unresolved under the carpet, but it might also be brave and life-affirming to move on. Sometimes ours is really not to reason why. Our everyday lives are in a constant state of repair: gutters, teeth, car tyres, boilers. Things break and we fix them, get on with it, so why shouldn’t our emotional lives also be in a constant state of rupture and repair? And fixes don’t last forever, mended things wear out and need tending to again. They say you can get 25 years out of a hip replacement, there’s no way you’d get that out of a patched-up broken heart, it’s going to leak sadness every so often.
Here is the hard bit: when to repair, when to abandon, and when to do a bit of both. We seem to be a society obsessed with closure, neat endings, resolutions, justice, answers, and often you don’t get any of them, you just get a bucket full of pain chasing them. Shortly after I heard the Gabriel Byrne interview, I received a card from a friend in which she was reflecting upon the vagaries of life we have both had to face, and she concluded with the line, ‘sometimes, the best we can do is move on’. Her words inspired me to write a poem, one I sent to a different friend who didn’t like the message. He seemed to understand that my moving on meant dropping, leaving down, discarding, forsaking (love, dreams, ambition) and worst of all, perhaps forgetting. That’s not it, I told him. It’s about not being held back (too often) by a possibility that has expired to the detriment of new possibilities that are seeding but will go no further without attention. It’s about repairing as best we can. It’s about acceptance. It’s hard work.
The Best We Can Do Is Move On Unlived days run parallel to these, lost lives scripted up and plotted had the dice rolled six instead of three. Glimpses of that world are rare, yet sometimes I can travel there to watch my twin act in the play. We all could’ve been somebody but for forks, turns, sliding doors. I cut my cloth, accept, accede, steal the odd infrequent glance at shadows in the wings, tracings of a scaffold-life vacated. But it’s on this stage I belong, the best we can do is move on.