Relationships end, pet goldfish die, parents’ divorce and the phrase, ‘experience required’, haunts graduates like a malicious poltergeist.
I’m going to stop for a moment and reassure the readers with cursers floating over the close button that I’m not about to indulge in a 500 word Morrissey-esque soliloquy. Instead, having acknowledged that suffering exists, I wish to talk about escape, freedom, unicorns and rainbows. (Well not so much of the last two; that was more for effect).
Human beings are remarkable creatures. Today a son, brother, mother and a friend have been lost and tomorrow a father, sister and a grandmother will also pass away. The lover, tea drinker, story teller, hangover partner and picture taker will cease to exist as anything but a memory. I speak from experience when I say Nietzsche’s ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ theory doesn’t do much to soothe grief’s ache. Remarkably though, we not only survive loss but find the strength and even the desire to laugh and smile again.
Looking back ten years after my Grandmother’s death, I can appreciate the truth in the Nietzsche saying. Nonetheless, I recognise that at the time it was my ability to escape from the deaths reality that aided me, not the thought that the pain was making me stronger. Children, bubbled in Mother Nature’s gift of innocence, are naturally adept at this trick; how often do you come across a child crying for any reason more serious then that they don’t want a bath? I believe that as adults we attempt to resurrect this skill and it is because of our ability to adopt a coping mechanism, that we are initially strong enough to become stronger.
As a thirteen year old girl straddling the borders of childhood and adolescence, the shielding cocoon of innocence was no longer enough to protect me from the grief of losing Grandma. In need of escape I turned to literature and the fantasy worlds of J. k. Rowling and C.S. Lewis. Today I still credit my love of fantasy for the way it took me as far from the reality of having lost my Grandma as possible. When I read I was no longer Grandma Anne-less Hannah, I was someone else sharing in a world where lions talk; broomsticks fly and students study magic not maths. Interestingly, I also recognise the avoidance of realistic everyday life fiction I’ve always nurtured as a response to my desire to escape the mundanity of everyday life.
As a teenager attempting to come to terms with a turbulent adolescence, I flew to the other side of the world. In search of the fantasy lands I’d escaped to as a young teenager I took a bus to the Aussie outback, a canoe to the everglades and a boat to the beach. As I slept under the stars in an Australian swag; watched bats sweep along a river lit by moonlight and mounted waves that churned my stomach, I was again in Narnia. This time though I’d made my fantasy and so I assumed it was reality.
However, encapsulated within the very word fantasy comes its downfall and its limitation. Ultimately fantasy is the creation of someone’s mind and however bright and captivating it might be, when you turn of the light or return from your travels, reality, like a wave crashing upon the unobservant surfer, will be there to greet you. When I had to face the reality of having no money to fund my hunt for fantastical adventures, the realities I’d ran to the other side of the world to escape from arose. Just like escape into the bottom of a glass or end of a syringe only blurs reality, escape through books, travel, music or art can only ever be a plaster for realities wounds. However, having acknowledged this, I don’t condone the escape that fantasy provides. If it allows the grieving, the struggling and the suffering even half an hours escape from their reality, and perhaps even the time to develop the strength to face what they run from, then it’s worth is still astronomical.
And so, fully aware of the irony of my using words to warn of the pitfalls of fantasy, I say to anyone whose head tonight is awash with upset and concerns, go ahead and read a book.