I am sure that anyone that has been around my little corner of WP for any length of time will know that I do rather enjoy a bit of a chat on the Comments board. One or two of you may also have discovered that when real life comes a-knocking and I am at a loss for the right thing to say, my default position is to say nothing and then whittle for days about whether I have appeared uncaring. If this has happened to you, please accept my apologies. I really am not uncaring. I am vividly aware of my propensity for unwittingly putting my foot right in it; my knack of saying exactly the wrong thing at precisely the wrong time. If my brain can be relied upon for any one thing, it is to desert me at my moment of greatest need.
Be certain that, when care and empathy is required, my brain will be the one that is sitting alone in the middle of the bathroom floor in a sea of snot and tissue – incoherent and useless. If ever I think of the right thing to say, it is always several hours after I should have said it. My child-like response to pain and anguish is humour. Wasn’t I, after all, taught that it was the best medicine? If I encounter someone in obvious distress, and I want to help them feel better (which, obviously, I do) surely the best thing I can do is to make them laugh, right? Well, actually, no. It’s a dumb thing to do, and somehow I can’t stop myself doing it. What is required are apposite words of consolation and support – but I have never been taught them. I want to say something useful – something comforting – but I don’t know what it is, so, desperate not to cause offence, I say nothing – which I realise might well cause offence. If I have failed to reply to something that you feel I should have done, then I’m truly sorry – although, given the asinine nature of some of the things that are apt to fall from my lips, you will have to believe me that it is probably for the best.
I have a dreadful habit of enquiring about the health of the dead: of course, I knew they were dead, I went to the flippin’ funeral. When people tell me that they have broken up with the love of their life, the temptation for me to tell them that I never actually liked him/her anyway can be almost overwhelming. Bridges are irrevocably burned when they get back together two weeks later. I have bitten my tongue so often that is a wonder I can even speak. Mind you, I spend so much time with my foot in my mouth, it’s a surprise I don’t have athletes gum. I am the conversational equivalent of Monty Python’s giant foot.
Now, just in case you are thinking that I must be a bad person, I’m not. At least, I don’t think that I am. Certainly nobody other than my wife has ever told me that I am. I believe that I am a good man (Mind you, I also believe in Father Christmas and the basic ‘goodness’ of mankind) but I don’t believe in great outpourings of emotion (which doesn’t mean that I don’t want to). Somehow, to my girdled mind, those who wear their hearts on their sleeves do so only to make them accessible to others: to demonstrate what a fine person they are and, occasionally, as some form of justification for the random fallout when they blow their top. I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve – if I did, I would have to watch it 24/7 to make sure that it didn’t stop. As a child I was taught to suck it up so, by and large, that is what I do. My stock answer to, ‘How are you feeling?’ is ‘Fine.’
I presume that we all have a vision of ourselves, of how we believe ourselves to be. I presume, also, that few of us perceive ourselves to be ‘bad’. A huge percentage of violent crimes are committed on the basis that the victim was disrespectful – eg ‘Not my fault guvnor, he brought it on himself.’ Even Ronnie and Reggie must have had some sense of morality that they had to appease, but whilst I can fret for days over a single errant word or gesture, they could probably pacify their conscience on the grounds of, ‘We had to nail his head to the coffee table, because he was not showing us the appropriate level of respect.’ In my world, it is very easy to respect a psychopath with a handful of woodwork tools – it’s putting the requisite distance between us that requires the effort.
Anyway, that’s all I wanted to say really. If you ever wonder why I don’t reply to a comment, it is either because I don’t know what to say without putting my foot in it, or I’m being chased by a mobster with a Black & Decker…
Don’t talk unless you can improve the silence – Jorge Luis Borges