Thursday, February 10, 2011

How are things?

At 9:00 o'clock this morning I had an appointment to have my eyes tested by a local optometrist. The appointment was my annual eye examination. As I believe is now standard practice in most optometric clinics, I was first interrogated by an assistant who photographed the wall of my eye with a view to giving the photographs to the optometrist for subsequent detailed consideration.  When the assistant and I settled into the business of the day, she politely enquired after my health and general status.  For some reason, rather than merely giving the stock reply that all was well, I dilated upon the subject.  Specifically I wondered aloud how it is that some people through no fault of their own are treated to bad luck while others escape it entirely.

It turns out that my unsolicited rumination was timely and that it heralded what was to come later today.  By equal serendipity I received a telephone call early this evening from the sister of one of my former boarding school friends.  We go back 50 years (though the last time we rallied was over 20 years ago when she, her then boy-friend and her parents visited me one evening for dinner in Almonte). What struck me within minutes of the commencement of our catching-up conversation was that she and her immediate family had been plagued by disasters (some of which obviously has been kept secret from me while her parents were alive). About six years ago her brother (my school friend) had been hit head-on in a motor vehicle accident.  The assailant was a 19-year old drunk driver.  My friend will never work again nor will he be able to drive a car and his cognition is seriously impaired.  My correspondent then told me, in answer to my question about my school friend's three children, that one or more of the children suffer from the "Elephant Man" disease (the affliction of severe deformities suffered by Joseph Merrick ).  This exceedingly distressing news was all the more poignant because my school friend was notoriously good looking and attractive. To add further to the torture of this family I was then informed that my school friend's daughter had had a child by a black drug addict who subsequently died of a seizure. Happily the young mixed-race girl is both lovely and talented but otherwise her lot in life has not been easy because she and her mother were disowned my school friend (at least temporarily).  My correspondent continued to add fuel to the pyre by informing me she had been trapped in commercial litigation with an estranged lover for over five years.  From what I could gather - imbalanced as I was upon hearing these various tragedies - my correspondent had abandoned two long-term relationships, the third (and current) being of a five-year duration.  She also advised that she had a 25 year old daughter who when growing up was a "handful" involving drugs, promiscuity, late night rowdiness, etc.

As I heard these tales unfold I kept thinking it were all a fabrication, not because I disbelieved the stories but because they were so fantastic that I couldn't imagine them happening, least of all to one family.  I later recalled that my correspondent's only sister had committed suicide about 40 years ago. This alone gave me pause as it illustrated that there is seemingly no end to the unhappiness which can be visited upon people who have already suffered enough.

Harkening back to my congress with the optometric assistant earlier this morning, I recall having said (without of course knowing what was subsequently to transpire) that I always felt an overwhelming obligation to do everything possible to relish every moment of the day. As I sit here staring across my comfortable drawing room through the sheers onto the pink and azure shades of the setting sun in the distant horizon I marvel at my unending good fortune.  Of course I acknowledge that this euphoria has a "best before" date, but nothing can alter the overwhelming fact that I have so late in life escaped the paralyzing misfortunes I have earlier described, things that contaminate a life-time not mere years or hours. It is hardly befitting under the circumstances to pretend to adopt some token behaviour as expiation for the good luck I have enjoyed. It does however urge upon me an extension of generosity which I might otherwise have dismissed if the conditions were unexamined. If nothing else it is preposterous to adopt  an attitude of regret for almost anything when practically everything has been a gift and a joy.

By odd corollary to this distasteful narrative, it dawns upon me why I may not have been privy to these details until now.  Even though I know others who share my acquaintance with my former school friend, I am instinctively reluctant to burden them with this weighty intelligence which has now been entrusted to me.  I can see why my school friend remained so distant for the past many years in light of what undoubtedly was the intensely private nature of his sorrow. It provides an insight into misfortune that in its wake people seldom revel in it for any purpose but prefer instead to gloss over it, not necessarily to hide it, but to at least diminish its poignancy by avoiding its reference. It is a reminder of what can be expected when innocently asking, "How are things?"

No comments:

Post a Comment