A Word of the Wise

Created 23rd June 2009

There are times, even at my increasingly ripe age, that it is not the lessons we learn via discovery that are the greatest, but those that are bestowed as statements of tried and tested fact by others. Their confidence in the rightness of what they advise is sufficient to warrant treating it as such without further redress to dipping one's toe in the water.

Thus I present, for my own reflection mostly but also in gratitude for some of these have been life-changing, on some of the wisest words given to me.

"Get a drainer"
This may well be the most life-changing words ever spoken to me. How can I describe Stella Devine? Intelligent, assured, dignified, honest, cantankerous, awkward, rude - these last three were her own. A retired probation officer, successful single woman, who I had the privilege of assisting in maintaining her lifelong independence.

One day I was lamenting the toil that is drying the dishes and, in the way that only Stella had, she ordered me to get a drainer. Elaborating, she highlighted the stupidity of my insistence on removing clutter from my own kitchen whilst putting germs back on to the dishes. Better still, she added, get a dishwasher.

I didn't get the dishwasher, due to lack of space and spare crockery mainly, but I did go straight out and buy a drainer. It's the best thing I ever did.

Thank you Stella Devine, wherever you are.

"Keep the door open"
Bob, our school counsellor, is perfect. He is unimposing, attentive, complimentary, sypathetic, earnest - all the things a good, solid humanist should be. Above all else, his hopefulness is infectious. The naughty children can be good; scars can be healed; everything will turn out right in the end.

"Live in the moment"
In January I read an article in Psychology Today with this title; it was full of advice on ways of making sure one remains conscious of life and I immediately set to the task of trying it out. How amazing! It actually works: as long as I make the effort to absorb the here and now I find that all my other concerns take their rightful and far less important place in my life.

Up until that point, I had treated traffic congestion on the way to work as a serious bind, causing me minor stress because I hated being in the car. Some days I could happily have walked away from my car forever, but not anymore. Living in the moment means I can take the time to do nothing but listen to music and appreciate the time alone, for I can't change the situation.

Since then I've become a big follower of Cesar Milan, whose message is also that we should 'live in the moment'. The liberation experienced by doing so defies description.

"Go snowboarding miss"
Thank you Ben, for this advice. I still haven't, but I'm working on it. And yes, I realise that contradicts everything I said to you and your class.

"The man who believes he will die tomorrow will find a way to make it happen"
I appear to falsely recall that this is a line from 'Star Trek: The Next Generation', spoken by Captain Picard. I like it and over-use it, because it is true, not in a fatalistic sense, but in the the same way as believing you will fall off your bike at any second is likely to result in precisely that.

"You're perfectly within your rights to fail"
Paul Reynolds is fully aware of the fact that he is one of the best lecturers in higher education, even if he occasionally feigns humility - poorly. He has neither time nor patience for procrastination (other than his own) and as a tour guide through academia, leads not by example, but by pointing at the difficult path ahead and shrugging.

"It's quality of life that matters"
The problem I have when I think about Eileen Richardson is that I get caught up in so many memories, most of them positive yet meaningful, many of them hilariously funny in retrospect, a few too sad to dwell on. Life is cruel, no more so than at its end, but this is the time when the greatest insights are to be had and it is we who go on who take with us these valuable lessons.

When Nige started smoking again after his dissecting aortic anuerism, I was furious at the utter stupidity of the man. Not only had he managed to give up for several years of his own accord and independently of me, he now had a serious health reason to remain stopped, but apparently that didn't matter.

At the time if he winced as he moved, if he looked a bit flustered or something stressful happened I was prone to panicking, so this cessation of his refraining caused me to (over)react. At the time Eileen was in a twilight zone of having ambiguous test results and a promise from the oncology consultant that if the tumours returned then he would not be able to save her. From someone who knows these things, I can not doubt the truth that it is indeed the quality, not the quantity of life that is important. Believing it and making it a reality is the battle I face daily, but it can be done. I've seen it so it must be true.

"Throw money at it"
I'm not sure how good this advice is, seeing as I've never had the money to throw at whatever 'it' was in need of an injection of cash, but, offered by the best employer I ever had, also a highly successful business woman, who am I to question the wisdom of Joan Ault? Joan started a home care agency and eventually sold it to a larger company who would never live up to her expectations, but running a care agency is one of the hardest jobs in the world, and Joan was very much a hands-on employer.

I saw her recently, now in her 70s and still a handsome woman with an absolute air of authority about her demeanour. As a boss, she was fair, refused to suffer idiots or those who thought they could somehow take her for a ride and could be relied upon to say it exactly how it was.

In return, one could only be respectful and I remain full of admiration and gratitude for the opportunity to work for Joan.

"I'm a bugger for a bit of exercise"
This also is Joan's and I hear it every time I park a long way from where I need to be, because I finally understand how it works.

"Take time to appreciate the little things"
Halfway through my degree I had to have a hysterectomy as a rather drastic precaution against cervical cancer, but it did the trick (obviously, now that I have no cervix). My friends were wonderful, as they sat around my hospital bed and we completed a group presentation for our psychology module. Indeed, if it hadn't been for their abilities in this subject I doubt I would have achieved what I did.

One of our group, Lisa, told me once about a terminally ill woman she had looked after, who was responsible for the quotation originally and Lisa had taken it with her, recounting an experience of condensation from washing up collecting on a spider's web, refracting the sunlight from the window beyond.

Since then Lisa has had her own trials and won the fight against cancer. I hope that her own words were as inspiring for her during those times as they have remained for me.


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