Saturday, 21 December 2013

A salute

I have a friend, and I imagine many of you do as well, who has had a long, fruitful and interesting life. Maisie (not her name, but I shall protect her privacy) was a friend of my late mother's, and the same age - 95. She and my mum didn't get to see each other very often, because they were dependent on others for transport, but they phoned each other almost every day, to check on the other's well-being, and to have a chat and a chuckle. A large photo of my mum hangs on the wall over Maisie's television and she talks to her every day, including telling her off for what seems to Maisie her friend's untimely departure. Maisie can't see that photo at all well, because she is more or less blind. Over the last few years she has had a number of unpleasant interventions aimed at improving her sight, but nothing has really worked and now there is no more that can be done. She also suffers from an extremely painful arthritic knee, which of course impairs her mobility. So she hobbles round her little house on a pair of crutches, and when she goes to someone else's house, as she will soon do over Christmas, she has to acquaint herself with the layout of their furniture and other obstacles, and worries about nocturnal visits to the bathroom.
Maisie has down days, inevitably, but over all she is remarkably positive and philosophical. Her hearing is good, her mental faculties sharp as ever, and her sense of humour (which can be salty!) is never far away, so a conversation with Maisie is a delight. Above all she is thankful to God for the good things in her life, she takes an interest in other people, and she hangs on to her pleasures, chief among which is going out for lunch with her friends. One thing she said when I visited her the other day pretty much sums up her attitude: 'Oh well, at least I can still get out of the car and into the pub!'
There have been many peaks and troughs in Maisie's life - few of us can hope for plain sailing for 95 years, I guess! - and some of her troughs have been excruciating, including the loss of a son. Now (although she has younger friends) many of her contemporaries have died, which brings its own loneliness. But Maisie makes the best of the things that remain to her: a hairdresser comes to her house regularly, she has someone who cleans her house and someone who keeps her garden tidy, so people are visiting often. When we go to our house in France she sometimes asks me to bring her back some wine, and I know that most of those bottles are given away.
Maisie, I salute you : for your fortitude and your humanity. I hope my aging is as gracious. (But I doubt it!)

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Truth in fiction

I hadn't planned to post here again so soon - one can have too much of a good thing (if it is, indeed, a good thing!) Nor would I normally talk about books here, either my own or other people's. The place for that is the review, which is easy enough to find on, for example, Amazon author pages. But sometimes a book suggests a train of thought which might be interesting to share, and if I have enjoyed the book it does no harm to recommend it. At least one person - the author - is usually pleased.
How far does fiction contain truth at all? It doesn't, if truth is equated with fact, clearly. Fiction is about things that don't exist, although there may be elements of things that do, so for example the characters may go about their business in London or Uzbekistan. I'm not thinking, either, about accurate research, important though that may be as a bedrock for the story. Some solecism, an anachronism perhaps, can destroy a story's credibility, and be sure there are many eagle-eyed readers out there. (Quite right too.)
I'm thinking more of emotional or experiential truth, and this is something that fiction can express as hardly anything else can. Fiction also provides a unique medium through which a reader can gain access to this kind of truth. It doesn't even have to be particularly profound, as long as it resonates authentically with the reader at some level.
The books that have stimulated these thoughts are Penelope Wilcock's trilogy 'The Hawk and the Dove', which has been in print for some years. (Happily Ms Wilcock has recently written four more volumes in this admirable series, and I hope to read them all.) This is Christian fiction, which I write myself in a different way, so I had a prima facie affinity for it. But, as well as authentic spiritual insight, there is so much truth here: human, relational, true-for-all-time. This fiction draws on experiences that are common to people of all kinds,whatever their gender, background, history or geography:  relationship, self-image, guilt, suffering, love, death - laced with a sense of the ridiculous. It is uncomfortable, at times raw, it turns you inside out, it takes you back to experiences of your own, you laugh and cry. What can I have in common with a community of monks in the 14th century? As it turns out, pretty much everything.