It is now less than a couple of days away before the wheels will turn and the journey begins. Before we start, there is one final member of the team I must introduce to you. In many ways, he is the hardest to introduce. In many ways, he is the most important. Perhaps he will be the most important for you, too.
This man taught me, even more than my cancer diagnosis, about the importance of today. The danger of assuming I can count on tomorrow. The amazing luxury we have, of existing in this very moment. Why not stop and enjoy it before you read on?
This man was my brother, John Christopher Grenfell-Shaw.
My brother annoyed the hell out of me, when we were growing up. He was much better at maths and sailing, and we were constantly at each other’s throats when we were more evenly matched – running, computer games and eating fast.
We only really became friends after John went to uni – not being forced to spend our lives together helped us discover that we enjoyed each other’s company. This realisation was forged through rowing together, attempting a midnight Great Court run (cf. Chariots of Fire) or through long rides in torrential rain, each grudgingly realising the other simply wouldn’t quit. Ours became a friendship cemented on the bike and deepened off it – though often discussion continued in a cycle-centric manner: I distinctly remember about 90% of a long Skype conversation revolving around Chris Froome’s incredible 80km solo attack on stage 17 of the Giro d’Italia.
John was kind, unfailingly modest, supportive and deeply caring. He also ended up the better cyclist of the two of us – and by this time I was proud of his achievements.
4 am, Friday 6th July 2018, crept into view. I can hardly say I was anticipating it. I was in Bristol’s Teenage and Young Adult cancer treatment centre, completing my first cycle of chemotherapy, feeling sick and washed-out. The half-hours crawled by as I stupor-slept, waiting for a time when there was a little more of interest around, when I didn’t have to pretend to be immersed in sleep. I was anticipating the passage of time, which now seems ironic.
Dad’s phone rang (or Mum’s? Honestly, I struggle to remember). John, my brother, had been in the Lake District, doing a hare-and-hounds style running game: each day one of the group would take a turn to provide sport for the chasers, leading them on a song and dance over tussocky hills, rocky banks, chilly rivers and bogs and down scree slopes. The day before, John had been one of the hares after remaining uncaught earlier in the week – a rare achievement. He had led a chase around a steep area next to Haystacks, a boggy, rocky plateau along the spine of one of the serpentine hills. There, on the steep sides of Haystacks, something happened. We will never know what. But John, my brother, my parents’ eldest son, fell to his death. He was 25.
Many of you may have thought “Luke was very unlucky to be diagnosed with cancer, but look, I’m pretty certain I will be fine”. I say, think about John, my brother. No one in the world would have expected me to be here 18 months after my diagnosis, and my brother not.
So am I saying expect death at every corner? No, what I am saying is that we simply don’t know when we will be living our last day – it could be so much sooner than we expect. There is no stopping this, there is little in the way of preventative measures.
What can we do? Do our very best to live today, and tomorrow, and the next, in a way that were we to die, we would be happy with how we lived our previous days.
I challenge you – make it happen! Take the time, now, briefly, to pause and reflect. What would make you happier and more satisfied with today? Think of something you can control and change. What changes can you begin making so your tomorrows are more fulfilling?
To finish: the unseen joiner. You have probably guessed, this is John. Only recently I found out he had been planning on joining for a large chunk of Bristol2Beijing; this is just another example of his generous spirit. And now he cannot join in person, so I will do my best to carry his spirit in my heart. Many people have asked – “What is the name of the tandem?”. I now have an answer. John’s middle name, Chris. Chris will be my constant companion over the next year, and enable me, other CanLivers, and friends and family to experience Bristol to Beijing.
And please, let his life live on by the impact his story has in your life.
John, Dad and me atop Pen y Fan in Wales, sporting questionable hair and fashion choices.
Some years later, John and me on the summit of Qurnat as Sawda, Lebanon’s highest peak. This time with dubious headgear.
John and me on the ferry between Malta and Gozo, chasing each other round the islands.