I remember a song from my late teenage years by Hot Chocolate, I think it was called Emmaline. It was a story song about a girl who longed to be an actress, to see her name in lights. She doesn’t succeed and one day her lover comes home to find her dead. ‘Emma, Emma, Emmaline’, wailed Errol Brown – it always gave me goosebumps. She couldn’t live with the disappointment, couldn’t adjust to the smaller view, the lesser ambition. I was much moved, though my dreams then were small, smaller than now.
As I walk I think of Dorothea Brooke of Middlemarch, she too longed to do something big, to make a difference, make a mark. In the end she gives it up (the potential power for change that wealth had given her) for a smaller, simpler, interior life of marriage, of love, of service to one, one individual. She retreated to her hidden life, that authentic, un-historic life and was happy. Who knows? It is fiction but we romantics take solace where we can.
We’ve been watching Cranford again. She is clever that Mrs Gaskell. Amongst the silliness the minutiae is writ large. The nobleness of small acts (such as Miss Matty’s friends offering what little money they have to help her when the bank fails). What are those big lives? Are they necessarily better? Can we still shift the world along with our tiny gestures? Our little births, bursts of something like creation. Every day plays its part – even the grey ones. Mrs Gaskell wrote about Charlotte Bronte – hagiographic some say, so what – describing those grey Yorkshire days where nothing happened. Just rain. Rain and wind. Trapped in doors. Charlotte and her sisters. Small corseted bodies held in, vivid with life. The creation was still shifting, still moving, its momentum still surging within the grey.
Be patient. Life will happen. Still happens. Perhaps not as we envision it. So be it. Acquiesce. Learn peace. Peacefulness at what is. Be still for the magical. Even in the grey. Listening to a 1940’s recording of the Conan Doyle’s The Speckled Band on Radio 4 extra, then a discussion about The Secret Garden, making pancakes, solving a knitting problem and the nearer prospect of a work room.
A dead wasp lies on the window sill. I sneak out and wrap him in cling film. I shall draw him. A small thing. A small life. Un-historic. Part of the family of things. Remember. You do not have to be good. Just let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Thank you Mary Oliver. I shall. I shall.