Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Miracle Drug and shared stories

I want to trip inside your head
And spend the day there.
To hear the things you haven't said
And see what you might see.
I want to hear you when you call,
Do you feel anything at all?
I want to see your thoughts take shape
And walk right out.

Miracle Drug, U2
I love this song for at least two reasons. The second is that, when U2 played it at Twickenham in 2005, they dedicated it to nurses, doctors and scientists. Not many people know that there are scientists – neither nurses nor doctors – who are as involved in medical care as they are. Liz is a medical physicist.

I run a chess club at my younger children's primary school. D came today. She's the youngest of four in her family – her next sibling C has, until this term, been one of the most regular at the club. D is only seven; C is ten, but far more sure of herself – one might even say cheeky. A was finished with the school before I had children in the junior section, but B was in the same year as my daughter and went to high school this year. They have Gaelic names, and on St. Patrick's Day, they wear leprechaun hats. I know their parents from the school board, and I know how much they want for their children – not to achieve the highest grades, but to fulfil themselves.

I wonder, as I spend time with children at chess club, about their lives – much as I guess a teacher would. I remember when I was a first officer, and people were still allowed to visit the flight deck, a girl of D's age travelling unaccompanied was brought by the cabin crew to visit us. She was really sweet. We chatted for a while – she explained that she was travelling from mum (who lived in one country) to stay with dad (who lived in another country) for a week. As she left, I said to the captain: “She'll be breaking people's hearts in a few years time.”

“Sounds like someone's already broken hers,” he replied. I had to look out of the window for the next five minutes.

I know where D is likely to go to high school. I know what it is like there, to an extent – it is one of the schools we visited when we were looking for our daughter, and the experience of secondary education in England doesn't change terribly quickly. I don't know whether she is more likely to do arty subjects, or sciency subjects. I don't know whether she will do well – or whether boys or girls will end up too much of a distraction by then. I don't know how long she will stay in education. I don't know what sort of a job she will end up in. I don't know whether she will end up living with somebody – or married to somebody. I don't know whether she will have children – either with or without a father present.

I don't know whether she will find her life haunted by mental or physical illness – either in herself or others. I don't know whether she will end up rich or poor. I don't know whether she will take delight in life, or if it will become a grinding, painful routine. I don't know whether she will even live to the end of her education. I've known of several children who haven't, and Liz tells me regularly of children that she treats who are around the age of our children.

Just for one hour a week, perhaps, for a few weeks, I can watch her – along with the other A's, B's, C's and D's who come along. I can try and model to her how a grown-up can encourage her and pay attention to her – as far as is possible, when all the other children are also looking for this from me. When she thinks back to her childhood, I will be no more than another of the grown-ups who were part of the scenery – no more than a line in the story of her life.

What do people get married for? I think it has something to do with sharing a story. Person E matters so much to person F that they want to share the story of their life - “till death us do part” - right to the end of the story. They want to be there – or if not, they want to hear what happened later on when they are in bed! There's a part of me that is saddened by the fact that I won't know what happens to D in a few years' time – and indeed, that I barely know anything about D now. But at least when I got married, I ensured that for this one special person, I would know what happened to them. After we got married, I inherited a lot of my wife's friends – and it still gives me twinges of regret that they had shared experiences before I was around – they knew parts of my wife's story that I didn't.

I suppose it's part of what “going out together” is all about as well – it's two people sharing bits of the stories of their life – each person finding out whether they really want to share the rest of their life. And having children, as well. More people whose stories we share – indeed, all else being equal, whose stories will go on when ours cease, and in whose stories, we will be more than just a line.

Where does sex fit into this? The Christian answer is that sex is for marriage. Only where people have committed themselves to one another – when they have said, “I want to be there at the end – I want to share your story” - is the sexual relationship blessed by God. To take the Christian side out of it, I still think that if somebody embarks on a sexual relationship without wanting to commit themselves to the other person – without wanting to share their story – it is fundamentally a selfish act. “I want what I can get out of this – but I'm not sufficiently interested in you to say that I will be here until the end.”

Given this structure – that marriage is about sharing a story – then separating from a marriage partner is saying: “I don't want to share your story any more. I don't want to hear it – it no longer interests me.”

Sorry, this is a very long, rambly post. The reason that I like the U2 song, though, is because of that thing about being inside somebody's head. The best part of 7 billion stories in the world – and I only get to know one or two. That fills me with regret – the same ache that Bono sings about.