Sometimes I think that the hardest thing in life to take on board is one's own dignity.
I am sitting in my kiddies' den minding my own business, kids away for the weekend, watching TV, sipping a glass of wine, basically 'happy in my nappy', when the phone beeps. It's an email. It's that annoyingly effusive woman from Norway again, I realise. 'My Dearest Adrian!' she begins. She hasn't written to me more than three times in five years, doesn't know me from Adam, and always starts her emails with 'My Dearest Adrian!' Has she no friends, I wonder. Doesn't anybody love her? Has she nothing better to be doing of a Friday night than sending total strangers gushing emails? 'WONDERFUL news about your new novel The Quiet Life on the beauty of everyday life,' she writes, 'following on from your wonderful book on war of five years ago! CONGRATULATIONS! Dear colleagues ...' Oh, my God! She has sent her email out to all her colleagues at HumiliationStudies.org. It has to be a cult, I am thinking. ' ... please join me in congratulating Adrian on his new novel, The Quiet Life'. I can picture her followers oozing love for me all over the world, taking their cue from Dear Leader.
I roll my eyes, cringe, hide the phone under the cushions and try to lose myself again in Frazier.
A few minutes later, another email arrives. It's herself again. This time, with a request. 'My Dearest Adrian, in appreciation of you and your work, may we come to you with a very important question: We would like to warmly invite you into our Global Education Team.' What's the catch, I am thinking. I reluctantly mute The Million Pound Drop. 'It would be a great honour and encouragement for our network to have your support! Few people have the sensitivity for humility, for walking the talk, for the significance of dignity (with humiliation as its violation), and all issues that are related to this. You have it. It is a language that people do not learn usually, only some people seem to know it intuitively, perhaps through harsh life experiences.'
It is worse than a cult, it is a sect, I am thinking. An organisation for the select few.
'If you say "Yes", Adrian, I would be very happy if you could send me your CV and your date of birth for my private calendar, since I like to congratulate my friends on their birthday (mine is 13th May 1954)!'
Oh, my God, it is a love-in, I conclude, and her signature does nothing to allay my fears, 'Most fondly, sending you my deepest respect and admiration, Evelin and Linda'. There are two of them in it.
'How do you know I walk the talk?' I write back, aggressively. I will be the first person to call her bluff. Her mail has to be a circular that they send out to millions of people.
'My Dearest Adrian,' her next email begins, 'this is the impression I get from all the material I saw from you and about you on the internet! I was so impressed that I concluded this! Am I right? MOST WARMLY, Evelin.'
I am floored, literally, weeping like a baby on the Hello Kitty! mat. She has turned my life upside-down a life shaped by the cruelties of war in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
'You are right,' I write back, when I have composed myself sufficiently. 'And, can I let you in on a secret?' I add, 'Every time you have ever written to me I have felt strangely moved by your warmth, but I ran from it. Count me in!'
Dear reader - may I address you thus now? Everyone has an experience in life that dignifies them, in other words, where they are lifted onto life's podium, but we usually resist it or soon forget it. (I did my best to dodge it with Evelin.)
What was yours?
Maybe it was when a teacher praised your work in school? Maybe it was when your father kissed you adoringly one last time? Maybe you got over an illness and ran a marathon against all the odds and someone put a medal around your neck? Maybe you were once illiterate and the class applauded you when you read out your first essay as an adult? Maybe a friend said to you, 'I couldn't have gotten through my recent loss without you'? Or maybe someone simply whispered in your ear, 'I love you'? Whatever the moment was, remember it now, and always.
Take it out from under life's rubble and enjoy it. Let it feed you. It is who you are.
Oh, and, by the way, for your information, my date of birth is September 25th, 1958.
And yours? I love to send cards to my friends on their birthdays.
P.S. The Quiet Life is also available in hardback here.