A Personal Encounter.

Personal encounters.

On the upper floor of a city building, l am gazing quietly out of the window at the daily activities happening below me. The vastness of the view feels wonderful, as if I’m seeing everything for the first time. Tears begin to form, as the truth of being able to live within this personal moment start to overwhelm me. Over the last few days, my emotions have been very close to the surface. Any thought, or encounter, with anything that I value personally, has brought me to tears. I am surrounded by people who are looking after my welfare, they are doing everything they can to make me comfortable. It’s not that I’m ungrateful for the care and patience they show me, but my usual patience seems to have disappeared, as I try to deal with these raw emotions.

I have never felt this alone or vulnerable before, this is my personal encounter that no one can share. A TV programme the other day, sent five moderately famous people onto the streets of Melbourne, to live as homeless people for ten days. They went with nothing, which meant, they had to quickly become street wise.  They all seemed genuinely sympathetic to the plight of the homeless people they interacted with. Plenty of tears were shed by all of them, but after ten days, they would of course, return to their normal existence. I’m not saying that it wasn’t carried out with the best of intentions. But they couldn’t have possibly experienced the true feelings, of someone’s personal life, that has possibly exsisted for years.

Beginning my personal encounter.

I’m sure you remember the time, when someone tried to tell you how they felt, while going through a personal crisis. Like me, you probably nodded your head and said the usual words, “I know how you feel” without really having a clue how they felt. I have an older friend, who has had heart problems for a number of years. Up until a few days ago I said those very words often, “I know how you feel” now, I really do have a proper understanding of how he feels. This wasn’t supposed to happen to me. I’m pretty fit, look after myself and don’t smoke, I have the occasional drink and have what I would consider, to be a healthy diet.

I have said a number of times though, that as fit as I feel, something can hit me from left field, that can sit me on my arse. Well it did exactly that, the pain in my chest was without question, the worst pain I have ever felt. Very shallow breathing was the best I could manage, but luckily, good enough to get me to the hospital. Straight into the emergency ward, I was hooked up to various machines and given pain killers. As the pain started to subside, I felt like an imposter. All these machines and I only have a bad case of indigestion, what a relief. Then the words came, “your blood tests confirm, your having a heart attack.”

Personal encounter with the unknown

There is very little, if any awareness of what’s going on within our body. It’s a complex system, that has millions of processes happening at any given moment. The lungs absorb the oxygen, the blood leaves the lungs and is carried to our heart. The heart then pumps it throughout our body, to provide the cells in our tissues and organs. As the cells use the oxygen, carbon dioxide is produced and absorbed into the blood. The kidneys and liver are doing their job as well and if your like me, you probably don’t even know where they are located, let alone what they do. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. These processes are happening constantly, but we are unaware of it.

Once, during the early stages of meditation, I was following one particular practice, amongst many others, of counting my breath in and out. After a short while, I became acutely aware of my breathing. As if I came off auto pilot for a short while and had to take the controls in my own hands. It almost took me to a crash landing, as in became out and out became in. “Don’t worry about your heart, it will last you as long as you live” (W. C. Fields) Obviously the person that put this quote up on one of the notice boards in the hospital corridor, had a sense of humour. There is no doubt, helping people to have a glimmer of humour within a very stressful situation, is very beneficial.

Personal heart encounter.

Well it looks like a fennel root to me, something l would buy at the local supermarket. I suppose romance, flower arrangements, balloons and the people I have seen holding their fingers up in the shape of a so called heart, require it to be more user friendly. Follow your heart, lead with your heart, have a heart, to name a few, adds to the central role it plays. My heart is certainly playing a central role, looking at it on the large screen, to the side of the operating table. Seeing the wire pass up through my groin towards my heart and being able to watch it, feels surreal. The plastic bin that’s filling up with bloody cloths and the blood hanging next to my shoulder ready for a blood transfusion, make everything very emotional.

What were those complications again? A blood clot could break off and cause a stroke. I could need bypass surgery and if things turn bad, ‘death.’ The bloody clock on the wall said the procedure took 55 minutes, but to me, it felt like hours.

An encounter with reality again.

When I returned to the ward, my fellow inmate put everything into perspective. “How you going mate, how many did you have then?” “one I answered” “bloody hell, I’ve had twelve stents over the last few years. Sometimes I need a pull through to clean the tubes out. I still have a beer and a smoke though, can’t stop living can yer” This reminded me of the neighbours dog ‘Skamp’ many years ago in England, he used to spend his whole life chasing cars, running in and out trying to grab their tyres. He ended up old and grey and couldn’t run anymore. Our other neighbours dog managed to get out once and got knocked over by a car, there must be an irony there somewhere. When l get out of here, I’m going to have a few beers, smoke a joint and relax.

Personal encounters
It looks like a fennel root to me.

Malcolm leaves a legacy.

Malcolm leaves a legacy.

Malcolm leaves a legacy
Climbing Higher in the trees than we had ever climbed before.

When I first met Malcolm, I was about fourteen years old and he would of been about sixteen, the precise details escape me now, as this took place over fifty years ago. The impression he left on me though, is as powerful now as it was back then. I remember that he was not very well co-ordinated and when we played soccer, he was just as likely to kick us, as he was to kick the ball. I can’t remember how he came to be in our neighbourhood gang, as he lived on the other side of town. His father rode a vintage motor bike, which turned out to be significant.

Malcolm was different to anyone I had ever met at the time, I was drawn to him, because he stood apart from us, he had an air of quiet confidence which I didn’t have. When the gang passed around the quart bottle of cider he refused to drink. He just smiled, as if he knew something that we didn’t and quite possibly he did. Everyone laughed, including me, but I may as well have been laughing at myself, because I realised, I didn’t want to drink either. Malcolm was economical with words, he spoke quietly and thoughtfully as if he wanted to make every word count. He was the  outsider and I felt that way too, I wasn’t particularly brave, but I had a compulsion to push everything to the limit. The best way to get me to do something, was to tell me not to do it.

Malcolm’s influence.

The differences we both felt as individuals, drew us together, he had two contrasting sides to his character and I identified with them both. Like me, he was willing to go to extremes, but unlike me, he either didn’t see any danger or if he did, he was comfortable with it. This was juxtaposed with gentleness, a love of nature and infinite patience. We would spend hours looking for a particular wild flower he had read about, but it wasn’t to pick them, or dig them out, as I was inclined to do.

I remember looking for a Lapwings nest with him, they were notoriously hard to find, they hardly built a nest site, often just in a small hollow in the earth. We spent hours and hours looking in a field that we had seen them flying over. Eventually, more by luck than judgment we found a nest with eggs, which neither of us had ever seen before. Great, at last a Lapwings egg for my collection. I can’t remember now exactly how he explained it to me, but it was something like, “Let’s just take the memory away with us, we don’t need anything else”  I don’t know how he convinced me to do as he asked, but l did. I would have preferred to put an egg in my collection and boast to who ever I could, about my find.

Malcolm gets a Motorbike

Malcolm turned up one day on a motorbike, this was typical of him. I would have announced to everyone, that I was getting a motor bike. I would have given them a countdown to the very moment it actually happened. It wasn’t a very powerful machine, but it allowed us to go farther afield than our pushbikes. It didn’t change our friendship, I thought it might, as I would have wanted to join a motor bike gang. In fact, on the bike, I became part of him, because he taught me to be his shadow. I was always to be directly behind him and anticipate everything he did as the bike pulled around the corners.

The things we enjoyed doing together were the same, but the intensity changed. The rooks nested high up in the trees and their nests could often be seen from miles around. Any thought of taking an egg was gone, we were just there to look. The strangeness of our surroundings and the distance from home confirmed that we were going to climb the trees, so we did. I was thinking, if I fall, I won’t be going home on the bike and if he falls, what the hell am l going to do. As it turned out, we were both thinking the same thing.

High up in the canopy of the tree, the branches moved erratically with our weight and the strength of the wind didn’t help. We weren’t on the same branch though, as there were dozens of nests all around us. We both laughed uncontrollably when we got back on the ground. A promise was made, that we would climb again soon, but we both knew we never would.

Malcolm’s parents house.

I only went to Malcolm’s home once and I don’t think he ever came to mine. There wasn’t a reason to be inside in those days, as there was very little technology to keep us there. Nature was preserved everywhere in his house, dried flowers from the fields and hedgerows mounted in picture frames. Examples of taxidermy were everywhere, which both he and his father had done. A large Barn owl, looked down from one of the display cases. “All the animals have died of natural causes” he explained. “What do you think?” he asked, I said, “everything is fantastic, but somehow, I don’t think my parents will like the idea of having them in our house.” This seemed to please him, as we both laughed.

I learned later, that he had never taken anyone to his parents house before. I asked him if he wanted to see my house, but luckily he didn’t. I’m sure he would have been disappointed, it would have been boring, after living in the menagerie that surrounded him. By now school was in the past for me as well and like Malcolm, I was working, but we still went into the countryside together as much as we could. We still enjoyed nature, but there was a realisation, that it wasn’t enough now. Our new found responsibility of growing up, was starting to tarnish the simple pleasures that it provided.

Malcolm’s big red motorbike.

We started to hang around the local coffee shops and pubs for the first time, pretending to have a good time, laughing at jokes that weren’t funny and buying drinks that neither of us wanted. Plans were starting to formulate in my head about traveling overseas as soon as l could. Malcolm had other ideas, he asked me to meet him on the weekend, at the usual place.

This time he turned up on the biggest red motorbike, l had ever seen. I can still see it now, a Norton 750 Atlas, a British bike that I’m sure would have met with his fathers approval. The British part, but possibly, not the size and power. The kick start pedal needed the pressure of full body weight downwards to have any chance of starting it. He threw me a crash helmet, “let’s go.” I was going to mention that we had never worn crash helmets before, but this time, it felt appropriate that we did. The very first corner we went around, he leaned the bike over farther than he ever had before, the kick start pedal hit the road with a shower of sparks. We came to an upright position before we should have and were lucky to stay on, that’s the only part l remember distinctly.

Malcolm’s plans for the future

“I know you plan to travel overseas eventually, but I could never leave this place, everything l need is here. l can’t imagine living anywhere else” That’s how l would have liked to have felt, but I  resented, what I imagined, was an ordinary future ahead of me. My plan was to be an adventurer, but the thought scared me even more than Malcom’s bike. I told him how uncomfortable I felt for him, but l didn’t mention how I felt. Already, I had made up my mind that I wouldn’t get on the bike again. But this wasn’t something I wanted to say to him, as I knew it would hurt his feelings.

I never had to tell him, because on the following weekend, he crashed the bike and was killed. I cried my heart out for the first time ever, over the loss of a close friend. He was mature beyond his young years, a deep thinker, who was in my opinion, a genuinely good person. I think of him often, I am grateful to have known him and grateful that I have had the opportunity to grow old and experience many of the things that he was unable to experience. As I grow older, I notice his influence in my actions and my thoughts. How could It have taken me this long to think the way he did back then? I think he felt as calm then, as I am now, that’s why I realize, he was such a special person.

Malcolm leaves a legacy
I can still remember every detail of the bike as if it were yesterday