When life is going well, we do it a disservice by not offering it a small bow of gratitude, not acknowledging the simple happiness of the everyday. Instead, we sail on, eyes forward, unappreciative of the smile of fortune that is ‘nothing much happening’. We are conditioned to believe that good fortune and happiness in life is something seismic, path altering, routine changing, when really, happiness can be derived from the simplest of things, and good fortune can amount to a quiet life.
Nothing like the onset of a hacking cough to remind me to appreciate the happiness of being able to lie silently in bed and let sleep come. Or to sit silently at my computer and type. Or join a group of people to talk and listen in an easy exchange of unblemished chatter. Until lately, I discounted all of these simple happinesses; I may even have scoffed at them as not contributing to happiness at all, until their unobtrusive, taken-for-granted, quietness was ruptured.
I now know for certain that happiness is not coughing.
I forget how awful a chesty cough is until I get one. My recent visitor – a tickly tormentor who took up residence high up in my chest, scraping my oesophagus, taking a scouring pad to whatever sits in behind my breastbone – is only happy when I cough, because coughing begets more coughing and so it multiplies and thrives. It is a gladness stealer, a happiness harasser, it gains delight from the exertion and hurt it causes to my stomach, my ribs, my neck muscles. I have sleepless nights trying to tame it: I breathe through the excruciating internal scratch, I inhale the soothing scent of eucalyptus rub, I creep towards the verges of sleep until an involuntary cough returns me to wide-awake and afflicted.
What trickery of thought ever had me believe I could sit through a public reding of short stories and poetry with this interloper come to stay? And yet, my audacious attempt was rewarded by half an hour respite. I supressed it by mainlining hot water, honey and lemon before I left the flat, then squirting my throat with chloraseptic, and sucking on herbal lozenges throughout the readings. All of which worked — temporality. My half hour of calm was disrupted as quickly and violently as those old chimney stacks Fred Dibnah used to blow up. Pow! Mid-way through one reading I made for the stairs, coughs escaping before I reached the bottom, then I ran for the door, heaving and gaging and retch-spluttering into the darkness of the night.
I’m back! I’ve got you, it said to me that night in bed as it twisted and knocked and chafed and prodded me to cough, and cough, and cough until something on my left side, something under my ribs, seemed to snap or pop or pull. A sudden twist of pain, then throbbing and stabbing soreness when I turned. The new pain scared me, it stole my energy to chase the undone bits rattling around inside me that needed evicting. Occasionally, I embarked on a violent fit of painful coughing to dislodge it, often in the middle of the night, but it was no good, this knot refused to be undone. I felt as though I need someone to stand behind me and give me the Heimlich manoeuvre.
I am an impatient patient with no sense of Zen. I have an inability to surrender. I refuse to capitulate to the wisdom of “this too will pass”. I know the drill of non-resistance, but I repel it with all my will. Until I forget to do so. One day I ignore it, and it ignores me. Times takes the heat out of one another. It gets smaller, I get calmer. It subsides, I quieten. It abates, I get better.