Unlikely encounters

A little after lunch yesterday, one of my colleagues came up to me at my desk and asked if he could have a word with me. When I assented, he indicated he wanted to speak privately, pointing to an unoccupied meeting room. I was mystified but followed.

This is one of the guys I sat down with a few weeks ago and shared my story with. Like, every one, his reaction was positive, and he was fascinated. Now he wanted to speak to me.

We sat down, and the first question he asked was if I’d noticed any change in him lately. I muttered that he seemed pretty stressed, but that had been seemingly building for a while. He nodded his head, then launched into his story.

It’s an unexpected, shocking tale of how Friday he unexpectedly received a call saying his sister had suffered a cardiac arrest and was unlikely to survive. He rushed to be by her side, but she soon passed away. This was a huge shock to the whole family, including her two young children – but more shocks were to come.

That night the husband of the deceased woman received a call from the police. They expressed their commiserations at the death of his wife but had questions they needed answers to. He was distraught, he said, can we talk another time? They would not relent though, and at 12.30 that night, there was a knock on the door, and half a dozen detectives marched in. They took the husband with them and held him for questioning for 24 hours.

The family looked on, bewildered and not knowing what to think. My friend seemed in a state of shock, withdrawn and tenuous, his eyes blinking with the strain.

I didn’t know what to say to him. His sister had just died, and it appeared her husband was a suspect for a potential murder. It’s hard to take in, and take it in he couldn’t.

He explained he was trying to be strong for the kids, but I warned him that he had to look after himself as well. He had come to me because I had shared with him, and so I shared with him again some of the hard-won lessons of my experiences. You’re stronger than you think, I told him, but be careful that you’re not too strong for your own good. Let it out, I said. Grieve. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed.

I was surprised he was even at work in the circumstances, but then I know for some people the illusion of normality is what they need. Activity becomes diversion and solace. He had told only one other person, and I suggested he should share it with his team leader – a lovely, compassionate man.

About an hour later, my phone rang. I’d sent an email to the head of finance, knowing he was on leave. Evidently he was checking his emails and decided to call me.

We’re fellow travellers. Our connection is that he’s championing a technology which I’m hoping to ride the coat-tails of. We’re both frustrated with how business is done in this place, and we both like and respect the other. Still, I was surprised.

The first thing he told me was that he was on post-operative leave. With little prompting, he explained he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in early December and had his prostate removed the week before last. Clearly his condition had been deemed serious but, he explained, it would be another year before he knew if he was in the clear. His mood was philosophical, but with a melancholy edge. “You hear these stories,” he said, “about other men.” He paused. “This time I’m that man.”

Though we discussed the subject of my email, it seemed pale in comparison to the real-world situation he was facing. Just as everything diminished in importance at hearing the story of my friend’s sister. It was one of those days.

I had a sense of wonder last night. I felt extra sensitive, and as if I had tapped into a reality I’d only known in passing before. Donna rang, and as I told her the story, she said it was all because I had opened myself up. It was good, she said. The world recognises those who open themselves to it, and from here on in, I had to be ready for it. I nodded my head.

I’ve always been sensitive. I’ve always read people well and sensed their state of mind. I’ve always wished the best for most people and had my heart warmed at their hopes and happiness. Most of it has been from a closed position though. Now I’ve opened up, and it’s as if I can feel it on my raw flesh.

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