I recently stayed in a holiday resort where there were a lot of retired fire fighters, many of them having been injured on the job, some permanently.
I got talking to groups of them and some got up from the table where we had been eating and talking, stiffly, and with difficulty, clearly in pain.
One, when I asked how he was today, said he felt all his bits were just glued together to keep him going somehow.
Everyone was fun, funny, good company, and good-hearted.
What I saw in their faces and in their eyes, was joy. Joy in the job they had loved, in their families – perhaps simply the joy at still being still alive.
Man and wife, they would talk of children and grandchildren, of much older parents some of whom were needing their care. Of all the vicissitudes of the modern day grandparents with children who had had more than one marriage. of a son, perhaps, who had sired more than one child with more than one partner, never married, and Mr and Mrs Fire Fighter were helping to support those too. For some this holiday was a rare event.
‘Where are you off to today?’ they would be asked each day. ‘Oh, the wife organises that,’ would be the reply, wincing as they got up from the table. Staying in a nice seaside town, there were still many more places around and about, of beauty and interest. Or good shops for the wife! Whether they had to be hauled out of their chair or could only get to the car by their electric scooter, off they would go. And usually out of his scooter, it would be Mr. who was driving.
I looked into the eyes of one and wondered: was it joy I saw, but with a brave pain behind it?
Perhaps it was pain, but with joy behind that. They were all so full of fun, and laughing in spite of their condition, that I began to feel that our ultimate self is surely joy – and maybe even fun.
I did also, fleetingly, wonder how these men would look to the world: to the middle-aged, the young middle-aged, the young, and the child.
Should they still be here? They were worn out, and could be said to have had their day.
What was their value? This is the tag end of life, the making do after, surely, a good enough innings? And it struck me then that this is the life. The only life. Or rather the main life.
This is what we aim for all our life. We are ‘bringing up’, we are growing up. We are getting educated, earning our living. Surely all that implies something to grow up for, a living worth us having strived to earn it.
These people, and all human beings of great age, have done the growing up, and the bringing up. Now they have arrived. The outing in the car, the holiday in a seaside resort, the fun and laughter round this table at breakfast and dinner.
It is not a making do and marking time.
It is The Time. The time of their lives and, damaged by life as we all are, so they should make hay while the sun shines, and reap the reward of a life time of education and earning that has brought them –us – here…
…and maybe that is what Heaven is too.
Pamela Pickton’s new collection of short stories, Reasons : Places of Disconnection is available to download and buy now on amazon.co.uk