We get so locked into our own worlds of care that we become very unmindful of what is going on in the world of others. Let me explain: - For the last four months I have been back at work teaching in my new post as resource teacher. This has meant that I have been at once studying, researching and working on a multidisciplinary team. For the previous twenty eight years I have been a mainstream teacher of Irish Language, Life Skills and Religious Education, a job centred mostly on the classroom, with the usual preparations, exam setting and corrections. Now I'm involved with teaching pupils with ASDs or Autistic Spectrum Disorders and it is both challenging and extremely rewarding. Outside that I have inscribed on a degree programme for counselling and psychotherapy with PCI college here in Dublin, a degree validated by the university of Middlesex. Be that as it may. I'm not attempting to go on an egotistical rant or to engage in puffing myself up as a great fellow or attempting to be narcissistic. Perish the thought! No rather, what I am underscoring is the fact of how locked into our own busy little worlds we all become. Yes, I'm aware that the students I deal with in our outreach Asperger's unit are often locked into their own little worlds too. Yet, that is not what I'm getting at. I suppose I could say that there are as many perspectives and takes on the world as there are conscious individuals within it. What I wish to say is that being locked in my own little world of care has dulled me to so many other cares, pains and suffering which others experience perhaps on a daily basis. If you have had the patience of staying with me thus far, I congratulate you, I thank you because here is the point:
While all this was going on for me a good friend has gone through, unknown to me, great physical and mental suffering. I shan't mention her name here in this public space at all but I will write a small prose poem for her here. I dedicate it to her and to her wonderful soul, to her wonderful way of being in this world. I also dedicate it to all those of us who are suffering either physically or mentally at this moment in time. I dedicate it also to my pupils and my friends insofar as it is a call to all of us to be aware of the preciousness that is life. And so let me begin:
And while all this was going on in my life, the books I love, the articles I've written and researched, the students I was and am attempting to help, the cares of visiting my mother in her nursing home, the bits and pieces of the daily business we call life, there you were, my dear and lovely friend, yes there you were with your inoperable tumour of the brain. Oh God, I have known quite a few others with that hell of cancer eating their brains away and I am stopped stone still in my tracks on receiving your beautiful Christmas card and enclosed letter. It is a lot to take on board. And while all our petty cares of which suit we should wear, the blue or the gray, this or that shirt or tie or that special pair of cuff links were causing me some concern there you were with your three major surgeries. While all that was going on how we laughed and joked, unmindful of it all. Oh yes, dear friend, we laughed and cried and went on living our daily cares, big and small. Oh, and often we blew our cares so much out of proportion - all our hills were mountains and all our little cares were often very large woes. And while all those conferences, voices of experts, all those lofty words and phrases, all those learned terms being catapulted out, all those smart-arsed experts scoring points of one-up-man-ship with their neat and tidy jargon, ah while all this hot air was going on, you ended up finally with a shunt neatly installed in your brain - a shunt that carries your vital brain fluid to your body. And while all your suffering was going on, I was unaware, blissfully and blithely unaware. I wish I had known because it would have called me back, called me back onto the inner path of mindfulness, mindfulness that we are here in this life to learn to care and to learn to die as gracefully as we can. And while all your suffering was going on, I was somewhat too concerned with self, thinking of my future, my glorious career which I wanted so much to be vocation, wanted and wanted so to be to be a vocation of heart and soul, and not of head or ego, there you were on the flat of your back in pain. It's a Pineocytoma you inform me - ever so practical and ever so pragmatic. You tell me that's a tumour situated in the Pineal gland in the brain. My goodness, I am bowled over with your courage. Gentle creature, gentle creature, I say, appalled as I am, I say again to any god or principle of life there could possibly be - if there is one - how could such as you deserve to suffer more? Oh this is a poem in prose, wrung from my heart, wrung from my soul. While all this was going on in my life - all my little cares, all my pumped up self-importance which so needs be deflated - there you were suffering three long weeks in intensive care, the ignobility and indignity of a bald and butchered skull (I'm speaking from my feelings, not from facts as I'm sure the brain surgeons are such wonderfully skilled doctors - praised be them, indeed. My two words beginning with 'b' are for alliterative effect and mean no criticism of them!) and the pain and tiredness of chemotherapy and radiation. There you were lying for six weeks in St Luke's, Rathgar, getting Radiotherapy while all this our petty lives were going on. And then you say the MRI scan that your tumour has shrunken a little. You are thankful for small mercies, so you say. Oh my God, if there is a God, such suffering, such suffering. Yet this is the real world, the world we seek to deny - that to live, my friend, is also to die. I have read so much and enjoy reading so much, and enjoy reading so much and am so grateful for my little life, for my own little piece of earth, for my own little job which gives me a reason to live and, hopefully, a reason to die. And then, you, sweet and gentle creature, tell me that you are so thankful to be alive, and that you are back at work at last. And while all this was going on in my world I was unaware of all that was going on in yours. It's the way it was meant to be. I didn't know. I would have been concerned, upset and not a little disturbed. Dear friend, I read and re-read your words. I am taking them on board. I am not taking my life for granted and have not indeed since my breakdown at forty years of age. Every day is a blessing also for me. I am thankful you are up and doing, that you are back lecturing and visiting schools. There will be no pious words here, no "piosities" as a friend of ours used to call them. I'm not going to trot out those old tired phrases - those trite old words that fail to stick in our throats. I will be no Job's comforter in your hour of agony. I can never be. I value you too much. I value life to much. I value the lessons life teaches me too much. I, too, wish to learn to die. It is the hardest lesson we all have to learn. I will write to you a letter, a longer and a more personal letter. This is just a way of weaving words to cope with the unexpected news. I am in the company of Dostoyevsky's Ivan railing against the Grand Inquisitor. I am in the company of Bertrand Russell walking across the children's ward where too many were dying of inoperable tumours. I am also in the company of Tolstoy's Ivan Ilyich and that of Kafka's Josef K. I can only cry out at the pain of the injustice of it all. I can only cry out because such is life. I can only mumble the words of Stephen Hawking that this is a mere uncaring world of chance or the words of the great American poet, Robert Frost, who when asked what he had learned from life after having lived so long replied "It goes on." And so it does and so it does. Amen.
Above I have placed a picture of Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, Russian writer and philosopher who lived between the dates 1828–1910. As well as being a writer he was a brilliant moral philosopher. He would have understood!