I sit, Janus  faced, and consider the past year.    On the one hand it has been difficult and we bear the scars.   On the other hand we have survived and gained.

In terms of events, John had an operation on his appendix in April.   His experience of hospital was most unfortunate, and he had an alarmingly bad reaction to the anaesthetic and it took some time for him to recover (which however he now has.)   We attended the marriage of our son in July in Switzerland in July.   John decided to retire from the consultancy work he had been doing.   The events of the year have taken their toll on my physical symptoms (not to mention my grey hairs and wrinkles!).   We returned to Orkney where we had enjoyed wonderful holidays in the past with our young children, and rested there, and also enjoyed visiting family and friends in Scotland.   It is not one of the years I will look back on with gladness and triumph.   Yet in its grey starkness there is also truth and beauty.

I suppose, like a violent storm can mark the end of one season and the beginning of the next, this year completes a transition from one stage of life (working, active in role of parent, as John’s stepfather put it, ‘in the forefront of the battle of life’), to another (retired, grandparents, senior members of family, hopefully wise advisors and counsellors.)   Some of us find these changes easier than others do.

My mother used to say of difficult situations, ‘What does this teach us’?

Well, firstly, that the ravages of time ultimately cannot be evaded; the aging process is inevitable.   However strong, beautiful, clever, powerful, rich you are, ultimately we will all go the way of all flesh.   No-one escapes this, though in our foolish youth we all secretly believe (in spite of all evidence to the contrary) that somehow we alone will be singled out by Fate as especially lucky and though we may age, will not be diminished.      I always think when reading a biography of say, some Victorian politician, that although you cannot believe everything that is said in the book, of one thing you can be absolutely certain: everyone mentioned in it is dead.

Secondly, it is important to know who you are and what you believe in, for come the crisis,  that is where you will have to make your stand.    You had better pray that the gods you have chosen are true and will sustain you when you need them.  Although I am humbled and gratified by the kindness and generosity of all around me, never the less, when it comes down to it, you stand alone.    Only you can make the decision whether you will turn to the left or to the right.

So here I stand.  I am 62 years old and I face, like the rest of humanity, an uncertain future.   The general background of our lives just now – the news of the world at large – is not encouraging.   Watching the best TV programme of the year, in my opinion, Frozen Planet, one could both enjoy the Arctic and Antartic’s great beauty and regret its likely passing.   It was like a lament for the passing glory of our world, lovely, fragile, transient.     What will become of us?   I do not know.   None of us knows.   I felt as I watched as if I were looking back at the ending of some lost civilisation.

I found this year I had to abandon strategies that I have employed for many years.  I am, I think, a fair and generous person if well-treated, and I am slow to take offence.   But I have never been particularly forgiving of offenders, and I have extracted penalties from anyone who seriously opposed me.   Once I have decided upon this judgement (which I always carefully consider to ensure that it can be argued as fair beyond reasonable doubt), it is like the law of the Medes and Persians – impossible to repeal.      But I perceive, as Shakespeare put it, that if we all got what we deserved we should all of us get a whipping, and that people, being human, are fallible.   One should not measure everyone against some impossibly high standard.   They will all fail.    I would fail.   We are not perfect.   I have  striven to be just, but what I should have been was merciful.   It is odd how roles we are given to act in dramas often have a bearing on our actual lives.   I played Portia in a school version of Merchant of Venice.    I spoke the lines, ‘the quality of mercy is not strained’, but I did not really understand them.

But enough of my laments.   There is also cause for rejoicing.   We have survived by merciful Fate in fair order and our family is  whole and strengthened by the experience.    My lovely friends to a man and woman were insightful, generous, patient and loving.   Our kinsmen were stalwart and supportive.    Our children were wonderful, kind, mature, grown-up.   We were lucky.

So, I look forward to the coming year.    I hope to regain, if not some of my vitality, then some of my joie de vivre.    I look forward to the small pleasures of life.   Reading a good book in the shade on a sunny day in the garden.    Growing vegetables with John and eating the produce.   Seeing all our children together at Elisabeth and Rob’s wedding.    Watching our children build up their homes and hopefully assisting.   Seeing our grandchildren grow and develop.   Making myself (for a change) some clothes.   Going out with girlfriends for coffee or shopping.   Visiting friends and family and receiving them in our house.   Travelling a little.   Laughing alot.     Hearing from you.

Actually,  upon reflection, I’d have to count 2011 as a good year.   We experienced it and we’re still standing.    Any year that you survive has got, in the final analysis, to be counted as a gain.

I look forward to 2012 whatever it may bring.    It is good to be alive.

May you likewise live and prosper.

Erin and Dana in Jura,