It is now six months since Maggi died and I am “besieged” by a number of insights.
One is that I miss her more than I could ever have imagined. We “grew together” over a period of sixty two years and it feels as if a part of me has died. I used to say “to live in lives we leave behind is not to die”. I now find it to be a facile statement – as I do with so many statements about life today.
I am reminded once again of my old psychiatrist friend Don as we sat on a verandah looking out over the bush. “You know, Nev, the older I get the less I believe and the more fervently I believe it”. He was in his mid nineties when he said that and we didn’t see much of each other after he moved to be closer to his family. Marg and he used to enjoy each other’s company immensely. They were both “people persons” and both highly skilled in relating to others. His wife Joyce and I also enjoyed a special relationship and in the last hours of her life she signaled me to bend down and she said “Prove it I cannot, deserve it I do not, and, if it be folly, then so be it” – the words of Morris West as he contemplated the end of his life. Morris West was a skilled writer and his “View from the Ridge” is a classic. I have quoted it before but it is worth quoting again.
“ I feel like a climber who after a long and arduous ascent has reached the high ridge of the range and pauses to draw breath for the last part of the journey. ………. Before me the land falls into a dark valley beyond which I see, or think I see, the lights of a city. Strange as it may seem, I am not afraid. I have accepted long since that a confession of faith is a confession of not knowing. Prove it, I cannot. Deserve it I do not. If my trust is proved folly, then so be it. I write, therefore, at a constant risk of misinterpretation or misunderstanding. I beg your patience and tolerance. I do not seek to impose my opinions on you. I seek only to share my thoughts as a Christian before I step down into the silence of the dark valley.”
Now that is what I call writing! I personally don’t expect to find a city in the darkness of the valley. I have lived my life and found it deeply satisfying. Enough is enough! I am deeply grateful to have experienced the breath of life in all its fullness and I have at heart that experience for others. It really is a case of “ashes to ashes and dust to dust” with a deep a deep sense of thankfulness.
What has been the catalyst for thinking these things at this particular moment? It was being asked to address a gathering on the occasion of the 1OO anniversary of the 1918 Armistice. The topic suggested was “Standing in the Way of War” and I must confess that I found the title fascinating. It described in a few words what I had been trying to do for twenty seven years in Palestine, Iraq, Bosnia and Australia. I agreed to share my experiences. It was a mistake. Notwithstanding a size twenty type, I couldn’t read my script, I couldn’t hear what others were saying, I couldn’t think and present like I used to before I turned 89 years of age. By the end of the day, I had decided that my days of public presentation are over! I am well and truly on the downhill run.
There was, however, an aspect of the day that I found fascinating. There was a guy there whom I assessed as being mentally disturbed. He would wander up to the front, stare at the speaker and then resume his seat. Sometimes he would interrupt with a question that would usually lead to loud shouting. On more than one occasion I thought “Pity Maggie isn’t here. She would have the courage and the concern that none of the rest of us had. I could almost see her walking up to the guy and saying “Do you mind if I sit here?” and engage him in conversation which would primarily consist of her listening to what he was saying, trying to make sense of it, and responding with questions. She really was very skilled at being alongside people. My attitude unfortunately was “What a bloody nuisance the guy is!” On one of his “interruptions” I found myself listening to his diatribe and suddenly realizing that he was a highly educated guy and what he was on about was in fact quite perceptive. I regretted then the number of times during the day he had approached me and I was quite dismissive. The guy had a problem, probably autism, but what he was saying was quite profound.
It was symptomatic of the day and of my presentation. I was too old and slow to seize the moments and respond to them.
I read the other day in The Economist that from the age of eighty one person in five will develop some form of dementia, one in four will suffer from vision loss, and four in five will develop hearing problems. Of those who make it to ninety, the majority will have at least one health problem that counts as a disability and may well have multiple ones.
A sad picture? No, not really if you can recognise the truth contained therein: I really am on the downhill run!