It’s odd how these things go. Many years ago, in France, when I unexpectedly survived a three-month terminal diagnosis for cancer, I started thinking about why I had been saved. Better people than me had died - I’m thinking in particular of a chemotherapy-ravaged little girl with leukaemia who used to tour all the wards in the morning with the hospital cleaners and visit us old crocks (I was 39 going on 80, so I qualified). She used to delight us with her antics and high jinks, and those of us pretty much unable to leave our beds - we were either too weak, too much in pain, or too beaten down by the drugs they were attempting to cure us with - used to look forward to her visits unconscionably. She was one of us, you see - one of the chosen - although, in an ideal world, she shouldn’t have been. She should have been out playing with her school friends, or making plans for the holidays, or thinking of ways to change the world for the better. Even then I didn’t figure myself for anything special (still don’t), so there had to be another reason why God had spared me and not her. Maybe I wasn’t really needed where He was? Or maybe He had other plans?
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about it again recently (I’ve been ill, on and off, for nearly 22 years now, which concentrates the mind wonderfully - two cancers, a heart attack due to chemotherapy damage, septicaemia, what have you) and I’ve decided that the only reason God bothers to save anyone is so that they can serve Him. Call me stupid, but it took me quite a while to work this out. The others - the fallen ones - He takes to His bosom, and those of us left behind have to work our way somehow in this world and pay what we owe. How we do it is between us and God. But do it we must, because otherwise we are betraying all those who have gone before.
All right. I may be sounding a little fey here, but listen up. During the course of my life I have saved four people from drowning - not because I am any great hero (I’m not), but because I’m strong (God again), and I have been in the right place at the right time (usually showing off, or doing something equally stupid). I’ve also saved one man from being shot outside a night club in Paris, and two people from choking via the Heimlich Manoeuvre - the last of which occurred just two days ago. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to think that there may be some sort of pattern emerging here.
The most haunting thing of all occurred last summer, when I was visiting friends in Holland. We were at the Zuidersee Museum (the Inland Sea Museum), and I suddenly saw my name (Redding - an alternative spelling - same name) above a wooden boathouse. “Why’s that there?” I asked. “Oh, it means ’saving’ in Dutch. It’s the Royal Dutch Lifesaving Society. KNRM.”
It’s silly, I know, but I suddenly felt as if someone had laid a hand on my shoulder and pushed me out into a circus ring as some sort of involuntary volunteer. And yes. I’m compensating. It’s clear, isn’t it? For years I’d blocked all thoughts of the little girl, because I’d wanted to save her and couldn’t. I even used to get nightmares about it - of pulling young girls out of the mud, or from bogs, or from the sea (and yes, you’re right, I may have been trying to reclaim my anima too). Frankly, if you’d asked me at the time, I would happily have given my life instead of hers. Again, not bravery, but simply logic. I’d had a fair run. Wasted most of it. Made my peace. I was actually happy to go. But it wasn’t my time. That will come - sooner, probably, rather than later, but that’s as things are. We can’t kick against the pricks. But in the meanwhile I shall try my best to live up to the name I have inadvertently been given, by writing and saving. Because it’s clear to me - and it gets clearer every year I live - that we’re here for a purpose. There’s no such thing as free will. Best live with that, and not fret.