In Ali Smith’s The Accidental one character, Magnus, is overwhelmed by guilt about something he participated in. Throughout her descriptions of his thoughts, Smith never once uses the word “and”. There are no connections, there is no follow-on for Magnus. Until one day, after hearing what it is that he has done, another character says to him “So? And?” Magnus finds the word “and” liberating. He celebrates it. It opens up the opportunity to think in ways he hadn’t been before. The ability to make connections. The possibility of a future. “And” is, if you like, the magic word.
For me, that magic word has to be “or”. Another of the tiny words, often overlooked in terms of its importance. But, looking over my life, I can see that “or” is a word full of possibility. A word of options, of chances. Choices.
As a twenty-year-old, I used to say things like “I’ll be dead by thirty”. Nearly-twenty-nine year old me says “Yes. Or?” Or, I could continue to live, to fight where I have to fight, to enjoy the ride when there is no fight to be had. I could die OR I could change the way I live. “Or” can either be an active choice (“OR I could change the way I live”) or a possibility (“OR I could end up happy”). Twenty-year-old me might not have understood the question. “Or what?” she might have demanded. She may not have seen the other side of the “or”, the rest of the sentence forming the other half of the see-saw of which “or” is the centre. —OR—
When I feel down? I need to remember that “it will always be like this OR it might not”. “It will always be like this OR I might find different ways to deal with it. The “or” reminds me that moods are transient things. So “or” opens up the opportunity of not giving up, of not letting go. Things might be like this forever… or they might not. Without “or” I only have one side of the see-saw, weighed down by the negatives. Without “or” I leave myself no options. With the word “or” on side, I can challenge twenty-year-old me when she creeps up casting doubts. Try to make her understand that there are options, choices, and even pure luck that can change a life. All encompassed in a tiny word.