I had bumped into a friend at the cash machine. We greeted each other, as we always do, with a handshake, then set about putting the world to rights. My work, his work; my family, his. Politics. Geopolitical destruction. The New Ice Age. All on a bright Saturday morning, traffic and shoppers humming around us, business-like as a dog, to use Robert Pinsky’s phrase.
As you do.
And then something that I was not prepared for. It turned out that he had been ill, briefly and seriously, and that I had known nothing about it. Profuse apologies followed, batted off with a wave as though I had merely missed a dinner party. Think nothing of it. How could you have known? We told no one. And with speed we moved on to other things, something lighter, the rise of Islamic State perhaps, to break the tension.
As you do.
And then he said something that I think is still changing me. He began to speak of a mutual friend, one we had lost some months previously, of how he was missing him: ‘Even with all that going on -and you know what this is like, having gone through it yourself- and with all the crap that is still going on, I still need to remind myself daily that a bad day at work is a day he won’t have.’
And that stopped me in my tracks. I began to find something pricking behind my eyes, the slightest increase of pressure in my temples, as though pushed by the gentlest of vices. My woes did not leave me, but I had the strong impression of seeing them from far away, as through a telescope from the wrong end. Mixed into this sensation was the pleasure, as well as the pain, of knowing that while the woes were in a different place, and that they were not going to vanish, I now had a choice about how to see them differently.
A day he won’t have. Like my friend, I need to say this to myself daily (sometimes hourly) when I sense the world and my feelings about its woes threatening to overwhelm me. Which is often. A day he won’t have.
And we shook hands and said say hi to the family and went on our way into our Saturdays.
As you do.
first published October 2, 2015