In and out of multiple lives

Do you know what makes life confusing? It’s when you can’t determine if things are signs for you to give up or simply a test to see if you can hold on longer.”

Some strange things have happened in the last couple of days.  It started with the train. The train is late more often than not and sometimes cancelled all together. I’ve taken to holding my breath in anticipation each time I hear an automated statement that begins “we are sorry to announce that ….”   There was an announcement, two in fact, but they were for other trains. My train wasn’t late and it left me confused, possibly in a state of shock. The people whose trains were delayed weren’t surprised. Isn’t it strange how we come to expect  chaos, get confused if it doesn’t happen and sigh with boredom when it does.

Next there was the taxi. I used to work in Arcueil just south of Paris where I experienced a whole new realm of taxi drivers including those who point-blank refused to venture beyond the periphique. Although I developed a taste for French food, my taxi experiences were of dubious quality and left me with an aversion to this form to transport for several years.  My recent taxi encounter proved to be a revelation. Not because the driver shrugged, huffed or looked generally grumpy but because he asked about my headscarf.

In 8 months of baldness there have been plenty of stares, whispered remarks and looks of pity but no-one stopped to ask me why I had a hat or scarf permanently welded to my skull both outdoors and in. Perhaps I looked like I might be contagious, bite or share some information that went beyond the cursory ‘fine’ when asked ‘how are you?’  Who knows. So when, after talking about the economy, the weather (has to be done, I live in the UK) and politics, the taxi driver said “do you mind if I ask, is your headscarf for fashion or some other reason?” I was thrown into confusion again. Here is a man I’ve had a pleasant ten minute chat with asking in a very genuine and sincere way about my headscarf.  He turned off the meter and I told him the truth. My hair is still recovering from chemo and my head will get cold/sunburned/both without some protection. I saw compassion and understanding in his eyes before he said “I know what this is like, my wife just finished chemo too. They say she’s going to be OK… I really hope you’re going to be OK, are you OK?”   Thank you Steve the taxi driver. Although I was confused at first your quiet concern and genuine interest made me feel human again.

I had a few appointments to attend to then met with friends.  I haven’t seen some of them for almost a year.  Piecing together things that have happened in their lives within the short time we had available was  a little confusing. I’m out of practice having lived in isolation like Phineus the hermit for the vast majority of autumn and winter. So many stories to tell, thoughts to reflect on, questions to ask. There’s a good deal of uncertainty in the lives of some of my friends right now. Confusion stalks them like the black dog stalks me.  As a ‘find a way to help make things better’ kind of person it’s difficult to stand by, to feel their concerns and be unable to suggest possible solutions  that might assist.   Other friends have moved forward, thrown off the shackles and are happy to recount that stepping away from something draining and demoralising was definitely the right move.  Well done ladies, you set a good example for us all.

It was good to see everyone, to reminisce, to hear their hopes for the future, to smile with them and be part of a community again instead of feeling alone.   Of course I’m not alone, I’m part of a huge community of cancer patients all of whom are in a club they didn’t ask to join. It’s a club that is constantly changing since it gains and loses members regularly. Becoming attached to members of this special club can be confusing and dangerous if coming to terms with death isn’t your thing. Aside from undertakers and morticians I don’t know anyone who is good at it.

I’d like to be fully present in the community of my friends and family. The one where the black dog runs amok occasionally but isn’t eating up souls every day. That world is still accessible to me but a large chunk of me is confined to the world of medical investigations, procedures, drugs, side effects and survival rates.   It’s definitely a test to see if I can hold on longer, 5 years, 10 years, more… who knows? It’s very confusing.  It makes my concept of the future a little more contained, closer to today than my retirement age of 67 when I might receive £110.15 a week state pension if it hasn’t been scrapped by then. 23 years is a long time for politicians to continue screwing things up – assuming we ever get out of the current mess.

Friends, family and concerned strangers like Steve the taxi driver shape and enrich the experience we call life. Many of my new friends know, as I do, that life may not last as long as we’d like so there’s a lot more catching up to do, places to go, good times to be had. Time is precious. Most of us get stuck doing things we don’t enjoy at some point but still have chance to change. Change it because you may not get another chance.

For my dear friends old and new and my family who have no choice but to deal with this crappy situation here is my wish for you:

Comfort on difficult days, smiles when sadness intrudes, rainbows to follow the clouds, laughter to kiss your lips, sunsets to warm your heart, hugs when spirits sag, beauty for your eyes to see, friendships to brighten your being, faith so that you can believe, confidence for when you doubt, courage to know yourself, patience to accept the truth, Love to complete your life… and a life free of confusion.

hands in mental confusion

hands in mental confusion (Photo credit: luigioss)