Letter from Barry – May 2022

Room with a View. Not.

Now here’s an absurd story that I recently came across.

Two men were long-term patients in the same hospital ward. The ward had only one window. One of the men was fit enough to prop himself up, so the nurses gave him the bed next to the window. The other man was mostly flat on his back all day. He therefore had to ask his neighbour what could be seen out of the window. The propped up patient described a park with a lake on which were ducks and a couple of swans. One day he described children playing football and on another the Spring flowers beginning to show through the borders of the lawns.

At first the bed-ridden patient was grateful for his friend’s vivid description of life outside the window. But as the weeks went by his gratitude gave place to jealousy. Why couldn’t the nurses swap the beds round once in a while to give him the chance to see the park, the birds, the kiddies and the flowers? After all, with help, he was capable of sitting up for a few minutes most days.

One night there was a kerfuffle on the ward. Doctors and nurses were scurrying to and fro. The curtains around the bed by the window were being opened and closed at regular intervals. By morning the bed was empty. The body removed. With almost indecent haste the other man asked if now he could be switched to the bed by the window. Somewhat reluctantly the nurses agreed to move him. The minute they left the ward the man painfully pushed himself up on one elbow and looked out of the window on to a blank wall.

On one level the story is, as I suggested at the outset, absurd. Taken literally it presents us with one rational and resentful man, and another man delightfully deluded. But that’s to miss the point. The story, of course, is really a parable about contrasting attitudes to life. Optimistic or pessimistic.
Half full or half empty. Sunny or sullen. There are those who look on the bright side and those whoseemostly doom and gloom.

They say life is what you make it. I don’t altogether go along with that. It seems to me that some people don’t get much of a chance to make much of life. Even so, there’s enough truth in the saying for us to know what it means. So may be that ‘absurd’ story is not so silly after all.

Barry Overend