Just on a week ago, I was privileged to share some of my music in the lounge room of some dear friends. Alongside me was my wife of some 39 years (Bernie), and my friend of over 20 years, Mark Rombout. We’ve made lots of music over the years, but this was different. Today, we were privileged to share our musical take on life with a family and a dear mate who were preparing for the day that is on all of our calendars. My mate Dave is dying. His doctor hasn’t given him very long to live. What is wrong and why, is somewhat irrelevant to this essay. Dave told me that he has 4 or 5 to live. I responded somewhat naively “4 or 5 years?” He corrected me, that it was 4 or 5 months.
His communication is intriguing. He has no voice box so all of his communication must be done via a tablet that he carries around. You would think that this slows down any discussion that might be forthcoming, but no. His razor sharp wit and philosophical insights are all still present. Once you get into the rhythm of how it works then everything just rolls along as it should.
We shared stories, mutual friend updates, music (Dave even sang along at one point by writing the line on his tablet and waving it in the air whenever we sang it). It was a time of great blessing. The lounge room that afternoon was as sacred as the most venerated Cathedrals on the planet. Bernie, Mark and myself played and sang, and came away humbled by what we had been part of.
I didn’t feel prompted to write this essay because of the afternoon in and of itself, although that was worthy of these words. No, the prompt to write this came about when I remembered that I was going to send my friends a copy of some of the songs that we presented that afternoon. Nearly a week had gone by when I realised that I hadn’t fulfilled my promise. No biggie really except….
I reflected that one week had now passed since Dave told me that he only had a few months to live. One precious week. Then when I thought further on it, I realised what for many of you is probably obvious; that the same single elapsed week had also brought me one week closer to the calendar date for my own mortality. It would be easy to look upon these words and think that I am trying to state the bleeding obvious, i.e. that we should value the time that we have left; that we should cherish the people around us before it’s too late. In hindsight I guess that this is partially true. It’s not however the centre of what got inside my head and my heart. I am trying to get to that by writing a few humble words as much for my own clarity of thought than anything else.
Truth be told, this probably all started a week before the lounge room gig; my good friend Rose Sexton had farewelled her husband after his own battle with cancer. They had been with each other for a few years and married only a few weeks before he passed. At Billy’s funeral, Rose gave one of the eulogies in which she looked around the room and exhorted each one of us to use this day to consider our own mortality, and to respond accordingly. Considering my own mortality is something I allow myself to do from time to time. I am just short of 60 laps around the sun. You rarely get to this age without having stood at the graveside of someone that you care for,… and wondered.
So, where has this recent bought of wondering taken me? Firstly, that there are far too many people in my life that I care deeply about, and that I need to find a way and a time to let them know just what it means to me to do life with them. I’ve often tried to live by the maxim “don’t let how you feel about someone become the words of a eulogy”. Maybe you should try that one too? Second, that I waste a lot of time doing shite! That I waste a lot of time on and with things that ultimately don’t matter. I watched my mate Dave playing with his grandkids as we sang and made music. It was like watching someone cherish the most precious gem they had ever beheld. My wife and I had dinner with our kids and their partners (most of their partners) the other night. I came away feeling as if I had taken part in the most sacred of rituals, and it felt great. My kids and their partners are awesome people. Third, I need to take the gift of music more seriously than I do. I have had incredible opportunities to make a wide variety of music for and with so many different people. Because it doesn’t make me a living that is representative of the time that gets put into it, I tend to underestimate the real value of it. Fourth, money is overrated, health is underrated. Not being able to work much because of dodgy knees, and the Parkinson’s shuffle has taught me both of these.
And finally, my wife of 39 years is simply the most amazing person that I know. That’s all.
So, with the mortality rate on the planet running at around 100%, can I encourage you to take a moment to consider your own mortality; not as a downer, but as a way to focus on what you should aim at.