Dear Mum, this letter may arrive at your end as a muddled mess, but this time it’s less because I’m all mixed-up than because I think I’m beginning to see a bit more light in my own personal world ˗ mainly through seeing someone else’s world, and getting some understanding of it. And if I talk a lot about a certain woman whom I will re-introduce in a moment, it isn’t because I’ve got myself hung-up emotionally about her, or because I’ve attempted to be friends when she had something else in mind, but merely because we have come to realise that our backgrounds have very much more in common than would appear at first sight and this in-commonness is of use to each of us in understanding ourselves better. Didn’t I warn you it would be a messy letter?
In order to show the kind of clarity that has come into my own vision, though it is by no means to say that I now know all, I should give something of what I know about Margaret, of whom I said in the last letter that she was quite crazy etc, but in the nicest way. This is only half the truth of course, because along with her absurdities, she has had the sort of life that has caused her to sit down and take stock in such a way that she is now able to overcome problems much more successfully, and (to use a much bandied-about word we use, because of its usefulness) she is able to ‘cope’ with these things and get through them.
Margaret is thirty-nine, a divorcée, and when she was eleven she discovered the man she thought was her father was not in fact ˗ her real dad has since turned up rather too late to be of any use to her, she says. I don’t know quite how sordid things were for her at home, but obviously she was brought up in an atmosphere where things moral weren’t always put to the fore. She seems somewhere along the line to have had something do with a theatrical family, which probably accounts for the sort of things that went on, and for the above-mentioned craziness: she performs at the drop of a hat! Anyway, today, we had lunch together, quite by accident, as I met her going the opposite way to me when I was out, and about to eat, and so over the meal and coffee, she brought certain things to light which have more concern with me than what I’ve said so far.
The most important thing that came up is the utter selfishness of kids: it’s called a variety of names, mostly less hard-hitting, and seems to explain the things that go on when kids are in their teens: for the first time in their life they are finding out that self-love is no love, and that other people need their love, and that the only way to be able to be loved is to love others. (It’s a fascinating circle, which could only have been devised by a mind as infinite as the Good Lord’s!) We didn’t actually talk about it in those terms, but what it made me realise and what I’ve been trying to get to all the way through this letter, is just how revoltingly selfish I was when I was at home, and how it’s only now, since I’ve discovered that understanding other people is the only way to know yourself properly, that I understand this fact. (Margaret says she realised too late the sort of problems her mother was having and how lonely it must have been for her.)
What I must apologise for is my utter lack of any attempt to listen to you when I was at home: no wonder it’s taken me so long to be able to talk to you at all. The hours I’ve spent reading and listening to records when I could have listened to you are beyond recall, and I’m afraid there is little I can do about it, but I want you to know that I’m now beginning to slightly understand your problems and curse the many hours when I might at least have been a sounding-board for whatever you needed to say; though it is perhaps a little presumptuous of me to think that I might have been a help even if I had listened. Granted a younger person has the right to remark that it was all a bit beyond him at the time and that one only cares about others as one becomes more mature, but it isn’t as good an excuse as it might be, and I’m really inclined to think the younger generation is very much in the wrong in this case ˗ it isn’t that the older g. doesn’t understand them, it’s that the younger gen. never thinks that the old g. are likely to have problems, and therefore gets all upset when the older g., already afflicted with enough troubles of their own, are expected to give all their time and love and attention to the younger g, and can’t.
I suppose it’s okay for me to be a know-all now, but at least I’ve had the luck to see where I’ve been wrong ˗ for what it’s worth ˗ heaven help those who go on thinking the world owes them a living. I can’t really cite any special instances of my particular deafness, though I feel that I was especially obstruse just after the time Mrs Bevan died, and perhaps even before. [The Bevans were close friends of my mother, and lived only a couple of minutes away.] Do you remember? I seem to recall not being very helpful or pleasant; you suggested it might be of use to go and housekeep for Mr B. [That is, that my mother should go and help him out with the housekeeping. I think I was unhappy at this possible interruption to our own household routines.] And now I’m 12,000 miles across the wretched sea and of even less use to you.
What isolated beings we make ourselves ˗ my hobby horse: that I never realised that other people had the same troubles as myself. Margaret and I both used to think we understood grown-ups, but my maturing from what was just as much a childhood as anyone else’s seems only to have come about in the last year or so. (She sez she didn’t grow up till she was thirty-two!!, when she left her husband.) I hope some of this has made sense to you and doesn’t offend you ˗ perhaps you can now welcome me to the Grown-Up Club or start to do so. Love Mike.
P.S. Glad you received the pendant ˗ do you know if Des ever got the stuff he asked me to send him?