Balmoral Swimming Enclosure
When we are young our spirit is to make our own way, to turn our backs on whatever it is that society entreats of us, to collectively thumb our nose and to carry rebellion as a badge of honour, or at least is was back in the day when lay-by was more than a theoretical construction. As a child of the 70’s, knowing that to wait for what you want has been consigned to history in this brave new world, I still wonder at what rebellion people a generation younger than me feel compelled to launch, or quell, or if they care. Then I come face to face with these same people at their very best. It reminds me that we’re actually in pretty good hands.
I had to visit a shopping mall, yes, a silly undertaking for someone who firstly, doesn’t much like crowds in the first place and secondly, finds himself at a distinct disadvantage when, as it did on this occasion, things go decidedly awry. Two years on from surgery, it appears that my cognitive alacrity, while perfectly intact sitting at a desk, or reclining on the sofa, turns somewhat into a blathering mess when confronted with the discombobulation of finding oneself separated from one’s vehicle and unable to have any clue whatsoever as to its whereabouts. In other words, I’ll be buggered if I knew whether my car was on Lower B2, Upper A1 or Western C5. I was lost, I started to panic, one of those meltdown moments resulting from the brain still not being quite what it was, despite some obvious improvements.
I had gone in search of my wife, having previously undertaken to simply wait in the car, where I could have listened to some music, or, had I remembered my glasses, read the book on the back seat, or even nodded off but no, I decided to take the simple and make it complicated by going to look for her, which is when the trouble started. A series of escalators led to a conflagration that, within a minute or two had led to a rather sad denouement of mixed up confusion. In short, I lost it.
To try and explain the machinations behind having a significant brain injury I will, to paraphrase Dylan Thomas, begin at the beginning. I am confronted by a wall of people, along with it a wall of noise and collection of objects acting, as far as I was concerned, as barricades to progress, thence a smorgasbord of external stimuli, advertising signs, placards, the flashing lights of commerce, the billboards reaching out to confuse. It’s information that insults the recovering brain, it lays siege to logic, it’s another country where any more than a single piece of information, under even the mildest duress, cannot be processed without going into a state of cerebral meltdown.
The issue was not in and of itself forgetting where the car was, we all can attest to that experience, it was not being able to gather in the thinking required to reach a point of any clarity. I gazed at an out of order store directory, providing no information as to my location, in short I had no idea where I was. This scenario, for most people, doesn’t create a problem but when your brain is in recovery, the idea that more than one piece of information needs to be processed at any one time, can and usually does, cause panic.
There was too much movement, I couldn’t logically process anything, I couldn’t find the store my wife was supposed to be in. I determined that I should return to the car and just wait it out, as I should have done in the first place. I was acutely aware though that continuing to walk, to search, would send me spiraling further down a dark alley. I retraced my steps, at least I thought I had. I walked through doors thinking it would lead me back to safety. Yes, my brain was telling me that the difference between finding my car and not finding my car was the difference between feeling safe and being in danger, of screaming, of crying, of not finding a way out.
I was on the wrong floor, in a low ceiling parking lot, flickering lights that threatened logical thought. I walked around aimlessly trying to get my bearings. I was half expecting Deepthroat to emerge from behind a pillar imploring me to “follow the money”. I was disoriented to the point of rage. There were people bobbling past me with their trolleys oblivious to my plight, cars passing adding to my what had now become disengagement. I stood there, spinning around as two young women got out of their car. I said hello to them as I stood dazed and confused, attempting to gather a modicum of composure. I stated to them, as if to try and justify myself, this supposedly normal reasonably dressed middle aged respectable man, “I can’t find my car, I have no idea where I am”. It was an understated desperation. “Do you need a hand to find it?” came the reply.
“What type of car is it?” asked her friend. It was then I presumed that the only way to assuage any thought that I was some sort of Sunday afternoon mammalian predator, was to try and explain myself. “I’m sorry to do this to you but I have a brain tumour that I am recovering from and I get easily confused in these situations, I get disoriented in public places.”
“We can take you to the information counter and they can tell you where your car is.” I marvelled with them at the technology that enabled this. We started walking together, they were young enough to be my daughters, they were patient, they were insightful, “I take a photo of the car park number in case I forget where I’ve parked,” said one. Not only helpful and patient but intelligent. We went back up the escalators but this time I had cover, we walked slowly, such was their consideration of my plight, they were overcompensating. I still hadn’t settled down, we were walking too slowly for my liking, I was still agitated but these young women were relaxed, they were having none of it.
I gave them a potted version of what it’s like to have a brain tumour, as if to apologise for my erratic behaviour, they nodded, displaying a confidence that belied their years, or perhaps because of it their élan shone through to me. They gave me time to think as we ambled our way up to wherever the information desk was meant to be. I started to relax because I had help with me, they asked me if I remembered which door I came through, whether it had markings on it. I said “yes, K-Mart”, the girl with the plaits replied “that might be on the floor below.” My instinct, something that evaporates like steam from a Chicago man hole cover when the meltdown commences, was beginning to return. “Can we maybe try going back down an extra level,” I suggested. We spun around and headed for the escalators heading deeper still into the labyrinth of this modern confected urban jungle.
As soon as we came through the K-Mart doors, I spotted the car. I pointed it out to my new friends, I took a deep breath, they offered to stay with me until my wife returned, I urged them to get on with their day, I gave them a hug as I told them that I was grateful to them beyond any words that I could at that point express. I sat in the car and breathed, I felt safe because two brilliant, intelligent, kind young women came to my aid. I wish I knew their names so that I can publicly thank them. It was my privilege to run into the best that this country can offer and confirmed that the greatest thing we can ever do, what really makes a country modern and sophisticated, is to show kindness to each other.
With feckless, duplicitous corporate leaders conveniently leaving their moral compass in the bottom drawer, with politicians serving out of little more than myopic self interest, I have evidence of what is the best in people, what other so-called leaders can only aspire to. These magnificent young women, in a split second, by taking the complex and making it simple, by coming to the aid of this strange looking bald bloke in a spot of bother, told me everything I needed to know about young people today, about the assumptions we may make about them and what makes us truly great. If these women who rescued me are anything to go by, then we are in pretty good hands.