Those closest to me will know about the turmoil in my life in the last 18 months or so. Reappraisals are inevitable.
Some readers will know what it is like when a partner lives with a progressive illness like early-onset Alzheimer’s. The role change from partner to carer was quite sudden for me. On the face of it, the condition imposes new limits to the world. But don’t limits teach us something? And the inevitable emotions that accompany it – anger, depression, despair, resignation, guilt, the recognition of existential limits – do they necessarily move in the same direction: towards nihilism?
No! That need not be so. Once one recognises the inevitability of emotional reactions they become normalised. Once one can contextualise one’s responses, one is able to find a freedom in the midst of turmoil. This freedom needs nourishing, needs an outlet.
Of course, it was ever thus.
I have never been a good follower, having learned at a very young age to mistrust any supposed wisdom of the day. Leaders, fashions and trends are things that come and go. So, although I have had a life-long interest in Buddhism, and latterly the philosophy of Wittgenstein and Daoism, I wouldn’t ever completely identify with a particular viewpoint. I would just say that such views open up interesting aspects onto the World. However, one thing that a reading of Wittgenstein and Zhuangzi and Laozi does give is an appreciation for the ordinary.
My wife’s condition meant that I needed to find practical help in some areas and to give up on some things. Any full-time carers out there will know how little time one has for oneself. I hired two gardeners to maintain the garden; I gave up on bread-making; I started to buy convenience foods (I have always cooked from basic ingredients); I even started to use my digital cameras more often – all to make my life easier.
Easier? Perhaps, but fulfilling? What do we want from our lives? After some time, I realised that the garden no longer reflected how I felt – I felt estranged from it. Food became a commodity, something to heat up and dish out, but not to be enjoyed. Pictures didn’t seem mine anymore. (Some questions in parenthesis: What’s the point of a garden if you no longer work it? Isn’t there much more to food than nutrition?)
Here you will recognise the familiar point about making the most of a journey and not to bank too heavily on the nirvana of a destination. I made more room in my life, but for what? The epiphany for me was the realisation that the ordinary is enough. More than enough. In fact, it is all that there is. So, I am back to gardening, (although I still get help – a ‘middle way’), cooking in the French style, learning to be a home Barista, expanding my horizons.
We don’t have to seek out that gorgeous sunset, climb that mountain, travel to some remote place, make room for more ‘worthwhile’ things. The moments of the day are still moments of the day. Taking photographs of such is far more challenging. Photographs of the ordinary. Now that would be worthwhile. Photographs of nothing special, but made with attention to detail and care. But once ‘ordinary photographs’ are lauded, they are no longer ordinary. But were they ever?