To see an able bodied man wasting away is a wrenching experience. It made me think of my own life. The path I have taken and the plans I have for the future. It also made me think that no matter what my achievements were in the past, the present is what life is all about.
I stopped contemplating and looked at the man as he laid motionless on the bed. Flabby skin that once held powerful muscles rested uselessly under the sheets. He smiled weakly at me and then raised an unsteady hand, turned it half way and asked, "What is your next column this week?"
He was not looking for an answer but he was trying to kick off a conversation. Almost immediately, he said, "look at me…" he let the sentence trail away. I think he read my mind about his condition. My thoughts drifted away to more than ten years ago when the man used to lift boat engines with his bare hands. He did not need a winch either to tug a craft from the beach to the water. It was normal for him to eat a couple of chicken for dinner. He spent endless of hours priming his body to perfection.
For almost all his life, his physique responded well to his demands. Until now, that is. I think, as the sun was beginning to set on him, he lost the motivation. Suddenly, he found the landmark of his life too far in the horizon. He let it go until it became just a spot in the distance. The funny thing is that, in the sorry state he is now, he depends on people he protected all his life. His frail wife is his real strength now. I looked at her when she was feeding him. I remembered when he used to tower over her. She now looked down at him as she gently pushed a spoon of food in his mouth.
I know he hated it. He hated the nurses taking him to the toilet, the visitors looking at him with pity and the doctors who ignored his feelings. But there is nothing he could do about it. His real strength now would be his mind and not the power of his muscles. It was the rehabilitation he needs the most than anything else.
A month later, I visited him at his house. He was seating in his garden watching his wife's picking jasmines. He would never walk again but that has not stopped his eyes from wandering to catch the highlight of the moment. There was nothing to do but watch, he said. In a way, he explained, he was now beginning to see things that he never bothered to stop and look. His wife has been picking the jasmines for over 20 years but he never actually saw her doing it. He cupped the small, white flowers and smelled them. I also watched him handled the tender buds with his hardened fingers. The same hands that twirled ropes around the loops of the anchors and pulled rusty chains during his days as a seaman.
When he is tired of the garden, you would see him sitting on his wheel chair on the beach. The smell of the sea is powerful, he says, something that never fails to cheer him up. Well, he has learned very well to triumph over his disability using the power of his mind. For a man who entirely relied on the force of his body to get along, he now finds peace from the strength of his intellect. Seeing him in that state, makes me wonder if we really know where we are heading to.