Whirly Gigs, Pliés and Other Tricks and Obstacles
Te Waipounamu Aotearora (South Island New Zealand)
(and embracing the pain)
Things are somewhat difficult just at present. I stumble, almost falling backwards and all I’m doing is making lunch, a toasted sandwich. It’s the price I’m paying for having the brain tumour removed and the subsequent and ongoing recovery. A small laugh ensues as I attempt an appalling demi-plié, followed by a snigger, as if to say, “it’s alright, we’ve been here before, we know how this goes.”
I can control it, this split second exodus of equilibrium and although it’s followed by an immediate rallying and recovery it doesn’t actually get any easier. Many brain tumour survivors with cancer do not have this issue but for me it’s routine, it would be an anomaly if I didn’t perform this wondrous pirouette at least three or four times daily, it’s almost good enough to take it on the road. It would be abnormal too if I did not wake up each morning and have to fight to keep walking, waging war against the solipsism that envelops my head. I lay siege to it and its minions. Then there is the question, begging to be asked, how do I put up with the brain still not being quite right and the body reacting in accordance with the the current cerebral insubordination.
Complaints? I don’t have any. When I was a lad I had a weekend paper run, included in it was a regular visit to the cranky old bugger down the road, who couldn’t resist opining, when asked how he was, in his unique take on the ironic, that he had no complaints, adding that “not that anyone would listen anyway.” Of course I’d laugh with him, I wanted a tip, knowing that he was lying. Of course he had a complaint or two, or three, he always did, he wouldn’t have told me to the contrary if he hadn’t had anything to rage against, always whining about this or that as an opening, and closing, gambit.
So, as I recover from my reverse whirly gig and my brain tumour I can state as clearly as I need to, without the slightest hint at irony, for that would be an insult to us all, that I have nothing at all to complain about. I can do that reverse, almost falling on the floor, manoeuvre, stay upright, and complete the making of my lunch.
The reason I don’t have anything to complain about is that I have discovered something at play here that stacks the cards in my favour. It’s my mental state. I’ve learned how to fight, unlike at school, where I’d no more fight than eat my mother’s corned beef. A different fight of course. Another school meme was to call someone mental if they showed the slightest predilection for alternative behaviour, and so it went, that I was called mental quite a bit. But now, that mental side has paid me back. My refusing to give in to the kind of lazy gods that dictated the life of the old bugger I delivered the newspapers to has transmogrified into a type of glorious manifestation of the beauty inherent in us humans, despite the rubbish cards that are, from time to time, dealt us.
We sometimes, when we are dealt a favourable hand, refuse to acknowledge it, to our detriment but then, if we get dealt a losing hand we might then stop for a moment and consider our options. We might even start to think that what we have is not as bad as we think. My response during the past couple of years and particularly in the couple of months I spent holed up, moving not terribly much, in a hospital bed, was to fight, to bear down on it and summon this particular mentality that for many people lies dormant, or at best nascent, deep inside their souls. It’s what makes me, when I can quite justifiably lay in bed, rise from it and challenge the gods of inertia to a duel.
It’s justifiable of course to get angry, and by all means get angry but do not stay that way. Getting angry is at the other end of the spectrum to being and staying angry. One elicits a response that laughs in the face of whatever we face and the other reminds me of the old bugger with the smelly pyjamas waddling out to collect his newspaper before abusing me for being late.
I got angry when the head Doctor of the rehabilitation hospital I was a guest of for five weeks, trying to walk again, following three weeks in another facility learning to talk again, told my wife that I was “damaged and disabled”. It was something, she was told, she would have to come to terms with, accept, live with, cop it on the chin, cope with as best she could. She more than coped, although, lately it’s been tough for her, which is a challenge for me, knowing how to respond to someone who has given so much. Her first act of coping was to relay to me what the good doctor had told her, a strategic act probably but also possibly because she was in this with me and knew there was no way out of it other than through it.
It served to get my dander up. The responses available to us therefore rest with either the passive or the active. And here is where the real irony kicks in, the passive is to remain angry and bitter, the active is to declare deep inside that something is going to change. The change may only be a mental, or emotional one, and it may or may not lead to a physical change but I contend that it doesn’t much matter if it doesn’t. It causes a change in our brain that goes some way to freeing us.
Perhaps all that past dogginess that I displayed, in an attempt to make up for a lack of talent, has stood me in good stead. There are times when one can have too much talent. All that going just that little bit harder because I figured dogginess was about the only arrow in my quiver. In sporting parlance and indeed, in the world of the ballet dancer, where a plié is merely the start of the pain, it’s called knowing how to hurt. That dogginess also reveals itself when things don’t go according to plan, in a joy for the here and now that can not be compartmentalised, defined, summarised or expressed in any other way than an appreciation that whirly gigs give us something money can’t buy, insight, perspective. It’s best left alone and enjoyed for what it is, a celebration of sorts, an intoxicating cocktail, if we let it be so, of all that is good in this world, the people, the talent on display, the odd bit of dogginess, and the hard graft and intense love from those in the background.
After that, anything else, including the odd reverse whirly gig and half intended plié, should be a breeze.