To protect my own health I’ve actively avoided stress for the past few years, although certain situations (home renovations, moving, anyone?) haven’t always cooperated. Nevertheless there is a difference between walking along a path and enjoying sunshine, birdsong, glimpses of ocean, burgeoning wildflowers, and shutting out the reality of the world we live in which we have helped to create. Young Greta Thunberg has shouted out to the world that our home is on fire, if we hope to save anything we must act, and act now. Even an old grandfather snoozing under the village tree would, I am sure, wake up and run to help save what he could if his or his neighbour’s hut was on fire, or if a flood was about to drown his village.
I wonder how many of us can look back on the genesis of our chronic illness as far back as previous generations where our parents or grandparents suffered injustice, and the stresses carried through into our own lives. So often I hope that whatever I have carried with me, handed down in part from my ancestors, part things that have happened to me, how often I hope that I’ve not inflicted too great a burden on my children. I don’t think we will ever be able to prevent diseases where our body turns on itself because the human tragedy is too great. But as individuals we do what we can, what we must, to ease our own burdens and try not to inflict more suffering on others.
You wake up to find your house on fire. Desperately you run from room to room but there is no way out. When you think all is lost, when you are screaming for help which never comes, a stranger smashes down your door and hauls you to safety in the street. The cool night air relieves your pain. You have no clothes, no shoes, your house still burns. But the stranger has thought of everything. He hands you a bundle of things rescued from the flames, and soon you are ready for your journey, clothed, with even your watch, a hat, and the comforting feel of a fat wallet in your pocket. You turn to thank your saviour but then you see it is not only your house which has burned but the whole city is ablaze. Only the stranger knows a safe way through the conflagration so you are in his hands.
My name, he says, is Methyl/prednis/ol/one but you can call me Pred. I am your friend.
Your dangerous, two-faced, necessary friend.
Soon after you start your escape together he points at your coat pocket and says, let me see your wallet. And because he is strong and imposing and has saved your life you hand it to him. Later he decides he fancies the coat itself, and later still you have to give up your belt, and then, although you need it against chill of winter or heat of sun, your hat. Worse is when he takes your glasses and now the way becomes blurred. You know you are near the outskirts of the city and hope you can shed this acquisitive companion but then you see that even the suburbs, and the countryside, are dotted with small fires. As if to emphasize your need for him a cinder lands at your feet and as the debris underfoot flares up Pred stamps it out. He’s with you for the long haul.
As you continue on your way time seems to change its nature. You have to live each moment as it comes, not daring to look too far ahead, afraid of how long this unwanted unplanned journey will be before all the fires are left behind. And every so often Pred asks for another item from you. For a while you limp along with one shoe until he evens you out by taking the other. But what good are shoes without socks, he says. Soon you have nothing left, you are as naked as you were when you were pulled from the fire. But you notice your companion seems less substantial now as though he is fading out of existence and you dare to look ahead.
There is a village nestled beside a lake. You can walk down a hill to it, over a sward of soft, cool, green grass. In the distance is the sea.
I’ll leave you now says Pred. Although he is nearly transparent his voice is as strong as ever. Without a hint of irony he says, go rest in that place, get yourself a new suit of clothes, you’ll need it. He notices you still have your watch. I’ll have that off you, he demands. And with it go all the days and months and years during which he was your thieving guide.
You walk away from him but turn to say goodbye. He did save you, after all. Just before he winks out of your life he says, his voice strong and real, maybe we’ll meet again some day.