Come fly with me

Helicopter at sunset over SydneyOh, Bronwyn.  I feel embarrassed to be joining the long list of detractors having a go at you at the moment. It’s too much like shooting fish in a barrel. However, you make it irresistible.

I mean, seriously, who charters a helicopter to avoid a one-hour car ride? Are you the kind of fabulously wealthy person who can snap your fingers and a helicopter appears? And even if you were that kind of wealthy, what on earth would make you want to do it? We know of people who could and would, for example Donald Trump – but then it’s not really a good time to be emulating him.

And Bronnie, on the public purse?! Words nearly fail me. My imagination doesn’t extend to hiring a helicopter, compliments of the taxpayer, for a tiny ride to a personal, partisan event. It’s painful to contemplate. I’m in Canada at the moment, and you’d think the turmoil Bronwyn Bishop plays the evil queenof Australian politics would be far over my horizon. However, I am unable to avoid a glance at the Sydney Morning Herald every now and then – and I find the entire news front is dominated by your shenanigans. Even the Canadian papers are having a laugh about it.

(For those of you from other parts of the world, who might be forgiven for not having noticed these Aussie antics: Bronwyn Bishop is a political VIP, Speaker of the House and favoured child of the Liberal Abbot government, who was recently discovered to have spent $5000-something for a helicopter charter for a short ride to a Liberal Party fundraiser. It hasn’t been going well for her since.)

I mean, our legislators could be finalising the new laws currently under discussion which will help to keep out asylum seekers (please note: that was irony), or revoke dual citizenship from people who might have communicated with an enraged Muslim (ditto), or increase surveillance aimed at omnipresent terrorists (ditto; sigh…). But Bronwyn’s exploits are keeping them busy in Parliament.

It would be an interesting mental exercise to calculate the cost. Consider several hundred parliamentarians on decent salaries, each spending several dozen hours on Bronwyn’s spending idiosyncrasies; then there’s all the staff involved who are busy finding evidence or finding excuses, and all the lawyers who are circling at several hundred dollars an hour—all at the taxpayer’s expense. That $5000 might have been bad enough, but it was only a molecule on the tip of the iceberg. If I were a less peaceful person, I would be beating my head against the wall.

$5000 might not seem like a lot of money, but in some circles it could go a long way. For example, my garden club spent hundreds of woman-hours fundraising to buy a swish new chair for the oncology department at the local hospital. Surely the heavens would have smiled on a politician for pouring $5000 in the direction of health care. Or think what the local public school, where I listen to the littlies reading, could have done with $5000 aimed at its dog-eared reading materials. That $5000 would even have filled a few potholes on our bedraggled local road. Am I incredibly naïve for thinking that a politician, who has chosen to make a career out of serving the public good, wouldn’t think of those kind of things as an alternative to chartering a helicopter? Doesn’t anyone in Parliament think that way?

But I guess Bronwyn was in a hurry that day. Or perhaps she was caught in the rapture of it. Picture the helicopter blades whipping dangerously through the air above you, while you smilingly hold your hair, skirt and dark sunglasses in place. The urgency of it! The raw power of that warlike machine! Part of me can really understand the thrill.

However, let us rein in those rogue emotions for a moment. Consider the possibility of an entirely different way of being. Imagine Bronwyn pulling up to her event in a little red Smart Car, where she’s been getting dictation done into a recorder on the seat beside her as she drives (I can tell you from experience, there is precedent for this).  Maybe I live on a different planet, but it seems to me that that arrival would garner a certain respect from people, and might even loosen their pockets for the Liberal coffers.

We do have to be a bit careful about this shooting of fish in the barrel: Bronwyn isn’t the only one of us guilty of confusing the source of respect. My own life rules for living well in community occasionally fall into disarray around me. I’ve been known to go unconscious about the consequences an action might have on myself, as well as on others. I sometimes spend where it’s unnecessary, or try to impress people, or get jealous when someone has more helicopters than me.

And while we’re practising a little humility, let’s remember that sometimes indulgence is just plain fun. We can’t afford to get too righteous about someone succumbing to the odd bit of extravagance.

But I’m not sure Bronwyn’s indulgences have ever been giving her fun—and they’re sure not fun now. So loosen your hair, Bronwyn. All of us old dogs can learn a few new tricks.

Fly girl

Shedder postscript. When we first started our Shedders adventure, I had a concern that we might turn out to have different spending habits. Perhaps someone would be more lavish with the communal pot than Rick and I, or more miserly. But it hasn’t worked out that way. We talk things through to our mutual satisfaction. There are no taxpayers’ dollars to rely on here, so we’re all responsible. Spending on behalf of others can work.

Fly 4

Do you love your Kindle?

The humble KindleI’m about to launch into an opinion piece about e-readers and bound books, but before I do, perhaps I should address the fact that this normally very reliable weekly blog has fallen off the grid for the last month. And I can’t even tell you why, other than that life has been fully occupied with our annual move to Canada, learning to walk again, and connecting with family and our northern life.

At any rate, whatever the complex logic of dodging commitments, here we are again.

***

Kindles. E-readers. Hmmmm.

I’ve been a zealous reader all my life. I can still remember the magic of Dick and Jane coming to life on the page, of counting the days to the moment when our school library opened on a Thursday, and of getting a new Nancy Drew every Christmas (and reading it under the covers that night til I finished it). I majored in English at university, and have read a book or two a week forever. If, as Malcolm Gladwell says, it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in something, then reading is an area where I hit my stride decades ago.

I have a battered Kindle that I purchased some three and a half years ago. I bought it on the cusp of a three-week trip, thinking that I wanted to travel light without the usual stash The Kindle holds a lot of booksof heavy books. I was won over immediately. A book is a book is a book, I decided, and if you can get dozens of them on a device that weighs 200 grams and treats the eyes the same way that a printed page does, well, that’s not too shabby, as they say.

I’ve remained a happy Kindle user. I’m not as bad as Rick, who ordered a book online in bed one night because he didn’t feel like going out to the bookcase to try to find our print version, but I am thoroughly converted. On the occasions when I read a print book—dealing with the heavy weight, losing my place when the bookmark falls out, trying to shove it into my purse for a wait at the doctor’s office—I admit I often have the thought, “This is a great book – why don’t I just order it for my Kindle?”

I love that the Kindle is so light; I love that the process makes books so inexpensive and resource-wise to produce; I love that the “electronic ink” doesn’t involved the computer-style back-lighting that bothers my eyes. I love that I can change the font size to accommodate the amount or quality of light available (my 93 year old mother worships her Kindle for this reason). I love that it can go a month without recharging. I love that I can have the thought that I want a book and then have it in hand a minute later—anywhere in the world. I love that I can delete a book from my Kindle and then relocate it any time I want from my Amazon account.

Not everyone feels the same way. As a matter of fact I’d put myself in the minority of friends who are readers, most of whom prefer the experience of the printed page. And I can absolutely understand that, because in spite of all the Kindle’s indisputable advantages, some deep-seated part of my brain prefers it too.

A few months ago I read a thoughtful, well-researched article on what is being lost as we switch to e-readers. (I wish I could find it so I could pass it on to you right now.) The article made a good number of solid points, the main thrust being that we learned to read in a The amazing brainparticular manner that involves the experience of holding the physical book, of reading pages left and right, of thumbing back to recollect a name or an event. Our eyes learned to move in particular ways. These have become deeply imprinted brain functions that allow for better comprehension and retention.

Although the author self-admittedly came from a bias against e-readers, and I come from a bias toward them, I really appreciated the article. There wasn’t a point she made that I would try to refute. Yes, I do read differently when I read a printed book compared with a Kindle book, and perhaps not as well. My brain and its synapses no doubt reject some of the new programming I am trying to sneak in.

But here’s the thing: it’s about being in transition. It’s indisputable that the world is going in the direction of e-reading. Economics demand it. The cost of the bits of plastic, metal and sand in the electronic gadget is in reality probably not much more than the cost of the materials in one paperback book. The cost of “printing” and distribution is miniscule, once the software has been developed and the infrastructure is in place. Accessibility? – Well, when you think about the ubiquity of the cell phone even in developing nations, you know that e-readers cannot be far behind. Because of the low cost, children in the third world will before long learn to read on their Kindles, with access to the written world beyond anyone’s imaginings.

Inconceivable change is coming in these crazy times. Technology has loomed so high and so fast that it conceals our view of the world. Our horse-and-buggy brains aren’t wired for this onslaught. Even the six-year-olds who read to me at Mitchells Island Public School, with their flash cards and colourful little books, won’t be immune to the challenges. There’s a front-page article beside me in the Nanaimo Daily News that says kids aren’t learning to write cursive any more. What are the implications of THAT simple change for the human brain?

The tiger is on the loose. We can ride it, grab it by the tail, or get eaten for lunch by it.

The Kindle is where I take my stand.

Are you able to do the splits?

 

 

Don’t wanna

Rick and I had been planning a little project for some time: laying a small patio in front of each of two new sliding doors at the guest bedrooms. The project, which involves arranging a few dozen pavers on top of a shallow bed of gravel and sand, would not tax a handyman for a moment. Now, Rick and I have our skills, but laying out a simple patio was not among them.

As we were sipping our coffee one morning, contemplating the project, Rick made the following observation: “I notice I’m feeling dread at the prospect of what we’re about to take on. Although we’ve worked it all out and have clear and simple instructions, I keep having this feeling of: ‘Uh-oh—too big for me.’

“As a matter of fact,” he went on, “it’s the same feeling I get about loading the kayak. I’ve done it dozens of times, we’ve got the tools and the leverage down perfect, it’s NOTHING for me to get the kayak up on the roof of the car – and yet every time I contemplate it, it feels like a big deal.”

Eventually Rick got to his point: “There’s a four-year-old in there calling the emotional shots. That little guy wasn’t capable of levering a 40 kilo kayak on to the top of the car, and he’s certainly not up to figuring out how to build a patio. He’s just a Little Guy.

“But what’s he doing HERE?! Here I am, a fully grown man who’s carting around the spiritual residue of a four year old. Go figure.”

At that, he grimaced and said, “Well, let’s get stuck into it.”

Little guy 1There was no sign of the Little Guy a few hours later, when Rick was measuring out dimensions, doing complicated calculations, and shovelling wheelbarrows of gravel and sand, all the while humming happily. The patios gradually emerged, punctuated with a number of learning experiences, and now there are a couple of nice platforms where you can sit on your deck chair and have a cup of

Tree dahlia

Tree dahlia

coffee, while the tree dahlias wave above you and the pheasant coucals cavort in the trees below.

The whole episode led me to speculate about my own Little Guy. There is a feeling I notice on occasion, which I might meticulously define as Don’t wanna. I haven’t distinguished out the voice, and I mistake it for my own, or perhaps for the voice of the universe. It’s just how it is. But in reality, I can see it’s my four-year-old talking. Don’t wanna, she’s saying. And if I scratch under the surface I can see a Little Guy who’s having an adverse reaction – about things that might be logical in a four-year-old but not so much in a strong, mature, independent adult. “This is too big for me,” the voice is trying to say. Or “I could get hurt,” or, “This is scary.”

The Little Guy wasn’t smart or articulate enough to define her terms, only to notice the raw emotion she was abuzz with. The 40 kilo kayak was clearly too heavy to handle, the wave was too big to safely walk into, the German Shepard was a terrifying size – and it all rolled into Don’t wanna. It’s a mantra our Little Guys learned well. Very well. Who’d have guessed it was becoming a lifelong partner, in for the long haul?

My own Little Guy doesn’t get triggered by construction projects. My four-year-old was trained by my father, a farmer, that there’s no challenge that a few tools and bit of thinking can’t solve—and you can have some fun in the process. My own Little Guy looks at construction projects like building a patio as, “Yahoo! I’ll help!” (She hasn’t noticed the irony of exploiting Rick when the project is my own idea.)

But my Little Guy learned other Don’t wannas. I have a spontaneous reaction any time Rick suggests a drive. I promptly think, Don’t wanna, with a whiney-voiced addendum: It’s too faaaaar. It doesn’t take much to spot that the voice is actually that of a Little Guy who spent 45 minutes on the school bus every morning and every afternoon, punctuated on occasion with two-hour drives to our nearest town. Eventually a more adult voice kicks in, commenting on the cappuccino coming up, the crossword puzzle we’ll be working on, the shopping we’ll be doing—and it’s only a 20-minute drive, for pete’s sake.

But the Little Guy always takes its cut, dampening my experience with her Don’t wanna.

Emotion is a powerful thing, sometimes learned early and rarely reliable as an indicator in the present.

Little guy 2At any rate, it’s fun to have the patios. But I suspect the greatest contribution the project will make is in the insight it has provided. For Rick, he’s discovered that rather than resisting the ungrounded dread, or trying to talk himself into a more sensible approach, he can simply get a kick out of seeing his little alter-ego having its four-year-old reactions. He can give the Little Guy a hug and set him on the fence to watch as Big Guy throws together a patio or two, or effortlessly hoists the kayak up onto its lift bar. Everyone’s in his rightful place.

Mothers R Us

The temperature dropped to 9 degrees last night, which surely means that winter is on its way. And that in turn means that many of us Mitchells Islanders will be partaking of our annual migration to warmer climes over the next few months. Our good friends Kerry and Gordon leave on Tuesday for the Galapagos, then on to Europe, New York and Japan. Rick and I head off for Canada soon; in July Eve and Daniel take in a wedding and some touring in the USA; in September Judy and Michael will go dancing their way across Cuba and the southern United States.

My mother surrounds meAnd what that means is that we won’t all be together again until the end of October. So we decided we should get together for a farewell-to-travellers’ dinner last night. As icing on the cake, housemate Judy suggested that, since the dinner would be on the eve of Mother’s Day, we each take the opportunity to honour our own mothers by telling some of their story.

So after indulging in one of Rick’s Massaman curries, a fine Penfold’s red, and some champagne, we talked about our mothers—one at a time. You should have met these eight mothers! I wish you could have gotten to know them all as I did last night. We were shown photographs, we had bits of letters and interviews read to us, and we were told remarkable stories. We’ve heard about these mothers, but last night each one came alive in our imaginations, as never quite before.

They were a varied lot, these mums. The oldest was born in 1905, the youngest in 1921. One had died in her thirties; only one is still alive, at age 93 (my own lovely mother). They were all deeply influenced by the Great Depression, and were young women through World War II.

There was a politician’s wife, a famous model, and someone who had been visiting family in Poland when the Germans invaded. Someone had run a number of family businesses. One had nine children. Four of the eight mothers were farm women. There was an artist, a drummer, a couple of gardeners, an accountant, some seamstresses. Several began a second career or took up studies when their families had grown. In keeping with the times, most ran a tight ship. All had been tested by and survived serious challenges: abandonment, bad marriages, loss of offspring, being judged by family and community. Religion, divorce, war and poverty all had their impact.

There were wonderful photos; I stared into those faces to see what I could discern about these smiling women with their arms around children who I know today as 60 and 70 year olds. Old photos are always like that: they hold their secrets, some of which I couldn’t begin to guess at. We became present to a very different time: a more conservative time, a time of fewer choices, when things moved more slowly. We could sense a culture by which our own has been shaped.

If you met my mum you would understandAs people spoke, a few shadowy silhouettes slid into the room with us. The children we were when our mothers were young women showed up as the stories were told: there was a little Eve helping to hold the family together while her mum had a rough patch, as well as a little Judy swaddled in family secrets and a little Michael dealing with his mother’s illness. Also there in the room we could sense fragments of our mothers in who we are today: ”Aha! – I see you in what you’re saying about her.”

The love each of us had for these women who gave birth to us was palpable, as well as how much they mean to us now. And we could feel the love they clearly had for us, and for our siblings. Their courage, beauty, exuberance, commitment and caring filled our living room.

This parade of mothers populated my dreams last night, and they’ve been strolling through my head since. I hear echoes of their voices and the click of their high-heeled shoes. I sense their strong feelings and their brows furrowed with concentration. They are women from the past who have had an immeasurable impact on people I love in the present, and they came alive last night.

It was a great exercise, which I strong recommend. There are still a few hours of Mother’s Day left. Especially if you haven’t seen your mother for some time, grab some friends and take a half hour each to bring Mum to the table with you.

And if you can’t get to it today, do it next week—because, actually, any day is a good day to acknowledge one’s mother and reflect on one’s roots.

Sometimes when I open my mouth my mother comes out.

 

Unilateral disarmament – sayin’ sorry

Rick and I were sitting in our respective corners the other day, licking our wounds and nursing our grievances after a little marriage-y stoush. I won’t bore you (or embarrass myself) with the details, except to say it was one of those minor but annoying arguments that leave you feeling miserable and trying to figure out ways to undo what just happened.

At any rate, about 15 minutes later, Rick came over and said, “I’m so sorry. I was completely out of line and that’s not the way I want to behave at all.”

Damn.

A puff of dandelionHe did it again. There I was, with not a leg to stand on, no hostility left in me whatever, not able to remember what could possibly have been so important that I was willing to fight about it—and knowing that any part Rick played in the problem, I played at least twice as much.

But Rick is pretty much always the first to say sorry. He somehow just sets his ego to the side, recognising early on that winning is not much of a victory compared with being in harmonious relationship. So he just drops his weapons to the floor.

I have long recognised that anytime I am involved in an argument, there is always something I am sorry about. And if I can identify what that is, it’s works a treat to say it out loud – to the person I’m out of sorts with. I remember working very hard at that one time when I’d just faced off with a co-worker and had strong words. He was generally something of an idiot (ahem) and this time I’d let him get to me. I truly believe that if any of you were watching you would have rubber stamped his position “INVALID”… but that didn’t alter the fact that harmony at work was threatened (as well as my sleep) until this was set right. I knew I needed to say something, but what? I didn’t want to appear weak, and I didn’t want to be inauthentic.

What I realised was that I felt stupid and immature for letting myself get out of control. So I went round to his office and apologised, without a trace of grovelling, for that simple thing. That was all it took. Solving the initial disagreement was easy once it was clear that there was something more important at stake than just being right about this issue.

Rick and I were talking the other day about the old practice of duelling, and how for several hundred years a perceived insult could result in two people facing off with an intention to kill one another. As a matter of fact thousands upon thousands of members of the English, European and American upper class were wiped out in this fashion. I wonder how often someone managed to come around to his opponent the night before the dual, to say something that was not weak and not inauthentic, and thus to avert a potential disaster. And I’ll bet you when that happened, it was the stronger of the two who was willing to withdraw.

I observe a similar thing in people’s primary relationships. When a couple is experiencing a lot of friction, you can always spot which one will be strong enough to unilaterally disarm. This partner is somehow able to learn to stop resisting and stop escalating. That’s the person with the power to make a difference in the relationship. (If you have any friends like this, you might consider sending them to Rick for lessons.)

Now, here’s a thought experiment for you: what if whole countries were willing to unilaterally disarm? What if America were to announce that it was getting rid of its entire nuclear arsenal, and furthermore was sorry for the threat to world peace that that those armaments have posed for decades? It’s a scary idea, given our perception of some of the enemies out there. Our great fear is that our goodwill will be taken advantage of—and that indeed could happen.

But a much more likely result is a de-escalation of hostility. There’s probably the odd psychopathic bully out there, but fortunately not too many of them, our fears notwithstanding. I suspect most of our enemies feel they’re doing the right thing in view of the insults they’ve received, and that doesn’t describe a bully. How long would most hostilities hold up if one party apologised—with strength and integrity?

If you managed to successfully imagine that scenario, and now want a REAL challenge for a thought experiment, picture Tony Abbott supporting unilateral disarmament. He finds a way to be strong and to be authentic, while laying down arms with his cabinet, with the honourable members of the opposition, and with the world at large. (Warning: this exercise could fry your circuits.)

Anyway, Rick, I was wrong about you-know-what, and thank you for the example you set for the world.

Lest we forget

As it’s turned out, I’m taking a bit of a holiday this week, so my regular post is not forthcoming.

However, in the wake of Anzac Day, I strongly recommend to you two articles I read this weekend.

The first was in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald, written by journalist Peter Fitzsimons, titled What stunned Peter Fitzsimons most about the Gallipoli story.

And then in today’s Herald, another article by Peter (who is in Gallipoli for the centenary), titled Anzac Cover dawn service: The fallen were with us, and we honoured them.

Rest easy if you’re concerned that Peter’s contribution is yet another tribute to young men who died gloriously for their countries: it most assuredly is not. Let me give you a couple of tastes:

For this writer that reflection turns on the fact that the number of attendees [at the dawn service in Gallipoli], just over 10,000, was a rough equal of the Anzac dead, lying in the cemeteries that surrounded us….It was a catastrophe – 10,000 death-knocks across our two young, small countries, making a damaging impact for generations to come – and one to be compounded over the next three years as in Australia we went on to lose another five times that amount of dead on the Western Front.

Or this:

I reflect on the generosity of spirit of the Turks. Our men invaded their land as part of an Imperial force that would leave behind no fewer than 90,000 dead Turkish soldiers. And yet, somehow, in the time since, they have cared for our dead, welcomed our backpackers, greeted our dignitaries and officials as long-lost friends, all with a smile and nary any recrimination. Could we Australians, as a people, ever muster the same warmth and forgiveness if, say, the Germans…or the Japanese…landed at, say, Pearl Beach, and only left after leaving behind 90,000 of our dead?

But please do read both articles, and prepare to be entertained and severely provoked.

A sprig of rosemary

 

 

 

You need a passport for a trip to oncology

Sometimes it can take a lot to get to where you can trust The System. Take it from friend Linda, who says she’s had to get a passport in order to take her to her destination in the remote country of Trust.

Chemo moonshineI spent most of the day yesterday in the oncology unit with Linda again, as she underwent her second chemo treatment, the first being three weeks ago. Both times we sat there glancing apprehensively at one another as one bag after another of ferocious toxins was fed into a little vein in her wrist. Especially unnerving is the fact that the staff are masked and gloved as they hook things up and handle the bags (“It’s just that we have to deal with this stuff all day, every day…”). Hmmm.

Linda knows about the contents of all those little bags. She’s studied them, can pronounce every exotic syllable, and knows every effect and possible side effect. She knows which ones attack her hair, her fingernails, her white blood cells, her serotonin. And given just how nasty something has to be to actually kill off a cancer cell, how can you trust that it’s not going to do you in as well?

So how do you get to where you can trust the complex medical science behind it all? And if you make it that far, how about trusting the Taree Base Hospital? And what about all the way down to Jenny in the oncology department? Most of all, how do you trust your own particular body to override all the fine print and allow you to survive this non-particular onslaught?

Clearly, you need a passport to travel all that way.

As an occupational therapist, Linda works inside the medical profession, and yet that somehow doesn’t qualify her for absolute trust of The System. [Why is there no irony font when you need one?] She’s seen the mistakes and the mis-matches, and she knows there’s no guarantee of a smooth ride.

Astonishing science

But I have to tell you, it’s amazing to observe the whole process. For one thing, the staff are SO careful. Every dose is set up by someone and checked by someone else. Linda’s treatment was held up for an hour or two while we waited for a report to come back from the pharmacy about a smear of oiliness spotted in one of the brews. It turned out normal, but no one was about to take that outcome for granted.

And then there’s the complexity of the interactions among the various medications. Chemo bagsWe’ve all seen the movies where the chemo patient is hanging over the toilet, suffering from the dreadful nausea that the drugs cause. But that result is no longer an absolute, nor are the other side effects. Linda spends an hour or so of her treatment (the first two or three bags) taking on board chemicals that combat consequences like nausea and gloominess. She takes chemicals that accelerate the repair of her white blood count after each treatment, in order to spend as short a time as possible without the ability to resist even the simplest infection.

One of the nurses told us she hadn’t worked on this ward for several months, and in that time so many of the medications and procedures had changed that she barely recognised the place. It takes your breath away to imagine all the research going on all over the world, all the assiduous compiling of data, all the effort to keep little Taree’s hospital at the leading edge of what’s available. I have to say: I felt awe.

Fifteen years ago I had a friend about my age who had breast cancer and couldn’t trust the system. All the homeopathic medicine and spiritual practice in the world couldn’t battle the progress of the disease, and a year later she was not alive to review her decision.

There’s a person inside there too

The System also turns out to be much more than just an intricate cocktail of chemicals being carefully poured into one’s system. Somebody understands that the human brain works in mysterious ways, as well as the body. Taree’s oncology department is a spacious, comfortable room with floor-to-ceiling windows that let the light pour in. There’s a little courtyard just outside the glass door where you can watch palm fronds and contemplate a perfect little bonsai tree. The staff are funny, self-expressive and entertaining. They encourage a dash of repartee among the patients and their offsiders. These professionals understand the main game, but they’re determined to bring some lightness along with it. They know there’s a lot more to battling a cancer cell than lambasting it with toxins. They know exactly what Linda’s going through, inside and out, and they bring a matter-of-factness that most of us could afford to emulate.

Other people in The System understand the complexities too. A volunteer by the name of Cynthia Crocheted beanieknits and crochets hats—warm beanies, cool ones, fluffy ones, sleek ones. She does hats in all colours of the rainbow, ones with little brims and ones that wrap and twist in fetching ways. Cynthia must know about the shock of contemplating one’s completely bald head in the mirror, and about being ready for that event; she’s wise about the role head-covering plays in keeping us warm, not to mention looking “normal”. (Factoid: one’s hair begins to fall out 15 days after the first treatment, and is gone, gone, gone by day 17.)

Linda thanked me for spending the day with her. Well, I can tell you, it was no sacrifice. For one thing, it never goes astray to spend time with Linda, who is wise and fun and an excellent role model for many things (singing, gardening and mastering trust spring to mind). But there is also magic in the oncology department—being in the presence of science at its leading edge, of a profound commitment to health and well-being, of goodwill, respect and empathy.

How can spending a day immersed in the evidence of humankind at its best be anything but time well spent?