People tell me they admire my strength because of my posts about Ms T and I, both here and on Twitter.
It's not strength, it's just life. “Here's what happened: deal with it.”
And I'm now going to retreat into what a writer does if he's a coward, and call upon metaphor. "Deal" is the keyword.
I don't have many obsessions. I did, once, but they get shed, one by one, when reality becomes too pressing. But I have protected one thing that reconnects Richard in 2013 with Richard of 1970.
I play cards in a world that's slowly forgetting how. My game is Five Hundred. Since there are so few real-life card-playing people, I play my games online, sometimes against humans, sometimes against computers, never for money.
“If you need a particular distribution of cards to exist, assume it exists. If it doesn't, you weren't going to win anyway.” – This is a paraphrase of a line delivered by a character called Vector Shaheed in the five-book epic Sci-Fi “Gap Series” by Stephen Donaldson.
In Five Hundred, it's advice that works. I can have a week without losing a single game, and on a good day, I can win a game without losing a single hand. I've sometimes wondered about dollars, but no: the game I can reliably win at doesn't have any significant play-for-money community, online or off. Oh well.
But it really does work: I can construct my bids (six hearts, seven hearts, misere, whatever) around the assumption that everyone else has the cards I need them to hold, and I can outplay them if I'm wrong.
Then it goes wrong, and I'll lose for weeks at a time. That's just how probability works. Sometimes, all the distributions run wrong.
Out in life, I can't just ignore it when the cards shuffle badly. But the only way out of the forest (to swap metaphors for a moment) is to keep going. Keep shuffling, keep dealing, keep bidding, and wait for the win.
The wins happen. They really do. At the moment, if I sound down, it's merely because three years of broadsides have left me (probably clinically) depressed. But the objective part of my mind can count off the wins.
Ms T will soon move to three-monthly chemo. That hints at a new balance in the war of attrition between cytotoxins and the immune system that's trying to kill her. And it's a huge win: it means there might be six week stretches in 2014 when she's suffering no side effects of cyclophosphamide.
After eighteen months, she's broken through the pain specialists' waiting lists. If that gets results, 2014 could see us bushwalking together again. I don't hold her hand over rocks or steps because she needs me to; I do it because I like it better that way. To hand her down the Den Fenella (a small walk in Wentworth Falls that was laid out by someone with soul and a taste for drama) would be beyond price. It's our own, personal, her-and-me pilgrimage and it's been three years since we walked it.
Death, right now, seems less imminent and more distant. We both know the cold equations will take her from me, but not now. Since she's shy four major and two minor arteries, this is a big plus.
But none of these things represent strength. To me, strength is exampled by someone like Nelson Mandela: not because he was a saint all his life (read the bio), but because he chose to assume burdens that he could have ignored. Mandela could have done as I do, and devoted himself only to the small struggles of his own life.
I wish I was strong. I wish I could take my struggles and build out of them something that changed the world. But I cannot: I'm too small, and too devoted to the heart that beats next to my own. I can't be away from Ms T to fight larger battles, because keeping her alive and holding her is more important to me than the world outside.
Which makes me not strong, but selfish, and I don't mind it if you tell me so.
Where I can devote my strength, I will. But most of my thew and sinew, my mud and muscle, my heart and soul, I have promised to the small and simple, because in 1991 I stood in front of a wedding and made my promise.
I will carry my love to the grave. Deal me the bad hand, I'll play it to my best and hope I can squeeze a win from the rest of the world.