What stood out to me was what you describe as the gentleness of your friends' visiting. Trungpa Rinpoche once said try to spend time observing all the acts of non-aggression around us. Sometimes when I'm on the bus to work, I look out the window at all the ordinary, non-aggressive things happening - dog owners standing together, people greeting each other at the street corner, parents walking their backpack laden kids to school. I see so many more of them than I see aggression. The aggression draws our attention, but the kindness happens so much more often. /Emily

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Here’s a thought that came to me only after reading this piece--

Great writing makes unexpected connections.

I’m probably embarrassing myself by saying so because there are surely ten books on that very subject. But it’s what happens when I read your work.

You take me on a trip with you and something unexpected happens and then I feel close to...life.

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Hanif, the end of 'Its a Wonderful Life' is so emotionally resonant because the hero of the story thought he had not made a difference to the world, and when he needed help, after his suicidal thoughts, he saw the family and friends and community and humanity that could not have imagined a world without him. You have made a difference because huge numbers of people outside your family and friends have read your work, been consoled and provoked by it, and recognised humanity inside it. We are all a family, and that is why we read great literature and writers, so we recognise ourselves in others and others in us. That is a kind of love you put out and that is what is returned to you now when you need it. You're loved because many love you.

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As an "old-school" journalist, I am not partial to the idea -- which is put forth often -- that the media should have a Good News Only Day to ameliorate the tragedies of life. But we all need a little dose of daily joy to survive. Thanks for supplying some. It made me weep with happiness this morning. I have also found, having interviewed literally tens of thousands of people, that those who suffer the most hardships seem to be the kindest. In my life, setbacks have made me a better, more compassionate person and writer. There's a soft landing spot in the school of hard knocks. Here is something to brighten your day. Happy Jazz Fest from New Orleans. https://www.wwoz.org/listen/player/

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I've been following your blog/stack(?) since you first started writing about your injury. This post particularly hit home, with your feelings of shame and guilt - a common response to a traumatic event that has turned your world (and those close to you) upside down. How to reconcile this new 'reality'? How others react reflects back in your psyche and, many won't be able to cope with this new relationship.

Anyway, it brought back a few ruminations of my own, for what they're worth:

A Simple Twist of Fate...

A punch would have been the safest option but, feeling confident, I reached up and took the ball from a clear, blue, cloudless summer sky. Hanging, frozen in time for a moment, before my legs were knocked from under me. Falling, weightless, feeling a sudden, flashing, electric shock pulse through my body as I hit the ground, neck first.

My arms felt fixed above my head yet, glancing down, I could see them laying motionless by my side. Something irrevocable had happened. I could feel it, and I could see it in the faces of those gathering round me. Suppressed fear mixed with incomprehension. That look was something I'd have to get used to, with a feeling of distance that would turn into a chasm. As my breath drained out of me, time seemed frozen in mid-frame.

'At the still point of the turning world.'

The trip to hospital in a blue-light ambulance at hearse-like pace, followed by a succession of paradoxical, phantasmagoric experiences. Cutting off the football strip, shaving the head, the mediaeval process of drilling into the skull to apply traction while strapped to stryker frame still fully conscious. Then an omnopon-induced haze of fragmented memory: friends, girlfriend, parents, girlfriend's parents, nurses, doctors, arriving and disappearing like smoke, offering false hope. A helicopter ride to the spinal unit; long, whitewashed ceilings; the interminable sound of rubber tyres turning on linoleum; Jimmy Saville's cigar; no feeling, just a head on a pillow; phantom limbs produced by the jangling and burning of ruptured nerve-endings. A Kafka screenplay directed by David Lynch. Sometimes, drifting in and out of consciousness, you could think to yourself, like Gregor Samsa: 'How about if I sleep a little bit longer and forget all this nonsense.'

Denial is the first recourse. I was still in the land of the able-bodied as long as I could lay here 'recovering'; clinging to that side of the divide.

Hours of listening to the radio, Andy Peebles, late night jazz, Radio 3. Anything to drown out the 'what ifs', the constant replays, the regret. But there's no real refuge: 'Accidents Will Happen', 'Tragedy' and, just to dispel any lingering hope: 'What a Fool Believes'. Fate playing mind games on a jukebox.

Girlfriend still visiting, a six hour return trip once a week, once a fortnight, once a month. It couldn't continue. We were turning in different orbits. How do you ask somebody else to commit to a life you have no choice over? Employer rings. They want to keep my job open, but they need someone to cover. The future fading out of focus.

I'm paralyzed from the neck down, but the real battle now is paralysis of the mind. Saying 'why me?' on a ward of twenty-two, all saying 'why me?', in a corridor with three more wards of twenty-two, all saying 'why me?' makes little sense. So... why not me?' That's when the dizzying ramifications of chance scramble the brain. Borges's Lottery in Babylon made flesh: the number of draws is infinite: 'no decision is final, all diverge into others.'

Our lives may be trammelled by Larkin's 'ranged joining and parting lines', but we feel a sense of agency and continuity, until a life-changing trauma forcibly shunts you onto a different track, toward a destination you could never have imagined. The foundations of your world view crumble into the sand; any vestige of belief in the Just World fallacy shattered. But you can't shake off the idea that you must have done something to deserve it?

Robert Murphy has described how cause and effect can be flipped by trauma: instead of a criminal act leading to a sense of guilt, and some sort of punishment; the punishment of illness or injury engenders feelings of guilt and a sense that some crime must have been committed. An insidious inversion that infects our collective psychology, forcing a constant battle with preconceptions: your own, and those of everyone you meet.

The real work comes with leaving the 'normality' of the spinal ward: a sudden transition into an alternate reality, where everything looks the same, but perceptions and assumptions are transformed, in a marketplace where your value is negative. One decision. A fractured spine, fractured relationships, fractured hopes and a fractured identity that seems beyond repair. The regret, the guilt, the loss of something precious taken for granted.

How to go on... It's easier to wipe the slate clean. Dispense with past. Try to start again. If 'all time is irredeemable':

'What might have been is an abstraction

Remaining a perpetual possibility

Only in a world of speculation.'

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Hi Hanif,

My name is Ruby, I live in Rome.

Just popping on here to say hello and if you ever feel like having a conversation with a complete stranger, I would be delighted to visit.


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What an inspiring piece of writing. Sometimes, just once in a while, a story without tensions and conflicts is what my spirit wants. It may send me to sleep ,but is is usually a welcome relief. And, of course, friends to visit, converse, even to repeat platitudes, it doesn’t matters, friends make me happy. I wish I could take the plane to see you in gorgeous Rome. E joy your friends, it is one of the best expression of love.

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To tell you the truth, we'd love to watch a film without endless horrors or conflicts. Sweetness, kindness! I love how you are being bathed in it. Thank you so much for sharing that, dear Hanif. We need more of it in this world and I'm especially glad it's coming to you.

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Dear Hanif, you ask questions about how you are perceived in your current plight, that strike to my heart. My closest experience is of my Dad, who over a period of weeks in 2012 went from ordinary active life to complete blindness and unable to leave his bed. He was like this until his death in 2019. He had a very complex response to cancer, called paraneoplastic disorder, where one’s body basically attacks itself. You’ve written before how the shockwaves of what has happened to you have reverberated through your family. It takes a long time to absorb the losses involved and all the changed dependencies- but the heart ache, hope and longing through it all is love. And story telling and remembering and imagining become all important - the re-piecing together of life and histories. You write of how hard it is to be left at the end of the day. It will be extremely hard for those who leave you too - who long for you to stroll out with them into the Italian spring, and who will be imagining and hoping for that day to come again as much as you. It may never be as it once was, but it can come close and somehow the quality of listening to each other changes and the gift of the story - whoever the story teller - is all the greater. I never knew how much I loved my Dad until he got his illness. He never stopped loving life to the end. He used to say he was so sorry for what he put us all through and I’d always say, you show us the way, Dad. It’s a very strong sense of shared humanity and it’s what’s so wonderful about these chronicles too. Thank you for them. x

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I love this. I have always felt that people are mostly good and the world is mostly kind. And the other way round, too. Do you know the true version of the story on which Lord of the Flies is based? 6 boys shipwrecked on an island for 18 months, and guess what, they took care of each other. Nothing like the version William Golding decided on. You can read about it in Rutger Bregman’s hopeful book Human Kind. Wishing you love & connection as ever xx

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Thank you for letting me respond - if I could afford to subscribe I would. Just watching the world championship snooker so am a bit distracted.

Yes you are a captive audience now and that is attractive in itself - my relationship with mum completely at odds all our lives only became the best it could be once she was confined to bed and to a wheelchair- it just recalibrated what we were to each other. I don’t think people would come and see you out of pity so strike that off - to let you know they care strike that one in.

You are giving them as much as you can too - I bet you laugh a lot. And I bet you help them with their problems too. By the way the match I’m watching between a 20 year old Chinese lad called Si Junhui (I think) and Belgium Luca Brecel is nail biting / It is best of oh no I’ll get it wrong so it’s first to 17 frames and despite leading (14 frames to 5) Si has been overtaken by the Belgian Bullet (want to say Bun) of course I want Si to win.

Creative writing well I’m in the just going to write something what’s wrong with it school so I got nowhere. I did try a creative writing course how I hated it could not cope with the stuff coming back! Useless! So dumped that joined a creative writing group and I tell you Hanif the talent of one of those in it / just marvelled at her story telling / interestingly it wasn’t full of look here and OH what happened there and yet completely spellbinding / all in the detail it was. I’m reading a book at the moment by a you would say old fashioned writer - her detail I love it - and it’s all in the characters they don’t move around much or go far it’s the psychology of them and how this affects their family. Oh I left the writing group / not comfortable really and probably because my writing simply wasn’t on their level.

My meandering response to your piece

- writing is such a skill such an art you have this and still have this despite December. Hanif I tacked a hospital story onto the hippy piece or was it the idol one you did - I really could write so much more about our health experiences they are so funny. Your hands - more money in my little wishing well methinks. It is 16 frames to 14 Brecel leading and only needs one more frame Si back on the table 43 up and needs to get up to the 70’s to secure this frame and stay in the semi final - how I love this game. Thank you again for letting me comment Hanif and keep going Maddi x

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This was such a wonderful read. Thank you

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I always enjoy reading your dispatches and this was such a lovely entry. Heaven is other people. Much love from Spain

PS.: I despise the freytag triangle, heroe's journey and so on... The only one of these I like is Kurt Vonnegut's shape of stories

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Beautiful piece. They come because they value you, as we here do too.

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Dear Mr. Kureishi-- I humbly beg to differ regarding the need for 'creative' before 'writing'. If you delve into scientific and much other academic literature, you will find quite a lot of generally competent but not-at-all-creative writing. Creativity is actively discouraged. I write in both worlds, and it is like flipping a switch to move from one to the other.

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Thank you very much for your comment.

That's my first ever review!

Best wishes,


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