A Profound Change
Chopin, coffee and a comfortable chair
For most of us, dare I say all of us, our lives are filled with the mundane. I’m sorry to break it to you this way, it may come as a shock. With the profound on the other hand, where an insight of emotional depth and intensity is revealed, we often, as individuals, as a society, flit past it, shaking our heads in wonder, not taking the time that is perhaps required to understand how it came to be, or perhaps even to see it at all. We are all guilty of it. The enemy, often but not always, is time itself. We are robbed of it, or perhaps more to the point, we rob ourselves of it. We occupy the space required to understand the profound with inanities, shopping lists, things to do, tasks, and at times fuzzy, puerile, selfish thinking. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, we need the mundane as much as we need the profound, in fact one can’t have the latter without the former. We also at times need the fuzzy, puerile and selfish.
But lately, it’s as I make my way through this glorious mundanity, resting, with a cup of coffee, listening to some Chopin, sitting on a comfortable chair in my courtyard on a sunny Sunday morning, that I am also learning to come to terms with the profound change that has occurred in me as a result of having a brain tumour found inside my head, and then, having it removed, or most of it, and experiencing the changes that have occurred as a result. It requires something more than some shopworn adjective to describe such an adjustment.
Prior to my surgery, there was an intensity in my approach to many things, to life, that mirrored what I perceived to be everything wrong with the world. At times, particularly when applying this approach to one’s art, it can be beneficial, because you see things that others do not see. It’s what, in part, enables the artist to be an artist. Applying this intensity to a creative outlet can bring great joy to others, think about a Beethoven symphony, or a Brett Whiteley painting, or a Patrick White novel. But there was and is playfulness and a sublime wit in their works, although at times, one has to look closely. I mention this because, although I could never, of course, write music like Beethoven or paint like Whiteley, who of us could, I communicated an intensity that, whilst it may have had insight and wit, it lacked at times a certain empathy, a breadth of understanding of what it means to be truly human.
Part of me, prior to surgery, was at times angry, with others, with the world, with my surroundings, perpetually annoyed with what I saw as the culturally apostate. I became an observer rather than a participant, it’s an important distinction. As an example, just prior to my brain tumour diagnosis I was walking along my local village shopping strip, shopping for I can’t remember what, when I noticed a young woman of about eighteen walking towards me, nothing unusual in her behaviour except that she had her head down, staring at her mobile phone, sending a text message as she approached.
She didn’t notice me, we were headed for a collision, I was not about to change course, I had my pride, I would teach her a lesson about paying attention. As we approached the point of impact, this young lady looked up, she must have noticed me at the last second, we bumped shoulders as she adroitly avoided full contact. I felt moved, although I didn’t follow through, to give her a lecture there and then about the need to be a responsible adult. She kept walking, not considering me for a moment, as I glared back and considered my course of action. I look back now, after everything I have been through, on this mundane occurrence, at the utter absurdity and at the abject arrogance at the centre of my thinking at the time.
Here was a young woman, with her whole magnificent life in front of her, doing what any energetic, enthusiastic, happy eighteen year old would be doing, sending a text message to a friend while walking down the street, multi-tasking like I wish I could, and bumping shoulders with the crotchety fifty year old man with no joy in his life. She was doing what I probably would have been doing at her age, had smart phones been invented and had I a fraction of the joie de vivre that I have now. Living Life.
And now? I let other cars into my road space and if they neglect to thank me, it makes me angry for a few seconds and then I let it go, it’s one of those ridiculous urban traps that adds to our stress levels if we let it. Prior to surgery I’d have stewed on it, considered launching a counter insurgency against this misanthrope, taken names. Now I tell myself that he, or she, might just be having a bad day, could be rushing to the hospital themselves for all I know and be too pre-occupied to thank me. The price one pays for thinking too much. Instead, I give thanks that I can help out at all, it won’t prevent me from getting where I need to go.
I take joy now from seeing others live their lives the way they want to live them, and in celebrating with them their achievements whilst at the same time celebrating mine. The celebration is real, it’s not a scam, nor is it loud or boisterous, it’s celebrating by standing silently at the bottom of the stairs, smiling, knowing that a few months ago I couldn’t carry two cups of coffee up the stairs at the same time but that now I can, albeit a somewhat slower and more deliberate journey. And seeing the smile of complete surprise on my wife’s face that I finally managed it.
I laugh with other passengers on the bus when I have to request the use of a seat reserved for the infirm, rather than seek out an excuse to lecture or badger. People are always generous, forgiving, and interested in what it is with this seemingly healthy individual who claims he needs a seat in case the bus lurches and one finds oneself flat on one’s face on the dirty floor. One day I’ll be fine to stand, perhaps I won’t be, it doesn’t much matter. I stand or sit, and laugh.
I have met people, as I’ve thrown myself into seeing if I can in some small way help others through their brain tumour journey and to communicate the message that we all have, who have all brought a unique resilience to their own situation, many of them many years after the event, dealing with the mundane with a courage that I was never before able to see, that brings not a sadness so much as a joy in being shown the human condition in all it’s colour and grandeur. I take joy, for my own benefit but hopefully for theirs as well, in the privilege of having relationships with these amazing people. This is not false hyperbole, it’s real life. Having said that, I do earnestly hope that I’ve maintained my artistic edge. I can’t tell, I’m too busy revelling in the art of living to take account, although I suspect I have managed to hold onto it, and perhaps added some spice with it.
The penny has dropped, we form the world around us with the cards we are dealt and start out to make a statement, without the slightest fanfare, that there is magic in these here hands. I am intrigued by what physical change may have been wrought by my neurosurgeon spending fifteen hours inside my head, what part of my brain was rudely interrupted to the point of cerebral realignment. The positivity that has been at times ascribed to me comes from this, to take everything in, to gather up the cards and make this same statement. The profound doesn’t replace the mundane but it does give new meaning to it. Brain tumours are disgustingly vile things to have but when we get through them they can change us, the people around us change us, we see things differently, we see people differently, we see everything differently. The change is real and the change is profound.