The last Monday of June, I had a routine workload discussion with my boss and referred offhand to our office manager -- something about asking her for help the next time she was in the office. She was, in addition to managing the office, the database software guru and general go-to person. The sort who was always On Top Of Everything, the type you'd resent if it weren't for the fact that she was nice.
His face, which I realise I have come to file next to my definition of "British deadpan", instantly fell. "You didn't know?" he said, and in that moment I felt something in existence change. You know what I'm referring to? That nameless warp or blip that occurs neither in the temperature, nor the ambient noise, nor the light, when you are being given some unfortunate news. A change that you can't describe or quantify, and yet for just that briefest of times it's as obvious (and odoriferous) as the elephant in the room.
What I "didn't know" due to my not working at this office full-time, and which my boss proceeded to tell me, was that she'd been behaving strangely at work the preceding week, and they'd finally persuaded her to go to the doctor. NOW, not when this onslaught of conferences had ended. No, not this weekend. NOW.
And it turned out, there was a reason for her increasing forgetfulness of the past few weeks. For the usually sharp-minded database manager to have needed hourly prompting to complete the simplest of tasks. For the woman who knew the entire company's operations by heart to have to be told what day it was.
Brain tumour, my boss said. Surgery, away from work, not sure how long, wish her the best, will update you. I nodded and went back to work. Every now and then there would be a staff briefing about her progress -- or, more accurately, the progress of the tumour that was rampaging its way through her consciousness, her wit and, eventually, her life.
It was at the end of June that she was last at work, keying in photocopier access codes and hiding her big stapler from the stationery imps that seem to plague offices around the world. The end of June.
It's now the end of August. And they'll be burying her Friday, four days after she slipped away quietly in the hospice bed where her family had resignedly installed her. How much can change, even when we think we're on top of everything.
I am thankful that I made, and have for the most part fulfilled, a commitment years ago to live a life of purpose and integrity. Not necessarily a life of no mistakes, but certainly one of little regret. Because we never know, do we, when and how we'll next experience the warp?