Friday, May 23, 2008

Undone by love

It’s so interesting how time forges and mellows our characters. For evidence look no further than May 17’s Herald on Sunday and the next day’s Sunday Star Times. Paul Holmes writes for the first newspaper; Michael Laws for the other.
Both are radio stars in their Monday-to-Friday lives. Both have long histories as cocky roosters, leaders in their fields, never short of a barbed comment or lofty opinion delivered from on high. They’ve been newsmakers for years – Holmes in television and Laws in politics – both of them adept at batting away criticism and apparently rarely troubled by self-doubt.
But on that May weekend we saw these two men undone by love. Both wrote columns remarkable for the lack of cynicism in guys who’ve been hard men from way back. Of course, the worlds they live in have a habit of breeding cynicism. Politics and broadcasting are not fields in which the “love” word gets bandied around. Love is too cosy, too heart-driven – way too sentimental by far.

Politicians and broadcasters want the facts. Theirs is a world in which analysis matters most. When they talk about truth they’re speaking with an eye on what’s in the news today – about business trends or legal matters or policy detail. Sure, it’s fine to have a sense of humour, to have a laugh, be impish, share a joke. But heart? Oh, let’s not go there. Hearts are too soft and gooey to refer to when you work with people who think it’s normal to scoff at caring politicians (the much-despised “wets”) and for whom the term “do gooder” is one of derision.

At least, that’s the norm when such people are flying high. But none of us can fly high for ever. Life comes along and slaps us in the kisser. For “life” read family. It’s the family woes that really rip into us. Work crises can be irritating and enraging but rarely have the power to undermine us the way personal problems can.

For Holmes, the softening has come in waves that have included the ending of his TV career (even if he’s still tops in radio), plane crashes, a cancer battle and, worst of all, seeing his daughter fall under the spell of the cursed drug, P. He made a magnificent speech in court some weeks ago, vowing to support her through her recovery. And judging from his Sunday column, it sounds like he made another good one in Wellington when he talked to teens about leadership. It seems that most of his speech centred on how important love is.

He told the kids (so he wrote): “Leaders love. You have to love and stay open to love because people are all we have. In the end, it’s about people. If you cease to love your heart, your mind and your world will shrivel. No one will follow a shrivelled spirit. Cease to love and you will not be open to opportunity.”

Over at the Sunday Star Times, Laws was writing most movingly, as he’s been doing for weeks now, about his small daughter Lucy’s fight for life in the face of leukaemia as well as a dire infection. Though Lucy has improved, the struggle goes on, and Michael is overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers. More than that, the mayor best known for his feistiness is hugely grateful for people’s prayers and comforted by knowing that people he’s never met have been praying for her. He is not “particularly religious”, he writes – and the rest of us sure can’t recall him ever expressing any glimmer of interest in spirituality. But now, he says, “till my last days, I’ll affirm that those prayers made the difference.”
We don’t much like growing older, but there can be small compensations in the troubles that time may force us to confront. They bend us towards more empathy and compassion. Our caring side waxes as our toughness wanes. We realise the vanity of ambition and the pointlessness of “success”, if all that means is money and fame. We finally know what’s important. Ah, how our hearts soften when we’re battered by love.

No comments: