The Word Rabbit

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This article was written on 21 Mar 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

The price of admission

What follows is a wholly personal reflection on something that is highly individual. I should say now that I recognise that this is wholly unique to me and I don’t expect anyone else, from friends to people I love more closely, to share my views. They’re as individual as my fingerprint and have taken years to develop, perhaps in response both to stresses I’ve been subjected to and my own inherent design. We’re all unique and it follows that my response is unique as well.

I’ve just passed a young lad in a wheel chair, whose body was twisted by whatever ailment he had, being pushed by someone who looked like a proud and loving dad. When I got talking a while ago to a chap who had a disabled son, I was unsure of how to react and asked if I should be sorry. He said no, and, in a sentence that I hope I never forget, he said ‘he’s taught me so much about love.’ If the response is sometimes instinctive pity, which must rightly seem smug and detached, it’s worth remembering this.

There will be some things that the lad in the wheelchair can’t do, just as there are some things that I can’t do, either. Maybe, like Professor Hawking, he’ll grow up to be a great scholar or think great thoughts or change people’s lives in ways I can’t dream of. I’m not much of a scholar, am a complete duffer at thinking great thoughts or am likely to leave anyone changed. However. I am able-bodied, I have played sport, walked, run and done a million other things that I take for granted. The disabled lad won’t. And that, to me, means that I have to pay the price of admission.

I don’t think anyone here is born by accident. We’re all here for a reason, all given a chance so vastly unlikely that the odds make the mind boggle due to some cosmic scheme that is as remote from us as understanding how a Mini Metro works is remote from an amoeba. There’s no point even trying and it seems that the least we can do is to say ‘thanks’ to our respective God for putting us here or the universe for giving us chance however we can. If the lad in the wheelchair is here to teach someone about love, to think great thoughts or something else, that is magnificently his Thing. What is mine?

The answer is that I don’t know and am groping for a solution as if through a fog. Why I feel the need to argue for my own existence is entirely my cross to bear, but there are some Things that, for me, have helped provide a ladder so I can climb up out of my depression and start to give my life some shape and meaning. Both are directly tied to altruism, to recognising that there are other people in the world, something which depression makes insuperably hard, and that they need help.

My first thing is the most passive. I gave blood, twice, found out about becoming a platelet donor and am now donating platelets once a month. The first time I gave blood was just after the anniversary of the July 7 bombings when it occurred to me that instead of keeping a moment’s silence or marking sombre reflection, she would probably want me to do something much more useful. She’d have been right, as well. Giving platelets involves being hooked up to a machine and takes me about an hour, but you can do it more often than blood donation and, as a result of being a platelet donor, I got thinking about what other ways my body might be useful. As a result, I’m now signed up to donate bone marrow as well, should I be needed.

The second thing is that I’m a Street Pastor, which I’ve blogged about previously. Essentially, Street Pastors go out between the hours of ten at night and, in our case, three in the morning, and help people who are drunk, homeless or otherwise lost. Some of other people’s behaviour can be challenging, and there’s often a situation which I’ll think about or reflect on during the week but the sense I get is that I’m where I’m supposed to be. Moreover, I’ve realised that I have a genuine passion for this kind of work and, while I’m doing it, I feel engaged and alive in a way that I don’t feel at other times.

Neither is going to win me a Nobel Peace Prize and neither will ever count as a momentous thing to do, but I like that. When I was younger, I wanted to do something great or heroic that would give me standing in the eyes of the world. Now, I can’t think of anything worse. I’d rather do what I feel called to do quietly and with zero fanfare and go home. Nothing makes me feel more like hiding than when people thank the Street Pastors for what they do and, conversely, the idea that, when I donate platelets I’m helping people I’ll never meet, is something that really appeals to me.

In the end, it feels as though this is just a minimum. I can never, ever hope to repay the God I believe in for giving me a chance at life and the idea is risible. But I can do some vague things which might suggest that I’m not taking it for granted. And, of course, this is about socialism. Were you a free marketeer, you’d say that someone losing a leg in an accident, having a birth defect or taking MDMA, as one of the people we were called to help as Street Pastors had done, was nothing to do with you, and wholly their affair. I resist that totally. My body makes platelets. They are needed by other people, so they can have them. I’m suited to be a Street Pastor, people need help, so I help them. The ‘why’ doesn’t interest me. The fact that help is needed is all.

Should I be lucky enough to have children and they grow up strong and healthy, then great. It means I can give up a kidney through the organ donation scheme to someone who needs one and further try and pay the price of admission and further give credence to Louis Blanc’s saying, popularised by Charlie Marx – ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.’ For me, this is the basic imperative of my existence – and the means by which I say ‘thank you.’

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