The Common Thread of Loneliness
Clearing Post Earthquake Rubble – Barahbise, Nepal
All is quiet on the Western Front (wherever that might be).
It’s a touchy subject war, and that one day of the year, when we’re confronted with the futility of it, has again rolled around. I should also add, that, tenuous as it may seem, I am making a link to my own brain tumour journey.
On the one day of the year when we stop, as a nation, to remember those who have served, and died, during various wars, it’s time, naturally, to talk about loneliness. Setting aside the, at times, sycophancy, the patronising grandiloquence, surrounding the day long attempts to claim that our nation was forged during the original ANZAC campaign, I’m more interested in the stories from the front, of young men who spent their last days feeling confused as to what they were doing but mostly just feeling lonely, hoping that they would not be forgotten. Well, we’ve managed that at least – and our governments, by spending millions on their memorials, make sure we certainly do never forget.
Even a cursory reading of All Quiet on the Western Front – yes, my claim that much of the truth we seek can be found in literature holds true here – will give you an idea as to what these men endured. They, of course, endured political duplicity, diplomatic nonsense and military incompetence, so nothing has changed on that front, but perhaps most of all they endured incredible loneliness. “He is entirely alone now with his little life of 19 years, and cries because it leaves him,” to quote the text. Or, to paraphrase the novel’s protagonist, perhaps in the words of all of us, “I am being asked to kill another man who has done nothing to harm me. For what purpose?”
Australians and New Zealanders, fresh off farms, waterfronts and street stalls, sitting in fox holes, caves and muddy, lice infested ditches, scratched their names on walls, hoping that the rest of the world would not forget them. They felt alone and no amount of convincing that this glorious undertaking was going to make their world a better place was going to placate that loneliness.
I would almost think that the money we spend on these remembrances each year, whilst forgetting other battles inconvenient to us, as the same people strain at gnats and swallow camels over money that could be spent on saving lives in the first place, at times does little more than appease the masters of war so that they can keep doing what they do and convince us that their cause is worth investing in.
On a different subject, although it’s essentially the same, I was, in the last day or two, relating to a friend my trip to Nepal, two and half years ago, just before things started going awry in my brain, where this current conflagration of events kicked off. I visited towns and villages destroyed by the earthquake, interestingly enough, which had hit that beautiful country on ANZAC Day in 2015. I wanted to witness first hand the recovery effort, to talk to people doing their best, against immense odds, not the least being a paucity of support from their own government, yet more duplicity, nonsense and incompetence, to rebuild their lives. I wondered how a Western visitor with a fancy camera in his hand would be welcomed.
The people embraced me. One beautiful, talented and passionate young filmmaker from the village of Barabesie, the epicentre of the second quake, who I am privileged to still call a friend, thanked me for making the effort to come to his town. They needed to know that they were not alone, even though this particular Westerner was of no practical use, unlike other magnificent people I spent time with, who built toilets and fixed houses. The Nepalese people just wanted to know that they were not alone and that, just like the digger in the trench, the world had not forgotten them.
My brain does indeed work in mysterious ways, I started making the connection to loneliness, I started realising that we all need to know, wherever we are, what ever stage in life we find ourselves, that we are not alone. Brain tumour survivors are no different, we need to know, within the, albeit temporary but not always, inevitable loneliness that envelops our lives as we are faced with decisions and consequences, that there are people on our side.
Regardless of the support that we may have at hand, being told that one has a brain tumour is an isolating experience and we need others to bring us reassurance that we are not alone in this journey. I’m trying to do my bit so that no one on this journey need feel this way.
As I stood in awe of the Nepalese people, particularly their women, getting to work lifting bricks, one by one, into wheelbarrows, shovelling debris so that there was a room to sleep in, I stood watching, feeling ashamed that I couldn’t do anything. These people, dignified in their countenance, smiled at me, requesting I take their photograph, appreciated my being there. I emptied my backpack of the lunch I had bought in Kathmandu and gave it to the women. They smiled and laughed at the small token of my admiration and acknowledged me for not forgetting them. Their government had forgotten them but people of good will and warm hearts hadn’t, back packers from around the world, locals who had the facility, western middle class wordsmiths, hadn’t. They felt reassured and that has stayed with me, it makes me want to return, soon.
The same as the ANZAC digger, or indeed the German soldier, just like our fictional character in the novel, in a battlefield trench, the Nepalese villager abandoned by those charged with their protection, and the brain tumour patient feeling scared, confused and alone, they all want to know that they are not forgotten. Lest we forget is not a meme exclusively the preserve of those in uniform.