Thursday, 14 February 2013

The Lighthouse and the Waiting Room

I was walking to the train station and I overheard the fragment of a conversation that made me smile. It went something like this: "No, Mum, I don't know where Bridge Road is ..."

That was the sum total of what I overheard, said by a grown male obviously to his mother. It wasn't so much the words that made me smile, but rather the way he said it, with a suitable mix of exasperation and love. I also felt sad overhearing this little vignette. Both my parents are dead and I miss them. I miss having parents. I miss being driven crazy by them.

I sublet an art studio in the city and I try to go there once a week. It's not nearly as romantic as it sounds. Artists, as I am discovering, are like cats. They tend to be skittish and wary of strangers. The studio is in a rundown building and mostly I am there alone ... always alone, trying to convince myself I am having a good time. I hate getting there. It takes me two hours on the train, but once I'm there I feel like I can breathe again. Somewhere deep inside, I know being there is a good thing for me.

I started a new painting. It was from a photograph I took at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. It's a simple painting, three chairs in front of a window near some lifts. I took the photo because I loved the peacefulness and stillness of the empty chairs, and the reflections of light on the floor coming from the window. I started to cry as I painted. The waiting room. That's what those chairs represent for me. There is so much joy and sadness in a hospital waiting room.

I don't know if you recall, but I mentioned in my first-ever blog that I would talk to you about lighthouses. This story involves serendipity. I love the concept of serendipity!
  1. ser·en·dip·i·ty  Noun The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way: "a fortunate stroke of serendipity".

The day I purchased a book from the junk shop called Instructions to Lightkeepers, I was also reading Jean-Dominique Bauby's book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. In 1995, Bauby, a 43-year-old editor of French Elle, suffered a massive stroke that left him paralysed and a victim of "locked-in syndrome". He was only able to communicate by blinking his left eye. It was in this state that he managed to compose and dictate his memoir, published two days before his death in 1996. The book is a beautifully written account of Bauby's struggle to accept his physical imprisonment, and to find meaning in his existence. I was afraid to read it at first, afraid to confront my own fears about existence and the meaning of life, but Bauby wrote with a sense of humour, and the story was encouraging and reassuring rather than depressing. 

On the same day after I'd purchased Instructions to Lightkeepers, I read this passage in Bauby's book: "There is always the chance that we will stumble upon some unknown corner of the hospital, see new faces, or catch a whiff of cooking as we pass. It was in this way that I came upon the lighthouse, on one of my very first expeditions in my wheelchair, shortly after swimming up from the mists of coma. As we emerged from an elevator on the wrong floor, I saw it: tall, robust, and reassuring, in red and white stripes that reminded me of a rugby shirt. I placed myself at once under the protection of this brotherly symbol, guardian not just of sailors but of the sick ... those castaways on the shores of loneliness."

I miss my parents. After their death I felt as though I had been cut loose, set adrift in the world on my own. I am one of those castaways Bauby was writing about ... on the "shores of loneliness". 

Bauby finished his chapter on lighthouses with this thought: "I wait for winter. Warmly wrapped up, we can linger here until nightfall, watch the sun set and the lighthouse take up the torch, its hope-filled beams sweeping the horizon."

Bauby has become a lighthouse for me, as have so many others. Kindness is a lighthouse. Laughter is a lighthouse. Everywhere I go, I am searching for lighthouses.

Yesterday, when I was on my way home, I saw a bus. The word "uncertain" was written on the front of the bus, as its destination! Even a bus can be a lighthouse ...

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