And Now The End Is Near!

And Now The End Is Near!

A Story by alanwgraham
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Our search for meaning in life.

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The next

And now, the end is near!

 

Birth, life, death.

These three words tell it all - or do they?


All the writers, poets, priests and philosophers that ever lived have become mired in the shifting quick-sands of this question.

   

We are travelers across life’s ocean, buffeted by storm, swept by currents and tides, becalmed, drifting ……..  

Sounds profound doesn’t it, but we all know that life is just too damn complicated to wrap up in a metaphor.


Do we know who we are? We are thinking beings but not in the rational way that we might suppose. We are like a child’s folded paper cut in the single shape of a figure but pulled open to reveal a linked multitude.  Which one is the real me? The chilling answer is - we are them all!


These tricky questions of meaning often come to us in dark moments  as we navigate our way through life. Our answers make us who we are - and who we will be.


It’s time to stop philosophising now and get down to the nitty gritty of life in the raw. Will this help us make sense of this mess? I doubt it.


Here goes - it’s my story. With differing details it is probably your story too!

My name is John Harrison. I’ve got to fifty six (and eleven months).  You see, I’m fooling myself already - as near as damn it I’m fifty seven. I’ve led what most would call a full and contented life. Sue and I have been happily married for thirty two years. She is a brilliant and respected teacher and I’m an occasionally uncivil, civil servant.


We both work hard but enjoy our leisure time to the full.  Friends, sport, hobbies and holidays fill our time. Living fully in the moment we don’t think much of the future.

Far too busy, we decided early on not to have a family. Later, with Sue’s fertility ebbing we thought again but our best efforts proved sadly unfruitful.


Then it happened - that pivotal moment caught me like a lightning bolt. I had been having ‘older man’ problems with my ‘waterworks’ for some time. You know - up to the toilet during the night and that weird ‘latchkey’ syndrome where your bladder seems ready to explode as you are turning the key with the loo a few feet away.


I did the right thing - went to my doctor. I can tell you right now, the wheels of the health service do grind exceedingly slowly. After that, the manual prostate examination, the blood test, the flow test, the MRI scan, the biopsy. All so sloooooooooooooow, so nerve shredding.


Eventually I got the letter. That moment, time congeals and then gradually wobbles back into gear.  A week later my heart was thudding as I entered the consultant’s room. She was consoling but business like.  They had found a mass which was cancerous but no sign of it spreading. I opted for a course of radiotherapy to reduce the small tumour. The treatment went well and at the follow up visit Ms Thomson told me that she didn’t expect to see me in the next five years.


I stepped out of the hospital into a morning where the sky seemed brighter, people were friendlier and the birds sang sweetly. For a while I felt like a tightrope walker who has stepped back onto terra firma.


Then I had a dream.

A knock on the door.  Doctor Thomson stood with letter in hand. ‘Open it!’ I teased it open slower than my fingernails were growing, all the time knowing what it said. My fears were confirmed. It read, ‘FIVE YEARS.’ I glanced at Ms Thomson - she now wore the hanging  judge’s black cap.


I woke distraught, to a new reality. The dream spoke to me, - ‘your days are numbered.’ The funny thing was that I knew I was lucky - many are given only months or weeks, but somehow my perspective on the boundaries of my life suddenly made me feel hemmed in.

  

I moped around the house for a few days. The dream had told me what I knew but had deeply suppressed. Then I handed in my resignation. I had five years, probably more. Luckily we had invested well and we wouldn’t be short. Sue decided to keep working as she was five years younger.  But what was I to do?   Inspiration came to me one night when my whisky befuddled mind stumbled from ‘kick the bucket’ to ‘bucket list!’


The next day Sue and I had a long chat.

‘You get on with it John - you know you only live…. oh sorry John I didn’t mean … anyway we’ll have time to tick off some of your list together.’

 I invited a few mates round and we tossed around ideas, becoming more preposterous as the wine bottles emptied. Things to do, places to visit, and so on. Yes - maybe it would be my ‘kick the bucket’ list!


A few months later I was standing on the summit of the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps with my old climbing pal Gerry. Twenty five years before we had reached to within a few rope lengths from the summit but had been driven back by a ferocious storm. That had needled me badly since. This time the sky was blue and we were gazing over snow covered mountains in all directions. The climb had been tough but we had the caution that age engenders.

‘I think could die a happy man now Gerry!’ I tried to hide the tears in my eyes.

‘F*** that mate - we’re tied to the same rope. Remember that climbing down is the dangerous bit!’


The F*** it list was ticked off steadily as the next few years flew past. Sue and I spent two glorious weeks diving on the Barrier Reef on the Australian coast. We flew to Kathmandu and spent three weeks on the sublime Annapurna trek.


As some light relief my pals persuaded me into a series of escapades that would normally be on a juvenile death wish list. I tumbled out of an aircraft at 15,000 feet (a leap of faith!), bungeed off a bridge tied on to a long elastic band - an ‘oh shiiiiiit’ moment,  parascended from a mountain top.


 Sue and I cruised to Antarctica before it melted, went ashore to ogle at the penguins, whale-watched from the safety of the ship. In the winter of the third year we decided to take a cruise to the Arctic Circle in Northern Norway to see the northern lights. On our third night Sue and I went to the rail after dark and gradually the flickering sheets of green and red filled the sky. We stood mesmerised, but as I watched a strange detachment grew and I knew that my frantic collection of experiences was ultimately futile.

 

The bucket list was bucketed. The fact that I had most of the list ticked made it easier. I knew there must be more to life than self-indulgence - but what? The answer came one evening when a line on the radio seemed to be speaking direct to me - ‘no man is an island.’ Intrigued, I googled. It was from John Donne.


 No man is an island, Entire of itself ……..
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.


These profound lines spoke direct and clear to me - we are all part of a whole, intertwined in our humanity. How could I have been so foolish?  The very next day I went along to our voluntary service center to offer my services.

I left an hour later, having volunteered to work with befriending struggling old folk and also helping adults with learning difficulties. I would have to wait a few weeks for my police check to be done but in the meantime I would take part in some training sessions.


Once I started, the work was an eye opener. It was painfully obvious to me that I had just floated along through life, cocooned in my bubble, oblivious to the struggle of my fellow creatures.


Bill had spent his life working hard as a farm labourer. His wife Peggy had died ten years before and their three children all lived away. A proud man, Bill put on a brave face but his sole companion was the TV. Dementia had been creeping up on him and now he was struggling. Bill’s face lit up when I knocked on the door and although I was able to help with the everyday chores it was obvious that my company was greatly appreciated. We reminisced about his life and enjoyed listening to some of his old records.


Sam was another of my clients. He had struggled at school and then did his best to hide that he was functionally illiterate. A single man in his early thirties he had avoided relationships for fear of revealing his secret. Teaching Sam was a delight. He reveled in each step forward and was a rapid learner. Not having had kids of my own I also experienced the thrill of sharing the skill that most of us take for granted. My time with these two men that formally I would never have met and that I now came to think of as friends brought a new dimension to my life.


It was just over four years after that dream of the judge, just when everything was going well that time took another shudder. I’d had a nagging pain in my lower back for several days that I’d tried to ignore but at my bedtime pee I was shocked to see a red tinge. My legs nearly buckled. My heart galloped off into a dark place.


Just a glitch, I tried to delude myself. The doctor said I was OK for five years at least. If I ignored it, it might go away. In the morning as I was clearing up in the kitchen I laughed in relief when I realised that a generous helping of beetroot had been the cause of my red wee. However the seeds of doubt had been sown and I kept my worries from Sue.


I had never been one for religion or church but I found myself thinking about my mortality more and more.  Was death the end of it all? Will there be a judgement day?  How would I fare? I felt foolish even thinking about this but I knew that better and wiser men before me had pondered their fate.


Several weeks later I found myself drawn into our local cathedral. I sat in a pew and bowed my head. When I looked up I could see a statue of Christ with his hand raised in blessing. A plaque read ‘Whosoever believeth in me shall not perish but have eternal life.’ I heard steps from behind and felt a hand on my shoulder.  ‘I can see you are troubled,’ The minister said quietly, ‘can you remember how you felt when you were learning to swim and your father said, ‘go on, let go.’ You had faith in him and you just swam.’ The minister had seen I was looking at the statue. ‘That is what you must do now - just let go!’ Feeling a bit embarrassed at being caught I mumbled thanks and left.


My flirtation with faith flitted in and out of my mind for some time and the promise of forgiveness and life everlasting was very tempting. However I had spent my life at least pretending to be a rational being and a faith in things unseen seemed too much like clutching at straws. There must be other ways of understanding our place in the grand order of things.


With my five year return check-up nearing I became increasingly distracted and anxious. Sue tried her best to raise my spirits but I hadn’t had the courage to tell her of the back pain that was gnawing away at me. I was back to the self-delusion of ignoring the problem and hoping it would go away. Needing some diversion one night, I hit the town with a few of my old bachelor friends. We started with an excellent meal eased down with far too much wine. We staggered on to a club where the girls were far too friendly. My friends had the sense to take a taxi home but foolishly I ended up sharing a room - and the contents of my wallet - with a young blond that had read the word sucker written on my forehead. I don’t suppose that Sue believed my excuses but she had the good grace to play along.


Then my letter arrived from the hospital. I was called back in two weeks for a follow up. The consultant, still Ms Thomson, was cheerful but wheedled out the news of my back pain. ‘Don’t worry too much,’ she reassured me, ‘we’ll take blood to check your PSA levels and do an MRI scan. I can take the blood now and we can do the scan in about ten days.’


Three weeks later I was back in Ms Thomson’s room. ‘Please sit down John. I’m afraid I have some bad news for you …..’


Seven months later…….

  

I had been in intensive care for some time. I drifted in and out of the fog, not able to communicate but aware of ghost like figures in the room - Sue and a Doctor standing beside the bed. I could hear the Doctor consoling Sue and then the sound of her weeping. ‘We’ve done everything we can Sue.There is no hope of John recovering now. If you agree we will switch off life support. John will pass away gently in a few minutes.’


I couldn’t hear Sue’s response but she must have nodded her assent. The beat from the machine that had been keeping me alive stopped.

 Suddenly a memory from my childhood emerged, unbidden, clear as a bell.  My dad was teaching me to ride a bike and suddenly he gave me a push. ‘You’re on your own now!’ That's what I felt like at that moment.


My final thought - crystal clear like that miraculous time in my darkroom when the image appeared magically out of the void.


The meaning of life?

Of course, it was clear now - I had known all the time!

 

 

© 2018 alanwgraham


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Featured Review

Tthe greatest thinkers and poets could have a hundred lifetimes each and never come vlose to finding a metaphor that woulf fit even a fraction of that. I like the paper people cut out, but if we could manage that, we would still have a few dimensions we would be bissfully unaware of.
As I think you surmised far better than I, the meaning of life can only be, to live it.
Superbly told Alan. I had to keep checking your name yhroughout in case this was about you. Thats how real it felt :)

Posted 2 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

alanwgraham

2 Years Ago

Thanks Lorry. If my wife reads these I can have a bit of explaining to do! It's just a story - hone.. read more



Reviews

This was an incredible read.
You have a gift for storytelling and touched all the right emotions.
Superb.

Posted 2 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

The tale told here and told so incredibly well, had me in tears Alan and that my friend is so bloomin true, this hard man here, he just dont care who hears it.. If I could write a story, even half as well, I would be a very happy man indeed... thanks for making me think about certain inevitabilities my fine literary friend..... Neville

Posted 2 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

alanwgraham

2 Years Ago

Thanks for this great review but I don't think its entirely about the writing, but the content and t.. read more
Neville

2 Years Ago

all of what you have shared here is understandable my friend... maybe not all about the writing, but.. read more
You are one of the few who can write a long story that's compelling from start to finish. I wanted to take notes to remember all my favorite spots of wordcrafting & mindweaving, such as "latchkey syndrome" (never heard of it, but know it well!) & "kick-the-bucket" list, & more! *smile* I have never cared about dying & your story seems to paint the picture of how a "typical" person might react to impending death . . . responses that seem crazy to me, but I know it's a common way to respond to the finality of death. I love the way your narrator moves thru the indulgence of his fuckit list & on to the more noble pursuit of "giving to others" -- most of it does not sound like a sincere effort, but mostly just a frantic romp thru the remaining possibilities -- in fact, this whole story feels mostly tongue-in-cheek! Last & not least, I love your ending where you allow the reader to insert one's own final lesson. Your unique storytelling imagination is always entertaining! (((HUGS))) Fondly, Margie

Posted 2 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

alanwgraham

2 Years Ago

Thanks Margie. I have been chewing over this for a while and thank god I made it before passing on. .. read more
barleygirl

2 Years Ago

I'm very familiar with your style of true-life embellishment *wink! wink!*
Great story. Does the meaning of life catch up with us?
Or as the story tells us. Something happens that stops you in your tracks.
Something makes you think.
Life is a hundred miles an hour event now. We don't even slow down in our sleep.
Even the bucket list has to be rushed. Maybe that is the meaning of life. Rush to the point where you can't rush no more.

Posted 2 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

alanwgraham

2 Years Ago

Thanks for your very thoughtful review Paul and taking the time to read this. I think most of us jus.. read more
Tthe greatest thinkers and poets could have a hundred lifetimes each and never come vlose to finding a metaphor that woulf fit even a fraction of that. I like the paper people cut out, but if we could manage that, we would still have a few dimensions we would be bissfully unaware of.
As I think you surmised far better than I, the meaning of life can only be, to live it.
Superbly told Alan. I had to keep checking your name yhroughout in case this was about you. Thats how real it felt :)

Posted 2 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

alanwgraham

2 Years Ago

Thanks Lorry. If my wife reads these I can have a bit of explaining to do! It's just a story - hone.. read more

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Added on October 21, 2018
Last Updated on October 22, 2018

Author

alanwgraham
alanwgraham

Scotland, United Kingdom



About
Married with three kids, I retired early from teaching physics but have always enjoyed mountains. In my forties I experienced a manic episode which kick-started a creative urge. I've written a novel .. more..

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