Posted by: Jenny | Wednesday, 27 June 2007

The empty page

Most of my life, perhaps all of it since the age of six, has been defined by duties.  Go to school, do your homework, practise the piano, care for your babies, provide a home, go to work, nurture your children.  I have not resisted these duties, indeed I have generally sought out and welcomed ever more responsibilities.  They gave me a sense of value and of purpose; they also circumscribed my daily life and described its scope.

In my younger years, the priorities were clear too.  School, then play (“duty before pleasure”, as my grandmother was fond of saying).  Study, then social life.  That was OK, because I was stimulated by my studies and a little shy socially.  As a young mother, I valued my social life but it was led in the context of my children; I didn’t have to choose.  Then, when I started work, came the years of ‘the juggle’.  My juggling was no doubt less stressful than that of many young mothers.  My husband was the primary care-giver, and my first duty – which was also a pleasure – was to my work.  As much as I wanted to, and indeed was, involved in parenting, I put my career first.

Now, my perspectives are changing.  I have eased myself out of my career, even as the needs of my family seem to be more demanding of my attention.  Are they demanding more loudly – or am I listening more intently?

The years ahead look, from here, like an empty page.  Of course, I bring with me all the emotional baggage of the past fifty years, as well as the skills I have acquired, and relationships that will continue to influence who I am.  I still have certain commitments, and I am not seeking to release myself from them.  But what I do with my time, and how I behave: these things are up to me.  It seems I have a freedom of choice like never before.  How I behave… I have always been free to choose, and if I have made the wrong choices and behaved badly, I cannot blame circumstance.  One can behave honourably under the most extreme conditions.

The image of the empty page appeals, because it encourages me to look forward.  My inclination, at this time of contemplation and grief, is to look back.  I mourn for what I have lost.  I regret decisions taken and opportunities missed.  I feel guilt and shame when I contemplate my behaviour and the way I have treated others, even those I loved.  The example of my past life, when viewed from this angle, gives me little hope for the future. 

Then I look at the latency of the empty page.  It requires only the imagination, fortitude, determination and hard work of the writer or artist to make of that page a story, picture, poem or treatise: something of value and of beauty, a contribution to the world.  That is, after all, what each of us can offer, within the context of our circumscribed lives.

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