Monday, July 28, 2014


The other day I plunged headlong into a deep depression, accompanied by the screeching siren of anxiety. My chest tightened to the point where my heart seemed liable to explode. I gasped for breath. My stomach lurched and rocked like a capsizing ship. Tears were squeezing out through my eyes and I couldn't under any circumstances tell you why. Thoughts jostled each other in my head, crashed and broke one upon the next and melted into a morass devoid of meaning or coherence that could communicate no message beyond a loud, insistent "GET OUT".

Somehow, I did not get out. Somehow, I am here writing this. Unlike the friends I've known who aren't here to write anything, I found a way out of that tiny steel box that didn't involve opening a trapdoor and letting myself fall into space.

Let's not pretend I'm here because of some mysterious inner strength that let me ride it out. If I happened to see a crack in the wall of noise that allowed me to see ahead, if I have been able, at my lowest ebb, to clutch desperately at my own insatiable curiosity and clear a small patch of smog long enough to know it would never be satisfied if I left now...that's nothing to do with me.

I've sat in cars in the middle of the night with bleeding arms and pondered how much it would hurt to drive off a cliff. I've sat in the back of a police wagon with handcuffs on wondering how I could return to a wife and children who'd seen me humiliated and dragged away for my own protection. I've spent more time than I could ever have thought I would calculating the logistics of bringing about my own disappearance.

But here I am, and here I sit.

I read my friend Anna Spargo-Ryan's post about Peaches Geldof and wondered at the stroke of luck that has seen me live my life free of the ghastly addictions that have cut others short. I wondered at the good fortune that means I'm not currently the subject of a hideous MamaMia contributor's orgiastic spree of preening self-congratulation.

Because I can make no mistake - luck it is. By luck I find myself in comfort, in a warm house with a full stomach. By luck I find myself loved by my family, able to wait for my children to come home and hug me. It's not light at the end of the tunnel that gives one hope in the darkest of darknesses; it is having something for that light to illuminate, and it is by luck that when light comes in it shines on things I want to hold on to.

Recently a friend of mine lost her son, a marvellous boy who'd been subject to health problems that kept the whisper of tragedy forever in his family's ears. I've led a charmed life to not have to suffer that. I don't live in fear for my life, or for my children's. I'm privileged with extraordinary luck that I look ahead to their future without placing an asterisk beside every possibility.

A man I once knew, a great writer and teacher, a much-loved man, died just the other day with his wife and hundreds of others, brought down in flames and horror in a war none of them had any part of. For every person who died that day, dozens wept and cursed the most pointless of catastrophes. It's only luck that separates me from any of them. That separates any of you from any of them.

It's only luck that I'm sitting here writing this, instead of sitting in Gaza listening to the bombs drop. It's only luck that you're sitting there reading this, instead of starving in an African village or swaying on a leaking refugee boat or caught in the crosshairs of fanatics in Iraq.

There are those who want you to believe it's not luck. They want you to think we should offer punishment and threats to those who seek our help, because it's by their own failings and our own virtue that we find ourselves in our respective positions, rather than chance. They want you to believe that anyone finding themselves poor, unemployed or homeless has done so through their own choice and lack of moral fibre, and that therefore we must be harsh as we seek to impress on them how badly they've let us down by not being more like us. They want you to believe that what determines the course of human lives is the notion of "the deserving" - we get what's coming to us, and so we may feel free to pat ourselves on the back for managing to earn our good fortune.

I would rather recognise how lucky I am, and how the luck that befalls us has nothing to do with virtue, or strength, or deserving. And how that luck also bestows on us a duty. To make use of our fortune, and try to pass a little of it on.

I would rather hug my children, and thank whatever I may that I can.


sarah toa said...

So good Ben.
I stopped writing recently because of the same complaint.
What can I say, but thanks.

ps it's interesting that my word verification is '1936.'

Samantha de Forest said...

Hi Ben,

If only you weren't married, and I weren't married, we could engage in melancholy witticisms together. I adore your writing. Bins Quantock is my best friend, and we very much agree that you're our hero!


Anonymous said...

Thank you Ben. The Internet is lucky to have you.