Life is so often a sod. In the village that we’ve not long left, nine people died in a six week period, rocking the small community’s spirit. Two men in their eighties, both fit, vitally alert and as young in their activities as forty year olds, said, “It looks like our turn is next.”
I well know the feeling. You set your mind to accept the inevitable, you make sure you glean the best from each hour, not knowing if you’ll make the following one. You ensure love and compassion flow from your ‘heart’, knowing relationships are the most important thing. Better than money, better than purpose, for they are, if skilfully lived, our greatest purpose.
If we were to properly relate to our closest companion, our very selves, our mental health and consequently our days, would be improved. Yet most of us damn or dislike ourselves to various degrees and this insidious mental rubbing makes us never feel quite right. When lying next to the dying, knowing I too could soon be rolled away as cold as they, I felt closer to my own self than ever before. There’s nothing else to do, you don’t have the mental energy to read, listen to the radio or converse with the cheery nurses, so your relationship is with you. You alone.
If you dislike the being you are lumbered with at such a crucial moment, that’s tough. Thankfully, although I too damn and dislike ‘me’ as much as most, I also have a strong positivity which has helped me mumble along and in those various hospitals at various times, this faculty was a boon. Even though in physical misery, regardless of the mental fugg engulfing me, I was able to relax and be with me. I noticed the light splaying across the ward. I listened to the sounds as if they were an orchestra playing especially for me.
Who knows what makes most of us feel unsettled by the creature we are. My reason was a really difficult childhood. But my saviour was also present in that childhood - a wild, tough and noble Kenyan tribe. At a time when all else was crumbling, when white colonial society shunned us, when my own brother turned towards violence, those magnificent people saved me and gave me an inner solidity which I still carry with me.
That they would die for me, even kill to save me, as they would for anyone they loved, was powerful. Deep, deep within, you felt you were worth it. Yet this came at a price. One had to be prepared to do the same in return, which was total loyalty. To do this, you had to face yourself and discover, inside, what you liked and enhance those traits. Their traits were loyalty, bravery, empathy and compassion (though only towards fellow tribesmen, I being an honorary member).
So where am I going with all this rambling?
Towards a recognition that our first duty is towards ourselves. If we can’t love our own being, then who can we truly love? Any love arising from a distaste of oneself is tainted with muddled ego complexes and thus creates messy interactions between us and them, and these play out until our end. On the other hand, appreciating who we are, understanding why we are this (without self pity getting in the way), and patting our funny little selves on the head and smiling, is the way ahead.
Gradually, we feel at home in our own presence, and slowly that emanates from our skin and others can feel it. Again, I’m lucky. My wife is such a person. Everyone likes her because she is clear, untainted, compassionate. We can all be like that, but only if we want to be. It will certainly improve our mental health, our lives and, as I well know, our sodding deaths.