“We feel most alive when we are closest to death.”
~ Nenia Campbell
I’m in Adelaide right now, staying on my own while I write and work and attend a conference. After dining with friends last night I went back to my hotel and, on a whim, decided to go and check out the outside pool and spa area even though the night was cool and not much good for swimming.
The area was in darkness, but the buildings around us were lit up and pretty and the night sky’s stars twinkled above me. It was so peaceful, there on the roof, and so I sat down in the closest chair to enjoy a few moments of solitude and connection.
‘It makes you feel small and big all at once, doesn’t it?’ said a voice quietly beside me.
I looked around to see an older man sitting in the shadows a small distance away.
‘Yes,’ I answered. Then I apologised for interrupting his peace, for I was sure that I had. I stood up and excused myself, wishing him a good night and was almost back at the door which led to the lifts when I found myself returning to the pool, my legs walking me there all by themselves so it felt.
‘I’m sorry to interrupt again,’ I said, ‘but I just wanted to check that you’re okay. Are you okay?’
‘No, not really,’ he said. ‘Actually…’ and then he paused for a long time before clearing his throat, ‘I’m not really sure how I feel.’
I sat in the seat beside him, both of us looking out at the night sky and the pretty lights. ‘Do you want to talk about it?’ I asked.
He sat there for a long time, the silence thick between us.
‘I went to the doctor today,’ he said, finally. ‘I’m from the country, about six hours drive from here and I came down to town to get my results. They’re not good.’
The silence between us changed, linking us somehow in that quiet space.
‘I knew they wouldn’t be good,’ he said. ‘But I didn’t think they’d be as bad as they are. He said I had maybe two good months left. Maybe less, and then everything would turn to shit and then I’d be gone within another month, tops. If I was lucky. He was a nice young bloke, that doctor. Kind, and I could tell he was talking straight with me, and sort of cushioning the blow a bit…’ He breathed out, a long heavy sigh. ‘But it’s a lot to take in, and sitting in my room I felt suddenly like I couldn’t breathe unless I could see the sky. So I came out here to sit and think about it a bit and try to take it in. And then you turned up.’
‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘It must have been a shock.’ We sat there a while longer and then I reached across and took his hand. He clung to mine tightly, his hand warm and dry in mine, and suddenly we didn’t need words at all.
We sat there for an hour, just holding hands and then he said to me, ‘You’re shaking with cold. Come on, let’s go to the bar and I’ll buy you something to warm you up.’
So we sat downstairs in the almost empty bar until midnight, him nursing a fine cognac and me sipping peppermint tea, and I talked to him about dying, and about getting his affairs in order and how he could best manage what was ahead of him, given that he was an older man estranged from his only son, and with his wife passed on from a car accident nearly twenty years ago.
We talked honestly and openly and I shared all I could and on the back of a bar napkin we made him a plan. Then I gave him my phone number, hugged him and went to say goodbye.
He hugged me again, fiercely, and then he pulled me closer and whispered, ‘I was praying tonight to a God I haven’t believed in since Maggie died, and then you turned up. Thank you. I swear you were sent by the Angels, love. Bless you.’
We parted with tears in our eyes and then I went back upstairs to my lonely hotel room, threw the curtains wide so I could see that pretty night sky and I sat in the dark with a full and aching heart from the beauty and savagery and majestic synchronicity of life, and I cried.