The Highs and Lows of the Emotional Old Duke of York

Winter 2011 #1

It’s the ears that suffer most in the icy blast from snow capped mountain peaks.  Mind you, some would object such glib use of the term ‘suffer’, given that the rest of my anatomy was safely hidden beneath water level in a hot tub on the fifth floor balcony of our luxury ski resort. Pain always has a context!  We’ve been chasing snow again in the serenity of the Victorian Alps, barely two hours drive from Paradise.  How wonderful it is to have vast expanses of majestic, natural beauty on our doorstep; and how privileged we feel having the opportunity and means to explore them.  With Little One happily in a weekend of respite care; my Favourite Wife and I were free to load Bugger into our wheelchair-van, and head into the wild!  It even snowed! I counted almost 12 snowflakes in 48 hours. But we found lots of snow on the ground in numerous panoramic settings; the wind howled, sleet blew in our ears, we drank hot tea in cold corners, and we had a wonderful weekend.

I might claim more legitimate use of the word ‘suffer’ in connection with a letter I received this week from a Melbourne hospital, informing me that because I had failed to attend a respiratory clinic my appointment would be rescheduled three months hence. Within days a second letter tersely warned that failure to attend two clinics could result in permanent exclusion from the programme!  One of those automated SMS messages had come to my phone a week before the clinic, offering the twin options of attending or ‘ringing’ (key word!) to cancel.  Instead of ringing I emailed the clinic, as I had been doing for some time, informing them that I would not be attending because after weeks of waiting for a hospital bed they had still not admitted me to their hospital.  I reminded them also of my voice predicament and of my inability to ‘ring’.  But, as we all know, medicine can be a merciless machine; a battering bureaucracy. If this farce runs to three additional months it will make a grand total of nine months of miscommunication and general blundering since the first referral to the respiratory service was written in November last year. Breathing is a fairly important matter, I would have thought.

It’s extraordinary what can happen in a week; indeed the heights of exultation and the depths of disappointment can be scaled in a matter of hours.   Some people seem innately better equipped to deal with life’s tidal ebb of satisfaction and frustration.  Some manage to hold an even keel … but not I.  I revel in excitement, broadcasting the thrill; and then bleed quite publicly on my sleeve when it’s all over.  As I mature I had rather hoped to refine my skills in this arena; but emotional stability is surely a slow art to master.  The pattern of elation and anguish seems to have become more intractable and more complex in the last two years; fuelled, I suspect, by a seemingly endless supply of extraordinary mountains to climb – many of which I have written about here – and their attendant valleys to plumb.

How should we manage ups and downs?  Is there an alternative to the back-to-work-blues that strike us all when holidays end?  I’ve tried stoic repression: hiding your feelings so deep that they scarcely exist. But that is alien to me, despite my stiff-upper-lip Anglo-Saxon heritage, and basically dishonest. Perhaps I could practice a style of Eastern detachment; I could become a devotee and withdraw. But all of life is a gift, and I cannot rebut the giver. Does the Grand Old Duke of York hold the answer? Is it better to live life neither up nor down, but always half way in-between?  Not for me: what a tediously grey world that would be.  Most tempting to me is probably ambivalent, existential angst; but I end up tied in knots just considering that.  More and more I see that the answer is simple gratitude.

“In everything give thanks:
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you”
(1Thessalonians 5:18).

Gratitude in everything, perhaps even gratitude for everything that life holds.  Gratitude is simple, but elusive.  How easy it is to forget to give thanks for the gift in the moment of elation.  How disciplined we must be to express gratitude in the valley when, as one of my daughters would say, “everything sucks”.  Gratitude constantly takes me beyond myself.  Gratitude removes the absurdity from life.  Gratitude saves me from the rude outburst of my mood. Gratitude can honestly recognize the incongruent vivacity and cruelty of life. Gratitude sets things in order, it puts me in my place within a created world.  Gratitude only requires that I believe. Gratitude declares that all of life is a gift.



Almost a day late, I know!  The Sunday Post is important, and I must adapt to the changing pace of my ability to regain that prized routine.

One thought on “The Highs and Lows of the Emotional Old Duke of York

  1. sharon l crump

    Beautiful Roderick! I’m with you, I would rather feel the ups and downs, than go for the gray! That is a particular personality trait, and as I remember from school, this cannot be gotten rid of, but only modified. Modification meaning, a slight toning down of the extreme highs and lows. I love mountain climbing, the kind where your feet remain on the ground, but ALS is surely rope climbing, dangling sometimes off of a thousand foot drop. Who could be detached there? Yes, I know about the zen master who while hanging from a limb over a vast canyon, reached out with one hand to pick and eat a wild strawberry! This is living in the moment!

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