With the very first name that comes into your head: who is the most important person in your everyday life? (I should point out here that the dog doesn’t count, regardless of what she thinks… not in this particular instance anyway. The rest of the time, she has a point…)
Now, hold that thought… the thought of the most important person in your world… then ask yourself what you do for them? I don’t just mean the practical things like providing for them, cooking, buying flowers, throwing tennis balls or being on the end of a telephone. They are important, but they are ‘direct doing’. Think about the other things that you do because of them and their presence in your life… Do you make the house a home? Put a bit of extra effort into your appearance? Stay fit and healthy for them? Make real time for them? Even write because of them?
Why? Because you care… because you want them to be safe and well, happy, proud, comfortable…. the list of possible reasons is endless…
But what happens when time changes their needs and your lives? When your partner is no longer there, when your child goes out into the adult world or circumstances separate you from your friend?
These are scenarios that may happen to us all at some point in our lives and the transition is not always an easy one, even if the event that triggers such change is a happy one. Many parents feel bereft when their children finally leave home, even while they are frantically changing the locks and booking that second honeymoon.
Most just carry on as usual, through habit. Some seem to revel in the new freedom. For others, things start to slip a bit. There seems to be little point to the things they have done for a year, a decade or a lifetime. They stop doing things, or they slide back to basics, missing that extra ‘something’ that lifts necessity into pleasure. Eating through need rather than preparing a lovely meal. The house is tidy but not what it was. Appearance no longer matters quite so much… There is a piece of the jigsaw missing.
I know that feeling. When my late partner died many years ago, I was left stranded in a world I barely recognised, with no sense of direction and no reason, it seemed, to bother being the person I had been. The illness had been long and had defined our days as a family. Of necessity his care and that of my sons had been my focus. In the emotional vacuum of grief, the hours hung heavy and empty… a common feeling at such times. I was lucky; the boys kept me afloat, even though I took on a lot of water and made some real mistakes.
It was emerging from that time and those mistakes that I began to realise something. It took a long time to sink in beyond the conditioning of my generation, raised to care for families and spouses, and just one step removed from an earlier generation where that was the accepted role of womankind.
Those who answered that initial question with the name of a child, partner, parent or friend are wrong. No matter how much you love them, no matter if you are responsible for their care and well-being or how happy you are… there is someone more important than them.
This isn’t a selfish statement nor is it to suggest that we should put ourselves and our desires before all else. There will be times when circumstance demands that you come a long way down your list of priorities, but most of the time we have more space in our lives than we think to care for our own needs. We just have to remember that we have them. A leaky pot holds little water… you cannot give your best to others without looking after yourself too.
Our society is something of a paradox… with its loss of community, it seems outwardly self-focussed, yet most of our lives are ruled by our commitment to the requirements of others and as individuals many of us take little account of ourselves day to day.
On a practical level, it doesn’t need to be much… some time alone with space to think, potter in the garden, polish the car or wallow in a scented bath. A trip to the hairdressers… a favourite meal… a walk with the dog… even getting chores done early so you have a free day… as long as it is done for you.
The bigger shift in thinking needs to be more abstract and is a simple shift in focus. To do the best job you can for your own satisfaction lifts even the worst chores out of the mire. To formulate your own beliefs and principles, and forge your own path. To live according to the dictates of your heart and not let its light be quenched. To live with passion and integrity. You are the only person who can judge if you are who you would choose to be. The same principle can be applied to most areas of our lives and is a change of perspective that can change our personal view of the world. And after all, the one person you will always live with is yourself.