At the start of his Meditations, Marcus Aurelius lists all the good qualities that he has learned, absorbed or inherited from friends and family. I felt it might be in keeping with the true festive spirit to herald all the really important gifts I’ve ever received.
From my father – my polite, conflict-avoidant nature, attention to detail, the desire to master the fields of knowledge that fascinate me, a strong work ethic, my good memory, my love of reading stories.
From my mother – an almost uncanny ability to intuit the moods and feelings of others, generosity of spirit, the capacity to listen properly, the desire to serve those I love with wholehearted enthusiasm, my love of recounting stories.
From my brother – the ability to fight dirty (not much used these days, but who knows that it won’t one day save my life?)
From my husband – the privileging of reason and common sense over freefloating fears, an interest in all sorts of general questions about culture and society, a more stable confidence in myself than I’ve ever had before, that giving people their space is a genuine act of kindness and sympathy. And to trust to life a little; on the whole, things go right more often than they go wrong.
From my son - the ability to live in the moment and to accept things just as they are, for what they are, the recognition that expediency can be valuable, and that integrity is a necessity, for without it we simply cause ourselves pain.
From my undergraduate French tutor – sympathy for those in the awkward position of having to learn difficult things.
From my undergraduate German tutor – that the only way to be good at what you do is to be really and truly excellent at what you do.
From my PhD supervisor – that generosity and understanding help students far, far more than criticism and censure. To look at a problem always from the perspective of what needs to be done and how best, pragmatically, to do it. And that bad drafts always have the germ of good drafts in them, so nothing learned or written is ever wasted.
From my students – staying young is about being interested in everything.
From various therapists – that there is no cure for life, you can’t perfect it; instead you have to make use of what you’ve got in the moment and often that’s more than enough. That although we may lose access to certain qualities in times of stress, we do possess every nternal resource we need. That I will always be me, no matter what I feel about it, and you know what? That’s okay.
From my friend, Ali – in matters of creativity, you have to stick out for things to be the way you want them to be. Committees dilute and diminish.
From my friend, Kathryn – even dreadful events can be a source of quite fascinating narrative.
From my reiki practitioner – what’s good in my life will always far outweigh the bad, and the good deserves more attention.
From my cat – no matter how mangy, ill-tempered and difficult you are, whilst there’s family around, someone will always take pity and feed you.