Thursday purpose

Frozen February sunrise, Cambridge, 2021 photo by Jessica Zarins

I’m getting seriously sick of lockdown.

And I really shouldn’t have espresso with post-dinner profiteroles when it’s not at a restaurant that I have to leave and can walk off before I try and sleep.

After a few weeks of good sleep the old ghosts reappeared last night. With just five or so hours of dreaming of my day job I prepare for my walk through a frozen city (both literally and lockdowny), before another eight hours at the computer, alone in my bedroom. I walk and wonder, like a thousand times before, why am I here, what am I doing, and where am I going? Is this all it is, this life, and is it the right one?

Served with the espresso and profiteroles last night was The Lion King. One of my favourite films, by far my best Disney. I have written a whole section of dialogue on it in my book, but some of my housemates had never seen it. (I live with two couples now, after a bubbled boyfriend moved in temporarily to alleviate lockdown blues, and I spend the nights with my teddy holding my ears.) That film doesn’t have one unnecessary word, sound or frame. Its Shakespearean references, music, humour, dark depth and final triumph still get to me. And I guess it’s what I thought life was: heritage and place that comes with both meaning and responsibility in a divine, interconnected cycle. But with a planet ruined, with leaders clueless, hopeless and accountless, adulthood has turned out to be very different from Disney.

I look for signs of purpose in the arbitrariness of my existence. Am I on the right path, walking along the River Cam? Am I doing what is right, even if it’s not necessarily what I dreamt? While I’m grateful for the stability it provides, I can be ashamed of “just” working in customer support. But if I could have told my grandmother – refugee, cleaner and single parent of five boys – that I help people who study the English language to prove their skills to the world, I think she would have thought it well worth while. That all my own studying of the language had come full circle, to help others. Can my own attempts at using that language in writing also fit into that mesh of interconnections with a larger picture of meaning? Even when I struggle to keep habit and to do as much as I would like to? I hope so.

Finally, two completely unrelated and entirely random things in my life are currently coming together: the weather, and my reading.

We’re in the coldest part of the winter, with snow, frost and minus degrees greeting me every morning. This follows on from a warm patch last week, where I thought we were heading towards spring. Meanwhile, the book I’m reading – given to me by my father for Christmas, a title and author I’d never heard of and would never have picked up myself, and chosen almost at random from the shelf of many waiting, unread books – has moved from a frame narrative set in early summer days in southern Sweden, to a story-within-the-story about snow. The section is called The Snow Gallery, and contemplates snow in art, the ‘unification of the non-unifiable’ and how in the ‘nuances between black and white a light emerges that no grief can extinguish’. [Renegater (2020) by Klas Östergren, my translation]

By bringing together the disparate – weather and literature – and finding the light in the nuances, I can read meaning. I’m no king facing the past and taking responsibility for the future, but maybe I belong and contribute in my corner of the fabric of life. I choose to think so, and walk on.

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