So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.
That reading we did of Psalm 90 has a particular black humour to it that Donna would have appreciated. In fact she did. On the day that she learned that she had incurable secondary cancer, she came home, had a bath and wanted to pray the Celtic evening office. The psalm set for that day was Psalm 90 and in her characteristically robust way she cried out that the one thing she didn’t want to do was number her days.
There was not enough time.
In the days that followed, we saw all of Donna’s life compressed into such a short span. She had no patience with nonsense and in the first few days time and again, she’d joke, I’m dying, that means if I don’t like the way you make tea, I’ll tell you. Taking Trish to the airport and going to the head of the RyanAir queue, I’m dying, I haven’t got time to wait in a queue, and if anyone gives me grief, I’ll tell them.
At the end of her life there was not enough time, but there had not been enough time for years. While she was a student in university, there was a need to look after prostitutes in Hull, she helped set up a program because there was no time to wait. When she was nine years old, and her mother left the home, there were sisters to look after, responsibilities to take, there was never time to wait. When there were children at risk, she stepped in, because there was no time to waste. Even when she knew she was dying there as the delicious black humour of her toying with funding wells in Africa on the back of her credit card, and so doing the banks out of money, the same banks that made it necessary for a charity to put the wells there by doing the poorest countries out of their money with huge debt interest programmes. The very sort of thing that Donna found herself protesting against on the banks of the Thames a few years ago.
Nothing would draw her scorn more than well-
There was not enough time. But her earthiness contained an insight second to none. The same intuition which could identify someone’s pomposity and send them down to earth with a crash, was the same insight which could sit alongside an AIDS patient, and not fill the air with the kind of sloppy mush she sometimes got when the time came for nurses to accompany her on part of her last road.
She had the insight and the compassion to know that, as she was dying, she was the one person who had the power to shape events around her. Looking back, she had taken charge and began putting things in place, for Andy, for Cara. And she made it easy for her friends, by being directive, bolshy, and outrageous, so we knew were we were, and protecting us from the heartbreaking despair which stalked her. I was drafted to take pictures while she still had her hair, and she orchestrated a trip to Edinburgh so that her family could see her one last time, even though they may not have known it, she knew what she was doing, she was taking care, as she had always done, since she was a wee girl.
There was not enough time.
There were still things to do, projects to complete. She could feel in her body that time was short, and it was shorter than she knew, not even Donna could organise death. We knew we would lose her, but that didn’t prepare us from the feeling that, after all this she was stolen from us. We didn’t even have the time we thought we had.
Donna was a great carer, and we all of us have at one time or another allowed her to do that. Now we have to do it, and we have to do it because she showed us how to and, we must do it, not for Donna, she would have a few words to say about that kind of sentimental crap, we must do it because above all she believed that we are all born to be complete human beings, whatever our background, wherever we come from, we are here to live fully and help others live fully. We have to care, and we have to do it, not for her, but because we deserve to do it for us.
12 So teach us to number our days * that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.
She had twenty nine (years) and now asks us to use our days and years as precious, unrepeatable, wonderful, uncompromisingly God given in her honour.