Sometimes – thankfully – events conspire to remind us to park our self-absorption, reflect upon life and be thankful for small mercies. I hesitate to file this post under the heading ‘There’s always someone worse off than yourself’, but there’s an element of that in my theme today.
Yesterday Chris, a neighbour, popped in to see my father for a chat. He’s currently in the process of razing his house to the ground and in its place putting up a brand new larger replacement, complete with a purpose-built annexe specifically designed to accommodate the needs of his eleven year-old disabled daughter who spends most of her life in a wheelchair.
The building project has inevitably caused a deal of disruption down our lane – not least lorries arriving and departing, general machine noise and occasional access issues – and Chris wished to keep us posted on the ongoing schedule and check that my father was not being driven to distraction by the whole process.
Being a relatively gentle soul (and disregarding the chap up the lane that he positively hates, to the point where, when the priest asks the local church’s congregation of fourteen ‘to pray for their neighbours’, he always responds by asking God under his breath if He’d mind very much if he didn’t), my father assured Chris that he shouldn’t be concerned on his account because he had long ago taken the view that “the sooner the work got going, the sooner it would end”.
Having discussed all that we needed to, in general conversation my father asked Chris how his daughter was, because at a recent party she had appeared to be pretty fed up, as if she hadn’t really wished to be there.
Chris and his wife are the sort of people that seem blessed – they’re a thoughtful, easy-going professional couple with a good standard of living, two kids, a dog and a wide circle of friends. They’re relentlessly positive, ‘nice’ (in the proper sense of the word, i.e. before it acquired its quasi-derogatory edge) and affable, always ready to help others and contribute.
[For example, my father owns the lane on which he lives and, in order to retain its ‘private’ legal status, on one day every year the gate to the main road must be closed. Several years ago, not long after he first arrived, Chris – recognising that my father was getting on in years and not as sprightly as he once was – knocked on my father’s door and suggested that he (Chris) undertake the annual chore of closing the gate and preparing the notices that have to be posted in the street and on the gate. He’s done this ever since.]
Yesterday, in response to my father’s enquiry, Chris told us that currently his eleven year old was going through a difficult phase – exacerbated by the fact she was approaching puberty. She was generally at war with the world, frustrated at the ‘teenage’ things her contemporaries could do and she couldn’t – and wondering generally “Why?”, especially as regards the serious disabilities with which she had been lumbered and which would shortly require three different serious operations.
Things were not assisted by her current position regards schooling. She was shortly to move to secondary education and – the eternal criticism that arises regarding ‘the authorities’ – the local council and school just didn’t seem to operate in a ‘joined up’ fashion.
The council has stated that she could go to any school she wanted. Chris and his wife had then done their research, toured various establishments with their daughter and all of them had agreed upon School A. Whereupon the council announced that, when they had said “any school” they had actually meant not only “any school save that one” but that they specifically needed the daughter to go to School B because that the only one at which they’d established the appropriate ‘special needs’ unit she required.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking – “You couldn’t make it up”!
We’ve all had our trials and tribulations in life – I certainly have – and in a situation like the one being endured by Chris and his family right now, I’m not sure how I’d cope. But that’s part of the human condition, right? For the most part, when beset by problems, we somehow find a way to muddle through.
I remember once how my late wife’s sister and husband came to lunch one day and said that they marvelled at how well we were coping with our situation – my wife being terminally ill at a point where we had two kids under the age of ten. The answer, of course, was that we were coping because we had to. I added that their comment was weird because, only a few years previously, they (my wife’s sister and husband) had lost their own daughter to the same disease – leukaemia – at the age of eight. My wife and I told them that we’d have found facing the loss of a child far harder to cope with than what we were going through. It spoke volumes that my wife’s sister and husband assured us they thought quite the opposite.
As I said, people find a way because they have to. It’s not rocket science.
Still, that didn’t stop me feeling a great deal of respect for Chris and his wife yesterday. They’ve got so much going for them and yet they are also having coping with some big, life-affecting issues that could last for decades ahead.