Rain fell during the night and the garden is cool and wet. I have been wandering around cutting armfuls of roses and hydrangeas and worrying about a sober friend who is not answering her phone or replying to emails. My housemate has to see a specialist about her worsening knee pain. My neighbour’s cancer may have returned. Another neighbour is walking his two small Pekinese puppies and cooing at them like a lovesick turtledove. Hungry people keep coming to the door and I make hefty sandwiches with farm butter and jam or Marmite. It wrenches at me to see hungry people in a time of plenty.
Jack Kornfield: ‘The trouble is, you think you have time.’
Each sober Christmas feels like a miracle to me. Life is rich, complicated, abundant and full of heartache as well as joy. And that learning curve never lets up. Somebody emailed me yesterday and asked me what I had learned from online participation in recovery forums, service work and blogging. I wrote back, predictably enough: ‘Nothing, and I mean nothing, pays off like restraint of tongue and pen.’ That short-lived cathartic or malicious satisfaction of complaining about or maligning another, whining about petty miseries, pointing out somebody’s faults — that is nothing compared to the gentle and steady discipline of keeping my mouth shut and my judgmental opinions on the back burner.
The sun has come out and the wet fields are shining like a green lake. I can’t find a paella recipe that isn’t dominated by pungent chorizo sausage. Tonight there will be perhaps eight of us — or nine, or eleven — sitting around a fire under the stars. Nobody drinks, and I am the only person who has ever had a drink problem. That there are so many sober people out there still leaves me gobsmacked. I always assumed people only stopped drinking if they had no choice or were at death’s door, and that all families were selfish dysfunctional nightmares. But all over the place there are happy well-adjusted families, teetotal men and women stirring puddings and baking pies, loving and sane parents taking children out to look at fairytale lights, children excited and hopeful that this Christmas will be just as wonderful as the last, and the one before that. Making good memories counts for so much.
The world is a palimpsest, and as soon as a story is told to make sense of things, it is a rare thing for it to vanish out of the world entirely. Once you hear these stories, you will never see the river we know in quite the same way, nor the cosmopolis that has grown up along its banks, and those stories will echo in everything you hear for as long as you may live….