It was late on a Friday afternoon when she called by to see me. I don’t remember what department in the hospital she was from or exactly why she came to see me. I do remember the question she asked me and how confronting I found it.
There seems to be a universal law shared by medical practitioners as well as family and friends. That “law” is don’t dwell on the downside of the injury with the person. Unless warranted, for medical reasons, the conversation should always be upbeat and positive. It’s not really a law, is it? It’s just common sense.
But my visitor that afternoon trampled all over that “law”. She went straight to the chase and asked: “What’s it like now that you have to depend on other people for everything?”
It was a confronting, uncomfortable question. I was still coming to terms with my situation. I was looking for encouragement, a way forward, for affirmation. I certainly didn’t need someone reminding me how bad things were. So I fumbled some sort of answer and turn the conversation in a different direction.
In the hours that followed I sought what the French call L’esprit de l’escalier. It translates as “staircase wit”. It comes from that time when many French people had their dining room upstairs. It means thinking up a perfect reply to an insult or confrontation on the staircase on your way home when it’s too late to deliver the retort. I never did think of a L’esprit de l’escalier.
I still find the question disturbing even today. Not because I can’t face up to the reality of my situation. I have to rely heavily on other people from morning through the day and then overnight. It’s not like I’m in denial.
I find the question uncomfortable because it plays to my weakness. It tempts me to think of myself as helpless. It encourages me to concentrate on what I can’t do. Worst of all, it invites me to bathe myself in self-pity.
There is a strong upside though. Our family have been the beneficiaries of great kindnesses. There have been numerous acts, many large ones and then some extraordinary acts of kindness. All in all, the balance is certainly in favour of the upside.
As for that L’esprit de l’escalier I know this much. Yes, I do rely on others for a lot of things but don’t we all? Who grows all their own food, makes all their own clothes, builds their own house and makes all its contents and so on? More fundamentally who can survive and prosper without friends, serious conversations, laughter and friendly banter, affection, someone to love and to be loved?
It’s just in my case, my reliance on others is more blatant, laid bare for all to see.