French, debonair, dark-haired and handsome, the pilot of Concorde enjoyed a wonderful life. He had an attractive wife, two lovely girls of three and five, and everything he could wish for. His home was beautiful: the setting was superb – he lacked for nothing.
That is, until he caught the flu.
That night changed his life.
His flight had been returning from New York – and he had started to feel quite ill on the way back. However, it was only when he was talking to the ground staff that he found his head starting to swim. There seemed to be quite a crowd where there had only been two or three before. Was he seeing double?
This was all most inconvenient. He had promised to take his wife out to a dinner dance that night– after he had a few hours sleep. She would be disappointed if he couldn’t make it. He got a lift home with a friend, and told his wife he was feeling unwell. She had, as he had feared, built her hopes up on the evening out.
“You’ll be better by tonight, yes?” she asked.
He assured her that he would. And so he went to bed to lie down. When she came to wake him some time later, he was unable to get up.
“You want me to go myself?” she asked, moodily.
He didn’t care. He felt too ill. He couldn’t remember what he said.But she left him – she went out, and she did not return until the early hours of the following morning. By then he was unconscious. His children were crying.
His wife was furious that she had come home to this. He was unconscious in the morning, so she phoned the doctor. He was taken to hospital where meningitis was diagnosed.Following the meningitis, he developed epilepsy. He would never fly again.
His wife decided that this was not the life she had chosen and found someone else. She did not want to be reminded or tied down in any way to the life that she had known – so she put the children in an orphanage.
Unwell, unemployed, with all his confidence and flair gone – he was devastated.He was astounded that his wife could be so hard and unsympathetic when he most needed her.And the girls, of course – what was he to do? He could not earn at the moment – his mother and father had taken him in, but they were too elderly to deal with the grandchildren all the time, and there was no room. And he could no longer afford the luxury of the extra room.
It had all been taken from him.
I met him one sunny day in Le Havre. His sister thought it would do him good to speak to me, as I had suffered from epilepsy all my life. But this was different.
I had known at the outset that I was going to be required to fight for everything I gained. This poor guy had sailed through life, innocently believing that everything he had was permanent. His talent, ability to earn, keep his wife and family comfortable was just plain normal. That was before he hit the brick wall.
The distress that his altered status had on him was obvious.
We talked for a while, in French, and then he asked if I would come with him to see his girls. We went to the orphanage. They were pathetically pleased to see him. He tried to find out what had happened to the new clothes he had bought them – but they had disappeared – again.
We went to his home, and I talked to his parents, who looked stressed.
“It’s simply not fair!” he asserted. “Why me? Why everything? I’ve been left with nothing. It would have been better if someone had put a bullet in my brain – then I wouldn’t feel the pain every day.”
I could say nothing. He had fallen so far from what he knew: he had lost his friendships with those he believed cared. His job, his wife and his family were all gone. His home and all he had worked for had simply evaporated. He used to enjoy everyone’s complete attention when he spoke – now no-one listened. I can’t think of a bigger loss – yet society marches on by. They’ll give generously to earthquake and famine victims.
But what about the neighbour? Who volunteers to help with the little things?
When the pilot can no longer fly, or the teacher and doctor no longer walk, how do we treat them? Does loss of status lead to loss of identity? Does this doubly disable? Does anybody see what we are doing and how we are behaving?
Our adult behaviour makes William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” as innocent as a fairy story..
©Linda Jane McLean