‘Failure,’ said Henry Ford (apparently) ‘is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.’
I’m generally fine with that statement; it implies that life is in your control, and to a large extent, it is. At least your response to it. But it is also a statement that belongs to someone who has never had their biology included as a failure.
The problem with failures of biology is that they don’t stop there. They don’t sit happily in the flesh or shrug themselves away. They have a habit of insinuating themselves into every cerebral fold and turn of mind. They taint the colour and the emotion of things.
I don’t know how to intelligently proceed against a body that won’t do what it is asked. I certainly don’t have the luxury of cash to side-step it, like many in our situation do. I don’t have the resources to seek other options. I must, like probably a good two-thirds of the world, face reality, unfiltered, unsoftened, unchanged.
Small comforts are to be found in this. Ben Okri says something along the lines that you can’t really write until you have suffered in life.
The thing is though, it wasn’t strictly a failure. I did fall pregnant four times. And one held, long enough for us to know how badly luck had fallen on our child’s head. Long enough for us to have to make the decision that would fill any parent who had joyously met the news of a child, with dread. Long enough for us to love, and to know what we were losing, without any choice. Long enough to hear the words, ‘not conducive to life’. Long enough for the placenta to weaken anyway, and for our baby to graciously let go of life, having been loved to the fullest, and pass easily from me. Long enough for us to be able to take her little body home, and dig a grave. Long enough. And we did fall pregnant again, briefly.
But after a year of stubborn silence from my womb, and my age, it becomes apparent that it has become a failure of biology. But you know of course that this is not what plagues me. I don’t feel like a failure as a woman. It’s the temper of fate, it’s the way things played out. It’s just the way it is.
No. What plagues me is the spectre of an uncertain future; the dependence on each other to the grave, the one cold day when one is gone and nothing remains. Perhaps in light of such selfishness it is best that I am not destined to have a baby. I was raised a Catholic, I can take the blame.
But that too is a contentious issue. I have long been a lapsed Catholic, but I still believed in something. What obsesses me now is that I no longer believe in anything. There is not even the comfort of an after life, of some airy fairy ever after. I cannot believe in reincarnation either. I have become, finally, an atheist.
Or rather, a realist.
I see that life goes on. I see that where her body lies, the trees we planted grow in her place. I see that the sky is torn with her image, that she has become a part of the very fabric of space. I see that the earth breathes with every atom of her and every other being that has existed before. I see that, and I trust it.
But I have no place for consciousness. I see that there is something of sorts. I understand that the trees and birds respond to my silent share of awareness, that creatures can communicate with us, that plants are responsive, that timing can be impeccable, if trusted completely. I trust that. I see a pattern of awareness.
But I do not see, I cannot comprehend, where this individual life with its fullness of experience and its every breath belongs, once the body passes away. I do not know. I cannot say.
In a way, it is the opposite end of birth, the same incomprehensible sudden newness of another being, a whole new soul, from where? Suddenly, you are there. A reason for faith. But in the same way, gone. Suddenly no longer there, no trace. Where is your breath? Where is your face? Where is the heart you shared with me? Where is your embrace?
A failure of biology ultimately becomes a failure of faith. What else is there? Here we stand in front of an uncomfortable truth.
No part of us will move forward into eternity. No strand of DNA will register in some future race. My husband and I, like many creatures on this earth now, face extinction. In spite of our love for one another, and our ‘deservedness’ for having children.
I’ve worked really hard at being a better human being, to not pass on the mistakes of my family, of which there are many; the recriminations and bitterness, the patterns of abuse. But when I said as a young woman, ‘the buck stops here,’ I did not mean it literally. I meant, I can do better, I can raise a child in love. I searched long and hard for the right man, and I have him. In him, I have 100% faith. He is a good man, a great husband. He would be an excellent father. And I would be a good mum.
If there is a god, he’s thrown that in my face. I’d rather believe in a benign indifference than a divine malevolence. That’s an intelligent response to failure.
I can’t buy this privileged rubbish that some people rabbit on with, that people get what they deserve in life. I fail to see why the blue whale deserves to disappear. I fail to see why the man who rapes a baby deserves ten of them. I fail to see why the multitudes of children in countries poorer than mine deserve to have their legs blown off or starve to death. I fail to see how people in their millions deserve to die of AIDS because they live in a country that can’t afford to supply the drugs that would help them to live and raise their children. I fail to see why a man who tries to save his family and give them a better life deserves to never see them again. I don’t agree with this law of apparent attraction. Fuck that.
You see what I mean?
Where do you go from here? The only thing I can do is love what I have, every day. It is the only way that I can do what Mr Ford suggests. In the face of indifference, love for what you have is the only way forward. Even into the void. Or perhaps especially.
(Please, if you feel inclined to comment on this post, please do not ask me if we have considered adoption. Or foster care. That is not what this post is about. Thank you.)