Sunday, 10 October 2010

The fruits of experience

Felt good on Monday 13 September. The weather was still pleasant and a friend (“A”) was coming round for morning coffee.

A is herself a cancer survivor, who wrote wise and wonderful emails to her supporting friends as she was undergoing treatment a few years ago. In many ways she is an inspiration for the writing of this blog. Among many other activities, she now involves herself in a patient/hospital liaison committee at our local hospital.

She has also told me that there is a day centre at our local hospital, which offers various resources and facilities to cancer patients, including free sessions of various complementary therapies and counselling. I have yet to investigate, being  still unsure (even as I write this some weeks later) what level of such support I would find helpful; I am also still adjusting to the reality of my disease and the notion that I am a “cancer patient”. These thoughts and ponderings go on as the round of appointments and the sheer chemical assault of the various treatments progress and bring their own secondary, maybe even tertiary, issues.

A offered the benefits of her experience and her grounded cheerfulness was a great source of strength. She also brought a little bunch of flowers from her garden. Here is a picture of them.

Flowers brought by our friend.
They stayed bright for quite a few days.

The outdoors has been so inviting as autumn approaches this year, not least on this particular day, and so I asked my son (“G”) to accompany me on a walk down to the river and through an adjoining park. G is a good walking companion, among many other qualities, and it was wonderful to stroll at a purposeful but undemanding pace among the mature trees and river views virtually on our lucky doorstep.

One particularly mature tree was on our route. Here it is.

Black walnut tree
It may be nearly 300 years old
(but English Heritage has removed the plaque about its history)

I muse on the life of this tree, wondering what a tree gets out of life, if that is not an absurd question (pace Prince Charles). Our animal life is so brief, compared to what some trees are capable of, but we range far and wide in thought, action and imagination. The trees in their turn give life, shade and many different objects to us: from the shelter of our homes to tools, implements and ornaments. No wonder they are regarded as sacred, or at the very least with awe. Here is my son looking at the tree.

My son's legs
His great aunt, on first holding him as a baby, pronounced that he had "lovely limbs".
I have never seen any need to disagree with this assessment.

Continuing on our walk we loop back to the river, where on the towpath (not that much towing goes on these days) there are a number of wooden benches with memorial inscriptions. This one particularly struck us, not only because it had been further ornamented with flowers in memory of the person commemorated, but also because of the truth and beauty of the thought conveyed in the skilfully carved inscription.

Heido Whillock RIP
All you need IS love; life begins and ends there.

The very sage psychiatrist who first diagnosed depression in me in 1987 said that the essence of that condition (of which there are many facets and nuances) was an inability to love. Dislocation from the ability to make and receive loving contact is the very essence of the depressed state and therein lies its torture and torment: seeing life happen for others “over there” as if through a separating glass screen; seeing but not feeling and sensing the hell of that disjunction.

I jibbed initially at his assessment, although it was lent a considerable weight by his patent authority and experience, as well as by the bonuses of his Central European accent and Einstein hair. Over time and two subsequent episodes needing medication (the drugs getting better each time), I grew into the knowledge that what that wise, kind man had said at our first meeting was true. I am reminded of the inner dialogues I have conducted on the question over the intervening years until now, my present crisis. I am able to be thankful that not only am I no longer depressed in that original sense, but that I am connected by a mighty love, not only to my very dear family and friends (more and more of whom were showering me with messages of kindness and support almost by the hour) but to the very Heart of Life that beats at the centre of all things.

As I contemplated the bench, it was as if it became a sacred spot. I was glad that the late Heido Whillock loved others and was himself loved and that I could say that of myself too.

Reflecting further now, I wonder if we are so very different from trees: acquiring resilience from the storms of life, bending and shaping ourselves in answer to the winds that blow, the rain that drenches and the light that falls. Maybe the battles for health fought in the past have shaped me for the present struggle and like a tree I can stand, if not for quite as long, at least for my allotted season.

1 comment:

  1. Your brother Chris has put me on to your blog, and I think it is wonderful. Resilience is a powerful concept, not least because it is about becoming even stronger than we were before.

    My own brother has just discovered he has a recurrence of his cancer. I will tell him about you, and that there is much to be learnt here.

    Do you know about the ECaP Discussion Forum? It was set up by a delightful US surgeon called Bernie Siegel. You might enjoy it. Also my own blog on wellbecoming....