I like Christmas. I mean – Christmas old-style. Christmas as a time for help and fasting. Not the modern form of Christmas, a holiday of commerce and overeating.
At this time I enjoy visiting people who don’t much “fit in” with the style of the modern Christmas. They like to forget about it. They’re either very old, or very sick. However, although it might not seem like it, these people are a source of beautiful wisdom and experience. Today I’m going to tell you about one such “forgotten” person.
He lives in a hospice. And he has something to say to anyone who holds off on their dreams on the assumption that there is still plenty of time to make them come true.
“Don’t say you can’t when you don’t want to. As the time will come when you want to but no longer can.”
He’s no old-timer but a relatively young man – not yet forty-five years old. He spends most of the day staring at the white ceiling. Only occasionally does he get up and look out of the window. He sees a few trees and the gable of the neighbouring funeral parlour.
Today he spends most of his life in a space measuring fifteen steps by six. He can leave this room to go into the corridor, but he can’t go out of the building any more. Never again.
Yet he tells me that he’s got work to do outside, lots of friends, earnings in his bank account and lots of dreams he has sadly not yet started to pursue. He talks about how he never had time for them – first he wanted to finish his apartment, get one project started, then another one came up, and after that …
“When you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans for the future.”
It’s just that life doesn’t go how we might want it to. We don’t have unlimited time. We have just the moment, which is now.
By now, I don’t mean the time when we are breathing and apparently alive. I mean the time when we can act; because we can lose the ability to act when we are still breathing and alive.
Life does not necessarily have to be followed by death. It can bring what that man fell into. Limbo.
He spent the last few years working all the time. He did so to be able to fit everything in – to have time to pursue his dreams as soon as possible. Yet life doesn’t work like that. One day, for whatever reason, he fell sick. He couldn’t see, his head was spinning, and since then he has only been heading in one direction. They found he had an illness which occurs when the body stops loving itself. As though it had said that so much for a man is unnecessary, as he doesn’t use it. And so it begins to get rid of the limbs from the fingertips downwards. It leaves just the brain. For thinking.
It started with his legs, which the doctors are gradually taking from this man. Initially the patient coped with it. He believed he was having an operation to cure the problem and enable him to return home. But there were more operations. Now his doctor just says: ”This is a situation like driving down a one-way street by mistake. You can’t back up.” He simply can’t back up any more.
For this young man, it was like his flat, friends, work and dreams all ceased to exist with a snap of the fingers. Everything remained postponed somewhere outside. He says how he’d now look forward to trips, castles, mountain trails… that he has now realised that things can’t be put off. As though he wanted to tell God: “I’ll be good now, old man. I’ll start to take pleasure in every day. I understand it now…” And yet he’s in that one-way street, where there’s no going back. Life changed from what he had had up to that point, and he won’t get a second chance. “If we don’t shape our future now,” says his doctor, “it is possible that all our future will remain merely an illusion. For this patient, unless his body changes its mind, the future is just in this hospital building.”
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