When I was far smaller than I am today (I realise that’s very small indeed), somebody drew a couple of lines with a crayon on the cream, lightly patterned wall of the playroom at home, and subsequently attemped to hide the misdemeanour with some inexpertly applied sploshes of Tippex.
My parents were understandably disappointed, but this was nothing compared to my one-eyed, childish sense of injustice when the blame and the telling-off was aimed to me as well as the culprit, on the basis that it must have been one of us, and if the cap fitted, we should wear it.
I was bewildered and furious in a way that only a child wrongly accused of some misbehaviour can be. Never mind the countless times that I had got away with something scot-free, perhaps at the expense of another sibling; my sense of justice was rather less prominent on such occasions and I was happy to keep quiet.
Years later, I was overruled by the art department on using a particular stock image of a baby to illustrate a story about a certain type of chemical-derived plastic used in nappies, for a chemical markets magazine (gripping stuff) on which I was working. What I thought was an inappropriate Flickr-sourced image was used instead, despite my protests, and the problem was compounded by a freelance colleague putting it on the contents page and failing to provide a decent description in the text as to why it was there.
Almost inevitably, after publication, my boss sent an email to explain why the picture was inappropriate, also shouldn’t have been on the contents page and – given it was – should at least have had a decent explanation of its relevance. The email only went to me, and that childish sense of injustice rose up in me again. I wrote an email, left it in Drafts for a while, then went back and deleted it, and sent what was hopefully a more reasonable email in reply.
Prior to Mariacristina’s and my trip to Greece in September, I tried countless times to buy a train ticket from Kalambaka to Athens, only to be thwarted – often at the last step – by the whims of the unstable booking website. By the time it finally let me through the system, the tickets were sold out, and poor Mariacristina had to put up for several days (in the UK and in Greece) with my rants about the injustice of having done everything I could to get the tickets in advance – in vain. We took the coach instead, which was fine, but it didn’t calm me down.
Taking after my father in such situations, I usually have an impulse to write a strongly worded letter – a wonderfully British response but one I know is generally unlikely to gain anything, apart from allowing me to let off steam. Incidentally, I do like to think I’m better at putting my hands up and accepting the consequences when I’ve done something wrong nowadays, so perhaps I’ve grown up a little.
When it comes to cancer, though, I don’t believe the same definition of ‘justice’ is applicable. Knowing it is something that can happen to anyone, and – in the case of leukaemia – that it is not something I could have reduced the risks of getting through a change of lifestyle, for example, means that it is something that could happen to me. And it did.
I see nothing unfair about that. Not getting a ticket I had spent hours trying to buy, well in advance, due to the vagaries of a website made me furious – perhaps because the workings (or not-workings) of the site were down to human factors that could have functioned better. But getting leukaemia seems to me to be far from unfair; if the relatively random (the causes of leukaemia are still not known) chance of getting it happens to fall on me, so be it.
This is probably why I don’t gamble, either – in fact, I’ve never even bought a lottery ticket. Knowing the odds are against me, the whole setup seems unfair, so I don’t play. I didn’t have a choice with leukaemia, but I accept that it happened to me, just as it could theoretically happen to anyone.
The same goes for the relapse. There was always a chance the leukaemia would come back, and – particularly after the fabulous years I’ve spent since my initial treatment – I am unable to see it as unfair that it has done so.
Life’s one big card game: all we can do is play the best we can with the hand we are dealt, and not waste precious time and energy complaining that it could have been better.