Thursday, May 13, 2010
When I was nineteen years old and in my first year of uni in Clayton I devoted a lot of time between classes to the care, comfort and good humour of my maternal Grandfather Ken Graham. He was becoming increasingly frail despite a tall frame, lantern jaw and pomp of white hair. I was sick of love as I then knew it, in all its manifestations of sweaty nightclub gropings or wild infatuations for people I’d never have to confront with said wildness.
So I made a fairly conscious decision, as well as the sentimental one of my pa’s little ‘ginger nut’, to dash off in Daisy Datsun to his home in nearby Keysborough while the other girls my age shopped at Chadstone or hit the uni bar to talk film-theory.
I was making a choice to try and learn how to love as I thought ‘real grown ups’ did, with responsibility attached. So I vacced his flat, made him lunch, organised his pills on the nightstand where a painting of the ballet Swan Lake gave view to my memories of a pastel-hued and violet- scented Nanna. Sometimes to be naughty we’d share along-neck of VB. When I left I believe he’d then have a few wee drams of Scotch and don the clan kilt he had made up at age 70 from a lady he bowled with.
Sometimes we get these moments of choice to be more selfless. Other times they’re thrust upon us. But it’s a strange word, ‘selfless’ because even when we can cast a fair bit of ego and internal angst to the side in order to care for another, the self never really goes. Its there ticking away, occasionally resentful even as we love, frustrated with its own needs as we tend to those of another, wondering when it will end, or indulging in the secret basement-level fantasies of how we could be relived of duty.
And really, who would want to be entirely selfless? How dangerous, how boring, what a cry from the crucifix: “oh look at me and watch me bleed so that I can absolve you of all your mucky human failings.” To live like that, in habit or out of fear of hell or just of bad press strikes me as pretty superficial really.
But it’s good to make the choice sometimes. And not good in some namby pamby or moral way. It’s good because it can temporarily create a different song against the drum, that ever-present noisy self that tocks away like Poe’s beating heart under the floor in the dark and the dirty stuff.
The random or chosen times of selflessness remind me that when its crunch-time, much can be dispensed with, much of the noise can drop away. Time can be found, and energy, and empathy.
The song becomes clearer and the lyrics very familiar, so that we can just sing along for a while in a fair harmony with another. The internal drum still beats, but it just has its place in bigger music, for a while at least.