When you have everything, you have a lot to lose

Wedding picture
Edinburgh, 30th November

Since I got married on Saturday, I suppose this blog has changed a little. It used to be about questions of life and death, and peripatetic pleasures along the way. Having ticked all the conventional life boxes (mortgage, kids, marriage), I feel a bit silly waxing lyrical about politics, philosophy or art. Surely someone so bourgeois can having nothing interesting to say on these topics, and I will in future write about dull events in my own life instead – mostly.

So today is my 36th birthday. After the wedding, we spent two days in Kincraig, a tiny hamlet in the Cairngorms. The highlight was probably a nice lunch in Aviemore, in a climbing shop. We stopped off at my mother’s in Edinburgh on the way back, and then carried on south. It was already 3 pm by the time we left, so it was dark before we got to the border. I love driving on the M6, particularly the stretch between junction 37 and 38, where the road winds between the hills, rising and falling slightly and giving the most incomparable view of the Lakes landscape. Driving along it is one of the great pleasures of being alive, a moment of joy when I feel all the worries of life fade away. I used to drive along it as fast as I could, because driving around a bend on a motorway at 90 miles an hour is the kind of thrill I used to enjoy. I used to be a rather fearless driver, which did necessarily make me a good one – although having the balls to make very fast decisions is a good thing in many situations. Nothing is more likely to result in disaster than dithering about what to do. Perhaps that is why fearless climbers do tend to be rather good, for the brief interlude that precedes the sound of shattering bones and broken backs.

Since having a baby I have become very hesitant in my driving, and easily intimidated, which is hugely frustrating. I learnt to drive in London, where spaces on the road in front of you are opportunities to accelerate into. Now, I seem to be put off from trusting my own judgement by any number of things other road users do; I am losing control of situations because I am constantly thinking about the consequences of getting it wrong, thereby ironically making it more likely that I will. I was joining the motorway from a service station in the dark, and although I was quite sure there was space behind me, someone started hooting, and I assumed I must have got the wrong set of headlights in my wing mirror, so we ended up on the hard shoulder. Fortunately, we’re all still alive and functioning.

I used to think that the key to a happy life was to never resent what I do not have, and never to spend too much time running after the future. My school friend and I had a phrase from one of Horace’s odes that we liked:

“Quid sit futurum cras, fuge quaerere; et quem sit fors dierum, adpone lucrum”

It roughly translates as: “Do not question the future; be content with whatever good fortune you have today”. Until recently, I always thought it was just about living in the moment, and not constantly thinking about how much better things might be one day. It has only just dawned on me that the future is also something to be feared. When life was just about my own existence, where nothing was at stake and I could always start again at any time, the future was a shiny bauble I spent a lot of time wondering about. With a family, the future is an endless succession of possible accidents and tragedies, which particularly weigh on me because people I know have indeed lost a great deal. The whole Epicurean philosophy makes much more sense in that context, the realisation that happiness is so very fragile, and is therefore to be enjoyed in every moment it presents itself, rather than questioned or rationalised. I am happy right now, and I may well continue to be happy for a long time. If life does not continue to be kind to me after all, it’s preferable to enjoy it while I can.

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