I wrote, a year ago, about the end of summer, and how joy seemed harder to come by than before. It was something I thought about again, last night, staying up to see Emma Raducanu when my brain and my bones were begging me to sit it out, just leave it, don’t get your hopes up, go to bed.
I wasn’t in the mood to watch an eighteen year old get crushed, and with her the hopes of an exhausted, divided nation. These last few days, my dad has been in hospital, while I have been at home and in sole charge of the toddler, waiting for his new nursery to start, the pair of us going nuts.
There’s that, and, the other stuff. Labour shortages, benefit cuts, Afghanistan. How, when I go out, the world seems to think that Covid is over; people, unmasked, push past me in their glee to get to the tube, into the shop, back to normal, and I feel like reality has fractured, that they are in one shard while I peer from another, puzzled, and terribly afraid.
Of course, there is no one reality. It’s not that simple, if we’ve learned anything from the last eighteen months, it is this; and if we haven’t, well, there’s been a pandemic, and it’s hardly surprising if epiphanies have taken something of a backseat.
But, I dunno. I miss simple. Or rather, I miss what I thought was simple, even if it wasn’t. The thrill of the ball going into the net, the quick hug from an old friend. I miss it, I miss it all, and I don’t know about you but these last eighteen months, I have recalibrated myself so as not even to expect good things, not in the end, not really. It’s like that bit in Northern Lights, just before poor Roger gets the chop.
Besides, comfortable beds, baths, nice things to eat, the ability to eat them, they’re not nothing. Not to my dad, shifting on his plasticky mattress, awaiting a tracheotomy. Not to the desperate souls being turned back halfway across the Channel. Across the course of human history, across the sweep of our planet, these good things are pretty bloody rare.
So yesterday, when my husband texted, ‘She’s up by a set and 5–2' and I hauled myself out of bed and came back downstairs, I still wasn’t expecting anything much, and if I was, it was to be disappointed. Which would be OK, because she’s eighteen, and what she had done was incredible already, and besides, it had been a good day.
Teenagers don’t win tennis tournaments by chance, I know this, I do, but I must remember to feel it. That they work, and work, and work, and they have huge teams, trying, caring, striving, thinking, urging and loving them on. And sporting championships don’t just happen; that packed stadium, the minutiae of what it took to get everyone into their seats with a semblance of safety; the work, my God, the toil, of thinking of a vaccine, developing it, getting it into all those arms. Beyond that, the wild and maddening and terrifying and brilliant complexity of all of it, what humans can achieve, to feed and to clothe and to house and to transport them, us, so that we, in turn, can be transported by the arc of that yellow ball.
My dad, grinning lopsidedly over Facetime yesterday morning, look, I can speak, I’m standing up, I am home. It took three consultants, countless doctors and nurses, it took the foundation of human knowledge upon which he could rise from his bed once more, propped on the table against a vase of flowers; pixels and glass and sound waves and still somehow him, there and real and alive.
Last night, I locked my phone, came downstairs and settled onto the sofa. Joy is still here, I thought. It is complicated, tempered, occasional, and for these moments I will be grateful, and I must, for that is what is left. But I know, now, that joy is never simple.
Then Raducanu served for that third championship point. And just for a moment, it was.