look back in wonder

So far, so good

– my memory unreels.  Not often nostalgic, I have never forgotten the old lady who said “People say good old days – they were bad old days.”  And looking over your shoulder, there is a list of things we now take for granted which were not attainable to us then.   I hear people go on about reunions and where I grew up – and think well, good luck to you.  Not for me – but my mind unwinds with stories and voices, sights and smells far back – it always has.

Flattened by the heat, I looked at the chest of papers and it looked right back.  And I knew the time had come.  I dread leaving everything for somebody else to clear up,

perhaps because I have been that somebody.

And so I sat and bagged old videos, put a few treasures aside and shredded old documents and letters.  It is so unusual for me to throw away evidence of any work I did, that I sent a wholly spurious email to the lovely Linda who used to manage me.  She didn’t need it, I was instantly ashamed of what a weak kneed thing I was.  And went on.

I must emphasise that I am careful when I dispose of things.  I don’t throw away and then regret.  I sit and comb through, deciding and choosing.   And I had files of stuff from long ago that I had kept out of a sort of trust – you trusted me and I could be trusted with it.

And trust is such a rare word now.

Eventually three black bags stuffed and foul with dust, I got to the bottom of the chest and cleaned that.  Amy Able upstairs likes it and I have just told her, it is hers in my will.  In my last paid job, I had emails and phone calls and texts.  I was very quick to stamp on texts, “don’t use them if you are not going to give me enough detail to respond.”  But one says “In two sentences not addressed to me, you have wiped away 20 years of guilt about my marriage and my children.”    Radio was always special. 

You heard it the way you heard it and nobody else heard it like you.  Another says “Each day I listen to your show, I feel stronger in my many day to day life problems.”   And I think of the BBC receptionist whom I’d seen several times who told me he was HIV positive, and I hugged him.  Not getting rid of that text either.

Please don’t think there is any favouritism in this.  I remember stories and voices and faces and although I have been out of the public eye for a long time, I still recall and you still recall and long may it be so.

I can’t part with an email that says “You weren’t even talking to me but you sounded as if you were and last night I stood up to my controlling husband.  And yes he came back again and threw his weight around but I stuck to my guns and told him to leave.   I cried all Tuesday  and yesterday BUT I SLEPT ALL LAST NIGHT

for the first time in three years.”

I have a wonderful letter from James who became a nurse (he started listening as an adolescent carer) and Martyn who didn’t need me but liked me, Carole and Arnold who both wrote about  handling their marriage and their son, Tim who lost his.  I have a letter from Michael who said I was “taller, strong and more noble” than I thought I was  – where did I think my son got his height from ?    Letters from a man who opened his heart to his long dead father and thus allowed him to be a presence in his life, from a child protection social worker who wrote to help a caller, and this by the poet Tagore: “Death is not the extinguishing of the light, but the putting out of the lamp, because Dawn has come.”   

I am the only woman I know who could have such a party with paper.

Amita Basu

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