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By John McLeod
We had spent all of that splendid summer day out of doors on the veranda of Hut 1, high on the hill overlooking the rest of the hospital. In the late afternoon my friend Eric and I had asked if we might sleep out under the stars and had been granted permission by the ward Sister, a stern looking, but kindly lady of, to our eyes, uncertain age. We ate our evening meal, a light supper of cold cuts and salad, just right for the end of a hot day. As the sun neared its setting and the fading light became a soft purpling where horizon met sky, we settled down, with no need of words, listening to the quietening sounds of day. On the roof above us a thrush sang its hymn of evensong, sweetly registering its joy at being alive. We did not disturb its caroling with any words but lay enjoying our own oasis of peace. 
As the twilight deepened, the night-staff brought extra blankets and hot-water bottles to keep us warm and large welcoming mugs of cocoa. In the gathering darkness we talked in quiet tones, somehow wary of disturbing the hush of evening. The lateness of the hour brought its own feeling of magic and though the day had been a long one, beginning for us around 5.30am, we did not allow sleep to intrude and 'steal' one minute of our 'great adventure'. Instead we spoke of space-travel, of the science-fiction world of the fifties, of 'Journey Into Space' (a radio serial of the time) and 'Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future', a heroic figure found within the pages of 'The Eagle' comic and on radio.

We pondered, as so many did then and since, on the vastness of the Universe asking the age-old questions, the 'who', 'when' and 'why' of that most puzzling of cosmic conundrums. Being but children we, somehow, expected an answer to the unanswerable, an explanation that was within our understanding, anchoring firmly our belief system, justifying our place in the scheme of things. Looking back now, I can recognize so well the delightful safety net of childhood's naivety and the belief that all could be explained somehow, somewhere.

We lost ourselves in the night sky sparkling with pinpricks of dancing light and sought out the few constellations we could readily recognize, the 'Great and Little Bears', with Polaris, the 'Pole Star', ever guiding the men of the sea for many centuries past. We knew so little of our galaxy, 'The Milky Way', but our fertile, ever questing imagination ran to its limitations and to an abstract beyondness.

It must have been close to midnight when the first shooting stars appeared, arcing across a night sky already garlanded with twinkling jewels of light. The sudden, brief incandescence of their trails, was I remember, a thrilling, wonder-filled experience, bringing gasps of delight from both of us. We made countless wishes for health and wealth and happy days, for timeless moments like this, and for lives that we hoped would be rich with such unforgettable experiences.

After what seemed an age the 'cosmic light show' faded and once more we lay in quiet companionship under the vaulted canopy of the night sky. Sleep gradually claimed us and drifting into the healing somnabulance of slumber brought gentle, restful dreams. Waking to the dawn chorus was an especial joy as night faded and the sky grew light heralding a brand new day. The morning sunlight, I recall, had a splendor I shall never forget, its golden light full of beauty and promise, offering yet another God given day.

Life holds so many simple blessings, each day bringing its own individual wonder, our memories storing the treasure of such moments to be drawn upon in lesser days. I was so well blessed to know Eric, a friendship made through spending so many years as ward-mates dealing with our own individual experience of long-term illness. His wry sense of humour and his stalwart courage were an inspiring example to so many. His ability to laugh at Life's idiosyncrasies and himself in a self deprecating way taught that most valuable of lessons: 'to be of good cheer, no matter what Life threw at you, and ever to find the hope that dwells in every human heart'. Eric survived but into his third decade of life, a good, dear friend in a companionship wrought from our sharing of mutual adversity. He was an unforgettable character whom I was privileged to know, remembered fondly now, down all the days, as bright as any of those splendid shooting stars seen on that long ago, but so memorable, starlit night!


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