I met two women on a ward.
They were sitting together in a packed hospital canteen on a sunny afternoon some time in April.
They were so entirely and inconceivably opposite it was disarming.
One resembled a startled bird. She was scrawny and fragile and twitched as she continuously glanced about her, her eyes darting about like ferrets.
The other was large and rumpled and sat like like a deflated blancmange. Her eyes yawned like cows mouths mechanically chew grass; they never reacted or even moved as people shouted and jostled about her, and her whole appearance seemed to slow down the very air.
One flinched at everything; a noise, a smile, a thought would cause her to jitter into unrest, like she was knocked about and unnerved by the very air molecules.
The other seemed to be frozen still by gravity, like life and people had worn her down so much that she was now immune to every and any shade or inclination. She lolled still and merely gazed through everything rather than actually seeing anything.
It seemed to me, as I watched these women, that life’s forces can be strong. The winds by which we are buffeted through our days can blow us far and wide; they can remove us from our selves and bite like frost.
“We should be wary,” I thought, “but which woman’s way is best? Is it better to be so sensitive to every nip and eddy, that one cannot sit and feel the calm? Or to be so far removed and reticent, that the eddies no longer provoke a reaction, and the wind simply passes through ones self and soul.”
I looked away and sighed, somebody had upended a table and was ranting incoherently, eyes flashing and spittle flying from their lips as an unassuming orderly attempted to clear it up and reestablish order. The people sitting about were mixed, a few had looked up, but still more remained merely eating, raising forks of food to their mouths, heads low and shoulders hunched.
I noticed a spare, last plate of pudding sitting behind the servers rack; and as I got up to go and claim it realised that neither woman’s way is better, and neither way is right. The winds will always blow us, even knock us even from our chosen paths; we cannot resist the vast forces which rain around us.
To be wise is to accept this buffeting and be responsive to the changing tide, but never to be consumed entirely, never let the vastness of the very space we exist within fill us so fully that we cannot move ourselves and determine our own direction through the second and the day.
The cow woman vegetated, languid and vast; and the bird woman flinched at the very fierceness of her continuing breath.
I finally looked away, picked myself up a last plate of pudding, and sat down at another table.