For Auld Lang Syne
In common with many folk, I experience a lull in commitments during the period between Christmas and New Year. I had planned to progress with the editing of a new book (Flashes of Insight, due out in March) but unexpectedly found myself without my computer for a few days. So I reprioritised. I read some more physical books, I returned to the Gym after an absence during a hectic December and I caught upon correspondence with old friends.
Keeping in touch with people I have known for a long time is important to me and has become more so as the years have slipped by. Sadly, in recent years there are fewer of those than there were. Some folk I have long held dear have completed their journeys unexpectedly or earlier than they might have done, sometimes through lack of self care (note to self: managing your health is important!), sometimes for reasons beyond their control.
Five years back, my closest female friend, B, died of secondary liver cancer seeming caused by a lifetime of smoking. Her dearest wish was to marry before her life ended and she honoured me by asking me to give her away at her wedding. To do so was bittersweet, to say the least. There was virtually nothing I would not have done for her but as I stood at the front of the registry office with her that morning, I knew I was giving her away in more ways than one. B was just 55 years old when she passed.
Two years ago I received news that my childhood friend P had also died of cancer. A tall, slim, clean-living, devout Christian, to my certain knowledge he never smoked and drank alcohol moderately. No one could have predicted his early departure. So yes, as our numbers dwindle I hold those who remain close and esteem them highly.
My friend G and I met in 1984 at work and quickly became lifelong friends. At a time when it was important to me to excel in my career, he was the person against whom I most often benchmarked myself, his formidable successes causing me to redouble my own efforts. We last met up this summer after a gap of fifteen years while he was working abroad. G has been through several episodes of heart surgery over several years. Having not heard from him for a couple of months, I messaged him this morning and was relieved to receive an immediate response. But he said this:
‘Hi Michael. Sorry we have been out of contact but things have been a bit hectic with my recovery and events around Christmas have impacted us also. C (his wife) is abroad for the funeral of her cousin’s husband, having flown out on Christmas Day. I’ve been with Mum in the nursing home where she now resides and helping my sister whose husband has Motor Neurone disease. Strange times indeed.’ I responded with concern and the offer of any help I might be able to provide. But in truth I was simply glad that this man, so dear to me for so long, was still on the planet.
There again, perhaps not such strange times as he might think. Siddhartha Gautama, later to become the first Buddha, was the son of a nobleman who went to great lengths to protect him from being confronted by the realities of life. But not long into adulthood he discover the truth:that we all eventually face sickness, old age and death. That realisation caused him to abandon his comfortable life and secure future and instead to seek enlightenment. As we know, he found it and blazed a trail of awakening for innumerable others who came after him to do the same.
At almost 68 years of age, I am contemplating the inescapable reality that I, too, in the not too distant future will face those same issues of suffering- old age, perhaps sickness, and certainly my own eventual passing. Time in this body is short for all of us. It only feels otherwise when we are too young to have gained the awareness that comes with experience. My friends are moving on to what comes next and one day, perhaps sooner than I might expect, so will I.
I’m not really one for New Year’s resolutions, but here’s one for 2024. We would do well to stop thinking in terms of the seventy or eighty years we have on the planet as the whole story and think of it instead as either the preface, or chapter two-hundred-and-something of a much longer book – depending on the tradition you follow. And then think about the changes you might make now in preparation for the next chapter. Do that, and you might well find it brings to you an entirely different set of priorities to the ones you favour now.
A peaceful, happy and enlightened 2024 to you.