The Pros and Cons list

Saint George and an unfortunate dragon, Prague, 2014

My mother was making a decision the other day, whilst we were hula hooping, and I asked if she had made a pros and cons list.

One of the characteristics of the decision she threw out was that it is ‘scary’. Twirling around the living room I stated, “so that’s on the pro list.” To which my mother grinned in a silly fashion and concluded that, “perhaps it could be on either.”

In May I took a five-hour spontaneous drive in a hire car, across a desert into a quarantined zone to catch an aeroplane home. I wasn’t sure if I’d make it on time, but I knew I had to try.

Fear didn’t pay much of a part in all this. Or, it did, the adrenaline rushed around my head and while I was waiting for the chap at the desk in the hire car agency’s offices to learn how to use the computer, I paced up and down. Fear came along for the ride, sitting in the back seat, but fear comes along anywhere I go. Fear is an innate part of life.

If fear had had its way, I would have sat on my bedroom floor and cried.

However, although all my fear responses were screaming like sirens, I maintained a focused calm. I’m not trying to pretend that I wasn’t speaking at ten thousand miles an hour or that my body didn’t shake and twitch, but as soon as I decided to drive, my thoughts calmed.

The beauty of being human is that we can make a decision that isn’t solely dictated by our physical response.

I knew that I had to deal with the problem one step at a time. First, I had the get the car, then I had to drive north. At some later point in time I would worry about my lack of boarding card and the police cordons and how to actually get to the airport. Mostly, I had to keep myself together for the next 96 hours because this trip I was doing alone.

When I sat down in the car, I touched the gear stick and smiled to myself that at least it wasn’t an automatic. Never mind that the gear stick was on the wrong side which inevitably results in me bashing my wrist against the car door. I hadn’t driven a car at all in months but for some reason it didn’t seem to matter.

When the midget turned twenty-one, I took her to Europe. In a café in Vienna, after many protests, she ordered coffee with the shakiest of hands. It was a large central café and I was pretty sure that the waitresses would understand enough English to give her a coffee, but the Midget was terrified.

My dad did the same to me when I was a child. He gave me money for a burger in an airport lounge somewhere and told me I could have one if I bought it. The Midget was with me then too, but she was smaller than the counter. Stuck between my dad’s generosity and my sister’s pleading eyes I somehow managed to be brave enough to order the food. We both ate burgers that day, with fries.

By the end of our Europe trip, the Midget was asking at the desk for international rail tickets with more confidence than she’d managed for that first cup of coffee.

Sometimes you don’t however realise how many small steps you’ve taken until you look back at something you’ve just done – like a spontaneous 5-hour drive to catch a plane in a foggy desert – and realise that as a big picture it all looks rather brave.

But bravery is often not something big, but merely a small step against the current. A mere shuffle forward in fact. Shuffle after shuffle after shuffle.

I sat in that car and pulled out of the supermarket carpark and realised that I didn’t need to try and coerce myself into feeling better about the situation. Nor did I need to cry. My sole job was to pay attention to the road and get myself home. And all at once I knew that however ridiculous my situation was, I was going to be able to handle it.

I’ve dealt with worse.

So yes, when you make your list of pros and cons anything dangerous ought to be on the negative side of the page, but just scary… I’d leave that off the list entirely. Fear will always come along for the ride, just don’t let it drive.

Vienna: That chap Figaro, and a wedding.

figaro, vienna

Vienna, August 2014

Midget is besotted. There are violins, cellos, all that orchestral stuff that I don’t know the names of, a chorus and opera singers. I like the opera singers. I’m not sure why, but I have the feeling that it’s the depth of human emotion you see, and hear, in opera. I remember watching opera for the first time in Verona, on cushions on the stone seats of the Roman Amphitheatre. I remember the homeless people outside, and the Mother warning me, a young teenager, to watch myself.

If I had to pick a sound that was the opposite of depression, I’d pick that night in Verona.

Midget of course likes the instruments, particularly the violins I think, but they make her nostalgic because she can play good music. Nostalgia being tinted with sadness because playing good music requires regular practices, and regular practice isn’t quite so sweet. She knew the music, whereas I followed the antics on the stage with no idea when one thing ended and another began. Midget had played some of the music we were listening to – Figaro – and the familiar sounds call to her.

We came tonight because I saw that look in her eyes when she walked past the man selling tickets. The look of longing. And she would have said nothing. She would have walked past.

Not surprisingly, I don’t want her to have nothing. I want her to delight in the familiar sounds, in this great hall with marble busts of composers she thinks I should know. Her eyes should sparkle. When she hears these sounds, they mean something special to her. I want her fingers to move subconsciously as she lives in both this time and a past time where it was her making the music sing.

She thinks I’m crazy, buying concert tickets here and there, not knowing who this Figaro chap is and why his music is special.

She says it’s not Figaro’s music, and she rolls her eyes to demonstrate that I should know better. A chap called Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote it. The piece is the Marriage of Figaro.