Saturday, December 29, 2007

Births, deaths and marriages

Actually there are no births, I made that up. Unless you count the birth of the baby Jesus which us literary types tend not to have a lot of trouble with. I don't believe there was once an old man called King Lear who had three daughters, either, but that doesn't mean it's not an incredibly powerful story about the human condition or that it has nothing to teach me. Quite the reverse.

I am being forced at the moment for various reasons, some personal and some less so, to think about death quite a lot. I am not happy about this, as you might imagine. There's only one bloggable aspect to this preoccupation (the rest is matter not mine to divulge), and that's the death of Benazir Bhutto, which is obviously going to destabilise further a region already terrifyingly chaotic and make the world an even less safe place to live in than it already is.

But for me there's also the fact that Bhutto was five weeks younger than me, and the death of any direct -- in this case almost exact -- contemporary is profoundly unsettling in a subterranean personal way no matter who it is. There's a deep, gut-level empathy one has with people who, no matter how wildly different their histories and cultures, know what it was like to be in the world at a particular age at a particular time.

Bhutto's Western education would have brought her closer to me culturally than she might otherwise have been, but there's still that unfathomable east-west difference in women's lives. And yet I was looking at photos of her last night and found a shot from 1972,


when she and I were both nineteen, and another from 1985,


when we were both 32 and at the top, I now think, of our respective games. (And certainly, for what it's worth, of our looks).

And in both cases -- again despite the wild differences in our lives -- I thought: I know that hair, I know those clothes, I know the quality of the photograph and the requirements in that particular year of performing femininity in public (it changed between 1972 and 1985, but not enough, and I always dug my heels in about it, which Bhutto manifestly did not). I know the feel of being a woman exactly that old in the world, exactly then.

And now she's dead. Thinking about what we have achieved in life, much? And as if the New Year, which I have always disliked, were not quite bad enough in that regard already.

So it was with a rush of instinctive pleasure that I opened the not-immediately-identifiable envelope in the mailbox yesterday -- late Christmas card, I thought, but from whom? -- and found an invitation to the wedding of P and L, both also in their fifties, as though to defy whatever the world has in store.

Onya, both of you. I shall buy a new frock.

4 comments:

fifi said...

lovely.
Love in the midst of chaos and flux, and a ritual with which to celebrate it.
Enjoy it. (in your new frock.)

fifi said...

um, I meant the wedding, certainly not the main part of this post.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Got it, fear not.

Caroline said...

There's only one sentiment that disturbs me about this post--top of your game at 32? No. No. I have it on good authority from a woman in her nineties (since gone to god) who lived an extraordinary life as single, productive, independent woman, that her seventies were by far, her best years. Sadly, Benazir, won't experience them.