Britain's decision to leave the EU- aka Brexit- has cut across all other rational thought processes for the last 10 days.
The shock re-hits me first thing in the morning upon awakening; it lingers at bedtime, when a sense of trust is needed to allow the semi-conscious body to relax into sleep and repair. I remember other losses, other moments of grief and anxiety, the strange feeling of life appearing outwardly the same, yet having changed unutterably.
If this sounds extreme, preposterous, I am sure nonetheless that I am not the only one feeling these feelings. Where previous griefs have been individual, personal, localized, this one is global, communal, general, shared - by some.
Halfway through last week I realized, however: Brexit grief is making me a bad mum. Like post-natal depression, or bereavement, chronic feelings of stress and anxiety distance you from those you love the most. You fail to LOOK at them properly, to really SEE them, as you retreat into your own dark thoughts and fears. Even though they are IT. They are the crucible of one’s greatest hopes, and fears. They are the light you fear the darkness snuffing out. I start thinking of those people who live in situations of chronic fear, uncertainty, insecurity, conflict - in this country and across the world. I look with new eyes at the comfort, prosperity, certainty of my usual life – up until 10 days ago.
It gives new meaning to the old cliché: we are all connected. Some cannot prosper while the others don’t. In the end, we must all develop otherwise none of us develops. On some level, I have always known there were two Britains; when we came back from Switzerland I felt the inequality – felt it from the point of view of one who HAD, one of the HAVES. It is not enough to have, I keep telling myself, deep inside myself, I must also give back. But what? How? It is easy, how easy, to stay in one’s bubble. But one day the bubble bursts. Are we like the Southern slave-owners – like Scarlett O’Hara? So sure of our own entitlement that we don’t see where we take it from others? Is global capitalism a new form of enslavement? Or is that too much? Is that way over the top?
That is not what I thought it was about. I didn’t want to stay in because of the ECONOMY. Not just because of that, anyway. I remember learning about the horrors of the Second World War – who could forget? – and the horrors of the First World War, the conflicts that pitted European state against European state. Then: the pure, sheer hopefulness of nations coming together, fighting together, this time, for peace and prosperity and all those good things. Cooperation, collaboration, compromise, community - in its largest sense.
And for me, it worked. I grew up in England, went to school in France, studied in Scotland (and China), married a Dane and had half-Danish babies, lived in Switzerland and came back again to modern, inclusive, outward-looking Britain. That’s what I thought. The European state of Great Britain.
It is so hard to realise that others see things in such a different way. Nothing in common.
Is that really so?
The only answer, when one’s world has been rocked, is to open one’s mind. Open it to questions, open it to answers, open it to views and insights previously hidden. That is what I am trying to do now. Try to see one’s own blind spots, see past the things that were blocking before.
And the harder I look, the more I see the same concerns on either side.
What matters, in the end, but the quality of our closest RELATIONSHIPS? What matters, but one’s FAMILY, one’s friends, one’s relationship with oneself?
Where do these close relationships meet? Where is their foundation, their sanctuary, their base? It is HOME. Of one sort or another. To lose one’s home is to lose almost everything. What is one’s home? ‘The place where, when you have to go there, they have to let you in.’
We leave HOME to go out to do our WORK. If we are lucky, we get to go back home again afterwards. I was shocked to read in an old journal of mine recently: ‘I have heard again and again that fulfilment can’t be gained through work’. How much I have changed. For now I believe that our greatest meaning – besides the quality of our relationships – comes through our WORK. I use work in its widest sense: professional life/ self-development/ relationship-building/ creative work/ home-making, etc..
Through our WORK we have a sense of who we are, of what we contribute, what we have built. We learn our IDENTITY.
And none of this is possible without our HEALTH.
So the more I think, the more I come back to fundamentals, the more I re-realise the old cliché: we are all connected. We cannot really prosper if we don’t bring others along.
I don’t want to patronise. 17 million Brexiters did not all share the same motivations or reasons for their voting. But I bet, for most, their reasons, like mine, relate to these fundamentals:
FAMILY _ HOME _ WORK _ IDENTITY _ HEALTH
For myself, for my own HEALTH, IDENTITY and FAMILY life, I realized I needed to take a step back, away from the newspapers, away from social media. I needed to think about the fundamentals in my own life, remember the things that make me happy, and do more of them.
For me, that has meant:
- Hugging my family
- Dancing in the living room
- Chatting with friends (preferably not too much about Brexit)
- Sitting outside in the sunshine – when it is out (perfidious British summer)
- Reading inspirational writing
- Remembering my goals, what is important TO ME and FOR ME.
- Writing and sewing
I took a taxi ride with a very nice taxi driver and we chatted about Brexit. He was a second- (or third-?) generation immigrant whose family came to Britain from Kashmir, and he had voted OUT. He didn’t think it was right to send so much money to other European countries when there were so many families in Britain who were struggling, and he didn’t think it was fair that the high numbers of EU immigrants made it so much harder for other immigrants – like his wife – to come over. He was used to ‘mild racist jokes’ from drunken passengers calling him a ‘Paki’ (he laughed at their ignorance: 'the disputed territory of Kashmir is neither India nor Pakistan'). Re. the upswing in reports of racism, he said: it has always been there, they are just reporting it more now since Brexit. Sensing my despair, he asked me: ‘Can’t you believe in the British people? Can’t you have faith that we can get through this, and make a bright future for ourselves?’
What happens now, no-one knows. But what I am trying to do, for myself and my family, is:
- To believe. That people are resourceful, and I am resourceful. (I had a dream the other night: a huge wave was crashing down on the beach around us. My daughter was in the water, and I couldn’t get to her in time. My first thought was that she was going to drown. But then I stopped myself, and thought, no. She is a strong swimmer. She can get through this. She will swim through the wave. I have to help her believe in herself. I called across to her: ‘A wave is coming. Don’t worry. You can do this. Just swim through it as you have done before. I am coming over to you. Stay where you are. You will be fine.’
- To be the change I want to be in the world. To look for the humanness that connects us.
- To work on my fundamentals, and recognize the need of others to work on theirs.
- To stay away from the things that make me feel BAD, and keep practicing the things I know make me feel GOOD – good in the long-term. Things that are healing, and humanizing.
And just hope.