I caught myself in one of those poignant moments that creep up on us on Sunday morning. The weather was sunny but windy so the day had a chill to it and encouraged indoor activities. Having recently reconnected fast internet at home, I was sitting in front of my computer surfing the web and as a resident of one of Sydney’s many shoeboxes, the desk is directly adjacent to the sliding door onto the front balcony that looks out onto the street.
From this vantage point, I can see directly out to a brick building with a compact, low maintenance garden in the front yard. Nothing out of the ordinary and hardly worthy of the seven lines of text so far devoted to it, you say. I would tend to agree. Except that this building contains, on a changing and sadly continuing basis, some people I have never met, hope never to join and yet have my admiration from afar. The building is a home away from home for cancer patients and their families who live outside Sydney and come to the local hospital for treatment.
So this is where I found myself on Sunday afternoon. Ensconced within the warmth of my unit with the soundtrack of The Mission playing on the CD player when I happened to glance out through the glass onto a family preparing to make another trip up the road to the hospital. A mother, father and four children climbed into a big, blue people mover; a look of tired boredom on the children’s faces and of hopeful determination on those of the parents.
On this occasion it was hard to tell who the unfortunate person was who was at the centre of this human drama. But on previous occasions, as I have been walking along the path on the way home from somewhere unimportant, I have come across some residents who sadly, have been very easy to recognise as occupiers of this house of hope and despair. I remember seeing one resident, their obviously frail body rugged up against the cold with multiple layers and a beanie, as they walked, slowly, ever so slowly up to the end of the street. Past the Banksia trees on the nature strip, along the tall hedge, up past the townhouse and around the corner; these were the milestones of their walk that day. I did not see the limit of their walk but I hope it was as far as they wished and that the wind was behind them.
My wife and I are trying for a baby and hopefully we will be lucky soon. It was this that got me thinking about how I would be if it was I that was stepping into that people mover for the short drive up to the hospital. Whether it was someone whom I loved that was fighting that battle, or myself who knew that I would not be there to support them in the future. I remember another person I have seen from that building. A man who seemed to have the weight of the world on his shoulders, resting on the low front wall, ironically smoking a cigarette as I walked by. ‘G’day mate’, I said with a nod and a smile. A smile and a nod in return, economy of phrase and action a sign to me that this man had little time for idle chat and emotions, so my wish of good luck for whatever was to come remained unsaid.
Later on Sunday evening, I saw an ambulance collect an elderly man and his wife for their own trip to hospital. He was obviously in a bad way but was trying to help the ambulance officers as much as he could by insisting on stepping up into the back by himself. His wife just watched and then climbed in behind him. I never saw them come back but I like to think that was just because I did not remain at the window and not for any other reason.
Coincidently, this was Easter Sunday with all its symbolism of resurrection and new life. I hope their night was better than their day. All of them.