Learning from Illness (4) – The Sweet Taste of Happiness

Some of our most ordinary days can be so sweet and happy, yet the world fails to notice the smile that radiates from our hearts. That morning, when I was a student, walking back from her flat, down a sun-drenched Leinster Road in Rathmines, with no lectures all day, and the thought: “She loves me, she loves me, she loves me.”

The first time I saw that little head, that vulnerable little child, and the knowledge that he was perfect. Ireland scoring that try in 1985 against England after Fitzgerald has asked the team about their pride. When I got my journalism qualification. The day of no pain.

When I woke up the day after, the pain was gone. I moved about gingerly, and carefully testing the muscles around my core, but there was nothing there. Not even a remnant of the devastation of the previous night.

After a while, I began to relax. I had my usual breakfast and was fine. At this stage, my partner had suggested that possibly what I had was some form of acid-reflux, but I discounted this theory. I hadn’t eaten anything unusual that might have caused a stomach reaction, no. I believed I had eaten something that had been off, and it had worked its way through my system, albeit with some venom.

In fact, I thought to myself, what I really needed (and could have used the previous evening) was something to ‘flush’ my system out. Like a couple of beers. A good couple, if you know what I mean.

But you can’t hang on to all these thoughts when you have no active reminder. Life goes on. There are children to be picked up, articles to be written, music pieces to be practiced, and calls to be made. You can, in the quiet moments in between these activities think about the dark moments of the previous night, but mostly your head is filled with this great other and much more present thought, “I’m not going to die just yet”.

Every encounter is enhanced and beautified by this cogitation. The music sounds better on the radio, and the day seems somewhat brighter than it should in be November. You find yourself spontaneously, if not ‘bursting’ into song, then allowing a cheerful soundtrack to echo around your brain. Walking down the street, this music compels you to literally ‘kick‘ a heel and take a kick-step to the side to avoid a more dour customer, whose face lightens with the acknowledgement of your chirpiness.

You are the man, the survivor, the one in the crowd who doesn’t stand out particularly, but the one with a special secret that no-one else knows. You know the value of just being there with no pain, no disease, all your fingers and toes. Lucky, lucky, lucky.

You think of all the others you know not so lucky. How arbitrary it is. If I was a believer, I would think God cruel and unjust. As a non-believer, I know it is simple luck. But today, for now, is my day.

This thought sustains for quite a while – the bacon and eggs taste even better than usual and everything seems bright, and as they might have said a hundred years ago ‘gay’. All thoughts are like this, pithy and amusing.

But no man is complete without some suffering, which is why many choose to take up with a woman. It was at this juncture that my choice chose to weigh in with a bit of unneeded common sense. “When are you going to see the doctor?” she remarked absently.

Women are a curse at these times when man is trying to enjoy the general wonderfulness of the day, and contemplating an evening consisting mainly of soaking the brain cells in an excellent elixir of alcohol.

“Why should I go to a doctor?” I replied with my manly wisdom. Women certainly have their pluses. I certainly don’t have the time or space to get into all of them here, but I can state for the record that my own life partner has a keen sense of budgeting. She can recall with singular accuracy every few euro with which I may have parted company with in a licensed  premises, not to mention the varying price points of a leg of lamb at different supermarkets, but what she gains in accountancy, she loses in strategic vision.

“Why”, I repeated, “would I need to visit some middle-aged pill-dispenser for the purposes of relaying my story and paying him €50 for the privilege?” I noted. “I’m obviously better. I couldn’t be better. But if it makes you feel better, I will go to see someone sometime this week.”

I emphasized the ‘you’, as if the visit to a doctor was a madcap Ponzi scheme, with which I might go along, even if I did not consider it fiscally responsible. Again, women are a great ‘details’ people, but sometimes they miss the bigger picture.

In this case, the bigger picture was a night of celebration of the wonders of life. Financials constraints means that such a celebration is not gadding about town dropping large denominated bills on the counters of nightclubs, but rather a night at home with a few cans.

When the day is done and you wanna ride on, the solution for Mr J.J. Cale was ‘Cocaine‘, but I’m happy with a lot less. As the night wore on I noticed no return of pain and that in itself was a blessing. The pain had gone, and gone forever.

There was another feeling that entered that room where we sat together. A feeling that we both had passed a dangerous fork in the road, and that perhaps we shouldn’t waste life or special moments. It wasn’t ‘urgency’ per se, but a feeling that life is there to be lived, and maybe we hadn’t been as vigilant in embracing all that life has to offer, in the past.

Though Baccanalian thought may pass many more resolutions than it will ever address the following day, on this particular night it felt like we had dodged a bullet, and from there on in, our lives would be filled with the luck and opportunity that had so far evaded us, because we had valued it too lightly. And that, we would never do again.

To continue this story chronologically, skip “Learning from Illness 5” and click here.

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