03 July 2019

Try to forgive

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The British summer hangs on, and it’s bright and cool in the morning. I can, for the minute it takes my Garmin to find a GPS satellite, stand and enjoy it. There was more bad environmental news and I think about all the self-talk and cognitive dissonance the changing world will require of us. I have a car, how silly that is as an evolutionary coping mechanism. I want to attribute blame for things that we cannot blame anyone for. Maybe it’s Trump’s fault, or Boris Johnson, or whoever. Some rich person who doesn’t think about using plastic. Not me, the insufferable plant-based vegan who bought Quorn slices without checking if they had egg whites and then struggled for the next half hour with what to do as I walked from Sainsbury’s to Starbucks. There was no choice, it seemed, but to throw them away or eat them. I bought vegan shoes with birthday money from my in-laws, but the shoes are plastic, non-biodegradable, so I have to apologise for them too, to people that care, anyway. They’re pouring some terrible amount of concrete every minute in China, but these shoes will last for two hundred or more years and that will be my fault.

The same environmental news that had me thinking about a world without clouds and how soon it would be before the antibiotics stop working, also mentioned 2014 and I remembered that year like it had just happened, or indeed was happening now, the way the past is omnipresent when you're thirty seven and starting to feel like there's little chance things are going to change drastically for you. We had just come back to England, free from Malaysia and I was ready to be nostalgic. The weather this week, that crisp morning when it’s still a bit dry, makes me think of the Cameron Highlands and how we had gone strawberry picking and walked out into the tea fields in the mountains, whatever sweaty haze that was below us, hanging about KL, gone in a memory. And then in a month we had come back, come home to England and started the new chapter of troubles, our visa troubles, a chapter which is itself finished. What now, you wonder, what troubles now.

Mia had her birthday party, her first real one, at a trampoline park. We never really have had a proper birthday party for her, an embarrassment that came up when she was naming off potential friends to invite. I initially thought that can't be right, but I was smart enough to shut up because it must be, they told me it was. Eight partyless years — I thought about them while waiting for the late children to appear so I could shepherd them up to the trampolines. What litany of mistakes have I made as a father and husband — sure, I am holding my daughter's purse and phone now, but what things have I failed to notice, what things have been wanted that I didn't provide. The party clipped on, and the kids were happy with the junk food served to them by a tired twenty-something woman who didn't seem bothered by the copious amount of wasted plastic we generated. Like that, the eight partyless years faded into memory — I bought slushies for whoever wanted them and offered leftover sandwiches to the parents standing on the edge and watching.

In their grace, the girls seem blissfully unaware of my failings so far, although they do occasionally call me out for my constant swearing and furrowed brow. One assumes that they have noticed something, that they’ve encoded all of this stress deep within their psyche, the way I have vague memories of my father being upset, but I can't remember when or about what. I can hear my irritated sarcastic comments in their British voices sometimes, like some developing polaroid of myself.

Of course, you need to keep your expectations in line. What’s a manageable goal. What responsibilities do we have. The Garmin catches its satellite and buzzes that it’s ready. How silly, next to this car, I have a machine that I tell where I am going so that it will then tell me how fast I’ve gone there. How silly that I run in circles and circles because I’m afraid I ate too much. How silly to have plastic vegan shoes so that some animal, somewhere might not suffer. I ate the vegetarian Quorn slices with the egg whites in them and tried to forgive myself. Can this chapter be about forgiveness, can we do it all again from the beginning. You could wind back in the tape, like a cassette and a pencil. Of course, that assumes some beginning, doesn’t it. Before everything, before the children and the news about the ice shelf melting. I’m waiting for you, anyway, out by the garden, because it’s sunny now and they have the windows open.

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