In the kitchen drawer, there is a knife that I kept from my mother’s house after she died in 2007.
I don’t know why I ended up with this particular piece but whenever I look at it I am reminded of the meals from childhood.
Sitting around the cluttered kitchen table that doubled as a desk for my mother’s twin passions, nursing and God.
Papers from the latest PCC meeting, a parish magazine, maybe a hymn book, or a pile of gauze dressings and a roll of “Tubigrip”.
The kitchen window which looked out onto a 15 ft drop into the alleyway below and, invariably, the cat sitting on the fence between our house and next door, would be covered in condensation while something delicious wafted from the oven.
Underneath the small hatch between the kitchen and the living room, where countless cups of tea and biscuits were passed in response to a child too idle to make the short trip down the hall, was a worktop under which piles of manilla files were stored full of indiscriminate papers that, as far as I can remember, were never referred to, the whole thing held aloft by a tin of Campbell’s oxtail soup in position from the mid-70s until the day she died.
If there were peas my brother would smother them in brown sauce, the smell, a combination of vinegar and stale socks I still can’t comprehend or forget.
There is precious little I kept from the house in which I grew up.
It was so exhausting trawling through it all that what I might have liked to have held onto had lost its lustre by the time I could have it.
That I should be attached to this little knife is therefore unsurprising.
Why then, have I continually put it through the dishwasher when I can see quite clearly that its once shiny ivory-coloured handle has been mottled and melted by a process it was never made to encounter?
A short time ago, I resolved to wash it only by hand and yet I still frequently find myself pulling it from the dishwasher basket with the other modern and more robust cutlery.
It seems I can’t help myself.
It’s true that much of the damage is already done and that there is no chance of returning it to former glory, but is that a reason to give up entirely?
The little knife made me recently think about Jim, a heroin addict I met through my friend Martin and who died a few months ago having attempted rehab more times than anyone can recall.
His heart wasn’t in it really.
Martin and I have often talked about how, when it feels as if you have already moved past the “tipping point” where “recovery” is subject to an inevitable law of diminishing returns what once stood as a difficult challenge now seems more than Herculean.
Perhaps I am resigned to having destroyed my mother’s knife.
It also crossed my mind that it could be a manifestation of something unresolved in my feelings towards her.
We had a complicated relationship but would a little knife really take on such metaphorical heft? It seems unlikely.
The most plausible explanation then is something I suspect none of us is immune to. The tendency to do things that are destructive without realising, considering their impact or the reasons we have allowed ourselves to fall into such self-sabotaging patterns.
Smoking, drinking too much, and leaving ourselves in toxic or destructive relationships perhaps, or more subtle ways of undermining our wellbeing like missing the self-assessment deadline, avoiding the dentist, or spending money that we don’t have.
It’s easy to think of ourselves as well-balanced and self-loving but often the evidence points towards work still to do if we are willing to look.
This, to me at least, is not a reason for anxiety but rather a timely reminder that we are all a work in progress and that consciousness of how far we still have to go is more likely to improve the relationship we have with ourselves and provides an opportunity for self-compassion and understanding.
I’m going to keep trying to protect the little knife as far as I am able because it’s been around for as long as me and we both need careful attention.