“there are two kinds of people in the world: those who do what they say they’re going to do, and everybody else” – Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential
The rain is coming down outside – maybe hail even, and it’s gotten me feeling cosy and homely and contemplative. It’s been a lovely weekend, filled with unexpected kindnesses and gifts and arrivals from all directions. Anthony Bourdain is not usually all that sagely, but his words have been sitting with me this weekend. Now, listening to the rain come down outside, I find myself thinking that the place I’ve learned his simple old rule has been my family, and it’s a priceless little lesson.
As a kid, I tended to feel more at home with adults than with other kids. I liked listening to them talk. Some bits of adult conversation were impossible to understand though. The words didn’t really hold any meaning for me. All that I could get any grip on was the tone. Adult jokes. The hushed accounts of things going on in other people’s families that seemed to send people away or change people from ok to not ok. Fraud, night flights out of the country, affairs. Suddenly someone went missing or there was an accident that didn’t seem to be an accident but no one could explain what it was.
In my life, things were predictable, stable, solid, and even a bit boring. But there seemed to be a whole world where people suddenly slipped off in unexpected directions. And then it got talked about it this mysterious, veiled way that revealed nothing.
I’m sure there were other kids who were more savvy than me, who could get beyond the mystifying tone of these things and know what the hell it was that those grown ups were hushing and pondering over. But I could not. All I could tell is that there was some mystery at the centre of these conversations.
It seemed to me it would be good to understand these things. There might even be something desirable about having unexpected turns in your life. One girl was spirited off to London after her parents’ separation. That seemed quite glamorous to my pre-adolescent self. Kids from unpredictable families did unpredictable things. They seemed to have a freedom of movement that didn’t apply to the rest of us, in our school uniforms and our schedules.
Other people’s dramas were so bright and incandescent: they flared up and made for spectacular viewing. They had compelling stories to fuel them into dramatic futures. I watched and listened, imagining myself somewhat invisible in my unstoried-ness. Somewhat ordinary. And if any upsets or disquiets erupted within my ordinariness, I silenced them down fast, for these too were ordinary, no?
Meanwhile, this is what was invisible to me: the quiet, constant turning of one year after the other in my own family’s home. Invisible and constant. It’s taken a long time for me to become grateful for that stability and predictability. To appreciate deeply what it means to have parents that quite simply stay loyal and steadfast and committed, and hold a family as tightly together as mine do.
I do know that there is nothing we can ever do to safeguard against the vagaries of fate, and that there are many families that get blown open by tragedy, by misfortune, by the gradual schisms that shake and shift in the course of a lifetime. But amongst all our circumstances, there is much freedom too, and there’s much to be said for those who exercise the freedom to be that first kind of person. The kind that does what they say they’re going to do.