I met a very, very old woman yesterday.
She was, in fact, the oldest person I have ever encountered.
I won’t go into the details as, I haven’t gained consent and, that is not my focus; what I was trying to get my head around was the span of her life.
She was born in 1907.
She was seven when the First World War began.
She lived-through the Spanish Flu and Hiroshima.
109 Christmases, January the firsts and birthdays.
How can we begin to imagine the scope or span of her life?
Martin Luther King Jr, JFK, Gandhi and Mandela; moon landings.
Diana, 9/11, Global Warming, the birth of Israel and India and the NHS.
She was in her thirties at the outbreak of World War two. Imagine.
The Falklands, Thatcher, IRA, ANC and the PLO.
We mostly forget the span of our lives; her grandmother, had she lived to the same or similar an age might have been born in the 1700s; that is, Bach, Captain Cook, and Napoleon. Her mum, Walt Whitman, Queen Victoria, Darwin and the Eiffel Tower.
It is funny how the moment can sometimes seem eternal – 5.36 in the morning, the wait for a shift or a journey to end.
We become swept-up in the machinations of relativity and forget our interconnectedness.
And my patient, lying in bed, her first hospital stay, ever?
We forget our proximity to one another, focusing instead on separation – the divisions of race and gender, occupation, clan and creed; there is more in common between two people than any difference.
The same happiness, anxiety, fear and aspiration – the same struggles, hopes and dreams.
Sitting with my hand on her arm, I am reminded of how close I am not just to my family and friends, but to my patients.
And I wonder about the span of my life and that of my children.
Yesterday, sitting with my family, looking through old photos – dating back to the end of the 1800’s; faded images of stiff suits and reticulated shawls. Many of the names now forgotten; lost with the vanished memories of my parents and grandparents. Sparks faded.
Our past, our present and future –