Almost anything in life is easier to get into than to get out of. Trust me on this one, I should know. It’s three minutes past nine, I need to pay a visit to the gent’s, and the nurse is late again. Three minutes late, to be precise. I would try and get out by myself but the last time I tried I fell to the floor like a sack of new baby spuds.
It’s funny, this aging business. I seem to be split in two: my body and my mind. My body has been declining since the day I was born, unfortunately that’s the way of the outer-world. Whereas my mind, well . . . my mind is like a seed that’s constantly being watered by experience. Have you noticed that I say my body and my mind? When desires of the outer-world start to lose their grip and you feel sure your exit is near, you start to look within yourself for answers, whereas before you just looked ‘out there’. So let me say it again: my body. Does that mean I’m not my body? My mind - does that mean I’m not my mind? Does it mean I’m separate from them? Separate yourself from your body and what do you have left? You have I left. Now ask, who am I? It’s one of those taboo questions that people don’t like to delve in to, just in case they find something out about themselves that they don’t like.
You may think I’m some crazy old fool who can’t get out of bed. Or an old fart who needs help to go to the toilet and is losing it a bit up there, but let me tell you, I’m more with it than ever before.
My eyes are tired, yet I see more clearly than when I was twenty. My ears are worn out like an old pair of headphones, yet I hear sounds that many people ignore.
This is just what happens when you go within.
Just yesterday, for instance, I showed Nina, a pleasant young nurse at the home, how to go within and see the world the way it’s supposed to be seen. It was a beautiful autumn day with a slight cool breeze, similar to today, I think. Amazing, it was. Her job is to wheel patients around the gardens for their daily dose of fresh air; poor beggar. After about five minutes she parked me up next to a bench so she could sit and have a smoke. Nothing wrong with that. I used to like the odd cigarette now and again until they took my Yelena away ten years ago. I never touched one after that.
Where was I?
Ah yes, so she was smoking away and I asked her, ‘Why do you smoke?’
She looked at me and then at the cigarette.
‘Bored, I guess,’ she said.
‘Bored?’ I blurted out. ‘How can you be bored? Look around you!’
She was a bit taken aback by my shrill response, but I couldn’t help it. Here is this twenty-something young lady with a pair of perfectly functioning legs; her joints don’t ache with arthritis; she has all her own teeth and she can take herself to the damn toilet whenever she pleases!
‘I don’t know why I’m bored,’ she said, shrugging her shoulders.
‘Look at this tree,’ I said, pointing to the large oak that was casting its shadow over us. ‘What do you see?’
She looked up and then back down at me.
‘Just a tree,’ she said frowning.
‘Just a tree?’ I laughed. ‘We humans label everything. We do this to help us believe that we know what something is, to separate it from something else. Labels are just noises made with our teeth, tongue and the roof of our mouth. Nina, I asked you to look and you labeled. Now try again, without the label. What do you see?’
She looked up and started to concentrate on the giant tree. After thirty seconds she looked at me with a big smile and a tear rolled down her cheek. She wiped it with the back of her hand and laughed and looked embarrassed.
‘Well?’ I said smiling.
‘What have you done to me, Mr Harty?’ she said laughing. ‘A feeling of joy came over me and I saw the tree in a whole new light. What the hell happened?’
I took her hand.
‘Well, first of all, love, call me Fred. Second of all, you saw the tree as if for the first time. But not only that, the I you speak of when you say I was one with the tree.’
She looked up at the tree again and smiled.
‘What do you mean?’
‘You’re not who you think you are, Nina,’ I said. ‘None of us are. Only a handful of people have done what you just did. You became one with the tree. Now you can practice the same method with flowers, animals and even people. Practice it with things you hear, too.’
‘How do you know all of this stuff?’
‘I’m the book you judged,’ I said smiling. ‘And believe me I’ve had years of collecting pages.’
Five minutes past nine now. Where are they? I’m busting. My Yelena used to get annoyed with the size of my bladder. Not long after we married we went to visit her parents who lived down south. We got on the train in good time but I felt I needed to go to the men’s. Now, the trains back then didn’t have toilets on them, so I ran off to the toilets in the station. She was not a happy bunny. ‘What if the train had gone?’ she shouted when I sat back down. ‘What if I had to go all that way by myself?’ I always laughed at her when she was angry. It was mostly over what ifs, and they stayed that way, too.
I miss her. I miss her company. I miss her smell and the sound of her voice. I hope she’s waiting for me when my time comes.
Death is another one of those taboo topics. Death and people don’t tend to mix, do they? It makes me laugh how people in the west respond to it. “Don’t talk about death, you’ll tempt fate and it’ll come knocking on your door.”
I made peace with death when my Mum died over fifty years ago. I once heard that death is like taking off a tight shoe. I like that. I like to think that my Mum, Yelena and all those who have come and gone before me have had that same ‘Ahhh’ feeling.
People think I’m crazy when I talk about death. ‘Stop it,’ they say. But why? What is there to be scared of?
Good old Jimmy, who used to be in the bed opposite me, died two days ago. He came to this place the same day as me and five weeks later I watch them take his body away. Covering it up like it was something that shouldn’t be seen; like they don’t want to remind us of where we’re all heading. Do you know which part of Jimmy survived death? The I he spoke of when he said I. Although I doubt he knew that.
I’ve seen people talking to someone who they say is stood at their bedside. I’ve seen people wave to thin air and say things like, ‘I thought you had died’.
Of course, I don’t know if there’s anything else after we pop our clogs. Do I want to know? Not really. I like the whole idea of having blind faith. It allows my imagination to wonder.
Ten past nine and she stumbles in without a care in the world.
‘Morning, love, sorry I’m late,’ she says. ‘Are you busting for the toilet again?’
‘I bloody am, you beggar.’
‘Who were you talking to when I came in?’ she asks.
‘Never you mind.’
She helps me up out of my bed and lowers me into the wheelchair. I look out of the window and see the golden leaves blowing off the trees onto the flower beds. A single leaf with brown, red and yellow on it blows against the window and stays there as if it’s taking a peek inside.
I smile at it.
‘That’s a beautiful leaf,’ I tell her.
‘Why’s that, Fred?’
‘It fell with ease at its own unique time. Look at its colours, its shape. There's no other leaf in the world like it.’
‘You could say that,’ she says fiddling with the brake on the wheelchair. ‘I prefer summer, to be honest with you, nice and warm.’
‘Autumn's just as nice if you put an extra jumper on.’
She wheels me past Jimmy’s empty bed and out onto the corridor towards the toilet.
And that's when it happened.
‘Fred, are you OK? Fred? Fred! I need help over here! Fred can you hear me? Fred? I need help!’
‘Ahhh. Hello, love.’