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Friday, 14 December 2012

A cold banana counts

I visit a friend who has a terminal illness. The nursing home is airy and modern. Elevators and doors are password controlled, and there is a faint smell of urine on the stairs. When not in bed, my friend sits in a communal area staring at the wall, or at other people coming in and out of his range of vision. There are others like him, unable to do anything but sit and be looked after, and there are spirits in each of them, memories that come and go, and a reminder to me that life is to be lived – every second of it. I’m eating a cold banana – resting it on me knee to type this - and it tastes wonderful.

In terms of the sensory, my Damascene moment came in my late twenties. I had just read Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers. The book beautifully evokes London club land of the Edwardian period.  Finances and location (Newport) precluded me from experiencing any such luxury myself – though it has figured in my writing since. But in the same book Erskine Childers describes sailing through rain and storm in the North Sea so brilliantly you share the same storm-tossed craft with his heroes. Just reading makes you part of it – more - you want to experience it.

Unfortunately same problem: finances and location…but not necessarily. One dark November night, Newport was hit by a violent storm, rain sheeting down in huge, boisterous slabs. This was it. No dinghy but the wind was doing a pretty good job in tossing me about. I walked the three miles from my house in Malpas to Newport Town Center and reached the 'Engineers Arms' wind-swept and sodden. Never had beer tasted so good, a fire so hot and other drinkers cosily blurred through steamed up glasses. I’ve craved the sensory ever since.

I love the colour of autumn; I enjoy coldness, the threat of worse to come, and blazing fires. When I walk to the swimming pool on winter mornings it is dark, the lane a narrow black ribbon shrouded by trees. When the cloud breaks it is like walking on moonbeams. The pool, too, is magical, turquoise and silver, the water occasionally chill, sometimes lukewarm, other times warm enough to poach eggs, given patience and the cooperation of other, more competitive swimmers. 

But I believe there is magic in every moment, even towelling yourself briskly, and you know you’ve had a good day when you go to bed tired and wondering what you’re going to dream about now. Whatever you do don’t dream about ‘bucket lists’. Treat every day as a bucket list and then you’ll never run out. Sermon over. A banana in the fridge has my name on it


Maria Zannini said...

It's ironic that sometimes it takes a whole life time to figure out that one simple truth. I take nothing for granted anymore.

Mike Keyton said...

My daughter understands. She lives an amazingly full life. Long may she do so : )

Angela Brown said...

Sometimes it is better to learn a lesson without having to "earn" the lesson the hard knock way. Though I have times when I'm not on my full living, I do try to remember that I've only got one time to do this. Imperfect the road may be, but I'll enjoy it along the way.

Jay Paoloni said...

A medical researcher noticed that all terminally ill patients stare in the void, at the wall, or at the tv, without really looking at those things they're apparently looking at, but beyond, much beyond, into a different dimension.
Your post reminded me of this.