My long time companion The Black Dog has remained in the UK, where she often got under my feet and tripped me up. I’ve moved on and that period of my life has been boxed and sealed away forever. I’ve labeled that era ‘The Great Depression’ and I hope for no repeats.
I’ve been in Switzerland for two months and it was a step onwards and upwards. I am thriving on the hope that has come from this new adventure. After months of knashing my teeth with despair in London, I am endlessly grateful for my super husband, a widening circle of friends and my picturesque, safe neighbourhood. Aside from the few gripes and gurgles my body has given me as I bombard it with cured meats, wines, smelly cheeses and breads, I am healthy too. If I could just find my high paying, cushy dream job, my life would be the best it has ever been.
Now, with this in mind, you will never believe what’s happened. The Black Dog radioed in a friend to take her place and be my Swiss sidekick. My new companion is The Green Monster.
The Green Monster follows me on my daily jogs and he shows me expensive cars in peoples’ driveways. We look at posh Swiss houses overlooking the lake or vineyards. The Green Monster says, ‘Julie, look at that lady chopping her roses on her veranda overlooking her vineyard. You don’t have roses or a vineyard or a house of your own.’ Or he’ll whisper, ‘Julie, look at that person getting out of their SUV. They have a great job that gives them the money to buy their house overlooking the lake. You don’t have a job at all.’ Sometimes The Green Monster and I stop, stand on our tiptoes and peer over the hedges into the gardens of the grander houses. My bottom lip puckers and I think, ‘I want to live in a chateau too.’
I am most aware of The Green Monster when I meet someone younger than me who has the ‘X Factor’ and a high-flying job at a cool company like Yahoo or Google. The Green Monster growls in my ear if these people are on a bloated expat salary. He pinches me when I meet someone with a Swiss passport or the means to stay here permanently. He knows of my fear that Real Life may come chopping its way through to my outpost and lop off my lovely, Swiss flower.
Sometimes I avoid The Green Monster by hanging around people who are also unemployed or who are less fortunate than me. Most of the time, I shout at The Green Monster because I really don’t like his company. I am a nice, kind person and I genuinely wish the best for people and, when he’s around, he makes me feel like a spoiled, jealous brat.
Every now and again, I get a wake up call that makes The Green Monster cower. Recently I discovered a blog written by a guy called Derek K Miller. In 2007, Derek discovered he had cancer. He fought and fought for 4 years but he died this month. He wrote a final blog post that was published by his friend a few days after he died.
After I read Derek’s final piece, I devoured all his entries from 2006 to 2011. His blog shook me to my core, and ever since then, The Green Monster has been very very small and some days, he doesn’t visit me at all.
I was green with envy because I don’t live in a chateau but all Derek wanted was to live. In one post he says, ‘I had my first major all-out weeping cry about my cancer this morning. I know it’s likely to be very early stage and highly treatable and things will probably be fine, but, damn, I want to live, you know?’
Derek didn’t have a chateau or a vineyard or a rose bush or a posh car or even a job in the end. He put the word ‘live’ in italics and I wondered, ‘I have a treasure that he ached for. I have the opportunity to not just live, but to live.’ Now, every morning when I wake up, I vow to myself, ‘Today I am going to live in italics.’
There will always be someone less fortunate than me and I can’t always dress in sackcloth and ashes. I am lucky to be higher up Maslow’s need pyramid than Derek was. I must just make sure I appreciate this and am always busy living instead of busy dying.
In 1944, CS Lewis gave a talk at the University in London. It is known as The Inner Ring speech. CS Lewis said that the strongest of all human desires is to be part of an inner ring. This circle of the important is an illusion because, no sooner do you crack one ring, you become obsessed with joining an even more exclusive one inside it. Status and money is like an onion that is comprised of endless layers. The desire to get further into the rings distracts us from things that really matter.
I remember this quote from my childhood: ‘Pain is inevitable. Misery is optional. So you might as well stick a geranium in your hat and just be happy.’
Every time I see The Green Monster, I am going to frighten him away with a hat full of geraniums. I want to care less about inner rings like high paying jobs, chateaux, cars, vineyards and more money. I want to live in italics because that’s all that really matters in the end.