I had the chance to hold my newest grandson, Finn, a week or so ago. I imagined the great adventure his life would be. I won't be able to share more than a little of it with him, but I hope throughout he has someone to love him.
I crossed paths recently with a person at the other end of her life, who has not been so lucky.
I volunteer at a local hospice for people in the final stages of their lives. I answer phones, greet visitors, get them cups of tea or coffee, and chat with anyone who needs a bit of company. There's a constant stream of people. Most residents stay with us only a few weeks. Faces and identities tend to blur but a small number stay in memory for one reason or another.
Sitting alone on a chair in a corner of an unlit room, she travelled light in the world. So light she was barely there. Silent and motionless, it was tempting to wonder if she were a fixture, thoughtfully placed in the room by a decorator, along with prints, cushions and vases.
It was hard to be sure, but I guessed she was quite old. Her stranded, untended grey hair fell haphazardly to her shoulders, her face mostly hidden behind a gauze bandage. Her arms were scarred, blotched and unmoving. Beyond the reach of modern medicine, as are all our residents, her file would have been marked 'not for resuscitation'.
Her room opened onto an outdoor garden area where colourful birds hopped along branches and squabbled on large green leaves. She didn't notice them.
As I said, she travelled light.
I don't know how long she had been sitting there. I guess the nurses would have woken her in the morning and helped her into her chair. To count down another day from the few she had left in this hospice for the dying.
Sitting. Not moving. Not saying. Not seeing.
Thinking? Dreaming? Remembering? Worrying? Hoping? Praying? There was no indication what was happening behind her one uncovered eye.
I walked past her door more than once and hesitated. There didn't seem a lot of point going in and speaking to her. I have this issue you see. I would have been embarassed if she had been unable to speak. Easier for me to walk past as she sat statue like, waiting for her life to drain away.
As I left at the end of my shift, her silhouette came along with me, like an image on a retina after the eye closes on a bright, glarey object. Who was she? Who had she been?
Someone had held her once, just as I had held Finn, and dreamed of what her life would be like. That great life adventure was of no interest to anyone now; maybe not even herself.
I'm sorry I didn't walk in and say hello when I had the chance; maybe sitting with her awhile. Cut off from human company and left to sit woodenly in a darkened corner, her life tide ebbing, when the sky outside was so bright and birds tumbled through the leaves.