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Thursday, 3 January 2013

Why It Is Important to Value the Lows

On New Year's Eve, my 18 year old daughter tweeted that 2013 couldn't possibly be better than 2012. The optimism of the young! Her memories of 2012 are of a month in Thailand and starting her university life, so no wonder she looks back fondly. She has forgotten the trauma of her missed-by-a-whisker A in Psychology and the ups and downs of early relationships. But it is the downs that enable us to identify the ups - without them life would be a flat line.

I guess that's easy to say if your life is balanced or there are more ups than downs. For more people than ever last year the downs just kept coming, and for yet more I suppose 2013 doesn't offer much relief. There are many people to talk to on the streets who are being pushed further and further down as they lose jobs, homes, families and control. People living on the edge protect the rest of us from falling off - we should think ourselves lucky.

I think myself lucky in having seen my brother hit rock bottom and survive. Exactly a year ago a nurse in Mallorca told me that if I wanted to see him alive again, I would need to get out there fast, and I did. What I found was somebody who had drunk himself almost to death. Unable to cut his finger and toe nails because he shook so badly, he was malnourished, skinny yet swollen because his liver had pretty much packed up. Pneumonia put him in intensive care - a lucky discovery that it was e-coli on his lungs was what saved him.

After four months of confusion, delusion and distress in and out of hospital and a nursing home where at 61 my brother looked frail in comparison to residents more than 20 years older, he cut free and flew home. A further couple of weeks of tests and recuperation in hospital in Portsmouth, and we brought him to live in York. We both knew that living with me would be a nightmare, so he has a room in a shared house 20 minutes walk away.

Since June it's all been up - his physical and mental health has been permanently compromised but for now he functions perfectly well, living happily and alcohol free. On Christmas day he had lunch with us, arriving early for the opening of presents and enjoying being part of our family rituals. This was the first time we had spent Christmas together in more than 40 years, and it was both a blessing and a miracle.

My brother is lucky. He has family and friends who help him. He has enough money not to need help from the state, so he has choice. He enjoyed alchohol for most of the time he was drinking, but even he would acknowledge that it wasn't worth it. He was really scared to get to the brink and he is grateful and happy to have survived.

Most of us would choose life. Many of us would like to think we had happy, healthy, prosperous lives. Some of us dream of riches. I dream of just enough. Too much of anything is bad for you. Too much poverty, too much wealth. Too much worry, too much couldn't-care-less. 

When I look back on 2012 I think of the dark start to the year and the light which emerged at its end. I think of worrying about spending too much and earning too little. I think of buying less and yet having more. It's been a year of fear but also of gifts - the cities of Palma, Barcelona and Liverpool, our son's graduation and first job, new friends, new contacts, new opportunities. Working with Compass UK and Metropolitan bring new challenges and much satisfaction.

There is no joy, nothing to be gained, in punishing the poor and needy. Work is for sustenance, satisfaction, contribution. Good wealth is for distribution. Love, power and money - share them. In the pack, I see myself in the middle. I would like us to be closer together, keeping each other from the edge.


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