Epilogue six

I used to be a little boy, so old in my shoes. What I choose is my voice. What’s a boy supposed to do?
Disarm – Smashing Pumpkins

Angry man syndrome

This blog has elicited a range of responses. Not so long ago, I was told it is “angry”. How to respond to that?

There’s a shouty little manikin inside me who could enthusiastically reply.

But… I think, that isn’t really me. I’m not angry, for the simple reason that in order to be angry I’d need to feel something unfair had happened, and that would assume my situation is special, which it is not.

The papers are full, daily, of worse: of the extreme and shocking.

And anyway, half the world lives with no decent healthcare. If I were one of the rural Zimbabweans I lived among in 1991-92, then I’d be dead by now. I would probably never even have got a diagnosis, just a crescendo of pain which drove me to my bed until pneumonia finished me off. Indeed, many of the people I lived among then will be dead by now for sure, since life expectancy in Zimbabwe dipped to just 43 a decade ago. (It’s nearer to 60, now, simply because a lot of the people with HIV have died.)

Closer to home, I’ve witnessed family and friends grapple with other illnesses, with bereavement, with executing their parents’ wills, with children’s special needs at school, with redundancy, with divorce…

So, it’s not just me.

A decade ago I didn’t recognise those pains in other people. Myeloma has given me an emotional sensitivity I don’t think I had, made me less of a dick. I don’t think I was a very empathetic friend, back then.

I’ve always cared deeply about human development and social justice – especially for Sub-Saharan Africa. But from a position of personal invincibility, my motives were charity for the less fortunate. Changing the world as an act of condescension.

What I have to offer now would be, I hope, more meaningful, even if smaller. The doorway to empathy is the one aspect of my experience of myeloma that I would not wish away.