A few weeks ago my computer had a fit of pique or indigestion and swallowed all my photos. The whole library disappeared into its unfathomable depths, and even though the Family Wizard poked about in the bowels, exerting all his skill and magical powers, nothing could be retrieved except the odd pictures I’d sent as e-mail attachments still lurking in other directories.
Sometimes, I’m almost prepared to light a candle to Steve Jobs, other times I’d like to dig him up and make him fix my Mac.
Fortunately, I still had a few photos on my phone so I uploaded those, and this week I found a memory stick from my camera, with photos going back to 2010, so that was a cause for great rejoicing. However, it was also a shock and when I viewed them I was almost in tears. My life in 2010 and 2011 as recorded in these images and mini-videos was so different from the life I have been living since I came to look after my Mother, it seems like another planet.
I was aware, of course, in a matter-of-fact rational manner that the day-to-day routine is geared to a nonagenarian lifestyle, social contacts limited, and that I have been deliberately maintaining this uneventful regime for various reasons mostly to do with health. This place is drab but familiar: I have family and very good friends here; this is where I was born and grew up.
The English West Midlands are also about as far removed scenically as you can get from my homes in Heidiland and the North Brittany coast. Of course I know that. On an intellectual level. But I wasn’t prepared for the emotional impact of suddenly seeing my recent past in such vivid contrast. It reminds me of the way, in The Wizard of Oz, that Dorothy’s Kansas life is shown in black and white, and Oz in magnificent Technicolor. Switzerland and France are beautiful, but I don’t have an exciting life there; it isn’t glamorous or action-packed. So why this knee-jerk reaction? Why this sudden bout of nostalgia, of tearful homesickness?
Well, these photos brought home to me the advantages of my other life, my friends and family I haven’t seen for over a year, places and activities I took for granted, an independence I don’t have here. In that life, single and carefree, I have only my own needs and desires to consider. I have a car there, which I don’t have here, and I can go more or less where I like when I like. Life is so much easier in that world! My strategy for coping with THIS world is to focus on the here-and-now, on what I have and not on what I don’t. Perhaps I was getting too selfish and egocentric, and needed to learn to put others first. That has been a good lesson for me.
My closest friend in Switzerland has commented that I seem very far away, and that I am not the same person I was. Well, of course, I am a little older, a little wiser, a little more decrepit, a little less energetic. At the moment, also a little sadder.
However, I know why I am here and I know that my mother needs me. She will be 97 in four weeks, and is a remarkable person still, even though she is slower and more fragile. Perhaps this period is indeed black-and-white, and not Technicolor: but I still consider it a privilege to be spending this time with the most precious person in my life, who has always been there for me, and who loves me unconditionally. Monochrome is a small price to pay for that!