Rob went back to work today after the Christmas break. He lives in the London suburbs and walked to the railway station through snow and ice in the darkness of a January morning.
A man got into the carriage and sat in the empty seat beside Rob. The man began to cough and fell sideways. He recovered momentarily before falling to the floor. Someone attempted to resuscitate him while an ambulance was called. The paramedics attempted resuscitation, but gave up after a couple of minutes. The man’s body was carried to the ambulance.
Perhaps the railway staff had seen such things many times. They looked on. They did not clear people from the carriage. They did not even clear a way to for the ambulance to get through. Ten minutes after the episode had ended, the train headed off; just another Monday morning.
“What are you doing in your office?”
“I thought I would go home, but I thought sitting at home alone thinking about it isn’t much better”.
It is hard to comprehend such moments; one moment a person is there with you, the next moment . . .
Some young police officers would have been delegated to break the news to the next of kin; one of the most difficult tasks they are ever likely to have to perform.
And what about the next of kin? Would there have been a wife at home? When the knock came at the door, who would she think it would be? Expecting, perhaps, the postman, there would be two dark uniformed constables on the doorstep.
What had been the parting words that morning? What ordinary things had been expected from an ordinary day?
There are times when you are young that you will live forever, or at least for so long that it’s the same thing, and then, suddenly, it is all very different.
Never one for ostentatious displays of affection, there would be many times when I have left with no more than a ‘Goodbye’ called through a doorway. Sometimes, leaving in the early hours of the morning to be at the airport for a 6.25 flight to England, the ‘Goodbye’ would be no more than a whisper across a darkened room.
Maybe the man on the train had left for the day in his London office with hardly more than a word of farewell. Would that be the lasting memory, ‘Bye, love’, and the click of the front door? Perhaps he had been wise and given a parting hug before heading out into the snow.
A man facing bitter tragedy once said to me, ‘Go home and hug your family’. Rob’s story this afternoon was a reminder of the danger of failing to do the basic things; of the value of the ordinary days when nothing happens.