Many years ago, when I was a young mum, I joined a writing class. I was desperate for some support and guidance and my confidence was rock bottom. After another row with my husband I stormed off to the library – I know, very dramatic of me – and thought, I’ll show him. I searched through the paper files – no internet, no computer in those dark old times – and found a local writing group. I made a note of the number and while still fired up by anger called the person on the phone. To my absolute horror, someone answered the phone and invited me to the next session. So there I was, come Friday morning, having made my peace with my husband and anger, and therefore confidence, nowhere to be found standing outside the door of Ringwood Writers’ Group. He waited for me at the bottom of the stairs in case courage deserted me but I quickly waved him off. The people in that room were to become my greatest teachers and earnest supporters. They were all older, much older than I was, all retired, and encouraging to me beyond measure.
I remember them all but mostly I remember Bill. Bill with the white hair and white beard and the mischievous twinkle in his eye. It would encourage me to keep writing, to keep reading it out. Sometimes something I read would lead him to recall things from when he was a young man and wanted to impress the girls. He said he wrote poems and doggerel because he couldn’t play the piano and all the girls loved the musicians in any gathering (I fell in love with one myself so I concur with that).
One day he asked me when I found time to write whilst looking after a young family. I told him of my routine, of writing when the children went to bed and then going downstairs to watch the news before going to bed myself.
‘Why do you bother to watch the news,’ he asked one day.
‘To find out what’s happening in the world so that I can worry about it,’ I replied – as if I didn’t worry about enough at that time.
‘But you can’t change anything and why upset yourself?’
I didn’t get what he meant at the time – but I did later, much later. I can get involved, I can use my vote, I can have an awareness of what’s happening in the world but can I change it? Is watching the news a habit I should be cultivating or breaking? After all the hoo ha over Brexit I’ve found myself switching off more and more as the battle degenerates into insults and scaremongering – on both sides.
I found out shortly afterwards that he was dying. If you knew you were dying would you bother with the rest of the world? Would you watch the news?
I would put my focus on the people I love, my surroundings – blue skies, rain, clouds, birds, butterflies – the everyday beauty that surrounds us all.
I am not hiding away from world affairs so much as changing my focus. I try to do the little good I can every day with the people I come into contact with. If we start where we are that’s a big enough challenge for now.
A little kindness can go a long, long way; the reach of a kind word, a smile, can be enormous.