In this post I want to discuss those who were in the same boat as myself a few years back, faced the same challenges, but unlike myself have fallen by the wayside. What attitude should I take towards them? Should I find them, and somehow rescue them?
Eight years ago my life was so different. I was still young enough to be dismissed as a Lucky Person Who Had Retired Early. Apparently, not anybody to respect. Some might have said in fact that I was a living insult to hard-working people, a leech on public funds, a useless and idle member of society who was too smug by half in their secure life of leisure. And as I didn't wear a big badge that said 'Hey! I earned my retirement with thirty-five years' graft, if you really want to know', it was difficult to seem deserving. And without thrusting our joint 'life of leisure' in anyone's face, M--- and I undoubtedly shared an enviable lifestyle that must have got up some people's noses - even though neither of us were boastful or immodest, nor ever inclined to smirk. Actually I was almost ashamed of my good fortune in escaping the workplace.
I still had my parents around too. I was already well aware that they wouldn't be there forever, but for the moment, in 2007, they were more-or-less intact and functioning. They were - as they always had been - my safety-net, the people I could always count upon, who stood between me and a world - as yet hardly imagined - when I'd be utterly on my own. There was a price for this profound sense of security. My parents felt entitled to judge me and have their say. To criticise and advise. And even to interfere. This was irritating, but it went with the territory, with my ongoing role as The Child.
So I had to contend with public sour-grapery, and a degree of parental comment and control. Still, that wasn't too hard. And indeed, considering the changes to come in 2008, it was a stable and comfortable world that might have gone on for a long time to come.
Nowadays, with my parents dead, and M--- out of my life completely, and almost everyone I knew in 2007 just a memory, I look back on those days as if considering an epoch long past - like we twenty-first century folk contemplate the nineteenth century. So much has altered! Truly my world was turned upside down and inside out!
And yet it's a story shared by many I eventually met from late 2008. Not the detail, but certainly the big facts of relationship disruption and the consequences of that - emotional stress, financial loss, potential homelessness, medical problems, public attack, private censure, and generally being thrust into a colder and unkinder situation. At the same time, battling to secure the means to start afresh as Someone Found, a new person re-analysed, rescued from decades of trying to live up to other people's expectations; rather than as nature intended. And ultimately, the glittering prize: to live a normal life. All of us were coping with devastation, clawing our way back up, exchanging experiences. Dozens of us. Some needing therapy, some past therapy. Some with money, some close to destitution.
In broad terms, the same story as my own. But not always with the same outcome.
It's obvious that I was always going to be one of the better-placed survivors, with a mortgage-free inherited house, and a cushion of inherited money, that together gave me options that others did not have. Nor was I afraid to spend that money while it lasted. I also had extraordinary freedom to do what I thought best for myself, at least once Mum and Dad were gone, and M--- had begun to push me away. Nor did I have anybody to look after. These four things - a home, cash, freedom of action, and a lack of dependants - let me recover from the apocalypse. But others lacked one or more of those things, and have not fared so well. Their rehabilitation has slowed, or gone off track. Or they have become stuck. Or they have even passed into the shadows, possibly beyond all communication.
So, to my first question. What should my attitude be towards these less fortunate fellow-travellers?
My first notion is to be profoundly sympathetic and sorry for them. Surely a natural way to react! But of course that achieves nothing. Should I also be angry at the combined forces and pressures that have placed them where they are? Yes; but again, what does that anger achieve? Every person who has not regained the firm ground they once trod might welcome the acknowledgement of their plight, but practical assistance is the thing really needed.
Can I help, then? With what? Do I turn my home into a hostel for the cast out and battered? Do I volunteer as a counsellor? Or would simply offering friendship do? Would it be accepted?
Am I being completely honest about why I'd wish to step in and assist? Is it simply to be a caring angel? Or is it to assuage a feeling of guilt, for having the funds, and the luck, and the right kind of self-organisation, to find success where others have not? Is it to feel super-good about helping others? Is it to wallow luxuriously in the thanks that might come? Is it even to enjoy having power and ascendancy over damaged and vulnerable persons, who might regard me as a lifeline? I would of course claim a straightforward and pure motivation, but it might not be seen as that.
Let's suppose the will to help is there, and that it is untainted by any personal ambition. There is still the question of whether I should seek people out, and do my best to take them to a better place.
Should one interfere? That's the heart of it. If I make an effort to find somebody I once knew who has dropped out of sight, am I intruding on their peace and quiet? Might that be resented? Perhaps they don't want to be found and 'rescued'. Shouldn't I assume that if a person who could keep in touch decides to be silent and drop out of sight, they do so for a reason? And that by intruding I am overriding their autonomy and their wish to lie low? Does having an unselfish motive for finding them weigh very much against my busting into their world, and disturbing their equilibrium?
Does it make a difference if I have something definite to offer, something more than just a friendly 'hello'? Such as the offer of a spare room? Or the way in to a job? It might; but I can't supply those things. Apart from words, I'm empty-handed.
Hmm. I think I've explored this enough to see that the whole notion of befriending and and assisting people who have not done so well is fraught with pitfalls. If I'm honest, I suspect I'd be doing it to make myself feel better about enjoying a Good Life while some others languish in a Not So Good Life. I'd be addressing a personal guilt complex, with all else subsidiary. I could perhaps rationalise this, and say that if I am happy it's only because I made good plans and forthright decisions, and didn't mess about, and therefore I deserve my happiness and shouldn't feel guilty. That luck never came into it. That, indeed, I have rehab techniques and skills I ought to be sharing. All the stuff that big-ego people say when they do the Lady Bountiful bit.
But I can't convince myself. I do shrink from stepping in and risking a rebuff. Equally I shrink from taking on a tremendous responsibility: someone else's wellbeing. And I haven't the patience to cope with inertia and tantrums and silly excuses and hopelessness. Nor the skill to address any kind of ongoing clinical condition.
So translating a concern for others into meaningful and unselfish action is actually very hard. I haven't got the commitment nor the capacity to make a difference. Nor the sainthood to just go ahead and see what I can achieve.