• Austin Birks

Life is a Gift

So, here we are, a day or two after the bank holiday that has celebrated the resurrection of Christ. For me, if honest, I have in the past struggled with the concept of Easter and just what it meant. Not only in a classic religious sense, but maybe more as I get older and dafter I have begun to realise other more important and, dare I say, symbolic things have raised themselves in my subconscious brain, whatever the hell that is.


But, in a very positive way, I am feeling a good deal of positivity about life, the universe, and maybe the gentle realisation of life and death, and the pattern that lies behind it all. One thing that my cancer journey has given me is a greater and better understanding about my own life and mortality.

Truth be told, before cancer came to town I was just an ordinary shallow man, doing all the things that I took for granted for 58 years. Never gave a second thought beyond whatever fatuous thing actually seemed important, and at the time it was truly all-consuming, because when you live in that world, that is exactly what it is.


And truth be told, at the time it is. First to admit it and live by the code of instant delivery, because when you are in that world, that is fine. And it is, until of course one day it is not fine. No, that is when the whole journey of nonsense suddenly unravels in front of your eyes, and your ears, and your soul. And out of the blue, all that you held dear, and precious, is over night, gone in the blink of an eye. Or the click or a CT scan because it is all consuming and it is true, and it is real, and it is brutal, and it is cancer.


And that my dear friends is when reality actually kicks in. Now at this stage, you have choices. They lie within your decision making processes. Some will choose life, some will choose denial, some will not, some will choose fear and surrender. In truth, until you are personally faced with these tough realities, you cannot predict what you will select. How do I know?


Because I have been there, through that rollercoaster, and trust me that is what it is. Truly, I had no idea just how quickly I had to be a party to literally life and death decisions due to the severity of my illness and the reality of just how bad it was. But, luckily for me, I had no idea at all just how sick I was and how close to death I really was.


If I am honest, without sounding flippant, my memories were actually pretty good. I had surgery, I woke up, so by default, not dead which was an option. I woke up in a critical care unit, high as a kite on morphine which I loved. In my happy fog, my family and loved ones all showed up, where I was equally thrilled, emotional, rude, and drugged up to my eye balls and at the same time was receptive, mad, rude, very emotional and frankly mildly surprised to be at the centre of such attention. Not realising that my imminent death was very close at hand, but of course in my arrogance, I had no idea, and for me that innocence was maybe what kept me alive.


Had I for once stood back and thought about my cancer, and my illness I’m not sure that I would have survived, but that is not who I am. Nope, I am me. And that same me, is the same man who three years on is able enough and lucky enough, to be alive, to stop, to pause, to reflect, and ponder, on my journey to this point.

And this point at this weekend was simply wonderful. My Yvi and I went down in our campervan to North Devon and spent an amazing 24 hours just together in our solitude, enjoying the rugged beauty of North Devon and Exmoor National Park.


It was simply great, the joy of driving the camper van in the beautiful sunshine, listening to banging tunes very loud, and just enjoying the views and the sunshine.



And then beyond that, a very special tree that Yvi had seen last December. A miracle of nature and survival, it had the stamp of uniqueness and that was why we drove down there to that one point of contact. As soon as I saw it, I was drawn to it. It was small, it was shaped, and badly bent, and it was a survivor. Nothing else was near it, nothing else anywhere near it was like it. That tree was one hard tough, son of a tree... and for me it was symbolic on this very special Easter weekend.


So, we went and took some silly photos, part fun, part my journey, and I am delighted that we did because, if honest, my symbolism right there is that little tough tree. It stood the test of time and remained strong and it beat the odds and for me that was enough. If I could be one tenth of that tree, I would be a proud man. And then I thought of another tree that held one man while he was crucified on another day in another life.


So my reflections end. Life is a gift. Thank the Lord, whoever your God, or indeed is not! No one should be judged on anything other than purely goodness and kindness, no matter, and they carry no label nor does anyone other than the one common bond all of us have, humanity. That's it.

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