If someone I deal with in my day job makes a mistake and emails me with an apology, I usually email back saying that no apology is necessary, that we’re all human, and that this is something to be thankful for. That I make mistakes. That we don’t deliberately make mistakes. We are not perfect, and we will never be. And to strive for perfection is to destroy ourselves. It took me a long time to come to this recognition, having been brought up to strive for perfection in all things, to beat myself up about mistakes made, to be ashamed of mistakes. It’s wrong, so wrong, to bring children up to be afraid of making mistakes. It distorts life, it scars minds, it creates all sorts of demons that are almost impossible to escape from. That’s my history. No wonder I invent worlds where people make mistakes all the time, where the making of mistakes is an every day occurrence, where striving for goodness is actually the main goal, where seeking redemption is the ultimate quest. Because that’s what stories really are – the seeking for redemption, not the seeking for perfection.
On Sunday, I had a long conversation with H, someone who, for some reason, has always talked to me with a refreshing openness and honesty and emotion, about her past, about her now, and we talked about each other’s children, and how proud we are of them, and what hopes we have for them, and how it makes us happy and humble that they appear to be turning out better than us, despite our parenting, that parenting is all about doing your best, and making mistakes along the way, mistakes there’s no point regretting because they’re done and past and gone. On Monday evening, H sent me a message saying she’d just been out on a run and that she’d been thinking about our conversation, and she just wanted to say what amazing parents M and I are. We just do our best, I messaged back, and you should look in the mirror to see an amazing parent. All parents are amazing, especially those who think they’re not, especially those who keep trying and trying, because they’re looking for goodness, not for perfection. That our children have become good people is much more a reflection of how I see the world than if they’d have become perfect people. Pains in the arse sometimes, yes, just like I am, but good people.
Where this was meant to be going in the rain, I don’t know. I just throw words at the page without really thinking about them. That’s how I create my stories, too. Sometimes, when I’ve relapsed into the boy who has to be perfect, I think that’s laziness. The rest of the time I think and know that this is because it reflects the reality of life; sudden changes of direction, fragmented thoughts and actions, mistakes, mistakes, and more mistakes, a fraction of a clear path ahead, and then obstacles again. Finite plots are an illusion, and there is no happy ending anywhere. There is happiness on the journey, and there may be some kind of spiritual happiness beyond (a conversation yesterday about Buddhism with my acupuncturist springs to mind, and A Fear Of Heights, my novel about Everest and Buddhism which will see the light of day in 2024).
Here we are, in the midst of life, and happiness is the embracing of our mistakes. That’s the journey. Our journey.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 113
‘This is ridiculous,’ Martin says. ‘You should just have killed her.’
‘I’m not like you,’ Aggie says, and lifts Lilibet back onto the table. ‘Life means something to me.’
‘To me, too,’ Martin says. ‘But this just complicates everything.’
‘How exactly?’ Aggie says. ‘We have a working device we can take apart. We have someone who’s been manipulated or worse into becoming a robot soldier.’ She sighs. ‘And, yes, we have a dead boyfriend, and a grieving girl, but that wasn’t our doing, was it?’ She brushes a stray hair out of Lilibet’s face.
‘We can’t just let her go, you know,’ Martin says. ‘She’ll go blabbing to all and sundry about what’s happened here.’
‘She doesn’t know what’s happened here,’ Aggie says. ‘Maybe we just have to trust her.’
‘You’d let a murderer go?’ Zav says. ‘Just like that?’
‘Is she a murderer?’ Aggie says. ‘When someone else was actually making her do what she did?’
Zav shrugs. ‘She pulled the trigger. Whether or not she was conscious of it.’
‘This isn’t a court of law,’ Robert says. ‘We can’t make judgments. We can’t be judge and jury…’
‘But what we can do is to find out what happened to her,’ Aggie says. ‘And then take her back to her family.’
‘See, I told you this would just get too complicated,’ Martin says. ‘You were meant to be going back to Norwich tomorrow.’ He looks at his watch. ‘Today.’
‘It’ll just have to wait,’ Aggie says. ‘And maybe going to Scotland is where I should be going. Maybe that’s where I come from, although it feels totally counterintuitive.’ She hears her Polish accent. ‘Come on, let’s get her awake and talk to her.’ She pats Lilibet’s cheeks. ‘Come on, girl.’
Lilibet’s eyes flutter open. Panic in them. She jumps up, straight into Aggie’s arms. ‘Leave me alone!’
‘Talk to me,’ Aggie says. ‘And then I’ll take you home.’ She sits down on one of the kitchen chairs, pats the one next to her. ‘Come on.’ She looks at the others. ‘Make yourselves useful and make us some coffee, eh?’
‘Yes, Miss,’ Anna says, half a smile on her face. ‘Same old Aggie. Bossyboots.’
Lilibet sits on the chair next to Aggie, trembling. ‘Please don’t hurt me.’
‘I’m not going to. We’re not going to. I just want to find out what the last thing is that you remember. To try to help you work out what’s happened over the last three weeks.’
Lilibet runs her fingers through her hair, matted and damp. ‘I was with my two kids. I’m a single mum, you see, and I needed to keep them entertained, so we went to the old Montrose RAF base. I thought it would be interesting, and I’ve meant to go for ages. And we could get in cheap, what with them being kids, and me. Well, that’s irrelevant I suppose.’
‘Nothing’s irrelevant,’ Aggie says.
‘We’re wandering around, looking at all the planes, and the kids were being really good, and they were having fun, and no-one was telling them what to do or to be quiet or anything like that. It doesn’t happen very often.’ She stops and takes the black coffee Anna hands to her. ‘And then we get to the shed that has the de Havilland Vampire in it. It’s such a mysterious plane. And there was no-one else in the shed, so I climbed up the ladder to have a look into the cockpit, and wondered what it would be like to fly in it. And now I’m here. And it feels like it was just a minute ago.’ She looks down herself. ‘And these aren’t the clothes I was wearing.’ She starts crying. ‘Oh God, what’s going on? And the children, where are the children?’
Aggie puts her arm round Lilibet. ‘We’ll find them’ she says. ‘We’ll find them.’