Former editor of the Byron Shire News Digby Hildreth.
Former editor of the Byron Shire News Digby Hildreth. Julie Bergin

Time to forget me and get back to work

LISMORE mayor Jenny Dowell regularly sends me words of encouragement after reading a column: one of the busiest people in the Northern Rivers finds the time to be one of the kindest.

My return to health has been given momentum, I am sure, by people such as her and the others who read this every week, and cheer me on … no matter if I've been I've been cranky, maudlin or self-indulgent. So, without getting all Gwyneth Paltrow about it, I want to thank you all (and my parents, God etc).

Jenny is an outstanding example of a public servant, far from the "sleaze frenzy" of politics, as cartoonist Ralph Steadman called it, and I'll bet her experience of surviving cancer further heightened her social consciousness.

Service to others is not only good for society, it also brings freedom from self, a happy state lacking in lives devoted to the pursuit of money and pleasure -- of happiness itself.

After 18 months of living with cancer and the imminence of death, I'm now in the position of seeing that I might have a decent few years ahead of me.

The reprieve brought in its wake not the ecstatic joy I confidently predicted but, a few days later, a sudden, vicious kicking from depression. I'm embarrassed to report this (one of the condition's more insidious symptoms being shame at having it.). Then again, it's been an intense 18 or so months - and a busy 2014, with a lot of "living", in which relationships of all sorts have both simplified and become more demanding.

But the darkness lifted, as it always has, and now I've got to return to "normal", which means earning a living, ideally through doing something useful, before I die of boredom droning on about cancer.

As you read this I'm preparing for a trip to Aurukun, the Aboriginal community in Cape York, to document the painting of a mural on the airport building, a project that is bringing damaged residents together in a relaxed and meaningful co-operative effort.

My partner, an artist, is painting and co-ordinating the work and is stimulated and fulfilled by it: I'll yarn with the participants in order to communicate their stories, and the story of the mural to the wider world, a job that also promises deep satisfaction.

At home, meanwhile, there is a huge need for older men to give some time to younger guys, many of whom are wandering around in a daze, full of doubt, seeking identity and comfort in drunken or iced-up stupor and destructive parodies of masculinity.

We blokes draw the short straw in the survival lottery: booze, violence, accidents, depression, disease: we top the grisly statistics.

A caring word can change the course of a life: cancer may have made me more selfish in some ways but it has also given me the motivation to say such words whenever I can.

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