After a lifetime as a journalist – where cynicism settles itself upon you, layer after layer as you see humanity at its worst – I encountered something this weekend that both surprised and delighted me. It was at a wedding – of my niece Blair and her man, Duncan – so you expect yourself to be overwhelmed by the Bluebird of Happiness.
But what struck me about these two young people was that they were in love (obviously), happy and excited about what lay before them. Their confidence was palpable. At my wedding, I was in love (obviously), happy and excited, but I was also terrified.
This was, to my 20-something state of mind, the equivalent of jumping off a cliff without a parachute.
The rest of your life. Till death do us part. And, even though I wasn’t very religious, this was, as they say often in marriage ceremonies, not to be entered into lightly.
My parents lived those vows. My parents-in-law are still together after 60 years-plus. My sister has just passed her 35th anniversary. It is very difficult to live up to those standards, to be perfectly honest.
As I sat there, watching two young people having fun as they contemplated the life together ahead of them, I thought about my 33 years with the same person. Did I feel like patting myself on the back? Did I feel smug? Hell, no.
I am still terrified. I am scared of doing or saying the wrong thing. I am worried about thinking only about myself (which tends to be my default mode). I am worried that I don’t say the simple things often enough. Such as, I love you.
I am concerned that my work will squeeze out my family. Journalism is probably the most fulfilling career you can have, but it does suck the life out of you. The highs are very high, but the lows can crush you.
And, outside of a newsroom, the “civilians” (non-journalists) don’t understand.
When you don’t have like-minded people with which to share your triumphs and your failures, you feel isolated and you can try to find solace in the things that numb your mind … like booze or drugs. You slip from one dimension – bodies, blood and bullets in Boipatong – to another – balloons, ball games and birthday parties – in the wink of an eye, without any time to decompress.
Those are the times when that person who you are sharing your life with doesn’t understand the you she is lying next to each night.
And you’re terrified she’ll say: “Why?” And leave … What this means now, to me, with the benefit of the wisdom age bestows as it removes the pretty signs of youth, is that Commitment has to have a capital C , not a lower-case one.
Making a pledge, promising, saying you will do something – these are all things that seem to have less weight these days than they did when I was a kid.
Undoubtedly, it is easier to walk away from something than to stick it out, take the pain and do the right thing. But, when you don’t honour a commitment, or walk away with a job undone, you hurt someone else.
And, at the risk of sounding like some starry-eyed optimistic ’60s hippie, there is enough hurt in the world without adding to it.