I've been grateful three times this week.
I don't mean small-time grateful, like when someone makes you a cup of tea, or when you get a seat on the train, or when it starts raining five minutes after you get back rather than five minutes before. I mean big-style grateful. Like when you realise you're lucky and have to take a big deep breath to think about it.
One of my grateful moments, I wrote about here.
The other two are related.
On Tuesday lunchtime, I popped out at lunchtime to one of my favourite bead shops to pick up some provisions. I needed some things that I know they only keep in the stock room, so I waited for the shop assistant whilst she talked to another customer, but the conversation went on for a while and didn't show signs of slowing, so in the end I shuffled over to see if I could catch someone's eye. As I got closer, I realised that the reason for the delay was that the other customer was deaf, and trying to ask where something was in the shop.
It transpired, after some time, and, in the end, the use of a biro and a sheet of paper, that she was after some silver leather cord. It's no wonder that sign language wasn't getting the message across, is it? I mean, it's not like asking for apples in the greengrocers. It's a fairly specific product, and a fairly hard thing to gesture. She got there in the end, only to discover that they were out of stock, poor love.
I can't imagine that world. I can't imagine the isolation that she must feel by not being able to hear the world around her, or be able to communicate with it. I can't imagine the frustration that she must feel every time she has to carry out anything other than the most simple of transactions, or the gratitude you must feel when you finally get your message across. People say things like, "I would miss the sound of birdsong," or something equally saccharine, but you know what I'd miss? Noise. Plain and simple. I'm sitting here now hearing the sound of the buttons on the computer, the faint purr of the main road, and the occasional car or person on the street outside, a bike's brakes squeaking. Imagine not knowing any of that's going on.
I realise that you only know something's worth having if you've lost it. I don't know this lady's story, obviously, but I do recall a programme a few years ago about a couple who had cochlear implants in their retirement, and were so horrified by the racket that they turned them off and went back to their quiet worlds. Perhaps it's patronising to be sorry for her. But is did make me grateful that, when I wanted to know if there were any spools of black cotton cord in the stock room, I could just ask the question and hear the answer (which was that they were out of stock of that too).
Then on Thursday, I had my third burst of gratitude. My train to work is one of those with two seats on one side of the aisle and three on the other. No-one ever wants the middle seat of the three. There is no way to sit in those seats without getting uncomfortably close to the strangers sitting next to you, and that's terribly un-English. But then, so is standing when there's a seat. You can see the dilemma.
Anyway, I had the aisle seat of the three, and the middle seat remained empty for a couple of stops until a chap came to sit down. I, and the lady in the window seat both did the sharp exhale of breath that is traditional in such circumstance. It's meant to convey (a) a wish that the seat was still empty, and (b) an acceptance that there's no reason why he shouldn't be there. Don't judge me. It's the law of the commuter train. I didn't really take in much of this guy though. I was reading and I tend not to notice much around me before the first coffee.
It was only as the train pulled into Victoria and we all got up to leave that I realised that he had been, I assume, a thalidomide baby - I'd guess he was about ten years older than me, so the timing would be about right. To all effect he had no arms.
As I walked along the platform behind him, I became curious as to how he'd manoeuvre the ticket barriers. Then my thoughts moved on. He was wearing a buttoned shirt and lace up shoes. Did someone help dress him, or is there a way to deal with laces that I've not thought about? And what happens if, midway through the day, he decides he wants a jumper on? Or if he has to blow his nose? What happens when he needs a pee, for crying out loud?
I gripe about the fact that my ankle hurts (although it's hurt for over a year, on and off, and I've not yet seen a doctor about it) and that I'm too fat for my clothes. I gripe if there aren't clean clothes in the morning. I gripe if I dribble toothpaste on the only clean top I have when I'm running late. But my goodness, do I have it easy.
I think that it's the reserve of the comfortable to moan about discomfort. And I think that I am guilty of that myself. And I know that, in all likelihood, I will be ungrateful and moaning about my comfortable life in the near future. But for now, I will try and keep in mind how lucky I am to really have nothing to complain about.
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