Life has been busy recently and there has been little time for writing. There has been a wealth of material ….. Thatcher, Katie Hopkins, Michael Gove. All the usual suspects. However something has happened this week which has stopped me in my tracks.
A friend of mine died. We were not close, and indeed hadn’t seen each other for nearly two decades. However we were classmates all through high school and, through the modern wonders of Facebook, had got back in touch. We commented on each other’s lives, shared jokes and admired each other’s children. Her updates were always positive (not like my cynical old gripes). They weren’t boastful or showy – just contented and grateful for her life and her family. Her love for her children, family and pupils was clear to see. On Tuesday, her status said that she had enjoyed a lovely day in the sun. Yesterday, it was updated to say that she had died.
She had a good heart, better than most. My fondest memory of her is trekking up a mountain in Wales on a school trip, as I told her an elaborate tale of how they mined Kendall Mint Cake in the Lake District. She was so good-natured, I have no idea whether she was just humouring me or did actually believe me; she did get me up that mountain though. And she played the piano beautifully, in that way that only those who really can do, playing it without thinking or realising that their fingers are moving.
And now she’s gone.
There has been a kind of numbness amongst us. All our stresses have suddenly paled into insignificance out of respect for the overwhelming grief her family is facing. It has caused us all to stop and take a moment.
I have spent some time this morning reading my end of sixth form notebook, which everybody had signed. We went to a girls’ Grammar school at a time when we were all expected to save the world single-handedly, leaving men trembling in our wake. Every entry is full of hope & bravado, bordering on arrogance, for everything we were going to achieve, all the places we were going to see.
I am not Chancellor of the Exchequer (although there’s still time). Like so many of my classmates, I am a mother, juggling everyday tasks, work and family. I live half a mile from where I started. Very few of us have saved the world. However she is right, none of it has made a mile of difference. On the whole, we have normal happy lives full of normal happy things which we take for granted on a daily basis. We complain of missed opportunities, misfortunes and injustices but most of them are anything but. Marie has made a massive difference to her pupils, friends and her family.
On the last page is a quote from Ernest Hemingway, written by Mr Hartley, our Latin teacher. Given our girl-power credentials, feel free to replace the ‘he’ with ‘she’
There are some things which cannot be learned quickly and Time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things but, because it takes a man’s life to know them, the little new that each man gets from life is very precious, and the only heritage he has to leave.
I think Marie has left us all a great deal.