A recent conversation about things that matter got me thinking and prompted me to dig deep and share a story, a fictional one of course.
Two men, one young and one old, shared the same hospital side ward. The older man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room’s only window. The younger man had to spend all of his time lay flat on his back recovering from a motorcycle accident. The men talked for hours on end. The older spoke of his late wife, the son and his family that he was estranged from, his war time experiences in France and Korea and his adjustment to ‘civvy street’ and the monotony of a back room desk job. The younger shared his stories of ‘nights on the town’, his girlfriends, his music, his love of travel and his anxiety over the the things he may never be able to do again and the places he may never see.
Every afternoon the older man, with his bed by the window, would sit up and pass the time describing all of the things that he could see. He would describe in detail the pretty girls in their summer dresses, the birds returning to the nest with food for their young. Every evening the younger man’s mother and father or some other family member or friend would make the long journey and visit. The love was always there but the conversation though always polite were sometimes strained as he had to tell his visitors not to worry, that he was alright, that everything would be okay. Inside he didn’t know if he believed it all himself, he felt angry, frustrated, tired. He read that you never appreciate the freedom of movement until it is taken away from you, the freedom to get up and walk from one place to another, to stretch, to run, to leap. The older man always slept through his roommate’s visits. As the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months the young man lived for those one hour slots when his senses were exercised and his world came alive as the old man shared his view of the park, the trees, the sun shining on his face, the rain which sounded so refreshing, not like the drizzle that the young man remembered. He heard an ice cream van once and the old man described the young lovers he could see sharing an ice cream, God he could taste it the image was so vivid. The life, the colour, the fun, all of it out there beyond the window, all of it waiting for him. Yes there were loves to be loved and a life to be lived. He would ride that bike again, he would leave this bed and he would live a life.
He remembered the previous night’s routine of being woken up to take his sleeping tablet but this morning he came around more slowly than usual. Usually he was shaken from his slumber by one of the morning rottweilers in green, given his meds and dabbed with a damp flannel but not this morning. He strained to look sideways but could only see the top of the curtains drawn around his bed. There were hushed voices and the noise of a trolley being wheeled away, then silence. A long, long silence. He waited until later in the day and when it seemed appropriate asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse checked and returned later with a colleague, happy to oblige. Just one week later and he was free of his contraption, free of his shackles, free of the weights and pulleys. Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take in the view, to see the pretty girls, the birds in the trees, the office workers strolling in the park.
A wall, a bloody wall, a side on view of another building. No park, no trees, no pretty girls. Months in here and he’d never shouted. Months in here and he’d always used the buzzer, waiting patiently, never shouting, “Nurse, nurse”. He was shouting now, “Nurse, nurse”. God they flooded in. “So what happened, when did they build that?” Later he lay there still, motionless, smiling, a tear rolling down his cheek. They’d told him that the building had always been there. When he told them what the old man had shared with him, what the old man had seem, they just looked at each other puzzled. They just smiled. The words echoed around his head, “He was blind”, the old man was blind. He’d lost his sight as a young man in Korea and his wife who had cared for him had died six years earlier before he was diagnosed with his illness. He’d fallen and broken his hip and not had a single visitor. He’d had no-one but he’d given the gift of hope to the young man who shared his room.
The origin of this story is unknown but I do know that when you have nothing to give, you can share happiness and you can give hope. You can have every material possession that you ever needed or wanted but there are still those who will be richer. If you want to feel rich, just count all of the things you have that money can’t buy.