A dozen or so years ago, I friend emailed me about his return to work after the Christmas break.
He lived in the London suburbs and had walked to the railway station through snow and ice in the darkness of a January morning.
A man had got into the carriage and sat in the empty seat beside him. The man had begun to cough and then 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 had 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. It was just another Monday morning.
“What are you doing in your office?” I responded
“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.
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 caught in the midst of bitter tragedy once said to me, “Go home and hug your family.”
The story was a reminder of the danger of failing to do the basic things. It was a reminder of the value of the ordinary days when nothing happens. It was a reminder of the need to tell people you love them, because the day might come when you won’t have a chance to do so.