On Constancy

When we answer a question we attempt to answer it in a concise, accurate way. Someone asks, ‘how are you feeling?’ and we say, ‘good’, and the conversation moves on. But is it right to assume that they will still be feeling the same way five minutes later? Of course, we could say that if they began to feel different they could tell us – but then it’s not all that easy when a conversations flowing – it would have to be a biggish change in feeling.

Someone asks, ‘should we go to war?’ and someone else says ‘yes’. We go to war. Three years later someone asks, ‘should we still be at war?’ and someone else says, ‘yes’. Three more years later, someone asks ‘should we still be at war?’ and someone else says, ‘yes.’ The answer is always the same, at the same three year intervals, for nine years or more. Now, for me, this is a static answer – we must keep asking for the answer, the answer itself is not constant, it demands its questioning.

Someone rudely bumps into me in the street whilst I’m trying to do up my shoelaces. I feel irritated, and a little angry for a few days. I reflect on it when I walk down that same stretch of road, and try to remember the face of the person that bumped into me. In time I forget. A year later I’m sitting in the pub opposite the person that, on that day a year ago, bumped into me whilst I was doing up my shoelaces. I do not feel angry, I do not feel bitter.

If someone asked me at the end of the day in which this other person bumped into me, ‘what do you think of him/her?’ I would have said, ‘he/she irritates me, he/she bumped into me and didn’t apologise…’ and so on. My answer would be a solid one – independent of time – I doubt I would say ‘he/she irritates me now’ . Two years later my answer may have changed, ‘I like that man/woman, we spend a great deal of time together’ – it may, of course, remain the same – but my main point is that we have the ability to forget, to overwrite, to create anew and to forgive.

Someone laughs at you when you fall off of your bike. They say, ‘ha ha! You don’t know how to ride a bike!’ But falling off of your bike is a necessary part of learning to ride a bike. A few years later you are riding along the road and see someone falling off of a bike. You want to laugh and say ‘ha ha! You don’t know how to ride a bike!’ but you realise then that thats not the right answer at all – that the falling off is part of learning to ride a bicycle.

You answer a maths question and your answer is wrong. You are out by 0.25, and the teacher says ‘you are wrong’. You look back over your working out to try and work out where the 0.25 mistake came from. You re-do the equation and get the right answer. Your mistake, in one way or another, brought you about to the right answer. Without knowing what was wrong, you may have never found the right answer.

2+2=4 but if you got 6 would 6 be more right than 8? It’s closer…

What if, at first, we got the answer 12. Then we tried again and got 7. Then we got 5. Could you say to them ‘you’re very close’ or not?

Our lives are full of concrete answers. Of 2+2=4’s. Yet we forget that life is also constant, moving, revolving. We say we are happy, then two seconds later we may be not-as-happy, then five minutes later we may be incredibly upset. Someone may say ‘you seem unhappy’ when you are not unhappy, but then you find yourself thinking about being unhappy, then you feel unhappy.

When we take moments from our past, we must remember that those are of-the-past, and, as much as things may not have changed, they also may-have-changed. Writing is interesting in that, in reading this, it as if it were all happening now. Your eyes follow these words through time, and it is as if I am here now, in your time, presenting you with these words as you read them. When I say ‘this has happened’ you might wonder if it happened two seconds, two months, or two years ago – but this writing might already be fifteen years old – and that happened for you will may not be the happened of me.

I say Lowestoft is a bad place, and I mean it is a bad place now. In a few years it may be a fine place, or it may be a dismal place. People change, faces change, places change, emotions change.

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