Things that matter

For some reason over the last week or so I’ve been drifting back towards the organisational blogs (reading them, not writing them). I’m not sure why, but I’ve been avidly reading about how people set out their diaries, organise their pantries, fold their laundry… it may be because there’s a preponderance of these types of posts with it being a new year. Or perhaps I’ve been seeking this kind of thing out, after all, we have some big changes coming up and what better way to ease the stress than be organised?

This afternoon while Master and Miss L (both) slept (at the same time, yes, I know!) I found myself reading a post about a lovely-sounding Californian blogger’s fridge. How she cleaned it, organised it and, finally, photographed it in all its tidy glory. I read all about how she “hates” packaging and so she unwraps her fruit & veggies, throws away the shop’s plastic bags and packets, washes the fruit & veg, then places it into her own plastic bags (or disposable tubs, which I bloody well hope she re-uses). As I scrolled down the page there were photos of her fruit bowl (empty and full), a plastic container full of (washed) baby carrots and then, finally (before I closed the page) her kitchen sink, half full of water, with apples, blueberries and strawberries bobbing around in it (allegedly these are the fruits that “really” need cleaning…. Do they? Maybe in North America but not here they don’t).

I couldn’t believe I was wasting my precious “me” time looking at this stuff. I mean really, the only time I EVER wash fruit or veg is if you can actually see SOIL on it. I fed Mr L a caterpillar last week because I didn’t bother washing the herbs from our garden (or, more accurately, the garden from our herbs). What a completely unnecessary exercise. Not to mention a waste of time, water and, in this lady’s case, plastic!! So I got up from reading this blog to do something useful. My laundry cupboard has had a strange smell coming from it for the last few weeks, it’s gross. So I took everything out of it and wiped it down, waited till it dried and then put everything back again (Actually, no, I rehoused 2 cans of dog food and 3 unused nappies). The offending odour-emitter remains a mystery. I also made a batch of MYO (make your own) washing powder. Hopefully it’s better than the liquid version I made, as I have a whole box of soap flakes and sodium carbonate to use up…. I then tidied a shelf, updated my to do list, and sat back down at my computer, feeling slightly virtuous that I had got up and “done something”.

So the afternoon ticked along pretty much to plan, the only glitch being Master L’s tantrum at the shops when the ride-on car he considers “his” was occupied by another child and I decided I would not indulge him by hanging around waiting for the other kid to get off, I would teach him that life’s not fair, sometimes you miss out on car rides and the like but life goes on and you come back tomorrow. You assume.

So I was feeding the kids dinner and my phone pinged with a text message. I wondered who it could possibly be as Mr L was home already, finishing some work upstairs. I actually thought maybe it was him texting to ask me to put the kettle on. I wish it had been.

Instead, it was a close friend of mine sending a group text announcing that her leukaemia, first diagnosed 10 years ago, had relapsed again and was now involving her brain. She apologised for the text but said the last 72 hours had been so emotionally exhausting, being diagnosed and then telling her and her husband’s families, that she didn’t feel she could speak to anyone else. I’m not a haematologist, but her prognosis must be pretty bleak. My first thought when she rang me after she was initially diagnosed in 2004 was “She’s going to die”. Ditto in 2011 with news of her first relapse. Just the other day I was wondering how it must feel for her to live with the shadow of the possibility of yet another relapse over her head and was she really “cured”?

I have felt irrationally guilty both times I have told her I was pregnant, each time she came to see me each time in hospital after giving birth and every time she has asked to hold my babies, because she can’t have her own. Medically it was not always out of the question and after her first treatment and supposed “cure” she was trying to get pregnant, but very early on she admitted to me “I don’t want to have motherless children” and I knew that, despite her positive outlook and brave face, she recognised that my (pessimistic) view of her long-term prognosis was not an unreasonable one. Countless times I have felt bad complaining to her about grizzly kids and not enough sleep and early mornings and never have I genuinely envied her nice dinners out, her business class flights, the things you just don’t do with children. The price she has paid for those luxuries is just too high.

She’s not the only person who’s made me think about what matters, about how very lucky I am, about how, in a moment, it’s all gone…. Not even 6 degrees of separation, but just one degree away, awful, awful things happen to people… a university acquaintance of mine took his own life, one of my work colleagues died of a heart attack at 36, leaving his wife 6 months pregnant with their 4th child, a school friend of mine is currently struggling along with a rare incurable lung cancer. Stillbirths, miscarriages, kids with cancer (actually, anyone with cancer), people’s husbands dying in freak accidents…

I think about how fragile we are when in a moment- the moment the lab technician looks down the microscope at a field full of blast cells, the moment the atheromatous plaque ruptures in the left main coronary- it can all be whipped out from under us. They’re everywhere, examples of the transience of life and how precious our time here is.

And so I say to myself, on days like this… who cares if someone chooses to wash their already-clean fruit (and write about and photograph it?) Who cares if my laundry cupboard smells? Who cares if Master L wakes me up again tonight for milk he really doesn’t need and I get 15 minutes less sleep? Because these are not the things that matter. The things that matter are cherishing the time you have, the people you love and the world around you. Because one day, you will be gone.

I know we can’t go round all the time being grateful and not sweating the small stuff and all that crap. I’ve already talked about the “living in the moment” philosophy. I know I will go back to reorganising the wine glasses in the cupboard by category, to straightening the hand towel in the bathroom (yes, I’ve seen Sleeping With The Enemy) and to complaining about things that really don’t matter. But someone I once worked with told me “It’s a wonderful world and you’re in it”… and today I’m reminded how very true that is.

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