Wolf Chronicles – Trust your Instincts
Trust your Instincts.
Wolf is a symbol of guardianship, ritual, loyalty, and spirit. Wolf has the ability to make quick and firm emotional attachments, and often need to trust their own instincts. Thus they teach us to do the same, to trust our hearts and minds, and have control over our own lives.
Trust your Instincts
Wolf is a good friend of one of our heart failure patients. His words of wisdom help many. Here we share his thoughts, his experience and his insights for our patient and carer community to give encouragement and hope to all.
Heart Failure patients, and their families often experience difficult days and situations. Wolf recognises these challenges and uses his wisdom and experience to look for the positives and help patients to consider more positive alternatives whilst recognising why more negative thoughts are often prevalent.
Read the Wolf Chronicles chapter by chapter or dip in when the mood takes you. Each chapter provides a positive perspective whilst learning more about Wolf and his pack (and his passion for top quality coffee …).
About the Author of the “Wolf Chronicles”
“My name is Rob and I am a husband, father and a grandfather, an educator and a storyteller, an owner of an inefficient heart and a big collection of story books. I have many good things in my life, like my family, friends and colleagues, each one of whom is like a book full of stories. My failing heart has given me the chance to see all these things and people with new eyes, with the vision of my ‘new normal’. I am not defined by my condition, but transformed by it…”
Sometime on the 6th November 2016
‘Now is the time of the wolf…’
In one of the tales in my storytelling list, there is a First Nations ghost story, in which the ghost takes the form of a wolf. This character, although dealing with dark issues, is supportive and benign. Such a wolf figure also features in the Russian story of the ‘Firebird’.
So, now, my own wolf is slowly making himself known to me. He moves slowly in the shadow-filled forest of my current concerns but gets closer and stronger everyday. He is the embodiment of my cardiac future.
As I walked the long, sun-splashed road to my daughter’s house this morning, the wolf whispered in my ear: “Tell your daughter of what your future may hold. Speak with the calmness of a still, clear day in autumn. Do not play or pretend that what faces you is nothing much, for it is deeper than you yet know or wish to know… But speak with a gentle voice, that of a father telling his little girl of what may lie ahead. Tell it with tenderness and encouragement. But say it mostly with love…”
And so, my wolf advised me and I told my tale thus. So now I feel less burdened, my ‘secret’ is shared some more. But we agreed to keep quiet and say nothing, as yet, to the other, younger daughter across the seas in Australia. She has much to learn, to transform and achieve. But when the time is right I shall speak with her also. But for now, hers is the time of bright tomorrows and challenges as yet undreamed of.
And mine is the time of the wolf. He will sleep at my door and keep me and my people safe. But the day will come when he will call me and it will time to go… And I shall follow his tracks through the soft snow of the still night.
‘Talking Big Talk
I was just FB-messaging my cousin and giving her the low-down about my cardiac latest: the four-option list, with the Big One at the end… Whenever I drop the ‘heart-bomb’ on the uninitiated, I always try and pass it off Top Gun-style. No problem – all in a day’s work.
But I know and you know and my friend the Wolf – we all know that’s just Big Talk. And we know that Big Talk Don’t Shake No Stick…! At times like these the self-assured smirk on my face has more in common with a plastic duck than any real confidence.
But the Wolf reassures me: ‘go to the well, deep in the woods, that always pumps so marvellously. There you shall find the courage to look your fear in the face and feel its terror fully before moving slowly on.’
Just before slipping away into the shadows for the night, Wolf glances back at me and says: ‘easy with that Big Brave Talk, Mr Two-legs. You might get to believe it and then you’d be for it…!’
‘Wolf and the Night of the Red Fire…’
Wolf came looking for me today. He said:
‘Tonight is the Night of the Red Fire… Come and see!’
We were off – timber wolf-style – me on his back, flying invisibly above the Friday rush-hour traffic. We alighted on a hill above our town, overlooking the long, low river valley.
He advised: ‘Watch now, as dusk falls, you’ll see the Red Fire.’
Sure enough, coming slowly but steadfastly out of the dark, eastern sky, was a host of points of red fire. Thousands upon thousands of them. They swept past, unwavering in their journey into the golden sky of the setting sun.
Wolf turned to me and explained: ‘You should know that only you and I can see this, this river of fire. But look closely – something else is going to happen.’
The red ribbon stopped moving forward and instead rose high into the dark star fields above. Then we saw, as if flowers were blooming, paler versions of the orbs of the red fire began to appear at random points in the panorama before and below us.
‘Look’, indicated Wolf, ‘there’s a car accident – people are rushing to help. Over there, someone’s breaking up a fight. And over yonder, in that burning building, people are being dragged to safety by their neighbours…’
‘What’s happening?’ I ask Wolf.
‘It’s the influence,’ he answers, ‘of the Red Fire. It affects you humans in that way. It changes the way you think, feel and act.’
I stare into the deep night, at the circling red lights.
I exclaim: ‘They’re hearts! That’s what they are – hearts!’
Wolf examines me closely: ‘You’re obsessed! Is that all you think about – hearts? Can’t you see? They are poppies. Bright, red, fiery poppies. Even I can see that!’
And indeed they were – simply thousands of poppies. Slowly circling above us… Truly, the Night of the Red Fire.
‘Look Me in the Eye…’
I have begun sharing the story of the new options in my heart’s future. Surgery in one of three movements: keyhole, invasive or transplant. I share not for effect but to try and ‘normalise’ that which is anything but.
People’s reactions are varied. Some tune in and just ‘get it’ straight off (all of you people here for a start!). Others are, well, simply ‘different’. One person used the phrase ‘loss to the family’, implying, I imagine, that my demise was a given. Another instantly surmised I was ‘apprehensive’. No, actually, I’m not. How I feel is really my choice. Really…
But in the gym yesterday I was choosing to just feel ‘open’. Acceptance. Acceptance of all that’s coming my way. Loss to family. Apprehension. Fearlessness. Strength. Calm. Again – my choice.
When in the gym, I listen to music like the soundtracks of films like ‘The Revenant’ or ‘Interstellar’ or ‘Arrival’. They are ethereal. They take me away. Away to where I soon may be going. I can ‘look me in the eye’ and see it all. All of it and still manage to breathe evenly.
As I stared into the depths of my eyes, Wolf appeared at my side, fresh from somewhere cold. Ice glittered in his fur. He remarked:
“You are changing, moving, feeling into a new space. We wolves call it the ‘Running Time’. You run, but you don’t know if you are hunting or being hunted. So, my two-legged friend, keep running. Run and things will get clearer.”
He turned away and slowly vanished. He was right, as ever – this is indeed the Running Time…
“Hanging with the Bluesman…”
Driving home from Papworth Hospital the other night, I was just letting the news settle down inside me. Transplant maybe or maybe not. Other surgery maybe and so on. Relaxed but not sorted. Relieved but still ready. Calm but not totally.
Inside the car, it suddenly got colder. That could only mean one thing: Wolf was beside me. Sure enough, the big grey fella was there. Even had his seat-belt on! Those dog training sessions were paying off…
He turned and gave me a stare.
‘What’s that awful music you playing Boy?’
In his wolf eyes I am always ‘Boy’…
‘My music’, I answered acidly.
‘Well, let me educate you some!’
With his huge paw he struggled with the controls but he finally found what he wanted. Blues. Blues from way down deep in the Delta.
‘Now that’s music, Boy. That’s your heart really getting to sing…’
I listened close.
‘I don’t believe it: it’s Howlin’ Wolf. The blues legend! Are you for real?’
He laughed, a growly, gruff wolf-laugh.
Then he looked at me that particular stare that just fixes you exactly where you are. He said:
‘Say, Two-legs, you been thinking a lot about your situation. Transplants and all that stuff. But don’t you forget something: you and all the other Two-legs are a pack. That means you have to look out for each other. Other folks got hearts as well, you know. Not just you. And some of them hearts are busted real bad and not just because of some condition or other. Don’t you ever forget that. It is simply your duty to look out for them and check them out. Forget your own stuff for a while and see how your heart neighbours are doing right now. You hearing me Boy…?’
Yes sir! I hear you…When Wolf talks – I listen!
When I looked at him again, he was already gone. Outside, loping along, keeping pace. Then he was completely gone. But his words hung like icicles in the air. His musical choice still sound-tracked our meeting.
In truth, here, we are a pack. We do look out for each other. We are heart neighbours. Howling’ Wolf – I should have guessed…!
Sometimes, my friend Wolf has no sense of timing or decorum. The other evening, upon returning home in the slow dusk of winter, I stepped out of my car, only to be confronted by his ominous shape. My mind recoiled in primeval fashion as my eyes took in the wolf outline and bright yellow eyes.
“Oh – did I startle you?” he remarked lamely.
“No, not at all. I’m just glad of the subtle reminder of having heart failure. Happy you could oblige…!’
Never one for small talk or detailed explanations, Wolf gets straight to the point:
“Grab your jacket. Dump your things inside. Then climb up – we going somewhere!”
I do as asked. He and I are soon doing a lupine version of the Red Arrows by night as we soar above my Christmas-light illuminated town. It’s business as usual as he gets down to some real journeying. Why lope when you can fly?
But after a short time, we touch down on a sloping hillside, way out in the darkened countryside. Wolf shrugs me off without ceremony. Ever the true gentleman!
“Sit next to me and listen.”
Feeling like I am in some kind of basic training programme, I do as asked.
“What can you hear, Two-Legs…?”
At first, nothing. Then, our breathing. Then the occasional night owl. Then a fox – if only Reynard knew what was watching him…! Then a sound like the wind. But the night is still. There’s not even a breeze. But I can definitely hear the song of the wind, though.
“Make an effort,” says Wolf. “That’s not the wind. It’s voices.”
Indeed it was. As I concentrate more, I can pick out different sounds. Slowly, they become clearer. But I am confused.
Wolf comes to my rescue:
“Yes. You can hear voices. The voices of your people. Your particular pack of Two-Legs. Let me explain:
“That one: she is crying, she is in despair, she sees no way forward.
“That one, over there, he is angry. Why him? Why should he be suffering?
“And this one: hear her as she secretly weeps for her child who is very ill.
“And then, further away, we can pick out someone who is simply joyful. She is alive. She relishes each and every day given to her fresh and full of opportunity…”
Wolf stands and remains silent for a while. He then asks me to join him. He poses a question:
“Now human, how should you respond to what you hear now and, if you are open to it, you will hear always? I’ll tell you: just listen. Only listen. Be open. Hold their stories. Give space to them to simply speak. Never interrupt. Never compete. Never tell them you know how they feel. You don’t. Laugh if they do. Cry with them if they weep. Go into their dark cave and just sit with them. And if they take the wings of the morning, do likewise… Get my drift, human?”
Oh yes. I’m always getting this wolfy companion’s drift.
“But what do I do with all their stories?”, I ask.
“Keep them, my friend. Keep them in your heart. Because that’s what it’s for. Not just for pumping, however marvellously. It’s in our hearts where the stories stay and are safe. Trust me on that…”
And I shall, Wolf. I shall. I shall trust and keep all things safe in my heart.
I hear the wind anew. It is calling to me and speaking to me. I am hearing all that it says. I am crying. I am still. I am dancing.
And under this chorus of voices there is another sound. Deeper, deeper still: the gentle thrumming of a thousand hearts beating in the deep night of winter…
Time’. You run, but you don’t know if you are hunting or being hunted. So, my two-legged friend, keep running. Run and things will get clearer.”
He turned away and slowly vanished. He was right, as ever – this is indeed the Running Time…
‘You’re not much good at this either, are you?’
I look up sharply. Sometimes that gruff, growly smugly-smiling voice just gets under my skin. Spending a lifetime being oversensitive and hyper-alert to suspected put-downs is one thing. But when you must take it from a wolf – well, that’s maybe a step too far…
Especially when it’s a wolf who simply can’t stick to doing ‘wolfy’ things – like howling lots and chasing postal workers around the Arctic Circle. No – I have to get entangled with the one wolf who feels it’s his mission to inspire, educate and inform. Where was he when they were writing the Haynes Manual on ‘How to Live with Heart Failure and Keep Smiling Even Though You Wanna Kill Someone…!’ Search me, but here he is now ‘experting’ all over my life again.
This time it’s cards. We are playing a game. It’s called ‘Snap for the Hard of Thinking’. If I lose he gets to rip my head off. Such joy… But I am losing. Cardiomyopathy – eat your heart out!
‘Like I said – you ain’t much good at this! Remember Human – it’s all about risks and assets’.
‘I thought this was Snap?’
‘Sure it is – when my jaws snap around your neck you’ll deeply know that!’
Oh, that my CRT-D would fire up and release me from Wonder Wolf! But no – he’s getting into his stride – or should that be ‘lope’…?
“OK Two-Legs: let me remind you of a few things. The cards you’re dealt with in life – they are your risks and assets. What’s important is how you play them. How you respond. Let me see your cards!’
I hesitate. I recoil from yet more good advice. But he’s a hard wolf to resist. Oh, what big eyes he’s got. And those teeth…! I give in gracefully. Better a touch of atrial fibrillation than being ripped to shreds!
‘OK Mr ‘HF-Man’ – let’s check your hand!’
He leans forward and sweeps my cards up to his smiling muzzle.
‘Right – what have you got here? Risks – let me see now: born with aortic coarctation unknowingly until diagnosed at age forty. Usually dead by thirty with this condition – that’s an asset, by the way!’
‘Interesting childhood – mother has severe arthritis and uses a wheelchair all the time from when you are nine. You become a young carer but are unaware of this term until much later in life. Your relationship with your mother is good but when your parents’ marriage begins to crumble she depends on you more and more. Risk. You spend many hours listening to her unburden all her pain and anguish and so you learn to listen – asset. Your folks eventually divorce after eleven years of strife – that’s neither a risk nor an asset. It’s just a relief!’
‘You study to become a teacher – asset. You think you know everything – do you want me to spell this one out…? You live the hedonistic lifestyle, which nearly kills you on occasion. Somewhat risky…’
Wolf carries on in this way for some time. Carefully placing my life events into ‘risk’ or ‘asset’ as he sifts through all that has happened. We finally pause. A drink is called for – I do Earl Grey but he, naturally, opts for a glass of Wolf Blass. He has style, I’ll say that…
‘But your game is still rubbish’, he smirks. ‘Because you don’t know what your Ace is…’
I gaze blankly at him.
‘Allow me to elucidate’, he offers. Oh dear – here we go. I’d better start taking notes. Wisdom is such an overwhelming thing!
‘Watch!’, is all he says.
He picks up a card – the Ace of Spades. He holds it right up in my face. Then, it just melts and he and I are in some kind of lounge in a house. We see a group of people. They are happy, relaxed, having fun. They laugh with each other. A little boy is playing with his father. Lots of rough and tumble. His mother laughs along. She catches the action on her smartphone. The grandmother is laughing too. I know these people. They are my family.
‘Look’ says Wolf. ‘Look at that stuff!’
I look closely and sure enough I see it. It’s a kind of light. Like electricity. Like an energy of some sort. It flows between and around all the people in the scene. Then it’s coming my way. It envelops me. It warms me. It feels good.
Wolf asks: ‘See it now? That’s your Ace…!’
He explains – ‘What flows between all these people in your life is your greatest asset. The way they feel about one another. About you. It’s your greatest treasure. Whatever happens in your future just now is as nothing compared to what you are seeing here. Right now, you are infinitely rich, because of the people you have in your life and what they feel about you…’
Suddenly it’s cold. The back door blows open and the winter wind zooms in around the kitchen. Our cards whizz off the table.
Wolf shouts above the noise: ‘The wild is calling. Gotta go. Remember: it’s all about the ‘assets’. Forget the risks!’
He’s nearly out the door when I shout after him: ‘But what was that stuff we saw? That energy?’
Unusually for him, he turns back. He growls: ‘You humans are so clever that you probably have many big words to describe that sparky energy. But we wolves are simple folk. We just call it one thing. Love…’
Then he swings back inside:
‘One more thing. If you don’t give it out you don’t get it back. Love that is. Not the wine…!’
With that, he is gone. And I am changed. Now I know. I know what my Ace is. And that Snap is not my game.
Oh, well, there’s always the ironing to do. But with love, of course…
Bustling down the high street in my little Northamptonshire town this afternoon, I do a double take. What is that shape in the dark alley way, lurking in the gathering gloom? I casually make my back, trying to look as if I have just remembered another gift I need and that I really need to step away from the flow of equally-stressed last minute Christmas shoppers and into the supposed safety of a dark alleyway to use my smartphone.
Madness, I know. But when you are about to start talking to a threateningly large and primal shape about what the hell he thinks he’s doing in a crowded high street – you’ve got to pretend to be an absent-minded sixty-something male…! But, in my case, I don’t have to pretend… Hence the phone squeezed against my ear. I’m just about to launch into Wolf about scaring people half to death when he beats me to it with:
‘What in the name of the Frozen North is going on here?’
I begin to try to explain. But he gives me a look.
‘You mean this heaving, rushing, manic mass of ‘two-leggeds’ are doing all this to show they actually like one another? Get real! Have you seen their faces? They really want to kill each other!’
I respond with:
‘Can we go somewhere? Maybe then I can explain…’
‘What, like the woods or someplace like that? No way, human. I’m cold and hungry. Let’s be serious for a change…!’
So, Costa’s it is. When we get served, I’d swear the boss, Tania, asked: ‘OK – and for your furry friend?’
But hey – she is Canadian so I figure she used to wolves. Even ones that like their Costa Coolers large with Belgian chocolate. (Just like Brown’s of Halifax, I’ll wager…)
Eventually we get settled. I begin the whole explanation about those things called ‘Christmas’, ‘gifts’ and ‘happy’ and ‘spirit’… Wolf works on his Cooler. I continue pretending to talk into my phone. Customers around try to figure out why I have two drinks at the same time. They see no Wolf but only a weird guy and his ‘imaginary’ friend.
Then we are done. Tania has replenished Wolf’s Coolers – twice! I sit back. I conclude with: ‘So now you know why…’
I get no further. A huge raised paw freezes my wise words. He’s thinking. Processing.
Then, without so much as a by-your-leave he leans forward, grabs my phone in his scary jaws and whoosh…! He’s gone in a flash. Where to? Who knows?’
I use his sudden absence constructively – time to do some serious damage to a ‘Fruity Flapjack’. Perfect! I’m just preparing for my second bite when – grab! Wolf is back and swallowing my secret treat.
‘OK human – got it all sorted out in my head! Here goes: I used your camera phone – really neat. Thanks for that. Got a nice selfie of me in the snow. Cool, don’t you think? Caught myself in mid-howl.
‘Then – here’s the best bit – I got your whole ‘gift’ thing down. Sorted. Sussed. Look at the second picture. That’s me and my beloved! Don’t we look cute?’
I gasp. Wolves? Cute?
‘Now just a…’
I don’t get to finish. He launches into his idea:
‘Look at the picture. What are we doing? We’re looking at each other. Simply looking. Gazing. Beholding. Holding each other in mind. Giving our fullest attention. Offering uninterrupted time. Or, as my good friend Carl Rogers used to say, we are offering each other ‘unconditional positive regard’…
‘Mr Human – what more can you give? Why buy all that stuff in those things called ‘shops’? Why this madness, this stress, this rushing around? Just look. Just pay attention. Just give your time. Because you and your special, marvellous friends have hearts that dance to a different music – dub-step maybe? – this allows you to see time differently to the rest of the people in this busy town. You know how valuable an instant, a moment, an hour or a day is. You live truly in the ‘otherworld’, where nothing is certain anymore. You live between diagnoses, prognoses, medications, interventions, operations, recoveries…
‘You all now live in a different dimension. In a real world where time and personal relations have a really deep and poignant meaning.
‘This, then is your real gift. To yourselves and to each other. Give of it freely and generously. You may have broken hearts, but all the different gifts, skills and talents you now have are perfect beyond imagining…’
He downs yet another Cooler and then comes out with:
‘What’s that expression you humans use? ‘Happy Christmas’
As he tries out these unfamiliar words, he slowly begins to disappear. He smiles as he vanishes from before me.
‘Happy Christmas’ comes his husky whisper.
‘Have a marvellous time…’ I just manage to catch this, on the edge of hearing.
For this year, at least, Wolf is gone.
I get to pay for our extra drinks. But Tania declines my money. She smiles and simply says:
‘On the house! Your wolfy friend reminded me of home…’
I leave Costa’s a happy customer. I have armfuls of gifts, ready for the giving, as never before…
‘The Beating Heart of Christmas…’
Christmas Eve and I am showing some of the Wolf Tales to our daughter Sonia. Just to give her an insight into the nature of our ‘heart failure world’. I do not show her the Facebook page itself, as that is confidential. She just reads the tales – and gets the picture. She laughs. She pauses. She cries at some of it…
Christmas morning and our grandson Jackson is shouting: ‘Mummy! He’s been! My stocking is full…!’ At eight years old it’s nice that the magic is still there… His dog leaps on our bed to wish us Happy Christmas, clutching a pair of socks in her smiling teeth. Her best present, I guess…
I speak with our daughter Susie. She is enduring a scorching Christmas Day in Australia. My heart, erratic as it is, goes out to her! We speak of her experiences down there. She says she has mostly done what she went to do and may be back in March. If so, and my cardiac adventures get exciting by that time, then she will not have to make any dramatic journeys home and interrupt her new life.
I head downstairs and nearly crash head-first into the wall as I trip over something huge and unexpected on the landing. Wolf – with his nose in a book…!
As I dust myself down, I enquire, just out of politeness:
‘What you reading, Big Man?’
‘Less of the Man, if you please! My book, a lovely present from those marvellous people in Preston, is called “Wolf Tone – an Irish Hero”.’
‘Never had you down as a historian’, I offer sarcastically.
‘If you don’t mind, I am actually descended from The Hound of Ulster on my mother’s side…’
‘Wonders will never cease!’ I quip as I escape to the kitchen for that essential first cuppa of the day.
Later my phone rings strangely. My grandson throws me a questioning look:
‘New ringtone, grandad?’
‘Yes, Jackson. It’s called a ‘Wolf’ tone…!’
From somewhere upstairs, I hear a howl of derision. Not even on Christmas Day am I free from the attentions of my curious, lupine friend…
Hoping all my Heart Buddies are having a truly Heart-felt good time today, wherever you are and whoever you are with. Just keep pumping marvellously…!
‘Like a Pool in a Forest…’
Today we made our annual visit to a family in the town we used to live in. Over the eight years we have been moved away, this has become our habit – we visit but once a year, always at Christmas time and it is always a good experience.
Catching up with these people, who come from faraway Uruguay, is like a feast of news of the last twelve months. The parents are Eduardo and Adriana, their children, now grown-up young people, are Fabian, Pablo and Nicole. They came to this country with nothing. Now they work in and contribute to this society in so many ways.
Fabian is making his way to working as an aerospace maintenance technician. Pablo works as an electronics engineer, helping to make high-risk environments, like oil rigs, that much safer. Nicole is aiming to work in customer service within the travel and tourist industry.
Over the years, we have shared all manner of stories and experiences, both good and bad. Health issues have often been on the agenda. At one point this afternoon, Eduardo turned to me and asked me:
‘How’s your health…’
This is the moment I had anticipated and thought about.
‘Fine’, I replied. ‘Just fine’.
And no more. To have said more, to have opened up my latest series of possibilities, assessments and decisions, would have been like throwing a rock into a pool in a forest on a quiet day. It would have shattered what had become a real celebration of where this family was going in life just now. This was their time, not mine.
Later, back home, as I was getting ready for the madness of New Year’s eve, I saw Wolf reclining in the easy chair in my little storyteller’s study. He was leafing through a copy of ‘The Firebird’ – his favourite, because his distant relative, the Grey Wolf, features in it.
He looked up and caught my eye:
‘You made the right decision back there by choosing to say nothing. It wasn’t the right time. If I see a deer in the forest and get ready for the chase, but then see her young ones, I leave her alone… The instinctive thing isn’t always the right thing to do.’
He paused and then added:
‘Besides, you stress too much about people’s reaction to your stuff. You should get out more! You going anywhere tonight…?’
Wolf – subtle as a flying mallet! Gotta love him…!
And then he was gone with:
‘Happy New Year Two-legs! See you in ’17! Oh, and thanks for the book…’
But on this next issue I shall not be restrained:
‘A Happy New Year to all of you, my very good friends, in Pumping Marvellous…!’
We are ‘baby-sitting’ our grandson’s dog Cici this weekend. I took her out for a walk this afternoon, in the blinding glare of the setting sun. Her nose was avidly down at pavement-level, relishing in every animal scent she could detect. Thus, she was free from the mid-winter glare that I was having to negotiate.
So, a few minutes passed before I realised that we had been joined by one more walker. Cici was seemingly unperturbed by the sudden accompaniment of this agile howler from the far north. Indeed, I would venture that my canine charge appeared totally stoked that she was strutting alongside such a handsome and sleek wolf.
Charming as he was, he got to the point quickly:
“Two-Legs – I have to show you something. Follow me!”
Suddenly, our suburban street gave way to rock-strewn hills and angry-looking clouds, grey with threatening rain. The temperature had dropped chillingly. I wished I’d read my ‘PM’ guidelines about winter and heart failure…!
We were soon astride a craggy outcrop, which fell steeply away into a gorge below. The air was filled with the roar of a wild river that thrashed in torment below us.
Wolf looked down and then shouted:
“Your pack is in turmoil, just like this river. Look how it crashes up against that boulder down there. The water is being forced to split. It’s creating two new rivers.”
He paused to let me and the dog take in what we were seeing. He then went on:
“But know this: the waters are choosing. They are deciding for themselves which way they want to go. Like when you were being knit in your mother’s womb, your aorta chose to be coarctated and plans were laid for further problems. Nature was making her choices. She was not forced to decide. Neither is the river down there. Nor are the people in your pack. Whichever way the water flows, it is still a river. Your heart and its issues is still a heart… Your pack is still a pack…”
We turned and made our way from the cold mountains to chilly Northamptonshire. We paused at my door. I enquired if Wolf wanted to join us for tea. My grandson’s dog was positively preening herself at this point!
“Thanks, but no thanks” he replied. “Gotta lope”
He made as if to go, but turned back and remarked:
“I once heard your wife say that by the time she’d seen you cross the room the first time she saw you, she’d decided you were the man she’d marry. Some choice, if you ask me…!”
“It’s an Italian thing”, I offered by way of explanation.
“Wrong, human, so wrong. It’s a woman thing…!”
And as he cantered away, I could just hear him utter under his breath:
“Time you woke up and smelt the river, boy!”
‘Take me to the river…’
I am three days away from my heart transplant assessment. I am still of the mind-set I chose when my cardiologist first raised this possibility, back in October – ‘if it’s necessary then let’s do it…!’ I have not changed this view and it has been calmly reflected back to me by my nearest and dearest, friends and colleagues.
It is not an act of bravado, nor a gesture of machismo. I just figured it was the right way for me and for those who are around me. It also makes it easier for them to react to the situation.
True, there have been some interesting reactions from various people. One friend, who would text me regularly with his life disasters, ceased all contact as soon as he found out. Then, a certain colleague, who tells me all about her social difficulties whenever I ask – usually every Monday morning – has studiously never once checked me out. And another friend responded as if I had simply mentioned that I had done my ironing – again, no reaction to speak of.
But apart from these exceptions, I have been immensely supported by those who have offered calm, understated but sincere support. To these I offer my infinite thanks…
As I ponder on all this, my friend from the Otherworld appears. Slowly, like a grey hologram, Wolf gently forms into full view in front of me. He is eye-to-eye with me. He looks deep into mine. Some moments pass, in which he just gazes deeply into my being.
Then, almost in a whisper, he says:
‘Would-be ‘brave’ man, let me take you to the river…!’
And we go. At first, it feels as if I am slowly being drawn up into the inside of a tornado. Everything is twisting fast and upwards. But then it calms down. And indeed, he and I are in sight of a river. We are in a deep forest, surrounded on three sides by tall pine trees. Ahead, the ground slopes down to a fast-moving river, full with raging spring snow-melt. The woods resound with its wild roar. The air is chill, but fresh and invigorating.
Wolf wastes no time. He gets straight to the point:
‘Human, look at the river. Hear it. Feel its power. Know this – the river is like your destiny…’
He turns and looks down, savouring everything through his many senses. He resumes his discourse:
‘Soon, you will come to the time of decision. The Wise Ones will tell you either to carry on as you are or that you will have to cross those wild waters in order to survive. If so, there will be risks. It is never totally certain that you will make it to the other side. But they will do their best. And, so should you.’
We sit for a while and watch the scene before us. Then Wolf stands and says:
‘I am going now, but do not follow me. Sit here some more and let all these things sink into your soul. Put aside your brave mask and really feel all your fears. Then, in turn, put them aside and make your way toward your destiny. But as you do so, be thankful and gentle with those who walk with you…’
In his silent way, he moves off. But not into the forest. No, he scampers down the steep bank and hurls himself into the foaming waters of the turbulent river. I search for his shape with rising fear. Then, I see him emerging much further down stream and scrambling up onto the opposite bank. He trots back up to where he can see me. He stands and howls, loudly and full of strength. I smile warmly. Wolf is simply showing me what can be attempted.
For him and for his gesture, I am thankful.
And for all of you here I am thankful. Deeply thankful. Whatever my destiny…
I am sat in my favourite café in the town where I live. It’s called ‘Café Noir’ and it’s the kind of place you can hide away from the world, even for a little while.
I had come to just be alone and lose myself in a newspaper. I’d happened to buy The Telegraph, on a whim, and found a fascinating extract from a book, in the magazine, by a heart surgeon called Stephen Westaby. His book is entitled ‘Fragile Lives: A Heart Surgeon’s Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table’. In the extract, he describes a hugely challenging but life-saving operation on a little girl of only a few months old.
But, of course, I am not alone for long. Wolf has sensed the chance of a free hot chocolate and has plonked himself down next to me. At least he is quiet though, being engrossed in his latest copy of National Geographic magazine. He loves this publication as, according to him, it keeps him in touch with places he knows and distant members of his ‘pack’. His expression, when he says this, is one of an excited child meeting friends after a long absence. I find it quite moving.
However, our mutual silence is not long-lived. He resumes his life-long mission of keeping me on track. He opens with:
“You know your ‘pack-companion’ Sam? The one who asked you all about what advice you would give to those newly diagnosed? Well, have you replied to her? What are you going to say…?”
I am stalling, by ordering another coffee and hot chocolate, because I don’t have an answer. Actually, I sort of have one, but I am worried that it may be somewhat ‘off-target’.
Wolf won’t be put off. “Out with it”, he counters. “You’ve never been at loss for words so why change the habit of a lifetime! Tell me what do you have in mind…!’
For some time, I simply gaze around the café at all the various clientele, gathered in this place of safety on a cold Saturday lunchtime. There is the aged couple, well into their golden years of marriage. Then there are the earnest two young people, slowly falling into each other’s eyes. On another table, three friends catch up with gossip and good humour. And then there is the newly-formed family, with their first child, not yet a year old. This little one is sitting up in her high chair, looking around at everything and everyone. And smiling, just smiling so much…
I turn to Wolf and say: “Well, it’s like this. Heart failure has affected my vision. And before you suggest it, it’s not a case for Specsavers, good as they are! No, the effect on my vision is permanent and irreversible.”
Wolf is silent for once, his eyes fixed on mine. His expression demands more in the way of explanation.
“I just don’t see things the way I used to. I mean – look at all these people here.” At which, he obligingly glances around. “All I can see is, well, joy… Only joy. And delight. And depth. Such deep pools of feeling. But mostly joy. Heart failure has simply got rid of my sense of time and I am always ‘in the moment’. And in this moment, I can only sense people’s happiness… Nothing more.”
We are both looking around now. We fix on the little girl, as she engages with a woman who, even though she is at the other end of life’s allotted span, is full of joy at meeting this little one.
Wolf is visibly moved. He grabs the tissues out of my rucksack and makes a pretence of blowing his nose.
“Damned human! Always gets me off-guard!”
I smile then. Not because of anything I have done, but because of all these people whose joyfulness I now see clearly and with whose happiness I am infused.
“If you ask me, you owe that Sam lady a drink for helping you realise all this stuff. Make sure you buy her one if ever you meet!”
I return Wolf’s gaze. “You betcha! Wolf’s honour…!”
And it shall be thus… Joyfully!
‘And what now…?’
It’s been a few days since my recent heart failure assessment and I’m feeling stronger, more determined and even more ‘cheeky’. My future horizons are shifting somewhat. I feel I have more energy. I’m more assertive even…
I’m walking into town. It’s proper ‘claggy’ weather here – low cloud, mist and feeling cold. But I’m pounding along happily. I fought off my wife’s kind intentions to give me a lift, earning me the epithet ‘Sei pazzo!’ – ‘You’re crazy!’ But, hey, I always knew that…
So here I am, feeling the blood coursing around, when I hear this voice: ‘And now what…?’ I don’t need to look to see who’s speaking. No-one else cuts into my thinking in quite the same way. So, I decide to jump in and steal a march on my old friend and ask: ‘OK, Wolfy – what’s on your mind?’
I’ve learned to do this by thinking only – talking aloud in the street attracts unwanted attention in my little provincial town! But Wolf is not to be out-manoeuvred. He comes back with: ‘Like I said – and what now? What are you going do now that you are in the clear for a while?’
I consider telling him how much more positive I am feeling, but something in the way he is forging ahead down the road gives me the feeling that he is not really asking me anything. I sense a ‘Wolfy’ TED-talk coming on. And I am not wrong.
In a flash, we are passing through one of those time-warps he enjoys so much. This time, the vertigo is more powerful than usual, as we are soon zipping fast and low over an iron-grey sea. We eventually fetch up in what looks like a Norwegian fjord. But time has really warped, because we are looking down at what seems to be a Viking settlement. Indeed, there are several ships gathered close by the shore, along with crowds of people.
Wolf ventures to explain:
‘Human – this is not real. It’s an image, created to help you understand something. Those ships, down there, are about to set sail to explore, trade and maybe raid. See how the men and women on the longboats are taking leave of their friends and families. Now look at that warrior, the one with the long dark hair. Thorvold is his name. He’s what you call the Godi – he stands between those people and their gods, the High Ones. He‘s getting all the crew to kneel down in front of the fleet’s chieftan. That’s her, the tall woman with the flowing, red hair and the double-headed axe. Look, she’s accepting their allegiance, as each woman and man holds their sword up and swears their fealty to their Lady. And trust me, you wouldn’t want to mess with her…!’
I stand mesmerised, fascinated. Wolf doesn’t waste time, however. He looks up into my eyes and says:
‘Now, Two-Legs, it’s your turn! Time to swear your own loyalty.’
I gawp at him.
‘Not here, you of the slow mind! Follow me!’
Again, we are taken up and we fly away, back across the darkening still-winter sea. We are set down somewhere on the edge of a wide forest. It is evening. The air is chill. Birds are calling one another to roost. As the light dims, figures begin to emerge from among the shadows between the tall pine trees. They come and stand before us. They gaze upon Wolf and I with such a range of expressions and emotions…
‘Look at these people, Human. You know them. You have read their stories. Their tales of fear, of desperation, of deep fatigue, of confusion in this new world in which fate has thrust them, of unexpected joy, of compassion, of empathy, of connectedness, of such marvellous synthesis… Their hearts are breaking, bursting, failing, glowing, singing – every kind of experience is theirs.
He looks intently at me:
‘Now do as those Vikings did – kneel and swear your allegiance to these people. For, remember, these are your true people, your real kin. You might feel relieved and stronger in yourself just now, but you must never turn your back on these of your new family. Say after me these ancient Viking words…’
And I do so, without halt or hesitation:
“If I break faith with you
May the green earth gape and swallow me
May the grey seas break in and overwhelm me
May the sky of stars fall and crush me out of life for ever…!”
I swear all this to all of you and I mean every word…
I am back on the damp, Sunday afternoon streets in my town once more. Still walking along. But I am glowing inside now. Thanks to Wolf, I feel ‘aligned’ and certain of where my priorities lie. And that is with all of you here.
I glance over my shoulder, just in time to see Wolf crossing the road at the Pelican Crossing. Wonders will never cease!
‘Alpha and Omega…’
We’ve just had half-term week here. My grandson, these days, is ultra-involved with various sporting activities but sometimes he comes to stay over or he spends a day with us if his parents are working. Such times together are always precious.
Then again, I get to catch up on people that I have promised to visit. I find I often do this – make a promise and then take forever to fulfil it…!
So, on Friday, I had lunch with my grandson Jackson and on Saturday I visited my friend David. With Jackson, the talk was all about the pizza he had ordered, what he was doing at school and where he was going for his summer holidays. With David, he spoke of his diagnosis of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
With Jackson, it was about gradually drawing out his ideas and dreams or, as someone once said, helping him look forward to a thousand tomorrows.
With David, it was about ‘raging against the dying of the light…’. And David is searching for his father, even though he passed away in 1953. He died when David was only twelve and he feels he never knew him very well. As his father was in involved in the Dam Buster raids, he searches among history of those wartime events to catch a glimpse of him.
I stand in my study and think on these two relationships and where they might lead. I feel a sense of responsibility, of commitment, of promises made. And time seems to be a particular feature.
‘And how much time have you actually got?’
I swing round, to see, relaxed in my chair, my life-guide, Wolf. His smile is warm, but his gaze is steady and enquiring.
As I stand gaping at him, he swivels round and takes a book off the shelf, opens it and reads from Omar Khayyam’s ‘The Rubaiyat’.
‘The bird of time has but a little way to fly – and the bird is on the wing…!’
‘I guess you have a point…’ I finally answer.
Wolf leans forward and places his grey paw over my watch.
‘Don’t bother with that – it can’t tell you anything. You just have to follow your instinct. With Jackson, with David, your true heart will tell you. Give them what they need. And do you know what that is…?’
I have learned, with these conversation with my Otherworld friend, not to speak but to wait for him to respond.
‘It’s simple, Human. You give them your time. Just that. You don’t know how much you have, but you just share what you got. Give it to them. As much as they want and need. Jackson is learning to fly, while David is learning to make his journey of journeys… Remember, however bad you may feel, it’s not about you.’
There is a pause. I await more wisdom. But his next point is more down-to-earth:
‘How about a drink?’
‘Tea? Earl Grey maybe…?
‘Are you serious? Two-legs, you shock me! Thankfully, I’m prepared…’
He reaches up to another shelf and brings down two glasses, brimming with red liquid.
‘My favourite – Wolf Blass! And at room temperature. Cheers my friend!’
We chink our glasses.
‘What shall we drink to?’ I ask.
‘To the invisibility of time’, he says. ‘And to the true voice of our hearts…!’
As the day sinks into night and Wolf has slipped into that Other Place where he dwells, I think of my next encounters with Jackson and David. Ideas about what we shall explore and speak of are already surfacing. I am enthusiastic, even though I know the bird is on the wing…
As I may have mentioned before, Thursday afternoons are set aside for my grandson and I to have our own special time together. I forget how this tradition began, but it is an unassailable highlight of my week. I collect him from school and we head into town to one of three coffee houses to indulge ourselves. We then visit either the toyshop or the second-hand bookstore to dream, to browse and, perchance, to buy…!
On the ‘menu’ of these special times, aside from coffee, hot chocolate or Costa ‘coolers’, ‘unexpected encounters’ are often to be found. This week, they were in the form of four random meetings with sports enthusiasts, all of a similar stamp to Jackson. On our way from the car to the café and back again, he met:
- Tyrone, the young postal worker who is a football coach, role model and inspiration to many young players and an avid Man U fan. He and my Little Man spoke of their respective teams like true experts.
- Bill, the septuagenarian Leicester City diehard who attended his first match in 1953, having got there in his father’s motorcycle combination!
- An elderly Wolves fan, who was so excited to see Jackson proudly wearing their team’s distinctive device on his school coat. They spoke like real brothers, separated by seventy years, at least.
- And finally, Tony, who describes himself as a disabled strongman. This imposing figure of a man, who combines immense strength with deep humility and the daily burden of living with the results of life-threatening injuries and unprovoked violent assault, touches base with my grandson as if they are fellow sportspeople sharing stories of victories lost and won. Which, of course, they are. Jackson will follow Tony’s progress when he soon competes on the world stage in feats of strength that most able-bodied people would balk at.
So, how does all this fit into ‘heart failure world’…? I was pondering on this as I waved goodbye to Jackson and turning back into a house suddenly devoid of his laughter – never any easy moment. As I stood at the front room window, watching him zoom off in his father’s car, I felt the reassuring presence of my guide and mentor Wolf, close by my side. His sudden appearance was welcome, more so than usual. We shared a moment of companionable silence and then:
“My friend – I sense a sadness about you today…”
“True”, I replied, “and the Boy and I had such a good time. I don’t understand why.”
He was quiet for a time, sprawling next to me on the settee. He then raised his grey head and seemed to gaze into some distant vista.
“It’s like this”, he offered, “your perspective is changing. You’ve gotten over your recent hospital assessment experience. You have calmed down from that tense time. Now you are focusing again. You are a grandfather once more, doing ‘grandfather’ work.”
“But at the back of your mind is the shadow that haunts you. But I say to you: give that darkness no heed. Does the mouse know when the kestrel is about to swoop down? Does the tree know the hour when the lightning is coming? Or does the cloud know when it must step aside to let the sun shine? No and neither do you know the time or the hour of your next intervention. Until then, be a grandfather and do the work that your grandson needs you to do…”
I let all this sink in. Wolf continues:
“Your grandson met four very significant people today and forged four very important types of relationship with those fellow sportspeople. I, in my turn, do the same with the young wolves in our pack. I introduce them to four special creatures: the serpent, keeper of the earth; the jaguar, guardian of the mind and the heart; the hummingbird who looks after the soul; the eagle, champion of the spirit. They need to know these beings and the worlds they represent and care for.”
We stand and watch the crimson sun set in the western sky. I am at peace now, smiling even. As Wolf prepares to leave and enter the Night World, he turns and smiles wolfishly in return, saying:
“Go now and be a jaguar for Jackson. Guard his heart well – and yours…!”
The day after I received that letter from my cardiologist I took my grandson to school. When my wife Teresa takes him, the journey is a quick ten-minute dash and it’s all done. However, as Jackson and I set off, he declares, as he selects an audio-book CD:
“Take the long way, Grandad, because I want to listen to a story”.
A leisurely three-mile journey ensues, full of wide horizons, the occasional kestrel and, of course, a good story.
When we arrive and park up, we walk down to the school entrance. As he and I chat, he tightly holds my hand all the way.
At the entrance to the playground, as he takes his leave of me, he gives me a kiss and presses his cheek onto mine. His Italian Grandmother has taught him well…
But I cannot go. I stand and gaze at the scene before me, waiting until the bell calls him and all the other children into school. The early morning sun shines over the still-wintry stark trees into our squinting eyes. The playground is transformed into a shiny, silver surface, over which the dark silhouetted children run and glide. A painting in monochrome is being created before us adults as we take in this most magical of moments.
As I savour the sweetness of this image, a cloud drifts across my heart. Whispering softly in a minor key, the cardio’s letter comes to mind, with its intimation of unsettling times ahead.
“Hey, two-legs, you’re thinking about that letter…?”
“Damned right I am!”
My suddenly-appearing Wolf friend grunts an acknowledgement to my answer to his intuitive question. He is huge, this morning, in his powerful and bristling form. He notices my sudden fear that the sight of a massive timber wolf might seriously frighten the smattering of parents and toddlers.
“Worry not, my over-sensitive human! All the kids here see me for what I am – a wolf and they are OK with that. They understand truth. But these adults see only what they want to. To some I am a poodle, or a dachshund or one of those things you can stick in your handbag…! It’s like the heart failure you and your marvellous friends tangle with every day – many adults just can’t cope with its reality and that’s why your family, friends and colleagues say stuff like ‘But you don’t look ill…!’ Crazy but sadly they do so much of that…”
We are walking back to my car. As I reach for the door, I stand back, expecting him to leap in. But today Wolf pauses, gathers his thoughts and then looks deep into my soul, saying:
“Don’t take this the wrong way my friend, but just imagine today your number was up. Do you actually realise that your grandson asking you to drive the long way to school so that he can hear a story that you bought him, then him holding your hand as you walked down here and finally that beautiful kiss goodbye and warm hug are really some of the most precious things you could ever hope for…? As your friend Patricia said, ‘try to enjoy each day…!’ Man, you are rich beyond measure, but maybe you just don’t realise it yet…”
Wolf turns and gazes away in to the early morning sunlight. At this angle, his fur seems to sparkle, to be almost ablaze. When he glances back at me, his eyes glow, with a furnace-like intensity, the heat of something deep touching my heart.
“Give me that letter, will you?”
Surprised by this unexpected request, I hand it over. He grabs it in his huge jaws – and swallows it!
“Right then – that’s sorted! Now, get out of here and start doing some living!”
Who am I to argue? In a flash, Wolf is gone. But a great day is just beginning…