Mr Kureishi, if you were an invented character, you would be a very lovable one. Reading the stories that we have sent in with your kind prompt, I more or less came to the same conclusion: we are all the same. We are not alike in all our details, of course, but in our essential qualities and needs we are. The fact that you have given us your story has made your story part of our experience. And just as we can identify with a dear fictional character and never want to let go of them, not want the book to end, we identify with you. Now I should go back and change all the "we's" to "I's." This is my experience. So, not knowing you personally, I have come to know you.

Many years ago now, I was at a meditation retreat. Someone was making a documentary about the teacher, and unbeknownst to the participants, had a microphone near the teacher's seat. And when people came up to talk to him, sharing their deepest concerns, they were being recorded. This is obviously not a good thing. Nevertheless when the teacher was told about it, he said, "Why does it matter? Everyone says the same thing." Obviously, as a writer always writing about semi-fictional characters- semi, in that they are always partly me or someone I think I have seen outside of me- I don't really want to think we are all the same. The variety is what is intriguing. The variety is what brings us together. Can I say that we love you? We do. We have come to love you and share your dilemma, your predicament, and to wish so fervently that you manage to overcome all difficulties.

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Thank you so much for your latest post. It’s a melancholy one embedded with hope, because no matter our circumstances, we can still often connect with another with concern, curiosity, and good intent. Even a superficial connection places us on the same universal plane, temporarily of course, but,still, we’re glad to be alive in that moment, talking to this stranger.

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Thank you for your honesty. I share your deep sadness at your losses of essential personal freedoms that I so often forget to celebrate. Getting out of bed, having a shower, finding my favorite sweater and warm socks in midwinter.

I hope and pray for your recovery and my own as each day unfolds. Even my tears.. thank you for creating a place to write my thoughts & feelings, to connect with others from around the world in sympathy all with one another.

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One useful piece of advice that I was given when I worked for the NHS was to place empathy before compassion. The latter descends like a fine mist over its target but doesn't meaningfully improve their situation, and may even make it worse as a result of inaction.

Empathy is an attempt to gain insight into the life of a person, though communication and observation. That's a foundation you can build on, and use as a basis for making improvements that are tailored to their needs and wants. For years, I was employed by a hospital as an in-house, non-medical temp – an interesting and varied role. The ratio of pay to effort was not in my favour. I used to walk home mentally, and sometimes also physically, drained, though I enjoyed the work. Occasionally, when I was required to talk to patients, I could see them struggling to ingratiate themselves with me. They would apologise for getting angry or frustrated. In that situation the question that anyone who works in healthcare should be asking themselves is: What is the source of the frustration, and what action can be taken that will improve matters? In most cases, I was neither qualified nor authorised to take direct action, but I would pass information on to people who were.

This is my very laboured way of saying that you shouldn't feel any pressure to be a model patient, or to lock yourself into a holding pattern of meet and greet, particularly on those days when you are tired, or are doing your best to come to terms with your present circumstances. You shouldn't have to hide your feelings and put on a brave face for the benefit of others.

I used to have friends who died in car crashes, or from random accidents. There was a bizarre suicide pact. It happened a long time ago, during my late teens. A couple of weeks from now, I expect I will see the memorial that the family of one of the boys still puts in the local newspaper every year, on the anniversary of his death. In Yemen, many years ago, somebody was going to shoot me, but suffered a change of heart. I was drunk at the time and didn't care. I survived to see others fall to misadventure. There seemed to be next to no reason or rhyme in regard to who lived and who died. You could always say 'be more careful,' but being careful is no way to go through life.

I have noticed, over the past few years, that the root cause of the funerals I attend have been ailments that I associate more with my grandparent's generation. Things like cancer and heart disease never used to claim the lives of my close friends. The terms and conditions changed. As usual, none of us bothered to read the small print, or even seek out a pair of reading glasses that would allow us to do so.

Those friends and acquaintances who are gone still wander into my thoughts, in much the same way that they did when they were alive. They were normal people, although in their own way each one was remarkable enough to leave behind an impression. Today, I was thinking about Jane, who I met periodically throughout her life. The first time was when I was 13 and she was 14. She suggested that we wrestle. Within roughly five seconds she had pinned me to the floor of her bedroom. Being physically dominated by a girl was a novel experience. She went last year, peacefully and somewhat unexpectedly, from complications related to cancer.

I would like to tell these people that I still think of them. I would like to make reference in conversation to things that they said, not because I forced myself to listen to them, but because what they said mattered and stayed with me. I have been trying to do that more with those people who still have the ears to hear.

A while ago now, I was diagnosed with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis. It means that my overeager/turncoat immune system is waging an all out war on my bile ducts. It won't stop, nor can it be stopped, though I have already beaten the odds. The three sufferers who I befriended when we were all first diagnosed are now long dead. I received my diagnosis in the form of a leaflet, sent without context through the mail. My hospital consultant would later describe this as “a classic cock up.”

In the aftermath, I became, not so much less inhibited, as profoundly nihilistic. I was a dead man walking so there was nothing to lose. I was very angry, but it was a silent anger.

I remember walking up a very steep hill close to my home. Staggering ahead of me, at a much slower pace, were four young men. They were drunk. I watched one of them launch an empty glass bottle in a high arc across the road where it shattered on the opposite pavement, a few feet from a girl who was walking downhill. She wisely deviated onto a path that cut up the side of a railway embankment.

I decided that I was not going to cross over the road to avoid these men. They were about to pass underneath the railway bridge when they realised that I was behind them. They came around me and there was a prolonged moment of silence when we all stared at each other. I selected one at random. I thought to myself: 'The moment one of them lays a hand on me in anger, I don't care what anybody else is doing. I going to grab that man and beat his head as hard as I can against the wall.'

Something of my intent must have surfaced in my body language because, after what seemed like an age, they moved aside and allowed me to go on my way. I think, if I had not been diagnosed with PSC and convinced that I had nothing left to lose, I would have felt fear. Those men would have sensed it on me and I would have been beaten in the street.

After a few months, I calmed down and my disposition returned to normal, even though my circumstances were changed.

A better example of how to face a life-changing condition with dignity and verve would be my friend Cat, who died from complications relating to PSC almost ten years ago. It tore through her until there was nothing left.

Her whole life was like some cruel, extended practical joke at her expense. Every time she was knocked to the ground, she got up and threw herself back in. A couple of years before she died, she travelled to the SXSW festival in Texas. It was a very brave thing for her to do alone and in her frail condition.

She wrote: “I did and saw so much, there's no way I can regret the things I didn't get to do or see. Besides, they're on the list for next time. And there will be a next time.”

There wasn't a next time, but there was that time.

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Dear Hanif, greetings from a somewhat damp Ireland. Sometimes bad things do happen horribly unexpectedly. However, the opposite can also happen and who can really tell where you will be in a few weeks or months time. It’s important not to give up hope and the simple pleasures we crave when they’re taken away from us can be restored. I really hope that’s the case for you. Perhaps not in full measure but substantially so as Nehru said at his famous speech at the beginning of India’s independence. You often ask your readers to raise a glass for you and I shall do so tonight. The power of all those raised glasses and bibulous salutations will propel you to better times ahead.

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Good evening, Hanif. You quote Neil Kinnock, who "taught me how to ask anyone where they came from, where they live and who their parents were -how to get a measure of anyone in ten minutes." Notice that in these "identity" questions he did not ask, "How strong are you?" or "How fast can you run?" Because our physical health is simply not central to our identity! It is, of course, central to our lives, but not to who we are to others. Your mind and your heart are what matters.

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I’m so sorry you’re in these strange and nightmarish circumstances. Your post reminded me of when my partner was stricken with a rare variant of “mad cow disease” in Sept 2020. I called the doctors the Gloom Team until I got one to talk about his hobbies — playing guitar. My partner had seen Led Zeppelin live — and the doctor brought in his guitar for Chris to play. A much needed connection. Wishing you all the best from Portland, OR. ♥️

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I’m so sorry you can’t go home yet. It’s unbelievably awful. I really hope you can soon. Life events, serious illness of loved ones and the death of my beloved brother in an accident age 36, taught me early on that life is capricious and we’re all really fragile. It’s really got to be carpe diem.

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Dearest Hanif,

You, a complete stranger, have become so dear to me and thousands of others because, despite this horrific catastrophe that has befallen you, you continue to share so much of yourself - your brilliant loving self, with us. I don’t know how you do it. I hope that it gives back to you even more than it gives to us.

I wish you all things that might make you heal inside and out. I have no clue what those are, but I send those wishes to you in a feeble and somewhat childish attempt at reciprocating (even slightly) for the profound joy and pleasure you have brought to me/us day after day.



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As I once scrawled in a journal, across the entire page: NIGHTMARE. The stone you can’t spit out: in

Latvian they say that you have to swallow the toad - meaning you must ingest the unacceptable. We ache for you, Hanif. Why not us?

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dear Hanif, others have said it so well this morning. How alive and curious you are, how dear you are to your readers, to your family. How you long for a return to the normalcy of life. "Why me?" and your friend is right, "why not me?" We are all one fall away from that portal into a different world, far from our couch, our books, our own bed. Your essence is so there and so expansive and so generous. Thank you for having the will to share your state of mind... we care for you deeply.

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Oh my dear Hanif, some in these comments wrote that we, your readers, love you. It is true. I await your postings. I think of you daily, I pray for your healing and I ask God to give you patience as you regain and recover from this awful unexpected event that has happened to you. Carpe dime, someone else mentioned. Hanif we only have this day: use it to recover, do what you must do. Why you? your friend told you the truth Why not you? You are not living in Memphis where four black policemen killed a beautiful man, a fine photographer. I think we are alive by the grace of a divine spirit, but we never know about anything, it is below zero cold here in New Hampshire, this morning I had to get in the car to buy some necessities, carefully I got home to climb two sets of stairs, and inexplicably fell, just stayed on floor, hoping I had not broken anything, and I thought of you. Life is that way filled with unexpected events and sometimes wonderful surprises. I thought. Of you. My sisters have called to scream at me for going outside on a day like this.

I thank the divine spirit for you, for your writing, for you , Hanif, in a hospital in Rome. When I don’t hear from you, I pray you are well, and then look forward to your writing. It is always so good to hear your voice. I love you! Take good care! One day, before you know it, you will get to your home.

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We all want to ‘only connect’ - as you do, in such terrible circumstances, and that’s very meaningful and vital and moving.

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I have heard that response before, "Why not me?" on Anderson Cooper's wonderful podcast "Is that all There is" quoting his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, who suffered the sudden death of her young husband, and then later her young adult son committed suicide in front of her. She too asked, why not me, which for a wealthy and famous person is so astonishing to me, I suppose to think that she could be so human and down to earth rather than walking among moonbeams, blessed by only luck.

I wonder if I would be so big-hearted at the time of a tragedy to be able to respond with such equanimity. I wonder if it is helpful at all to you.

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You are talking about connections and relationships. They are the best things in life. We want them, we struggle with them, we need them. Humans are social animals. We need a place in the lives of others. I appreciate how you are reaching out with your blog, making connections!

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Thank you. Keep going. Brilliant brilliant writing. It's important. I guess you know it, that's why you are so creative right now, keeping you awake. I'm so so sorry about what happened though. X

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