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The Dance

Sep 08, 2019
Sometimes life bowls you a bouncer. Something you don’t expect and could never plan for. Here’s a short story from The Mover’s editor, Steve Jordan, about a life event that made him think. It will make you think too.

The Dance

It was 3am when I awoke with my chest on fire. The water I craved, though just a few feet away across the dark cabin, was unreachable: the effort too great.  That must have been some night out!

It was the morning of the last day of a week-long holiday on the British canals with two school friends. The last six days had been idyllic: absolutely stress free, good food and a few pints with the boys. What’s not to like?

I have not led a scrupulous life, but I have not done badly.  I have been a sportsman since childhood, I eat healthy food, I haven’t smoked since the crazy days of the 1980s and, although I like a drink, I’m not a soak.  But on this beautiful morning, somewhere in the Worcestershire countryside, surrounded by the handiwork of Telford and Brindley, my heart, that had served me without a twitch for 65 years, decided it needed a break too.

As I write, that was five days ago.  I have just been discharged from the Cardiac Care Unit.  I am awaiting the gathering of the escape committee. The consultant swept through the ward this morning at 8am, surrounded by his bevy of acolytes, making life and death decisions as if choosing baked beans from a supermarket shelf.  “How are you feeling today, Sir,” he said.  I answered, “Very well, thank you.”

That was not untrue, but not what I wanted to say; the emotion of the moment was too strong.  What I wanted to say was that I felt exhausted, relieved to be still around, a little stupid for not taking better care of myself and totally humbled with gratitude for the way the British National Health Service had brought together the skills of so many extraordinary people to put me back together again.  That’s what I wanted to say … but I didn’t.

The miracles these people achieve every day, that for them are just routine, make everything the rest of us do, whatever our position in life, into a side show. Without our heath we have nothing. Without them, we are lost.

Five days in a hospital ward surrounded by very poorly people concentrates the mind. As I stared into the surgeon’s eyes for the second day in a row, the white walls and chill of the operating theatre impassive yet strangely reassuring, I did some thinking. My first thought was for my family and closest friends who I felt I had let down (I know that’s stupid; you don’t need to tell me). I thought also about all the hours in bars in the globe’s farthest crevices, the conferences, the dinners, the wine, the meetings, the parties and all the friends I had met along the way.

I thought about the business decisions I had made that some might think rather rash.  I have taken risks that felt like jumping off a cliff in the dark more than once. I could have taken easier routes, made life a little simpler, less stressful. Had I done so, I might not be staring into those ice-blue eyes right now.

But even when the air was thick with chickens flocking home to roost the truth is, I didn’t regret anything. I asked the doctor what I could have done to prevent it.  He looked at my record and said, “Nothing much, you’re male and over 50.”  He said that if I hadn’t run marathons, climbed mountains, sailed storms, smacked every kind of ball known to the world of sport and taken care of what I ate, it would have happened sooner. “Nobody has a heart attack from hard work or stress, but genetics, bad food and too much booze brings it on faster.” On reflection, I figured I’d done quite well.

And so, even as I sit amid the monitors, the uniforms and the groaning patients, I urge you not to miss out on the opportunities life throws your way.  When the chips are down you don’t think about the things you have done, you think about the things you didn’t do … not my words, Alan Bennett’s.

As the conference season approaches again remember that life is for living.  I am reminded of a song by Garth Brooks called The Dance.  The chorus runs ‘I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance’.  Please dance to every song you know but be gentle with yourself. Neither you nor I is indestructible, and it would be nice to still be around to hear the next tune.

See you again soon on the dancefloor.

An excerpt from a speech from Habeas Corpus, a play by Alan Bennett

But on those last afternoons in the bed by the door

On the Clement Attlee Ward

When you mourn the loss of energy

Even Lucozade cannot replace

And Sister Tudor thinks you may go any time

Do you think that you think

Of the things you did

Or the things you didn’t do?

The promise broken, the meeting you missed

The word not spoken, the cheek not kissed.

Lust was it, or love? Was it false or true?

Who cares now?

Dying you’ll grieve for what you didn’t do.

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