‘After all…all we really have is today…’

The quote was taken from the character Jean Slater (Gillian Wright), EastEnders, who leaves a devastating message for her family about her decision against having treatment for cancer.

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Yesterday evening, my husband along with my son and daughter, were eating our meal while the soap drama, EastEnders was playing on TV in the background. As I ate and momentarily glimpsed at the program, I said how strange it was that when the first episode came out in 1985, I was intrigued by the character ‘Dirty Den’ to the point I could never miss an episode but after some months, I lost interest in the program. We went on to talk generally about the other soaps. Coronation Street was one I recalled, when we used to live in Manchester in the late 80s, seeing one of the actors enter the department store, Kendals in Deansgate.  I remembered the staff and the way they greeted the actress with excitement.

As I continued talking, I noticed the character Patrick Trueman (played by the actor Rudolph Walker) appeared in a scene where he is hospital, looking quite ill. I wondered what was going on. Then in the next scene was another character, Jean Slater, doing a video call. The volume was not too low as I was able to listen to the family and the TV.

I was very moved to the point I was no longer listening to my talkative family as Jean, in a restrained and yet powerful monologue, expressed her concerns about her cancer returning and how she could not bear to go through treatment again. But what really locked my attention was her conclusion: ‘all we really have is today.’

Last week on Disney Plus, we watched the newly released animated movie called Soul. Without spoiling for those of you who have not seen the film, I would just say it was entertaining and heartwarming but again, the take-away message which remained in my mind: that life is meant to be lived as opposed to waiting for it to begin. Again, you only have today, it seemed to be saying.

This morning, I got up late (9:30 am…late for what?). My daughter promptly came into my room and said her father was upset.

‘Upset? Why?’ I said, ‘What’s wrong?’

She took a deep breath and looked away from me as if suddenly there was something interesting happening in the garden. ‘You know Daddy’s friend….’ She mentioned his name.  ‘…he’s passed away…’

‘Noooo! That cannot be true! He spoke to him just a few days ago…. why didn’t he wake me up…?’  I was about to put on my dressing gown when my husband walked in, we stared at each other in silence.

My daughter and I sat on the bed whilst my husband sat in the chair opposite. His head was gripped by his hands. He talked and kept talking about his surprise and could not believe how Covid had ‘destroyed’ his friend. I was also speechless. I was aware that our friend was ill, but as he refused to name the illness when asked, we decided that he must have contracted the virus. The last time my husband spoke to him, two days ago, he sounded as though it was an effort for him to talk. My husband wanted to ask more questions about his illness but left it, telling himself he would call him again – which would have been today.   

As we spoke of this friend and his connection to us as a family, Jean Slater’s shattering video message in EastEnders came rushing in my mind, as did the Walt Disney movie Soul.

It is something I must be mindful for the rest of this new year: there is a difference between having a life and living your life. I am aware of having this fantastic opportunity of being alive, yet I have been living it as though I still expect it to start!! I need to really know, that all I have is today.  As my life reveals itself in the present, I must not allow it to disappear by allowing time to past right by, screwing away precious seconds of my life worrying about the future. Life must be lived, right now!

Happy 100th Nelson Mandela: What I know now.

I’ve finished watching the last of the documentaries on celebrating ‘Nelson Mandela, One Hundred‘; I thought I knew all I needed to know about the man, about the country, about Apartheid, the tortures and the atrocities, but I was wrong.

This time around I realise just how close he was to all the saints we know and that probably (although not in my life time), he’ll be made a saint. I also learnt that my other idol, Maya Angelou died not too long after Mandela. I wondered if when she wrote the poem His Day is Done that some six months later, it would also apply somewhat, to herself.

His benevolence, tolerance and altruism reminded me that I still need to be more forgiving, to be a much better listener and more importantly, that it’s ok to have high standards, just as long as I realise to temper those standards when applying to people and situations.

What Mandela’s freedom did for me could almost be equated with being cleansed by the blood of Christ. If not for Mandela’s victory election, as a black person I would not have been able to live in South Africa and had all those incredible experiences. I am so grateful Nelson. Happy 100th and you should know, that we will never forget you.