Yesterday I started writing this: every day you live through is a little miracle. As you get older you begin to realize this.
You stop taking your right to be here for granted. You begin to see how fragile life is, your own in particular, perhaps. Mothers know this better than almost anyone.
I stopped there. It was a busy morning with calls and emails coming in, so I got pulled away from writing this, but I left it on the screen beneath other stories with stricter deadlines.
I had planned to write about the love that binds mothers and children, because the subject interests me and because it ends up saying a lot about the society we live in, but circumstances overtook me. It was still flickering on the screen by early afternoon when the first startled reports of Peaches Geldof’s death started appearing online.
Only 25, mother of two, herself a motherless child, it was unbearably sad news delivered on a gloomy Monday. A line by the poet Phillip Larkin came into my head: “An only life can take so long to climb/Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never…”
It seems like Geldof couldn’t climb clear. I don’t blame her for that. Her mother’s partner, the Australian rocker Michael Hutchence, committed suicide in 1997 and her mother died of a drug overdose in 2000. Peaches’ story had already spiraled before she had written a line of it herself.
We have to be very careful of stories, our own and other people’s. It’s easy to become a story; it’s easy to get trapped in one, your own or someone else’s. Stories can be snares.
The business of life is to find the peace to understand your own story, to see where it starts and others end, to climb clear of wrong beginnings, if you can. But it can rarely be done alone.
Twenty-four hours before her death Geldof posted an Instagram picture of herself being cradled by her late mother Paula Yates. That gesture has led to speculation about her state of mind.
Some were quick to see proof of her intent. I don’t know that it says anything other than that she missed her mother.
I do know that every day you live through is a little miracle, but I’d add this – for many of us it is also a little triumph.
If, through no fault of your own, you grow up facing serious obstacles placed in your path by your own society, then your determination to get beyond them is the most courageous thing you can ever do.
Growing up I watched the generation of young men who had come before me grapple with prejudice, intolerance, violence, virus and for many an early death. Many of them lost their friends and lovers to it.
Sometimes they lost all the people they were closest to. Their anger and their sorrow in those years were like nothing I have ever seen before or since.
That they still live on now, having walked though that valley of death, astonishes me. That they can press on, still game for a laugh and ready to meet the day with a smile, is the most unforgettable lesson I have ever been taught.
Their lesson taught me was to find my own resolve.
To live is miraculous and a triumph, but it can also be a defiant act. The only thing to do with despair is to fight it, they taught me. Fight it as hard as you can as long as you can. Fight for your life.
You may not win in the end, but even your gesture is inspirational. It’s a flame against darkness. Others not yet born will inherit your resolve.
That miracle and that triumph don’t always come, of course. Resolve can fail, defiance can flag, and the tiny humiliations and cruelties of living can overwhelm even the most courageous. There is no shame in that.
The only thing we can really do is to become mindful of our own stories. We can try to learn how to pass on their lessons to others. We can learn – and share – the lesson that Larkin shared in his poem “The Mower”: “The first day after a death, the new absence/Is always the same; we should be careful/Of each other, we should be kind/While there is still time.”