Friday 4 February 2011

Surprised by Joy

"Wie viel ist aufzuleiden!"
- Rilke

In Cairo, Joseph Farquharson
It is howling with wind outside. The bare branches are orchestrating an original work, no doubt in communion with the trees of Cairo, on the Day of Departure. Hosni Mubarak does not seem to hear the orchestrated sounds of revolution, but the wind's force grows stronger regardless. Angelina's flight back to Malaysia has been cancelled 'due to the aircraft being required to perform humanitarian evacuation flights from Cairo'. The wind howls on.

A few weeks ago my brother returned home after visiting a friend, with a book for me. The cover shows a brightly coloured bird sitting on a barbed wire fence, in a concentration camp. The book is Victor E Frankl's 'Man's Search For Meaning', and although I have read and studied Holocaust literature, my instant reaction to it was not dissimilar to a horse, unexpectedly approached. In other words, a high level of anxiety. My mind has been a fragile thing these long weeks of waiting for the consultant to respond to my emails, my basic request for her to view me as more than a case on her desk. She has agreed that I should have the treatment I requested, but on her terms, with twice as many months in between each dose, and at half the usual dose. I am a cost she is cutting. We meet again on the telephone on the 18th of February, when things will be 'reviewed' again.
Pawel Sawicki, photograph, flickr
I determinedly dived into Frankl, because I love my brother, and because I would always rather be brave than cowardly. 50 pages into it, I started to seriously consider the possiblility that I was on the brink of a mental breakdown. For five long minutes I entertained this reality. Then I re-opened the book, and read on. And on page 52, the words 'Et lux in tenebris lucet' - and the light shineth in the darkness. The guards are insulting Frankl as he attempts to dig a trench in the bitter cold of dawn; he is silently conversing with his wife, trying to reason himself out of suffering, when he suddenly has the strong feeling that she is present, she is there... 'Then, at that very moment a bird flew down silently and perched just in front of me, on the heap of soil which I had just dug up from the ditch, and looked steadily at me'.

The night before Rizwan brought me the book, I had written and published a poem on Rilkean anxiety. On page 86, Frankl quotes Rilke himself, "Wie viel ist aufzuleiden! - How much suffering there is to get through!" It surprised me with joy to see the connection. And I have continued to be surprised by joy. The next day as I was printing out a letter to the consultant, an email arrived in my inbox from the editor-in-chief of a medical journal asking me to write a few articles on lupus for an issue of IGI global. And last night Dr Jane Wilson wrote to ask, would I like to be on the radio? Would I like her to speak to the producer of the show about me? Er... yes!! Hey, I think I'm going to be on the radio!! And today, flight cancelled, means an extra day with Angel!

Surprised by joy - impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport - Oh! with whom
But Thee...
Love, faithful Love
- Wordsworth


RNSANE said...

It is good that you are being able to speak about lupus on the radio and to write about it in a medical journal. Who better, really, than you, who knows lupus intimately. You are so brave, dear Shaista. May this consultant see reason and not put obstacles in the way of your treatment.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Oh, it is so wonderful to hear some happiness and joy from Shaista!!!!!! Dont you love the synchronicities of such things as your poem, the Rilke quote, the book, the bird on the barbed wire? It all sort of fits together to give is hints that more is going on than we are even aware of, at all times.

I am thrilled at the request for you to write articles and speak on the radio - because once the media has your story, these 8!@#*!!!! cost-cutting doctors might have to do a re-think!!!!!!! I certainly hope you get the full treatment you REQUIRE and that she stops putting you off. ARGH!!!!!!

But it is wonderful to hear such good and hopeful news from you. Yay! And it's a bonus that Angie gets to stay longer! Double yay!

Lisa said...

Parents of my son's friend too could not come home because of the evacuation of Malaysians from Egypt. And wow the books your family reads Shaista. I am impressed. And I am thrilled that many more now would be able to enjoy your beautiful writing. I am jealous of those that would be hearing you;)

Anonymous said...

Hello again.
I saw this message printed on a pair of socks (!) and thought it might chime:
"My disabiling chronic illness
is more real than your imaginary medical expertise"...

Do keep at the Frankl. My dad recommended it to me when I was younger and I have come to love it. Does your copy have a preface in it from Gordon Allport? In it he quotes Frankl quoting Nietzsche: "He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how". He goes on to point out that in the concentration camp all that really remains is "the last of human freedoms": the ability to "choose one's attitude in a given circumstance".
Your attitude is evidently one of grace, dignity and strength.

Hope you get through to your consultant. Mine has - again, and again - refused me anything useful (like the extended hospital stay he offered me so long ago). There is no money, so they palm me of with yet more medication for symptom control and leave me to deteriorate and remain literally housebound for another year.

Keep smiling your radiant smile :)

Jeanne-ming Brantingham said...

Shaista Super Star! The medical establishment wont be the same after they hear your voice!

karen said...

It has been a while since stopping in and I'm amazed at how good you sound. Wonderful news about the radio broadcast.
A college trip took my daughter to the concentration camps in Germany and she came home a changed person...for the better actually.
I will look for this book by Frankl...I hope you will continue to be surprised by joy dear one.

A Cuban In London said...

It's amazing to see the word joy amidst the news about your treatment. It shows that he/she who wants to see a bird perched on a fence, only needs to think of fluttering wings. I wish you the best of luck.

Greetings from London.

Ruth said...

It takes a tender heart to welcome small joys with such a big embrace.

Your parents' art is wonderful!

* said...

There are few books I've read that have changed my life, reading Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning was one of them (I read it while in grad school back in 1999).

Another book I'd recommend, along similar lines: Corrie Ten Boom's Hiding Place (have you maybe read it aleady?).

Frankl taught me many things, most of all, that joy is a choice.

Have you reached p. 65 yet, and the passage,

"We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way."

I took handwritten notes when I read this book, pages of them I've since re-read, nearly to shreds, then typed up. I refer to them often.

Glad for the turning of the tide, from dark to light. Here's hoping for more light, and for the finding (and choosing) of it.


mermaid gallery said...

Your voice will be heard!!!! Those that listen, will be changed!!! You are such an aware, sensitive soul that surely all the birds and animals will help......

Cait O'Connor said...

Good luck with all your endeavours!

The Blogger Formerly Known As said...

Hi, just a quickie to let you know I have a blog award over at mine The enigmatic, masked blogger

My Courageous Life said...

That is wonderful. Do post the radio interview and the article when it comes out.

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