Time goes slowly for the traveller.
Every hour brings new places, people, experiences. Then, you return to your familiar surroundings, often a changed person, and find that you slot right back in as if you had never been away. Are you the same person – only different?
I’ve been away a lot over the past month – four countries in two weeks, at one point – and I haven’t enjoyed it that much, apart from a great week in Los Angeles, possibly my favourite city on Earth. I missed my sunrises and sunsets over the Hudson in New York; the fabulous welcoming staff at Mr Biggs, my local bar in Hell’s Kitchen; Suits and Mistresses on the telly. I always take a couple of days off upon my return to slob around on the sofa, catching up on my shows with a bowl of pasta and glass of Rioja before rejoining the human race. It’s the part of jetlag I adore: the best excuse not to have to sit at one’s desk.
The reasons for my lack of enthusiasm during this trip are various, and I’ll write about that in another blog. Today, however, all I can think of is my friend Lyn, who has had the devastating ordeal of waiting for her son’s body to arrive from Thailand, where he was killed in a road accident last week.
I have no children and cannot begin to imagine the pain of parents who lose them. My mother’s sister, Auntie Barbara, and my Uncle Brian lost their beloved daughter, Sarah, my cousin, and their never-ending pain is heart-wrenching to witness. It’s a clichéd phrase, but as Lyn wrote to me this week, the clichés are what come automatically; I wonder if, drained of everything, we rely on them to keep us going: a linguistic backbone when all else fails to compute.
A couple of weeks back, the writer Julie Burchill wrote about her son Jack, who committed suicide, aged 29. Although no longer with Jack’s father, Cosmo Landesman, it was clear they came together in grief; Julie wrote that she could not bear the pain of the funeral, but she reprinted and praised Cosmo’s breathtakingly poignant tribute to their son.
She also had the guts to reprint a piece she wrote many years ago in which she appeared to be unsympathetic to the victims of suicide. Easily the bravest (and probably the best and most influential) writer of her generation, she made important philosophical points that still hold true, even when revisiting them in the light of Jack’s death.
One Facebook “friend” admonished me for empathising, but it is clear that the social networking community provided Julie and Cosmo with immense support during this devastating time. It’s not the first time I have “unfriended” someone who has mistaken my empathy for a declaration of what they perceive to be my own misery.
I am far from being an unhappy person, irrespective of whatever happens in my life, but I am affected by world events, personal tragedies, the minutiae of the pain a human being is forced to endure; and, after that, the incredible strength they are able to muster to pull through. If someone is incapable of empathy, then I don’t want that person as my friend anyway.
Lyn is someone I have come to know through Facebook. We share a mutual friend, Phillip Arran, a wonderful actor and amazingly kind, warm and hilarious man, who I met when I judged him in a talent show called Presenters 15 years ago. Phil has been working on cruise ships and he put me in touch with Lyn, who is a mega talented writer and musical performer and someone who I hope to work with. In recent months, she has been writing on Facebook about different shows she has been giving onboard, and the joy she gets from her job has been exhilarating to witness.
And then this.
Her beloved son, Ross, who went back to Thailand to hand in his notice and change direction in his life, as he had done before. I never met him, but everything I am reading and hearing makes it clear that he is someone who lived life to the full and gave much laughter and love to everyone he met.
I am not a hijacker of grief, but, as with Julie’s loss, this has affected me deeply. I know it does not compare to what Lyn, Ross’s brother Scott, and his father, Alex, are going through; nor Ross’s many friends. But the comfort of strangers cannot be underestimated: people who, through social networking, reveal what it is simply to be human.
We have the capacity, and the need, to share; it’s in our DNA.
As E M Forster said in Howards End: Only connect.
It is our greatest gift to each other.
It’s a cliché, but my heart aches for you, Lyn.
Rest in peace, dear Ross.