Updated: Oct 3, 2021
for my dear friend Chris
It is three minutes to five on an exquisite Canberra spring day. I'm sitting under the fading sun of the late afternoon, enjoying not being at work, not sitting at my desk, not reading and not writing emails. I reached the end of my third Zoom so far at 4:16 p.m. All I could think was, I am done for the day. And so I was. I sent an email out to all the staff in both teams, and Steve (the Chair) telling everyone, "I am going to stop early today because I am tired and want to sit in the sun. ASAP please do the same". And here I am, in Spike's garden.
The sun is low in the western sky and most of its warmth has dissipated. But it is not yet cold. When darkness comes the Canberra night chill will descend. Human beings are not well-designed to live at even this altitude. The high Andes it is not. But we are nearly 2,000 feet above sea level and 100 and more kilometers inland as the proverbial Currawong flies. We should not be here.
But we are. And I am.
The flowers in Spike's garden are shutting down for the night. Tulips and daffodils that are not meant to be here either, closing in upon themselves, shrinking as the night air begins to insinuate itself into the gloaming. A tiny forest of quasi bluebell flowers -- not actual bluebells but the idea does well enough for me for the moment -- bend-in their star-shaped crowns towards their tall. thin stalks; six blue petals prepped for dusk. The world makes ready for a good night's sleep.
An Australian hyacinth nearby, in a small stone pot before me on the ground, emits its pungent scent, a musty perfume, pervasive; reminiscent for reasons I cannot quite grasp of funeral parlours in the Scotland of my youth. Too familiar. Too much experience from long, long ago. I was not ready then. And I am still not ready.
A Doors song comes to mind. What are they doing in the Hyacinth house / what are they doing doing in the Hyacinth house?
I have no idea Jim ... Morrison, Herd, Kirk (from the sublime to the ridiculous). Why are the places in which they display our dead in costly boxes we will burn to ashes, not much later, called parlours?
Birds fly 'home' overhead, heading west in pursuit of the sun perhaps. In the trees across the street, small birds -- I cannot see them but I'm sure they must be bite-sized for the local cats (our own included) --- whistle and chirrup and tweet and twit and trill and then fall silent. Contented and at rest, it seems.
Then this. I kid you not. Like something drawn from Tintern Abbey, wood smoke wafts across the neighborhood from a nearby nineteen-eighties-built, ridiculous bungalow. I do not mean to be too critical. We bought our own one years ago, when we moved to Canberra (of all the unlikely places) for work that still feels vital. Our own brick shoe box with its four bedrooms and the huge garden in which I sit -- writing away as if it mattered Dougie. The two of us and one cat (a stray) roaming around a big bungalow in a small city. Just as ridiculous as any other.
We do not always live the lives we thought we might. But I am not complaining. For this reason, if no other: Marcus Aurelius was not wrong. At least in this regard. 'Never be overheard complaining to people ... not even to yourself."
I am tired. We are all too tired.
Is it a good tired? I think it is. The people I work with have given everything and more to help people living tough, isolated, unstable lives in difficult circumstances. Locked down. Shut in. Waiting for the country to vaccinate away this remorseless new-age plague.
No one makes my colleagues do it. They turn up. See what's on the list. Then they just do what they can. Like so many folk around the globe. And they do good (a much maligned purpose for a while but one which might -- I hope -- be not afraid to show its face again).
The world is never as we wanted it to be. But that is no good reason to stop trying.
Two days ago I missed a Facebook video call from a friend in Wales. It was 4:17 a.m. and even if I was not paralysed, even if I had made it to a screen (Spike nearly did) it was still 4:17 a.m. FFS. And I've been tired for weeks.
I called back yesterday but there was no reply.
This morning came a message from my unwell friend in Wales. "Just saying goodbye Dougie. Dying is not as bad as I thought it would be. Somewhat interesting experience and fortunately pain free. My pleasure to have known you. xxx" So far today, no further word has come from Wales. No answer to my question, "how are you old friend?"
I've checked a few times. Facebook Messenger displays a tiny photo and that green spot beneath the legend, "Active Now". Irrationally, I'm sure my gut will tell when he's not. But that's just ego talking to a tired, old man in Canberra.
For the moment, this must be enough. This is the place. A time to sit beneath the sun and rest.