a long summer of change

So many things have happened this summer that if I stop and think about them too hard it all seems a little surreal!

A summer of change is an understatement – transformation is perhaps more accurate. How does one begin to evaluate birth, deaths, engagements, political change, academic change; personal, domestic, national and global events? Writing brief notes in my personal diary each day (literally half a dozen lines intended as long term pointers for mood change) I often feel almost foolish making notes about the weather when there has been a major flood or an earthquake or similar on the other side of the world. No man (or woman) is an island … or, invoking chaos theory, the apparently trivial actions of a butterfly here can create major disturbance elsewhere. Hence I have abandoned attempts to rank the events of the summer into any sort of hierarchy, because who can tell at the time what will have the most profound effects in the future?

There is an old saying that when one life leaves the world another enters, and my mother-in-law died in May knowing that her fourth great grandchild was due at the end of July. The baby arrived a couple of days late at the beginning of August, the first grandchild for both sets of parents. Just as nothing prepares you for the birth of your first child, so nothing prepares you for the arrival of your first grandchild. The family order changes – my parents have been dead for over twenty years, so for most of my children’s lives there have only been two generations, but now there are three, and we are at the top. The joy and delight in the baby are tempered by increased awareness of one’s own mortality, the loss of one’s youth. Speaking honestly I cannot grieve the death of an 84 year old woman whose last two years had been spent as a shadow of her former self after a disabling stroke. Selfishly I grieve much more the time of my twenties and thirties that can never be reclaimed. Healthy ageing is one thing; the prospect of ever being significantly physically, or far worse, mentally disabled in old age is utterly horrifying.

This links to another of the summer’s events; the vote in the House of Commons on the Assisted Dying bill. I had real hope that the vote would go in favour of the incredibly restricted terms of the bill, which only permitted assisted dying in the event of terminal illness with a prognosis of less than six months. Sadly the vote wasn’t even close. Various religious and palliative care groups carried out highly organised campaigns of fear, suggesting that the old and disabled would be pressurised into requesting assisted dying, despite the fact that none of these people would have satisfied the criteria of the bill. It seems completely wrong that middle class people with money are able to go to Switzerland to die (and that they might have to choose to go earlier than they wish because of fear that they will become unfit for travel) whilst those without money are left to suffer, or to make botched and unpleasant suicide attempts. Moreover I personally would wish to be able to die on my own terms, in a place and at a time of my choosing when I get so old that life is no longer pleasurable. I vividly remember my grandmother in her early nineties telling me that life was no fun when all your friends and one of your children had died before you. She was highly intelligent and active until a few weeks before her death at the age of 96, but she had consistently said that she was ‘past my sell-by date’ for a number of years before she died (in her sleep).

Politics and religion – the two things that one is not meant to talk about in ‘polite society’. Politics has been high on the agenda all summer as the Labour leadership contest sprung into life, and then developed a momentum that had been unforeseen by anyone. Corbynmania and Corbynistas entered the vocabulary of the media. More on this in future posts. More too on the Syrian refugee crisis, so-called Islamic State (I prefer the nomenclature used in the rest of Europe – Daesh), airstrikes, the Russians…. These international issues are so massive and almost incomprehensible that domestic politics become either shrinkingly unimportant, or comfortingly all-encompassing so that the outside world is banished.

Back to contemplation of ageing as both the eldest and youngest of my four children got engaged during the summer. Whilst rejoicing in their happiness (and counting my blessings that their chosen life partners are really great people who are very easy to love and welcome into the family), there is no doubt that I feel confronted with my own age. All the denial in the world, all the ‘I feel 35 in my head’, is of little use when faced with the irrefutable evidence that one’s children are completely grown up. In case this sounds selfish or silly, I have to reiterate that I am terrified by the idea of getting old.

Lastly my academic status has changed over the summer. I have submitted my MRes thesis (there is still a viva to come, but the work is complete) and am now having a less structured year before moving my academic work back to the University of Chichester. The University of Brighton may be much larger, and consider itself much more prestigious, but Chichester offers me the opportunity to do exactly the collaborative inter-disciplinary work that I wish to do.

Exciting times ahead.

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