The Gift

Apr 27  |  Alex Grehy

I loved my job — the pressure, the adrenaline rush of deadlines. But then a new-age boss wafted into our business. Out went the high-end corporate trimmings and in came kneeling chairs, sand mandala trays and mindfulness meditations. She decorated the office with post-impressionist prints, to better help us ‘embrace the metaphysical’.

Six months in, she called me to her office. I was expecting another lecture about my working all hours; I never listened — work hard, play later — my perfect life. But no, she had a problem with my ‘aura’. It was tainted, apparently, didn’t match the clarity that a creative agency like ours needed. I was writhing with embarrassment when the headache struck. I found myself lying on one of her wellbeing beanbags, trying to breathe through the pain. She held my hand and chanted healing mantras while we waited for the ambulance. As the paramedics lifted me onto the gurney, she whispered “I believe this is a gift.”

This gift was given, with no return address. I was forced to endure the tests and accept the prognosis – rarest of rare brain tumours, manageable, for now, but incurable. They could control the headaches. But they could do nothing about the crazy changes to my senses as the tumour wrapped itself around my synapses. Colours became sounds, sounds became flavours, letters and numbers fluttered from my computer screen like vivid birds-of-paradise.

All I wanted was to get back to work, but doctors, in voices that tasted of burnt sugar and popcorn said “No!”

My boss called into my home, bringing roses, whose plangent pink petals shimmered like harps in my mind.
“This is a gift.” she said, again, her words tasting of cinnamon.

She handed me a print of Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’. The blues glowed like infinity in my ultraviolet vision; yellow stars fizzed like roman candles while the dark village hummed a lullaby to the slumbering souls within. I wondered whether this is what the troubled artist had hoped to portray; whether he had despaired that so few could see the world as he had.


I spend my good days visiting galleries, devouring sensory feasts served by artists who truly perceived the numinous. A prismatic chorus fills my eyes and ears — the gift my illness has bestowed me – to have a life before death.

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