Hold on to What You’ve Got

©2012 Edward C. Lunnon

Tuesday 17 April 2012: 5 years 7 months on … Advantage CBD

Last Sunday was the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the HMS Titanic in the Atlantic Ocean on 15 April 1912. Some 1514 people lost their lives while 710 were saved.

I went to see the 3D version of the movie TITANIC on Sunday evening.

The movie is a dramatised version of the actual events – a mixture of fact and fiction – but is set against the background of actual events and on a set which is, I suppose, as close to the actual ship as one could come today. I have read that in the 3D version even the positions of the stars in the night sky were altered to ensure absolute accuracy of the positioning of the stars on that fateful night!

It leaves the idea in one’s mind that that is what happened and it is difficult to separate the fact from the fiction. I guess the one thing that definitely wasn’t there was Celine Dion singing her version of My Heart Will Go On!

But what was there on that historic night and what lessons can we learn from this disaster?

Please read the blog that I wrote some two years ago entitled “It was a Pleasure Playing with you tonight “.

I said there that hitting the iceberg is like being told you have a terminal illness. The time between the hitting of the iceberg and the sinking of the ship is that time that I live now; the time between the diagnosis of the illness and dying. Different people use that time differently – I said that I would continue partying till the end!

In reality, in the case of the Titanic, there were just more than two and a half hours from the “hit” (at 11h40pm) and the “sink” (at 02h20am).

I was told that I had 5 years, between “hit” and “sink”!

Right now, I am 7 months over that limit.

But it becomes more and more difficult to “continue partying”!

In the movie (and I guess in reality on that fateful night in 1912), the passengers react in disbelief to the news.  In the initial stages, some move to the lifeboats, some stay behind, some party, some drink, some continue sleeping. But as the horror of the spectacle becomes a reality, the more urgency, the more rush, the more uncertainty and the more fear sets in.

 People had to make decisions. Do they go in a lifeboat or do they stay on the sinking ship? Do they hold on to a railing or do they jump into the sea? If they jump, when is the best time to jump? What will happen if they just hold on and go down with the ship?

And all the time, the situation becomes more and more difficult and terrifying. They hold on to whatever is known to them and they cling on to their loved ones – making promises of meeting up “on the other side” when all this horror is over!

Sometimes, as when the stern of the ship breaks off and settles just for a little, it seems like things will get better … maybe it’ll be safe after all?

But, after that brief respite, that part, too, starts sinking and the inevitable must happen. All is in vain … no matter how hard you’ve tried, no matter how hard you’ve hung on, no matter to what lengths you’ve gone to make yourself more comfortable or to prevent your demise.

If you are not in a lifeboat, you are doomed to death!

In life, there are just so many lifeboats. We all know that our lifeboats run out. Eventually, we sink!

But what do we do in those days and moments before we sink?

Who or what do we cling onto? When, if ever, do we let go?

What do we do when the horror of the disease becomes a reality, when the uncertainty and the fear sets in, when the floor starts tilting underneath us, when we just can’t hold on any longer.

I read an article in the newspaper (Weekend Post 10 March 2012) about an “Eastern Cape expat prepares for death with dignity in the US”.

It tells of Dr Peter Goodwin originally from Queenstown, South Africa (some 300km northeast from Port Elizabeth) who now lives in Oregon in the United States.

During the 1990’s he campaigned for what is now known as the “Oregon Death with Dignity Act” which was enacted in 1997. He was one of the few doctors willing to speak publicly in favour of the controversial proposal which allows a patient with a terminal illness the right to administer a drug that will cause his/her death.

During the campaign to bring the act to the ballot, Goodwin said publicly that were he to receive a terminal diagnosis: “I don’t want to go out with a whimper. I want to say goodbye to my wife and kids with dignity. And I would end it. Damn right.”

Ironically, Peter Goodwin, who practised family medicine for more than 50 years, was diagnosed approximately the same time as I was – six years ago – with the same illness that I have – corticalbasal ganglionic degeneration.

He resorted to the internet (like I have) to learn about this rare, progressive brain disorder that robs you of movement. There is no treatment and no cure, and his prognosis: six to eight years.

Today, he has been told that he has less than six months. So sometime soon, when he feels the time has come to let go and the disease permitting, the doctor’s failing hands will perform a final task:  to bring a glass to his lips and administer the drug that will cause his death.  This is the right that he fought for years to establish.

Goodwin calls this right his most significant legacy. Besides the right to obtain aid in dying, he says, the law’s passage spurred medicine to focus attention on the needs of the dying, with more palliative care and hospice. In 2010 under the Death with Dignity law, 65 people died, the highest number since enactment.

Dr Goodwin reflects about his life of standing face to face with death … of others, and of his own.

“We just haven’t come to terms with the fact that we’re all going to die, and to make concessions to that, is really giving up hope. On the contrary, when at death’s door, the situation needs thought, it doesn’t need hope. It needs planning, it doesn’t need hope. Hope is too ephemeral at that time.”

Terminally ill patients say they would know when the time would come to exercise their right. Goodwin says that he can already see the window closing and, therefore, he has obtained the drugs to end his life.

“Life is unfair!” he thinks, but he has a prescription to offer to treat that condition:

“Be fulfilled. Be happy with yourself. Recognize achievements and be proud of them. Then go on to further achievements. Know what you want to do and do it. Be happy. Know good friends. Be in love.”

So, what do you, the readers, think?

Just how long should a terminally ill patient hold on? Is it wrong to let go? Is it wrong to give up hope? Is it wrong to hasten the fact that we are all going to die?

Was it wrong for some of the Titanic passengers to jump into that icy cold water, or to let go of the railings, or to decide not to make use of a lifeboat?

In the 3D version of the movie, as the stern of Titanic lifts to almost 90 degrees and then quickly sinks into the dark depths, the viewer gets the impression that you are right there holding onto the back railing of the ship together with Rose and Jack, staring down at the cold, black sea way down below you.

Should one hold onto the railings until the bitter end … whilst there is still some glimmer of hope? Or do you give up hope, and jump?


Along Life’s Meri Way

Saturday 9 July 2011: 4 years 10 months on … Advantage ED

Last week came the news that Port Elizabeth’s stately King Edward Hotel on the Donkin Reserve (next door to the original Grey Institute Building), dating back to 1903, had closed its doors after 108 years.

She has left many a tale, many stories, many recollections, many memories, and long will they continue.

This weekend we have learned of the “End of the World”, the closure of the British tabloid newspaper, the News of the World, after 168 years.

It will leave many a tale, many stories, many recollections, many memories, and long will they continue.

One hundred years ago, at 12:13pm on 31 May 1911, the hull of the Titanic was launched in Belfast, Ireland. She “lived” for less than a year and, as we all know, sank on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on 15 April 1912.

She has left many a tale, many stories, many recollections, many memories, and long will they continue.

One hundred years ago, in 1911, a new Rector of Port Elizabeth’s The Grey Institute High School was installed. He was William Archer Way (b 1869) and would preside over the progress and development of the school during the next seventeen years of his reign, until he passed away in 1928.

He has left many a tale, many stories, many recollections, many memories, and long will they continue.

In fact, “his name has become legend, and history confirms the popular claim that his noble conception of education, imposed with such intellectual charm, did much to raise the school to its lofty stature it maintains so admirably to this day.” (1)

Upon his commencement as Rector, he identified two basic inadequacies in the school structure. The first was that of the 210 boys in the High School (then from Std 3 to matriculation), less than twelve were in the highest (matriculation) class.

The second cardinal weakness, in Mr Way’s opinion, was the absence of boarders.

He immediately acted and obtained temporary accommodation in the vicinity of the School on the Donkin Reserve for boys wishing to become boarders. The first house was Gowan Hill in Bird Street (directly opposite what was then the Collegiate Girls’ School). The second house, Rose Cottage, was added the following year, right next door to the Grey in Havelock Street (and opposite the King Edward Hotel) and a third house, Norwood, adjoining Gowan Hill, was added a few months later.

Eleven youths, who had been with Mr Way at Graaff-Reinet High School (he had previously been at Dale in King William’s Town and then Graaff-Reinet) soon joined him in Port Elizabeth and became the nucleus of the boarding establishment of The Grey.

Those eleven lads from Graaff-Reinet (with recognisable surnames still today) were Bernard, Eric and Guy Hobson, Everitt and Petrus Enslin, George and Cecil Davenport, Wilfred Lee, Edward Wille, Gert Bekker, and one surnamed Dodds.

So, today 100 years later, we wish Grey’s Boarding House, the nucleus of the School (and now known as Meriway – after Rectors Meredith and Way) a very Happy 100th Birthday!

It has left many a tale, many stories, many recollections, many memories, and long will they continue with the many boarders who have resided there (including me as Boarding House Master (1984 – 1986) and Sean as boarder and prefect (2009 – 2010)).

Interestingly, as Grey’s First Cricket Team returns from touring England tomorrow, it is also 100 years ago in 1911 that Rector Way (who also played in the First XI) invited the first English cricket professional, H. Myers (from the Yorkshire Country Eleven) to spend the summer in Port Elizabeth coaching the boys.

During the first four years of his tenure (1911 – 1915) and as the First World War Clouds gathered, Rector Way would also oversee the planning, building and moving of the Grey (High School) from the Donkin Reserve to its present site and magnificent buildings on the Mill Park campus.

For the next four years, therefore, there will be a number of 100-year milestones in the life of the school to commemorate and celebrate.


(1) ‘Neath The Tower (Part 2) – A.M. Pollock

Gentlemen, it was a pleasure playing with you tonight!

March 2010: 3 years 6 months on . . .

Someone asked me why I write these notes. Let me best explain it as follows:

The other evening, I watched the movie TITANIC yet again on TV. It reminded me how similar cruise liners and life are. Just as passengers embark and disembark at various times and various ports around the world, so do people enter and leave this world at different times and places.

Some cruise for longer than others, some in more luxurious surroundings than others, some just relax and keep to themselves. Others don’t sit still for a moment. They explore and find and make use of every facility that is offered to them. There are those who keep to their cabins by choice and others stay there because of the circumstances of the ride. Others socialise and make friends, and impact on the lives of those travelling with them. Some are remembered for the contribution they have made and others are simply forgotten.

The one thing is certain for all passengers – at some stage the cruise ends for them and they have to disembark. Some move on to the wealth of the Bahamas or Monaco, others to the more mundane and poorer cities and towns.

The cruise of life also comes to an end. We all know that. But different people have different views as to where they go once this cruise comes to its end. Some believe they go nowhere, others believe the move is to heaven or hell; others believe they simply come back and cruise yet again and again. Some just … don’t know!

In the case of the TITANIC, the cruise came to an abrupt end. At full steam ahead and with the partying at its zenith, the ship hit an iceberg!

The partying continued.

But, once the experts on board did an assessment, it was a certainty known to some that she would sink.

Some people knew what was happening but decided to continue partying. Some clamoured and rushed to find a lifeboat out of the situation. Some found an aid, a life jacket, which they put on but continued partying anyway. Others retreated to the comfort and solitude of their cabins just to wait for that final moment. Some disbelieved that she could sink – after all, the Titanic was unsinkable! There were those who were just blissfully unaware of what was happening around them.

And the band just continued playing . . . And the Titanic sank.

In life, sometimes too, just when the party is in full swing, the icebergs hit and the cruise comes to an abrupt end.

When one becomes ill, that is the impact. The experts are called in and for a while one does not expect to hear the worst – after all, that only happens to others and one is unsinkable! But then others become YOU and you receive the news from the experts that you have a terminal illness and that you WILL SINK in a stipulated period of time.

What does one do with the time between when the assessment is done and the inevitable takes place? The choice becomes a very personal one. And just as on the Titanic, different people make different choices.

Initially, I did not believe it could happen to me. I was unsinkable! And then I tried to find a lifeboat. But there is no lifeboat out of this one.

Do I retreat to the solitude of my cabin or do I put on my lifejacket and continue partying?

I have made my choice – I will continue with the cruise and all that it offers. I WILL party and I will continue to enjoy all that I possibly can for as long as I possibly can.

And, yes, as the ship tilts and the lights begin to go out one by one, it becomes increasingly difficult to continue with the party. But, I have on my Lifejacket to help me, and when the ship goes down, It will carry me safely to that Tropical Island in the sky.

My band will continue playing, and for me, it still is a pleasure playing with you tonight. I hope that, at the end, you will also have found it a pleasure to have had my company. And, I certainly hope that I contributed towards making your cruise a pleasure, too.

Theme From “Titanic”

Every night in my dreams
I see you. I feel you.
That is how I know you go on.

Far across the distance
And spaces between us
You have come to show you go on.

Near, far, wherever you are
I believe that the heart does go on
Once more you open the door
And you’re here in my heart
And my heart will go on and on

Love can touch us one time
And last for a lifetime
And never go till we’re one

Love was when I loved you
One true time I hold to
In my life we’ll always go on

Near, far, wherever you are
I believe that the heart does go on
Once more you open the door
And you’re here in my heart
And my heart will go on and on

There is some love that will not
go away

You’re here, there’s nothing I fear,
And I know that my heart will go on
We’ll stay forever this way
You are safe in my heart
And my heart will go on and on