Tuesday, 8 November 2016

That is what a friend can do.

Yesterday, I was so bent out of shape that I could not even write the blog. I had a tipping point, and I fell into the abyss. In 77 Ways, I write a whole chapter about the tipping point. I was really proud of this because it was my own idea. I did not pinch it from the Wise People. I thought it up all by myself. It’s about that thing when one tiny remark, one minuscule set-back, one minor disaster can send you spinning out into space. You don’t think: ah well, the dog crapped on the floor. You think: this is the end of everything and I can’t cope and it’s all gone to hell.

I decided that if you could understand about your tipping point, you could head it off at the pass. You could look for the warning signs and start to protect yourself. You could eat more green soup, take more iron tonic, get more sleep. You could at once recognise when you were treading into the danger zone.

Theory and practice, my darlings. Theory and practice. My theory is so good. My practice is a constant embarrassment.

So I sat at my desk with my face set and my teeth gritted and a weight pressing on my head, unable even to type.

Today, the sun came out and the land looked pretty again and I felt the vague stirrings of ordinary humanity. I was no longer entirely a wreck. My friend was at the field, looking after her Paint, and I told her the whole sorry story. She did not fix anything or give me words of wisdom, although she is very wise, or tell me what was going on. She listened and nodded and understood. Two other people were involved in the tipping point, and she knew at once what was going on with them. So we sorted that out and then we galloped off into the steppes of human mystery. We talked about societal expectations and gender difference and the intricate psychology of marriage and why it is that some friends just get you and some don’t; we talked about displacement and category errors (my favourite subject) and children and literature and how life works when you are a bit different.

We talked about everything. We shook out the whole bag of tricks and scattered them on the floor and sifted through them.

This all took quite a long time. She was late for her life, by the time we had finished. She looked at her watch and said, rather ruefully, ‘I haven’t done anything today.’

‘Well,’ I said, ‘you have taken a great big sword out of my side, so that’s not quite nothing.’

‘Thank you,’ I said, waving as I drove off, ‘for restoring my sanity.’

That is what a friend can do.

It’s sort of a miracle really. You feel like crap and you feel a bit ashamed about feeling like crap and you crossly refuse to do anything about the crap and then a kind person with a sympathetic heart listens and talks and laughs and does not run away screaming and all the crap fades away as if it had never existed in the first place.

The red mare ate her breakfast with a secret, glimmering glint in her eye, as if to say: ‘those two old humans do love to talk.’ The great horseman who sold her to me is married to my oldest friend. He always says, with an equal glimmering glint, when I arrive in the south: ‘So, you’ll start talking the moment you get out of the car and you two will still be talking when you get back in the car to drive away.’ And it is true, because the power of those words is beyond price, beyond adjectives, almost beyond imagination. That talking, which makes people laugh, has kept me standing upright for thirty years. Here, in Scotland, the daily paddock therapy, as we call it, is the restoration to sanity.

I crave solititude. I live alone and I like doing things alone and I have a stupid pride in being independent. But you can’t do everything alone. Sometimes, when the tipping point comes and it all goes to hell in a handcart and you find yourself staring into the void, you need the incomparable balm of another human who really, really gets it. And they take you and put you back together, very gently, piece by piece, and you walk away and think: how did they do that? And: isn't it lovely that they can do that, and they take the time to do that, and they know exactly how to do that? Somehow, with kindness and thought and wisdom and humanity, they give you back to yourself. That is what friends can do.


  1. Just being able to "let 'it' out" -- without judgement or advice or any kind of interruption -- is just THE thing.

    And then, sometimes, feedback (if offered & accepted)can bring even more clarity.

    I call it hulls & valleys.

  2. Uh, no. I call it HILLS & valleys. (Sailor husband night call it hulls, I suppose?)

  3. What I wouldn't give for such a friend. I have to pay a listener to hear me out. (sigh) Still, here I am 'cause you know exactly how I can feel.

    Thank you.

  4. One such friend is all we need; how lucky if we have more than one!


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