In his pomp

I went to a memorial service in London on Saturday. The person whose life was celebrated was the erstwhile vicar of the church I attended in the 1980s, and that’s where the service was held (and this is the post I set out to write).

We met to honour the memory of T, but the occasion provided a pretext for the gathering of the class of ’85, aka the congregation of that era, which consisted of both local Londoners and young professionals who lived in the area for varying lengths of time. We all knew T when he was around the age we have now reached. You might say he was then in his pomp (a sporting expression I have only just learned from my husband). So for a few hours on Saturday, I and my cohort of other 50-somethings experienced a time warp. Many of us had not been back to the church much in the intervening thirty years, and even if we had, the gradual scattering of the class of ’85 would have meant that we would not have found many of our contemporaries there. Only a few stayed in this this part of south east London. They (and we of the diaspora) gathered in a place we all knew, where we all used to meet as young adults, and looked at each other as we are now, but also looked for the people we used to know.

Most of us, I think, appeared remarkably unchanged: on the whole a little broader, a little greyer, but instantly recognisable. But this belied the varied and various life journeys we have all been on in the interim: the career highs and lows, the children born and raised, the relationships forged, sustained and broken, the losses faced, the worlds explored, the risks taken, the homes and communities created. An image of an uneven arc came to my mind: at one end, there was that point (around 1985) when all our lives coincided.  Then our trajectories fanned out and followed different courses (with occasional re-crossing of paths for some of us). Until Saturday, when for a very brief moment, our paths all crossed at a single point again.

There was something very poignant about it. I was thrilled to see people again – even those whom I had hardly thought about for years. Equally there was something very frustrating about it: there were so many people to greet (though how delightful it was to do so), that I could hear and repeat only the headlines with each person. We never got to the leading article, or the analysis.

Whilst I don’t want to go back to that time, I felt wistful.  I learned again the meaning of “nostalgia”: a strange sad/happy feeling and sense of confusion as the past and the present met. The setting and the people seemed so familiar, and yet now so other. I recalled the intensity of that time from the relative calmness of middle age. I can’t believe that chapter of my life lasted only nine years.

Back in 2015 (where, in the space of a week, both our girls are heading off to different universities, and so we start another chapter), I showed my family the order of service (see my previous post). My daughter (the one who hasn’t quite gone yet) observed that a certain sort of picture appears on the front of such publications: a smiling portrait of T in his (or her) pomp (though to be honest, I think I knew the priest and pastor we remembered on Saturday just after his most energetic and creative years. But the expression in his pomp has a pleasing Cockney resonance which is somehow very fitting).

Pause for thought then: if we, the class of ’85, knew him after his pomp, where are we on our own life trajectories now? Have we done our best work?  What can we make of the next thirty years?

And have the cover portraits for our memorial or funeral services already been taken?


Mindset and the Memory Box

As we get closer to moving house, I have been doing some sorting out. Today I retrieved a box of memorabilia from the garage. My life started to flash before my eyes —

There’s a note from a parishioner congratulating my Dad on my birth in Spring 1959. He approved of the “good English names” I had been given.

There’s a big chronological gap (little early childhood stuff in this box, except for a few photos which made it onto a montage done – I think – for my 40th birthday).

Then there’s the religious novel, written in turquoise ink when I was thirteen. One draft only. What confidence! And a short story which the mother of a friend of mine (an editor I think) got quite excited about.

There are the school reports. When I think of the tracking and monitoring that goes on now, they seem superficial and skeletal. No one had heard of formative assessment. I don’t think my teachers had any imposed targets to meet, and nor did I. I wonder if my learning was any the worse for that?

There are a few essays from my sixth form years. There’s my university dissertation (you know, the one about TS Eliot – see my post from September,”Raid on the Inarticulate”). And the one from my PGCE year on children’s reading (easier to write, I remember). Today I didn’t dare read any of this writing, though, because I am so sure it would compare unfavourably with what my daughters produce now, at a similar age and stage. So what’s that about then?

A lot of my husband’s work is based around Mindset Theory. The wisdom goes that you can develop more of a “growth” (as distinct from a “fixed”) mindset – that is, learn to welcome and work with mistakes, take risks, and choose challenges, not safety, in your learning. You see yourself as being able to develop. Your skills and abilities aren’t fixed.

I don’t know if anybody has thought about how your mindset affects the way you view your past. The Eliot dissertation got a 2:2 (with no feedback comments at all – unbelievable), and the PGCE one got very favourable feedback (no formal marks given at all – equally unbelievable). None of my sixth form essays ever got lower than an A-. That must mean that there’s a chance they’re at least OK. But the fact that I even need to look at the marks suggests to me that I’m still looking for external validation. And I’m still so convinced they’re c*** that I can’t open the folders. So the question is, why am I so hard on my former self? Does it matter if my writing was bad, all that time ago? If it was, can I not celebrate my progress since, rather than beat myself up?

There’s going to be at least one more post about this Memory Box. I was going to take it and store it in the new house (at the back of the big new cupboard). But there’s more — I think I need to keep it out for a bit.

Maybe by the next time I post, I will have had the courage to do some reading. Watch this blog.