A few years ago, I bought the wrong book. It was called Simple Abundance, and I thought it was a history of the Amish. When I put on my reading glasses, I saw I’d bought a ‘Day book of Comfort and Joy’, a spiritual-lite guide to help women ‘discover the person you really are, buried under all the excess excess obligation, excess belongings, excess clutter’. My own excesses prevented me from returning the book, but every now and then I’d have a look at the writer’s formula for a simpler and better life: Gratitude leads to Simplicity, which leads to Order, which leads to Joy. To get you started on this path, she urgedyou to keep a Gratitude Journal, a little notebook by your bed. Before turning out the light, you write down five things that you feel grateful for. Not exactly the bedtime jottings of Anaïs Nin and Alan Clarke, but I decided to try it. And soon, I started feeling better. Not Joy perhaps, but less neurotic. I was nicer to my husband and child.
But, like eating protein with every meal, although you know you feel better, the day comes when you go back to toast and your old self. This morning, I remembered my Gratitude Journal. I’d stayed up until dawn following the results of the New Hampshire primary, and as I watched Hillary Clinton take her place on the stage as the Comeback Kid No 2, I thought: I’m grateful that I’m not running for President of the United States. There but for the fickle finger of fate… Roll back to June 1969, when Hillary entered the world stage. It was the age of Student Power, and she was one of a handful of Ivy League students who gave the commencement address at her university graduation. On the same day, I addressed my fellow students and their wary parents at my graduation.
The next day, Hillary and I appeared in the New York Times together, fellow graduates angry about the war in Vietnam and poverty in America, and determined to change the world. Our paths didn’t stop there. We were both heading for law school, but somewhere along life’s highway, I took a detour. Despite taking the arduous law boards required to get in, I turned down my place at Yale Law School and went off to work in factories that were points of production for the war, in the dreamy belief that if the workers downed tools and refused to produce defoliates and detonators, the war would grind to a halt.
A small truth: I’d have made a lousy lawyer. A bigger truth: even if I’d gone to Yale, I wouldn’t have been seduced by a boy from Arkansas whose pick-up line was about watermelons. More to the point, I lacked the ambition. Instead of covering up for my man’s infidelities, I would have shot him and spent a long spell in an Arkansas prison reading Jane Austen (women who commit a crime passionel in the South tend to escape the death penalty). Watching Hillary now, I feel grateful that I intersected with her in history and then went my own way. I’m grateful for the simpler life where my every move, wrinkle, hairdo and platitude are not scrutinised. I feel guilty because I haven’t done more to change the world, but the irony is that Hillary hasn’t scored highly on that front either.
My sister can’t believe I’m not supporting Hillary. But when I look back onthat day in 1969 when two young women were standing at podiums describing the America they wanted, it was a country where a skinny black man with a big smile (okay, and a Harvard degree) could run for President. And win.