This

Life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Nina Camp­bell

IS it just me or does ev­ery­one feel a lit­tle guilty when we carve out time for our­selves in the mid­dle of our busy days? I set aside Fri­day lunch to catch up with a friend. She has been away on hol­i­day so we had a long lunch this week.

Sit­ting in the sun, look­ing out at the boats bob­bing on the lake, she tells me about her ad­ven­tures on the QE2. A lux­u­ri­ous cabin with a bal­cony, food to tempt even the fussi­est eater and a pool that sparkles like di­a­monds in the sun; I can al­most see it and she’s re­liv­ing it with ev­ery rich de­scrip­tion. But then she goes quiet and her gaze drifts out across the water.

‘‘It was hard to come home,’’ she says af­ter a minute or two.

‘‘Of course it was.’’ I reach out and squeeze her hand.

I know it’s not be­cause she didn’t want to come home. She’s all about home and fam­ily, my friend. Five happy, suc­cess­ful chil­dren and a lov­ing hus­band, she has a lot to be proud of. But home is where she got the di­ag­no­sis, mo­tor neu­rone disease. I can feel it when I visit. It’s drip­ping down the walls, slith­er­ing across the floor, the aw­ful truth that the sands are run­ning low in her hour­glass.

She has had to let go of her idyl­lic pic­ture of re­tire­ment. She was go­ing to travel, was hop­ing for a few more fam­ily wed­dings, but mostly she just wanted to watch her grand­chil­dren grow from ba­bies into chil­dren, maybe even have ba­bies of their own one day.

She’s sur­ren­der­ing with such grace, push­ing back de­spair to em­brace a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude in the hope that it will give her more time, or at least make more of the time she has. Her strength and brav­ery make me feel small, smaller still when she lets the cracks open up to share her fear of the fu­ture.

‘‘We’re re­mod­elling the bath­room, so there’s room for a wheel­chair,’’ she tells me. Her voice has lost its mu­sic and there’s a trem­ble in it. ‘‘And I gave in and or­dered one of those walking frames you were on at me to get.’’

But th­ese glimpses are rare. She’s a strong one, my friend.

She’s not go­ing to let one pre­cious moment slip by with­out squeez­ing the last drop of life from it. We’ve made a pact never to eat twice at the same restau­rant. We’ll sit in the sun when­ever it shines and in­dulge in ev­ery plea­sure we can, for as long as we can.

She’s sur­rounded by love. Her kids dote on her, her grand­kids hang off her, all smiles and sun­shine. Her hus­band treads the knife edge, griev­ing but grasp­ing ev­ery moment of love that’s left.

But this time she has caught me drift­ing and she brings me back with a nudge.

‘‘You’re a good friend,’’ she says, smil­ing. ‘‘I don’t see many peo­ple now I’m not work­ing.’’

‘‘It’s not that they don’t want to see you, it’s just . . . ev­ery­one’s so busy,’’ I ex­plain.

It sounds fee­ble, and maybe it is, but it seems as if ev­ery­one’s get­ting busier in this 24/7 world.

We’re earn­ing more, we’re learn­ing more, we’re be­ing per­fect par­ents and im­pres­sive em­ploy­ees. We are climb­ing the cor­po­rate lad­der, liv­ing in bet­ter homes and driv­ing bet­ter cars than we did when I was a young­ster . . . but what’s it all for?

‘‘It’s not your ac­com­plish­ments that come to mind at the end, it’s the peo­ple that you loved and those who loved you,’’ my mother told me a few days be­fore she died.

That’s why Fri­days are pre­cious to me.

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