“Life is a gamble, at terrible odds – if it was a bet you wouldn’t take it. Did you know that any number doubled is even?”
“We learn something every day, to our cost”
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
Our daughter came down from Dublin yesterday evening. Term ended yesterday afternoon and the college went down for the Christmas vacation, not that the physical dispersal seems to make much difference to people who are in constant virtual contact.
Going down from university in December 1979 was a different matter. Rooms had to be cleared and my father drove up to London to collect me and my cases. The London of those memories was a bright and vivid place filled with colour and noise; a world apart from the undulating lowland dotted with farms and occasional villages in which I had grown up.
Even thirty-six years ago, the way home was to head for the M3 motorway, but for some reason we went to Staines to go to the shops. It is a memory that has always baffled, with the whole of London in which to shop, particularly having driven west through the capital from Islington, why would we have gone to Staines? There were many times later when there was a strong desire for Doctor Who’s Tardis in order to be able to travel back to that contented moment in time.
The following day, the young lady who was my girlfriend approached me with a sprig of mistletoe; instead of a gracious embrace, I pushed her away and a row ensued. We broke up.
Perhaps the break up was just one effect of the deep depression that set in during the following months, perhaps it was part of the cause; whatever, in one moment on a December’s day after the end of term, life changed.
The struggle with depression brought a withdrawal from college and a seeking after voluntary work for the year. The voluntary work was with the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, assisting in the care of boys with what was then called “mental handicap”. The sisters were mostly Irish and their stories from home brought a desire to visit the place they described with so much love.
It was because of working with the sisters that I came to be in Co Kerry in September 1981, where in a youth hostel at Aghadoe I met a 20 year old Belfast woman whom I was to marry two years later.
The whole of my life had turned on a single sprig of mistletoe. Stoppard’s Player is right, “Life is a gamble, at terrible odds.” No-one would ever take a bet on such slim possibilities, but is he right when he says, “We learn something every day, to our cost?” Perhaps things can seem to our cost in the short term, perhaps, from the perspective of more than thirty years, they can seem of infinite benefit.
Watching the final year medical student sitting on the settee, it is scary to think of how much of life is sheer chance.