This is going to be one of my more meandering posts, which I apologise for. Feel free not to read guys!
Now I am not religious. I never have been. I mean I was christened as a baby, I went to church schools throughout my education, I went to church on Sundays and Sunday school every week as a younger child. It got to the point where I was around the age that I should be getting confirmed. And at that point I had another of those conversations with my mother which stayed with me. She told me a story, of when she was the same age as I was then. An elderly aunt of hers told her that if she got confirmed, then this aunt would leave money to my mother in her will. At that point my mother decided that she didn’t want to be confirmed, and she wasn’t so sure about this whole religion lark.
Now my mother does have a stubborn streak, and there may well have been an element of not agreeing to this deal just to spite her aunt. I feel there was more to it than that though, a sense that true belief is not something that can, or should ever be bought. That conversation reminded me, that even at that age I had a choice about what I believed in, and that it shouldn’t just be a natural progression to be confirmed because that’s what the other children in my Sunday school were doing. At that point I chose not to be confirmed, decided that I didn’t believe in the God they had been teaching me about for all those years.
I stopped going to church or Sunday school from that point onwards. I decided that I believed in lots of other things instead.
I believe in humanity, that the majority of people are genuinely trying their best. I believe in the power of the natural world, to regenerate and heal and evolve. I believe in thought and art and the pursuit of knowledge. I completely believe in love and a little bit of fate thrown in there too.
I’m not sure if any of the rest of you guys with siblings spent much of your childhoods dividing up your parent’s belongings for when they eventually died. Me and my older brother devoted quite a lot of thought and discussion on exactly which of my parent’s belongings we should both inherit. I am now 36 and both my parents are still going strong, but those childhood conversations still felt pretty important at the time. We both started off with a long list, which included most of the same items, obviously. We would end up bargaining through these, “I’ll let you have that, as long as I can get this.”
My childhood bargaining skills were just as good as they are now, and eventually after many years of discussion we had agreed. My brother would get everything, except for one book. One extremely precious book! (A book which, now I think about it, my brother probably had no actual interest in at all, but his bargaining skills are much better than mine!)
When I was about eight years old my parents got dressed up one night, making the extremely exotic trip into London for the opening of an art exhibition. Now my parents were not exactly the going out in their finery to London types, nor the art exhibition types. Whilst books were always revered, art was not exactly big in our house. This exhibition though was being sponsored by the company my father worked for, and I assume their night out was all on company expenses, so off they went. It felt very exciting and glamorous to my eight year old self. The next day I was shown The Book.
A huge, heavy, beautiful book produced to accompany the exhibition. I believe they may have been given to them for free. It was put away on a shelf in my father’s study, where we were not supposed to enter (almost all the times I seriously got in trouble as a child were because I had snuck in and taken something I should not have, like an illicit pencil sharpener, or other such forbidden temptations).
I spent many, many hours of the proceeding years sneaking into the study unseen, lifting this heavy book from its shelf and studying the photos inside. There are pictures inside which are burnt into my memory forever.
Pictures which were instrumental in forming the way I view the world.
My small fingers have turned those pages, traced out the lines of those photos, over and over. There are probably many years of my DNA smeared into the fabric of the paper.
This book meant so much to me. Enough for me to bargain my rightful inheritance away happily.
A couple of days ago I was given The Book. I was busy cooking dinner, hands full with pans and whisks, and the book was shoved in my face, with the carefully chosen, ceremonial words of “Oi, do you want this?”
Now this was not exactly how I’d imagined it. Once the anticlimax had worn off it was pretty exciting. Apparently my parents had been discussing it, had decided that the book should be mine, they knew how much I wanted it. Mum had discussed wrapping it and presenting it to me. Ceremony is not really my Dad’s thing though.
Still, it felt pretty monumental. It took me back to that eight year old. The one who learnt many of her concepts of humanity and war and love and death and history from stolen moments studying these photographs on the floor of her father’s study. The one who valued those insights over all her parent’s worldly possessions. It made me assess where I had come from that small child, and that actually, maybe I’m doing ok, maybe I’m doing my best too.
This morning my Dad informed me he’d managed to order another copy of the book online, from some second hand bookseller. He was very proud of his ingenuity, that he could give me their copy but not even have to do without it themselves. This book that neither of them had probably looked at im years. I went on Amazon and found you can buy it off them for just over three quid. Bargain!
Suddenly I questioned the worth of this book. This book that had meant so much to the child me. That still held so much of that child between its pages. The fact that this book was seemingly so instantly replaceable. These days of instant internet access, where you can find any piece of knowledge, any object, any image, any opinion, so instantly, does anything really have true value anymore?
The childhood me knows better though. Hopefully my children will grow to know better too. I know that the awakening these images brought in me is priceless and always will be, even if you can get it for three quid off Amazon. And yes, I am still perfectly happy to have bargained away my inheritance for it.