I recently visited a friend who was recovering in hospital after going through a severe illness. This friend had been on the verge of death. “I was about to kick the bucket!” he told me, laughing. I laughed too, but with less enthusiasm.
When the visit was over, I walked to the bus stop thinking, “what makes my friend feel happy after going through such an intense experience?
Going through misfortune allows us to learn what constitutes that kind of natural wisdom that older people show when they give us advice. But also the understanding that seems to spring from people’s experiences, lives, successes, great mistakes, and regrets. All of which seems reflected in that compendium of common sense capable of healing any wound.
This wisdom born from personal and social experiences has a significant advantage: it seems to make life better, lighter, closer, more assimilable. Every idea seems to fit a problem, a dilemma, a distressing question, a decision we must make to deal with a sensitive issue.
That is what I saw in the eyes of that man lying on the hospital bed, with a large scar on his chest and surrounded by nurses, electrocardiograms, ventilators and oxygen tubes. He was coming back from the dead, or rather, he had been granted a brief postponement before the final blow. In any case, what I saw in his eyes – and what motivated me to write this text – was the joy of being alive, the satisfaction and desire to live.
Seeking to explain this reaction, I came across the concept of “Post-Traumatic Growth”, which refers to personal growth and the newfound meaning that occurs after a person faces a significant challenge in life that forces them to change or adapt to new circumstances.
The point is that after facing critical moments (such as a severe accident, a life-threatening operation, immigration, escaping a catastrophe or political violence), people become more attuned to life. In other words, life means more to them, and somehow, things seem clearer. This change speaks of intensity and not of quantity or extension. It’s a mystery, but it happens.
Perhaps that was what was in the man’s gaze, a greater intensity of life, a kind of realistic hope. He didn’t seem to want to be eternal or not to die. On the contrary, he seemed to want to live what was left as if he saw in that something wonderful and unrepeatable.
As I was thinking about this, the rain intensified, and hundreds of tiny drops of water hung from my window pane on the bus. Then, as they were blown into the abyss by the wind, it seemed to me that each one of them cried out before falling: Now! Angel, Now!
Photo: Irish Times