The Tyranny of the Tangible is the title of a book that's been on my mind to write for years.
I enjoyed a relaxed and wide-ranging discussion with my son Chris yesterday. Chris gently inquired about my current focus on quantitative numbers - getting the mortgage down, accounting for work leave, focusing on a long-anticipated target that I appear to have missed by one month.
For me, emerging from our conversation, I realised that there's another way, of course, to look at 4 years, 11 months free of lymphoma - thankfulness for each of those years, months, moments rather than whinging at Heaven.
So, in these few days before definitive diagnostic clarity, I am more intentional in treasuring time with family and friends in these early days of traversing what feels like a snakes and ladders board.
Then there's the kindness of strangers. Loads of this! Like the woman who stopped and offered to take a photo of us paddling with Leo in the sea at Helens Bay on my 'day pass' from Belfast City Hospital on Sunday. She gave us a big big hug when I mentioned our situation.
And there's the surprise relief of my unexpected return home from hospital last night. I'm currently at home in 'the cave' with Ruth beside me, Leo on the floor and bursts of Radio 2, Spotify and silence.
This morning I stumbled upon this 'Inspiration', via NHL Cyberfamily
"So how does one measure a life? " I ask.
"Not by how many, how quickly, how far. Not by how much."
"What matters is not what one does, but how. With purpose? With loving kindness?"
"Can I know the heart of someone who is gone? How? "
"By focusing on the imprint in the sand or the ripple in the pond."
I don't understand.
"When an artist is done, do you measure how much paint is on the canvas or how long it took to put it there? Do you add up the notes on the score or the words in the book? Stop counting the number of nails the carpenter used and stop looking for the price tag on the curtains if you want to see the home in the house."
Yes, life absolutely involves the quantification of things - work, domestic and - in the haematology domain - the blood/genetic markers have their valued place.
John Frost, Headmaster of Sullivan, and my one-time mentor, once interviewed a Year 12 pupil and her parents. She had just totally flunked her O-Levels. There were tears. He counselled something like this:
"When you get to Heaven and stand in front of the Great Throne, you will be asked many questions. But one question you will not be asked is... 'and exactly what grades did you get in your O Levels' "
Who knows what questions might be asked on that Day when the books are opened up? But themes of one's purpose and kindness certainly invite my attention at present. Less rumination on tangible controllable (?) numbers which have some weird gravitational attraction.
Rather, I resolve to strengthen my meditation practice. Be present with people. Savour the simple. Attend to diverse insights that friends are kindly sharing. Gently mull over purpose. Vigilant focus on return to full physical health. Optimal approach to work. Become an expert on all-things Pinot Noir :-)
On a walk by Belfast Lough after finishing a summer of treatment nearly five years ago, I bumped into friends and asked them "So. What do you want your life to be about?"
"To be fruitful."
Five years on, that answer still resonates.