The fall and rise

There was a moment the other week when I left the offsite meeting in the city that I was mighty tempted to find a good wine bar and sit there amongst my peers and indulge in something that, once so familiar, had become foreign to me. I imagined sitting at the bar and chatting to the bartender, as I have so often.

Most particularly, I imagined myself in conversation with an attractive stranger there for the same reason as I. I was ready, I thought, to re-enter the fray. The thought gave me delight. I remembered the feeling so well. There was pleasure in it and mystery, and half of it was that the outcome was unknown. I’d always been good at that. It was not always easy and sometimes challenging, but I was independent, confident and articulate, and this was life. Most of all, I craved the sense of vigour going down that path and the spice of flirtation, not knowing where it would lead.

I didn’t. I caught the train home. The day will come, however, when I will brave recent setbacks and put myself out there again.

I mention it now because it felt new. Like the first signs of regrowth. By the next day, I was feeling much more cynical, dismayed by the banality of the meeting I attended and feeling a general sense of alienation.

The day after that, though, a Saturday, it all changed again. For the first time in over a year, I went to the footy. I went to the MCG with a friend who barracked for the opposing side. We sat in the MCC members in the pale sunshine, a wicked chill in the air. I hardly expected my team to win, but they did, coming from behind in stirring fashion as the crowd roared.

I had forgotten that feeling. To be part of a crowd is to feel part of a living organism. It heaves and sighs. It roars and groans. Listen to it with your eyes closed, and you can follow the match by the rise and fall of human noise and the shouted comments from the crowd. I had been there hundreds of times before and felt a thrill to be back. I was alive to it.

We had a beer at halftime and another in the Percy Beames bar after the game. It was a happy, rambunctious crowd. About me, the crowd wore their team colours, mostly scarves, most in the red and black of my team, and a few in the red and white of the other.

I felt a part of a community again. For much of the past year, I have been alone, and more so once Rigby had gone. I was unwell and generally incapable, battling on looking towards a time when I would be well enough to be a part of society again.

Cancer is isolating, as much mentally as physically. There’s a sense of incapacity that is psychological. The disease, and the treatment for it, has left you weak and scarred. You have lost something and know it. It looms so immensely in your mind that everything else seems secondary. You have to get through it, have to survive.

There’s the perpetual regimen of specialists and treatment and medication – and pain, too. It’s a totally foreign way of living that you resign yourself to. Your friends are good, but you feel they look at you differently, and you feel in yourself something different. Cancer is scary to everyone, to those who have it and to those who don’t.

The trick is to get through it. Not everyone does, but I expect I will. That time is getting closer, and hence I raise my eyes to look further ahead and imagine a life beyond this.

I felt that on Saturday. I wasn’t alone. Here, in the crowd, a crowd of people who felt and thought as I did, there was a sense of brotherhood. I spoke to a couple in passing, enthused by our joint victory. I handed another his beer and talked to a girl waiting for her friends. In that living, heaving, boisterous crowd, I remembered what it was like to be part of a community.

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