Dreams, Coco Chanel & 16 staples

Sometimes you get the feeling that every day is the same. In a way it is. There are repetitive tasks and routines. Bringing the kids to school, going to work, driving home, etc. This is why we believe that each day is ordinary.

And then there’s yesterday.

I wake up still remembering the last dream. A good one. My mother and my aunt are in a cool bar dancing, drinking one shot after another and having fun. Not uncommon as such, but consider the fact that my mother doesn’t go to bars at all, nor drinks shots, or feels physically fit to dance through the night. She’s 72. The barman approaches me (in my dream) concerned that both my mother and my aunt might have had too many shots and that he should not serve them any more. I agree. I look at them. I smile. Happy that they have fun. Proud of their energy.

I’m awake. I’m driving. I call my mother from the car. Hands-free mode. I tell her about the dream and how cool it was that she was having fun with her sister. In a bar. Drinking shots. Dancing. Her response surprises me. That’s not a good dream. Something bad will happen. I interrupt her. Telling her that’s nonsense. It’s not a bad dream. It was a great dream. No, she intervenes. The dream means you are going to receive a bitter message. Something bad will happen today. Whatever, I reply and hang up. I regret telling her about the dream. She spoilt it. Nothing bad will happen.

10 minutes later. I’m stuck in traffic. I receive a phone call. Unknown number. It’s a colleague of my husband. He can hardly speak. Your husband, voice interrupts. He’s not good at all, voice interrupts. He’s not moving, voice interrupts. He passed away, call is interrupted.

I’m in shock. The kind of shock where you cannot react at all. The one where the autopilot takes over and manages to drive out of the heavy traffic and into a direction that is still meaningful. Incoming phone call. I take it. It’s from another unknown number. Same colleague, this time I can hear him better. What happened I ask him? How is he? Up to know I haven’t yet reacted to the ‘passed away’. I’m still in shock. My brain has not processed it yet. And it is good this way. Cause it turns out that my husband has not passed away. He has passed out. as in fainted. The French speaking colleague does not distinguish between away and out. Same to him. Not to me though.

The moments between the first and the second phone call appeared to me as long dreadful minutes. In reality they were less than 30 seconds apart. But the amount of thoughts that went through my head in those 30 seconds, would easily fill several pages. I don’t think I ever managed to think so many different things in so little time. From the worst case scenario to the wonder that everything will be fine, miraculously. Though my mind concentrated mostly on the worst.

But this is just the beginning of my story. The emergency room where my husband is being brought to in order to make the necessary exams to exclude a potential stroke or heart episode is full of people with various health problems. I am not one of them. And everybody can see it. So I make my way to the reception desk and ask about my husband. I must be impatient. I’m being asked to wait and not to be impatient. I do sit down for exactly 3 and 1/2 minutes, patiently. Then I go back to the reception desk saying that I will definitely be less impatient if I know how my husband is doing. This obviously makes sense to the person behind the desk as he immediately stands up and goes to inquire for me. He comes back after a few moments saying that my husband is doing fine but that the doctor is currently doing a scan. I can take a seat now and wait until I’m called inside to see my husband. I find a seat in the overcrowded waiting area. And this is where the interesting part of my day begins as I witness the conversation between a man and a woman that meet again after a long time. At the emergency room. He because he fell, and she because she was accompanying a younger friend who had breathing problems. Coincidence. They start talking and I eavesdrop intentionally as they seem to be the only human beings to me in the overcrowded emergency room. He’s Italian as it turns out and she Portuguese. I’m Greek. He’s 87 and she 80. They could be my grandparents. She looks aristocratic. Well dressed with a coco chanel bag. She keeps her hair unlike all the other older women. Short and with real pep. Classy. They start talking. She’s whispering and he talks in normal voice. They talk about the old times at the beginning. And then quickly move on to tell each other stories about who died, when and how. How she found her good friend on the floor when she went to pick her up for a festivity. Died of embolism. From cancer, to heart failures, to strokes and finally to pulmonary embolism. they go through the full range. Every now and then she says, I’m not complaining, I lived my life.

And this is the point they start to list to each other their injuries and operations they had undergone in the last years. As it also turns out, she’s not whispering all the time out of respect, or in order not to disturb anyone. She’s whispering because she has undergone the 15h or 16th operation until now in her fight against cancer. She had a colostomy due to the colon cancer and now has to live permanently with a sack that she has to carry with her. A colostomy pouch. Her body is open she says, that’s why she doesn’t have the power to talk louder. I turn around to look at her. She seems so full of energy. And yet, her body must have suffered. Is suffering. She went dancing on Saturday she tells him. You did, he asks. Yes, she said, one has to live.You know, I enjoy dancing. I always did.

Nowadays we break down easily, burnout syndrome, the flu, headache. I thought I was dying when I was giving birth. And here was someone who had seen everything, who had lost husband, relatives and friends. Who had been through so many operations, who had fragile labelled all over her body. But while fighting courageously cancer, could still celebrate life.

I still have the 16 staples that kept my body together (after the operation) she says proudly. He looks at her. You really did, he asks? Souvenirs of life she replies with a smile. 16 of them.

The nurse is coming to bring me to my husband. He is being released. Everything is fine. I stand up hesitantly. I almost don’t want to leave. I want to say something to this woman. But I don’t. The nurse is in a rush. The whole emergency room is. Except from the three of us. Me and my ‘grandparents’. I leave. 30 minutes later I’m home with my husband. Strange day he remarks. I couldn’t agree more.

Yesterday was not an ordinary day. None is. Ever.

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#The sum of all parts

Everything happens for a reason. At least that’s what they say. Sometimes things happen because we let them happen, or because we are responsible for them. This year, many good things happened but equally many bad ones. Does that make it a good, an average, or a bad year?

When you lose someone you haven’t seen in a long time, you suddenly realise that you take far too many things for granted. You take it for granted that loved ones, family, friends, will always be there. Constant(s) in our life. The ‘I love you’, ‘I miss you’, ‘I need you’ you never said, suddenly burn deep inside. To the ones you never said it enough times. And to the ones you never said it before, because you never found the courage or the right moment to do so.

Realising (for real) the non-eternal aspects of life makes you think and feel. This realisation can create a surge, a push or a crossroad showing what you have and what you could have – and provide a basis for some decisions. How do you reach your goals? What are your goals and what do you want to achieve? How to pick the fruits in life when they are ripe?

The end of a year underlines the prospect of new beginnings. Clean sheets, fresh starts, tabula rasa. This is daunting in itself. When adding to that you actually want (need) an alternate route of life manifesting itself shortly – don’t be surprised if a feeling of panic might lure around the corner.

Maintaining aspirations in life is a good thing. However not seeing the woods for the trees is troublesome. Some realism blended into the ambitions might be wise. Equilibrium and happiness is most probably not achieved through ticking off things on a list that you didn’t make. You need to find out what is important in your life. Climbing that mountain top? Getting that executive post? Learning how to sew? How much do these things really matter?  

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Not much if you haven’t figured out yet what should be important in (your) life. Re-thinking the value system might be a good way to start the new year. Have we attributed right values to everything and everyone in our life? Do we appreciate enough the things that really do matter. For us, our happiness, our life?

Instead of making a things-to-do list, I will make an inventory of what I have achieved. So far. And maybe then, when I will start to add up all the ‘small’ things I have (achieved), I might realise that the sum of all things, all those small parts, is more than I imagined.