Sometimes in winter, when I am walking my dog across the frozen fields, I will get really cold and start to feel sorry for myself. Then I remember Stalingrad – I wasn’t there, you understand, but Antony Beevor’s book of that name evokes the suffering of both sides so vividly that you almost believe that you are indeed out there on the Russian steppe. In arctic conditions, the Soviets kept German POWs in simple rings of wire – no huts, no tents, no shelter, and little winter clothing. Beevor says that at night they had to stand together in threes or fours, with a blanket over their heads to keep their warm breath in, trying to sleep, “like horses.”
And so then I think, out there in the field, no, this is not really cold.
On Wednesday, I had a tooth extracted. I was in the dentist’s chair for an hour and a half as she pulled and wrenched and drilled and levered. It was worse when the anaesthetic wore off.
Thursday morning is breakfast networking, and I have challenged myself to run before it every week for quite a while. In fact LAST week was my 99th consecutive run before BNI. So, obviously, you know me well enough by now to know that I could not stop at that number.
I felt sorry for myself when I got up at 4:45; I felt sorry for myself when I went outside with Roni; and I felt sorry for myself when I started the painful process of actually running.
But then I thought of my friend, Guy.
Immediately I extracted myself from my little world of woe and tried to inhabit the world of a man with terminal prostate cancer who is in constant and intense physical pain – exacerbated by the mental anguish of not knowing how long he will be there for his family, and if he will see his daughter graduate. And yet here is a man, who, if you met him, would come across as the most positive, engaging, sociable and happy person in the world.
He is the bravest person I have ever met………… with the possible exception of my mum, who refused injections when having a filling: “I’d much rather have a bit of discomfort for a few minutes than that awful numb feeling for hours afterwards.”
My mum had Parkinson’s Disease for the last 30 or so years of her life, and in one meeting with her consultant, she said:
“Oh well, there’s lots of people worse off than me.”
“Yes,” he replied, “but that doesn’t help you now, does it, my dear?”
She thought that was wonderful, and, I guess, in the circumstances, it was, but considering once again my weak and woebegone self – cold in a wintry field, sore post-extraction – it is sometimes instructive to extract oneself from one’s immediate woes and consider, for a moment, the wider context of all human bravery and endurance.