Just over four weeks ago I was reading a book by Kate Atkinson called Life After Life.
Some of it is set during the Blitz in London. The main character helps to rescue people caught under rubble in bombed buildings. Descriptions are vivid, details arresting.
Two things struck me. One was how stoical people were then. They got on with it. I imagined their modern-day counterparts reacting differently when faced with two families trapped in a collapsed cellar and no idea if it was even safe enough to go in and search for survivors, "OMG!" I thought they'd be texting their mates, "I am like SO NOT going in there! Blood?!?! Eh... NO thanks!"
The other thought struck me forcibly. I said to my lovely man Mike, "Y'know, nothing really traumatic like that has ever happened to me in my life. I'm lucky."
Two days later all that changed in an instant. Some of you will know that Mike died suddenly in an accident at his house. Thank you to those who've sent cards and good wishes, I really appreciate your kindness.
In that awful moment, everything transformed utterly. It's still dumbfounding to think that the huge ungraspable concepts of life and death and meaning and mystery can somehow be crammed into ordinary-sized moments.
How can anything carry on when the skin between this world and not this world has been ripped, rent?
Moments are like those string bags we used to use in the Seventies. They look tiny, but they hold so much. You think they'd burst, but they stretch to contain a bewilderment of thoughts and images and feelings.
And everything is a cliche. Every thought or sentence you think or say, you recognise it from books, TV, films, other people. The only original and surprising thing is that it's you saying or thinking it.
You have become a member of a club that no-one wants to join. And you cannot imagine what it will be like until it happens. Like difficult childbirth, I suppose. Women can tell other women how awful it was for them, but each woman will have to find out for herself just what version of awful she will experience.
And there are great joys too. Everything is heightened, both the pain and the love. All the stupid meaningless stuff is stripped away and the rawness of what's left feels every touch and every balm.
Being looked after by others. I've never really let that in before. But this is so huge, there is no choice. For once, it is all so clearly beyond my control, that the only possible response has been to surrender to love and experience the gift of being able to receive.
Humour is here too. Colour in the world has been turned way down since Mike has gone. His loud colourful shirts were just a reflection of his intensely colour-giving personality. He brightened the world up and things are muted now.
But that laugh! I treasure the sound of it in my mind's ear when a silly thought or a black humoured way of responding to this shock occurs to me or to someone else he loved.
His sister was surprised to find herself gushing a little about one of her brothers, then the thought occurred, "Well, I'm running out of brothers...."
Enjoy it all and take risks for love.
CAPTION: Greatly missed: Mike Moloney