My life nowadays seems simple and uncomplicated, and most of the time I'm very grateful for that. A straightforward existence without special responsibilities towards anyone else suits me fine; and believe me, I wouldn't knock it. But sometimes I get to thinking that my easygoing life is in fact rather a sad and empty one, and the word 'purposeless' comes to mind. Such introspection doesn't happen often, or last very long, but I'm working through a bout of it at the moment.
My recent Jury Service stirred up my sense of 'public duty'. I became very keen not only to experience the work of a juror, but to be generally part of an important public process. At least to give my time and full attention to it, and to take it seriously, and apply whatever intelligence I had to the problem of whether the accused person might be guilty or not. When I eventually did get selected to be part of a jury, I was absolutely elated. And when I was sworn in, saying this...
I, Lucy Melford, do solemnly and truly declare and affirm that I will faithfully try the defendant and give a true verdict according to the evidence.
...I felt that my status as Responsible Citizen Lucy Melford, The Woman Who Can Read Without Stumbling In A Clear Voice That All Can Hear - And Sounds As If She Means Every Word was established beyond any possible doubt or challenge. A proud moment.
I've already said that the case was stopped on the second day, to permit a retrial, and I've described how events then robbed me of a chance to contribute anything more. There's no point in dwelling on it. But I remain keyed up. And although it's not obviously my fault that I couldn't pull my proper weight, I still feel that my credibility as a citizen has taken a big dent. I'll forever be remembered as the lady who was excused, and went home early.
It's an easy step from there to consider one's worth in a much wider context.
What could I be, but am not?
# I'm not a dutiful daughter. My parents are conveniently dead, and whereas most women of my age are saddled with the care - or arranging the care - or paying for the care - of their elderly mother or father, or both, I am spared all of that.
# I'm not a dutiful mother. I never had children of my own. There are no grown-up sons or daughters bringing their problems to me, or expecting me to rescue them, or to support them when they are beset by a crisis. I am spared all of that.
# I'm not a dutiful grandmother. No children means no grandchildren. I have no child-minding commitments. I am spared all of that.
# I'm not a dutiful wife. I am divorced - long ago - and have nobody new in my life. I have nobody to care for, nobody to worry about as they slip into old age and become brittle. Nobody close, to make me cry with concern or frustration. I am spared all of that.
Somehow things have worked out that I should have a life I can truly call my own. But in my present mood, it seems a rather hollow and lightweight existence. It's not so easy to look other women in the eye, when they have their time and energy taken up with many things that I have sidestepped. Nor am I going to seek any remedy for this. Because it would be totally dishonest of me to say that, given the chance, I would saddle myself with a partner who had a big family full of trouble and strife. Some would rise to that challenge. I'm tempted to say 'any real woman would'. But I wouldn't do it for any inducement. And although it may seem unreasonable to feel bad about that, I do feel diminished as a person. A bit useless.
This mood will pass. I can at least point to one uplifting thing about myself. I'm habitually cheerful. And people obviously like this. It must show on my face.
Yesterday, while waiting for my prescription to be made up, I bought a mocha and a sandwich in the café in Waitrose at Burgess Hill. No table was free. So I asked a lady sitting on her own whether I could share the table with her. She was very happy to. We immediately began to chat. I told her about my toe, and how it had hurt before, after walking around graveyards full of bumpy, lumpy ground last year, on a 'genealogical afternoon'. She was into genealogy too. We then swapped several interesting bits of family history. I eventually had to go, and said I'd enjoyed my half-hour with her. She said the same, and added that it was all the more pleasure for her because I had been so cheerful. Ha! Kindred spirits, I thought, because she had been pretty upbeat too.
I offer this as evidence that being cheerful matters. And perhaps this is a way that anyone can be a good citizen after all. And a woman worth knowing.