The day before you came Print E-mail
News - Final Word
Wednesday, 24 February 2010 08:29
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When you look back, does it seem to you as if all your days had rolled forward evenly, or were there stops, points reached? And did you know them at the time? Did you know that that’s what they were?

This is what Gail Wynand asks Howard Roark in ‘The Fountainhead’, author Ayn Rand’s 1943 novel. Roark answers yes, he knew the stops for what they were. Not so for me. It’s only with hindsight that I can recognise the ‘points reached’ in my life. At the time I was clueless. Every time.

I can, almost without exception, say that I never could foresee the way seemingly insignificant events would shape my being. Neither could I recognise the people coming into my life for the role they would later play in it. No signposts showing a fork in the road. No inkling that in future, I would think in terms of ‘before’ and ‘after’.

And if this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it is. Bet you can also hear Abba’s ‘The day before you came’ in your own head. “It’s funny, but I had no sense of living without aim the day before you came.” Relax, I’m not going to go completely corny on you. Not yet. See, I’m writing this on Valentine’s day, so of course I’m a bit gooey. But, no more Abba lyrics, okay.

I have a bit of a grudge against the way popular music grinds on and on about hoping-to-find-someone-who-will-complete-me, the whole I’mhalf- a-person-looking-for-my-other-half kind of idea.

How can you expect any sane being to want to take on the burden of ‘completing’ you? Strangely, somehow we’re socialised into expecting someone else to do just that for us. No wonder we end up in bitter recrimination, all focused on the ‘other half’ of course.

“Our crazy codependent culture notwithstanding, falling in love is probably the best reason to be human,” writes life coach Martha Beck. It is literally like a drug trip. You’ll be stoned for a good two years.

No wonder we keep barking up all the wrong trees in our search for this feeling. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been a misguided barker-upper par excellence in my time. Naturally I eventually grew a bit of a protective outer shell of scepticism. So much so that I didn’t initially recognise the right fruit when it fell from the tree I’d been shaking.

Don’t worry, I soon did, although ‘fruit’ might not quite be the right word here. In any case, you get my drift. That’s why I started this whole thing with Gail Wynand’s question to Howard Roark.

I mean, how would I have known, walking into grade one the first day of school, that three of the girls I would meet there, would be with me for life. I met hordes on that day, how was I supposed to recognise these three for their future role?

So, in standerd eight (that would be what now? Grade ten?), in any case, in standerd eight my brother nearly had a fight with this guy and I tried to stop it. How was I to know that this ‘enemy’ would become a great friend who literally saved me from teenage dementia?

Later in life I walked in at a newspaper office as a freelancer. Again there were hordes of people, but how was I to know that one of them would walk the rest of the way with me, would become the best friend anyone could hope for? How was I even to know that I lacked this kind of support in my life?

And then I walked into another newspaper office, yet again as a freelancer, and that’s where my fruit sort of fell from the tree. Eventually. But I didn’t anticipate it the morning before I went there. I brushed my teeth as usual. The night before, I went to bed at the same time, never knowing how things would change. The day before I must have cleaned the bird cage, read my mail, done the dishes, all without knowing that in future it would be termed ‘before’.

How do we ever know? How do we sort these for-a-reason, for-a-season, for-life people? How can we do the right thing if we cannot even recognise the right people for who they’ll become in our lives?

As Agnes de Mille says, we just keep taking leap after leap in the dark. And then, one day, we find ourselves saying “the day before you came”. As if we knew.

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