Friday, 20 May 2016
I can still picture him now. He was in his fifties, perhaps: grey hair limp against the pillow, creased hands wearing the scars of time, fingertips, those fingertips, never again to feel the warmth of another, never again to dance across the skin of a lover, never again to reach out and point towards a spectacular night sky. His fingertips.
His breathing was laboured: chest rising sharply, then falling slowly. Sharply. Then slowly, as if gently letting go of everything that was ever precious to him. I remember wondering what all of his memories would look like if we could project his life highlights across the walls: what he'd been passionate about, whether he'd ever married or had children, where he'd built his home. What home meant to him. I hoped with all of my heart that these last thoughts of his would fill the room in the hues of his favourite colours and create something truly beautiful. His masterpiece. Something that made him feel loved. Proud. Something that made him feel okay, somehow.
His family and friends couldn't be there because they couldn't get to him in time. That's what I told myself. It meant that for a while, it was just the three of us. Him, the nurse with those soft features and that warm, motherly presence, and me.
Something weird happened to me that day, in that I watched a complete stranger die. And yet, as I contemplated his unique narrative, what might have made him him, and in those brief moments I spent in that room, simply being there, and during the sedated smile that passed between us, I felt close to him. I didn't even know his name, but I felt it: love, for this wonderful, fascinating, miraculous, human, just like me, just like all of us, who was dying.
It took me by surprise, I think, to feel that way, to find that I was capable of loving a man who I may never have even passed in the street. To realise, in a moment where I watched a stranger take his last staggered breaths, that for all of our differences, we are all essentially the same. Vulnerable, mortal, and eternally bound in those things. That we live, and that perhaps we'll do and feel all of these fucking extraordinary things in between, or perhaps we won't, and then we'll die. And we're together in it, always. This fragility. This inevitability. This raw humanness.
And there's something beautiful about that, I think. Something that makes me feel okay, somehow.