© Brenda Joy

Winner, 2014 ‘The Kembla Flame’, Illawarra Coast NSW.

“What are you doing with your life?” This lad who suffered stress and strife
     had caught me right off-guard and unawares.
I’d watched as fitfully he’d dozed. I’d taken time to be composed
     through prayer, the way a clergyman prepares.

The nursing staff, all teary-eyed, had sent for me and asked if I’d
     administer to Red, “It’s touch and go.
We wonder how he stays alive, determination to survive
     sustains him, still, he can’t last long we know.”

To see this boy was such a shock. It set me back as I took stock
     of canula and catheter and mask.
A pitiful and tragic sight, his pain-filled face so ashen white –
     to find the words to comfort was my task.

It’s always hard with one so young. Then suddenly his eyes were flung
     wide open lighting up his pallid face.
“Oh Father, how are you today? It’s best you put ‘Last Rites’ away
     you won’t be needing them in any case.”

He stopped to have a raking cough; he waved attempts to help him off.
     “What are you doing with your life?” he gasped.
It was so difficult to speak, I felt inept. He seemed so weak.
      He struggled taking air, his breathing rasped.
“Just pass that old Akubra there.” He plonked it on his auburn hair.
     “This hat and I have been Australia wide.
I’ve got C.F.* but that’s O.K., I don’t let that get in my way.”
     He wore his illness like a badge, with pride.

He told of journeys with his dad, of all the special times they’d had
     collecting gems and wandering outback.
He told of jewellery he’d made, of magic tunes his mother played,
     of pals and pets and camping by the track.

He told of sunsets and of dawns, of mustering on frosty morns
     of horses, cattle, rodeos and schemes,
(adventures that could fill a tome) and then he told me of the home
     he planned to build – the last of all his dreams.

He fixed his mask and breathing tube. “I’m just in for a ‘grease and lube’
     I let my battery go down, that’s all.
I’ve only got a collapsed lung and other parts that have gone bung.
     I simply need a total overhaul.”

I couldn’t see him pulling through. “My son, does something worry you?”
     “What have I got to worry me,” he said?
“Well some may be afraid to die!” “Well I’m not Father.  I say why
     waste living time in thinking I’ll be dead?

“Besides, I’ve got too much to do before my span on earth is through –
     there’s travelling and fossicking and more.
I’ve got to leave this city push and get myself back to the bush.
     I’ve life to live ‘cos that’s what living’s for.”

The raking coughs began again. I’d never witnessed greater pain.
     I rushed to get a nurse to help him out.
“There’s really nothing we can do.” The spasm stopped; he’d turned quite blue.
     His time was short there wasn’t any doubt.

I went back in, “I’ll pray for you.” “Can if you like, you don’t need to
     ‘cos God already knows just what I need.
By giving thanks is how I pray. Now Father, you come back one day.”
     A time for my revisit was agreed.

I’d formed a bond with this young boy whose pain could not decrease his joy.
     The thought of Red was constant on my mind.
I hoped I wouldn’t be too late. I came on my allotted date
     with trepidation, fearing what I’d find.

The empty bed where he had lain brought tears my heart could not restrain.
     I sought a nurse to learn when Red had passed.
“Another miracle for Red!  He’d things to do, that’s what he said.
     That boy defies all odds with will to last.”

He’d left a note addressed to me.
     “I couldn’t wait, I had to be
     out bush – a patch of land has come my way.
      I’m helping Dad to build…”
I knew – he’d make his final dream come true.
     He lived a lifetime every single day.


*C.F. – Cystic Fibrosis
Of the genetically transmitted diseases, Cystic Fibrosis is the leading cause of physical disability and death in children.

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