The ticking clock

There are moments in life that cause us all to stop dead in our tracks.

Something startles us and instigates a reassessment of the sleepy routines we all fall into when life is comfortable. All of a sudden you remember nothing is forever.

Death is one of those moments.

They say youth is wasted on the young, but no one enjoys time more than those who see it as an unlimited commodity, free to be splashed about frivolously and impulsively without worry.

Time is a wealth we all experience and the beauty of it is, you can only spend it lavishly, because you will never be allowed to keep it, share it or save it for later.

As you get older, the riches have been spent and the time-poverty begins. Everything is accessed to see if it is worthy of our precious and limited minutes.

Time is no enemy, but it is a tyrannical dictator. It moulds to no master and it should be respected.

Learning someone’s time has run out is a sad experience.

I recently learned someone I studied with is no longer alive.

He was not a young man, but he carried a strength and light energy that led me to believe he would long outlive the sprightly.

We were not close, but we were buddies.

During college we would often chat about this and that. He told me about his family and his interests. I listened to stories of his past.

He had spent years working in a union and as a result, or through natural inclination, he spoke in a pragmatic but decisive manner, jovial and meandering.

He was a terrible storyteller, although an enthusiastic one. His tales often culminated in a non-existent punch line.

For a while I thought I wasn’t getting his jokes. I tried hard, I concentrated intently to his stories, taking in every little detail –but I never got it.

Eventually I realised, there was something missing, some important snippet that was in his head and he had forgotten to share, that rendered the stories useless.

Once I understood this, his stories, although not outwardly comical, were amusing as I tried to guess what it was he wasn’t telling us.

I suppose the cancer was the undercurrent to a lot of it.

One sunny college day, waiting for a lecture to begin, he and I sat at a picnic bench and shared milk and cookies.

Both of us studying Journalism, I asked him who he wanted to write for.

He told me he was fascinated by medical publications and his ultimate goal was to write for the health supplement of the Irish Times.

I felt this was a particularly small niche, but I did not question it much.

He had spent years surrounded by medical staff through his work in the union; I assumed this was the connection.

After we finished college, our group spread wings and it was rare we came together or even crossed paths.

I met this man out shopping, we had the standard catch up, and I asked him about his ambitions for medical journalism.

He told me, matter of factly, he had given up. That dream was over.

I was surprised, he was not a quitter.

Today I learnt of his death. Cancer. It had come back. He had known for a while.

He had known the last time we had all met as a group, in my favourite coffee shop, in my home town.

Our last conversation was the same as that day we spent eating cookies in the sun; swapping stories and laughing without knowing why.

In a few days I will go and pay my respects to my college buddy.

I will take time from my life to remember his, and as I enter the early stages of time poverty, I am confident, it will be time well spent.

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