It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
– Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities
Yesterday (Wednesday) was a birthday of sorts… – not the anniversary of my coming into this world (that’s in a week or so – hint, hint); but of me being given my life back, thoughtfully and carefully, and by a very special human being indeed: who has, with his family, also had to endure some very tough challenges. But, for many reasons – although I am immensely and eternally grateful for that great man’s incredible skill and deep compassion; and have been so every single day for the last ten years – it was not an occasion I had been looking forward to.
The circumstances prompting such dejection include a deterioration of my physical health that those who know me will have seen or suspected. And those with a brain (and, yes, if you peruse the images on this page, you will notice that I also possess one…) will have quickly grasped this decline’s bitter, but inseparable, relationship with the struggle I am currently undergoing with my mental wellbeing. What no‑one could have known – because, despite my suspicions, I was only finally brave enough to put myself through my umpteenth MRI scan a few weeks ago… – is that both of these downturns stem from marked physiological changes all too similar to those I endured in the years before (and which prompted) the complex operation that, a decade ago, vastly improved my quality of being (and continues so to do).
As I said to my current neurologist:
Although the experience was actually quite painless – I was discharged thirty-six hours after admission in a much, much better state than I had entered the hospital: having [reclaimed] the use of my left arm and hand (which was now full of sensation again); regained some movement in my neck; and didn’t walk like a drunken penguin – it is the associated risks I do not like. Nor do I enjoy the thought of this having to be repeated over and over again.
[Technically – for those who may be interested in such things – the procedure was a dual-level anterior cervical discectomy and fusion at C5/6 and C6/7. In other words, I have a metal plate screwed into the front of three of my vertebrae: which holds my head on to my body. (Yes, this makes me Steve Austin! Yippee!) Most of the time, though, I forget all that scaffolding is there. However, without fail, every anniversary, my neck feels more bulky; somehow inflamed and heavy… – even though, of course, nothing has really changed; and the implanted alien structure is truly featherweight.]
All last week, we had an orphaned great tit – several times each day, regular as nature’s clockwork – try to enter the house through the same closed windows. It seemed so determined; and would cling to the frames, pecking at the panes, with all its might: not perturbed even when face-to-face with us scary, ginormous humans. It obviously knew the glass was there (although may well have imagined itself duelling with a mirror-image protagonist); and appeared to suffer no harm, physically, when constantly thwarted. It was also growing rapidly: quickly evolving from fluffy rotundity to sleek, smooth adulthood. I was therefore not overly-concerned for its wellbeing.
I sensed loneliness, though. Unlike the many young blackbirds, thrushes, finches, sparrows, dunnocks, robins and wrens who similarly perch on our back garden fence; cling to the feeders; or scrabble amongst the flowers, shrubs and vegetable patch for insects, worms and snails; this one’s long streams of repeated single tweets evoked no parental response; nor did it, to my knowledge, congregate with the many others of its kind – the flocks of further great, blue and coal tits that often visit (although which are now to be found feasting in the freshly-harvested fields… – hopefully now joined by my absent visitor).
I also perceived – probably because I was feeling it myself… – a great deal of frustration. I know I shouldn’t really anthropomorphize – although where would we be without the wonderful Watership Down and The Wind in the Willows…? – but I felt its pain; and now miss its recurring calls. It had become my daemon; and was, I suppose, a manifestation of what I was – and still am – going through.
Of course – as those few loyal readers of this blog will have anticipated – my response to all of this has precipitated more insomniac wanderings through the benighted village. For instance, early last week, stricken with vertigo, I lay on one of the benches in the churchyard, swaddled in my unseasonal body- and neck-warmers, my legs over the armrest, staring directly upwards: revelling for an hour in the bells’ quarterly chimes, as my eyes grew slowly accustomed to the darkness; praying for Perseids. But it was too soon: and I saw only one such meteor – although that was utterly breathtaking. I was, however, rewarded with the sight of a trillion individually-polished gems: some of them lining up to form the impressionistic backbone of the Milky Way. It was thus hard to drag myself away – even though my body had melded painfully with the rigid woodwork. Unfortunately, the rest of my wanderings, that week, were under gathered clouds: with only rare glimpses of what lay above; of what I sought.
Yet, this Tuesday night, lit by an almost full moon – and with even the Plough struggling to make its presence known against such radiance – I felt truly at peace: my long, accompanying shadow a reminder of the miracles that our planet’s journey through the firmament can produce; rendering the church tower a glowing bastion; the golden hands of its clock easily legible; as were the familiar names etched into the headstones. I could have limped all the way to Kineton: such was the energy I was imbued with.
But yesterday, the (inner) gloom returned: reminding me that troublesome decisions have to be made; that I may have to carry out a pilgrimage to my original saviour; that – just as I find a way of life that is approximately practicable, and completely fulfilling, as well as within the limits of my disability – I may have to put everything on hold once more; or attempt to adapt, yet again, to another step-change in infirmity. I honestly feel as if I am that small bird, endlessly pecking away at the indestructible….
But that’s all in the future. Now, it’s just time to pull my boots on, and head out into the night again: acknowledging that there are far too many people in much, much worse situations. If nothing else, being enveloped by the moon’s cooling light is a great reminder of my position in the universe; and of the beauty that completely surrounds us.