A few rounds into my husband’s chemo, when he’d lost his hair but still had his eyebrows, when he was feeling like crap but not as crappy as he was eventually going to feel, we went for a drive in the country looking for an antique shop.
The drive down the highway was a pleasant break from the routine of doctor and hospital visits, an interlude of normalcy into our lives. Just before we pulled off the highway to turn into a small town I asked Pete, ‘When all of the chemo and sickness has finished and you’re better, what do you think will be different?’
Pete didn’t answer; he just kept driving. I wondered if my question might have offended him. After a while though he said, ‘I don’t know. All I can think about is this very moment.’ Living in the now had become his mantra.
We found an antique shop. There was a cupboard in a dusty sunlit corner at the back. A big solid piece made out of golden coloured timber. Perfect for what we were looking for.
We went to find the shop owner. He was sitting behind a desk reading a book through half framed spectacles. Opera was playing through the speakers that hung from the ceiling. He looked up as we walked in, put his book down and smiled, placing his glasses on top of the book. He was a tall man without a hunch in his body, square shoulders but not heavy set, he would have been older than us, probably somewhere in his fifties but it was his eyes that gave me pause for thought, the clearest stillest eyes I’d ever come across.
We talked for a while about the cupboard, the weather and where we’d come from but then the conversation shifted and he started to tell us about how he’d nearly died ten years ago. His heart had failed and he’d been rushed to hospital where he was told that he would die if he didn’t have a quadruple bypass, just like his father had died in front of him when he was only eight years old. He lay there for two days in hospital while they made their preparations for surgery. With nothing left for him to do but contemplation it was then that he discovered the yummy feeling. He realised there was a tiny pink dot, right in the centre of his chest, about the size of a pea. When he completely focussed on it, he felt what he could only describe as a yummy feeling. The feeling you had as a young child when you didn’t have a care in the world, when you were completely free. He knew intuitively that that pink dot, the size of a pea, was his true essence, and no matter what happened to his body, that pink dot, the essence of him, would continue to exist.
So the next day, instead of signing the consent forms for the operation, he signed himself out of hospital. It took him two years to recover. At first he couldn’t walk more than ten meters before he had to sit and rest. He spent most of his time resting, but it gave him the opportunity to focus on that tiny pink pea. Over time it started to grow and then slowly fill his whole body, so much that he could feel his toes and fingertips tingling with that yummy feeling. He knew instinctively if he wanted to get better he had to focus on the yummy feeling, consult it about everything; what he ate, how he exercised, who he saw, what music he listened to, what time he went to bed. If the yummy feeling expanded and got happier he was on a good thing, helping to heal his body. If the yummy feeling shrunk he needed to stop what he was doing for it would only detract from his wellbeing. As time went by and he got better and better at focussing on the yummy feeling his health improved until finally, two years later, he was able to go back to work at the antique shop.
He was convinced he’d healed himself until one day, after some follow up tests, he got a call from his cardiologist telling him he needed to come in straight away. The cardiologist ushered him into his room, telling him to sit down down.
‘I don’t understand,’ the cardiologist said, shaking his head and staring at the healthy man opposite him. The results had come back from the tests showing a completely healthy heart. The cardiologist had never seen such a recovery.
By this stage I was using the backs of my hands to wipe away tears, incredulous at the way my question in the car had been answered.
‘You know,’ he said, coming out from behind his desk, ‘I think it goes back to Shakespeare?’
I shook my head, ‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” Really there’s only one choice isn’t there? To not be, as in to not be yourself, for the other one, to be, is our natural default state, we will just be ourselves, what we were always meant to be if we’re not trying to be anything else.’
With that he walked away from us and said over his shoulder, ‘Shall we go and get this cupboard?’