He is a young man, recently returned from an adventure that was the defining moment of his life. He is in a loveless marriage, but is a devoted parent. Keen and bright, he is uneducated and has been bankrupted, losing his family business. Once a sporting champion, he has “developed alopecia”, and is unrecognisable to members of his own family. Far from the glory of being national heroes, members of J-Force are barred from the RSA and government pensions, exiles despite their sacrifices overseas. Second-rate soldiers. And he tells me he is standing on bridge in Hamilton, overlooking the River, a precipice.

I’ve never known why it is that lives so often come down to these moments. The times when we are each face to face with the river, the sirens’ call of the peace it offers. And if you have never been there, wondering what it is to make the choice to cross to the other side? Then there is the chance you have never lived at all; because it is a choice that everyone who has ever loved and lost, or climbed and fallen, must face. A rite of passage as it were.

He says he stood there on the bridge, and we watched the swirling waters, and he found himself clinging ever more tightly to the edge. The lure. A man walking past sees him, and my grandfather croaks out to him, “help me brother… I don’t think I can make it.” And a stranger saves him, talking him down and walking him off.

When I heard this story I wondered again what it was that separates us so delicately along these lines of fate. My grandfather was the bulwark to my childhood. Without his presence life my life would not have been what it is. Though at times he was harsh with me, I see these as the rare exception, and it was his quiet strength and enormous perseverence, oft-mentioned in these pages, that I still try to use as a role-model. But again we see someone at the knife’s edge.

All those potential separations and losses, they make me wonder about the possibilities and the junctures my own life, and the lives of my siblings and predecessors, may well have taken had not other lives been spared by fate. I know I’m asking the same question asked by countless generations before me, a clichéd and rote step on the path to wisdom.

Perhaps this is just the nature of the river. It propels each of us through our meagre time, pushing us onwards, sometimes taking us from the fold, sometimes drawing us back in. And fate merely is what it is, a time to live, and a time to die.

These long pages of meditation, they reinforce to me that choice is paramount. For while each of us must come face-to-face with the river at least once to graduate to a higher plane of peace, it is the bifurcation of fate at those crucial junctures that sets us apart from those whom fate takes. I continue to know that those taken from us did make choices, but I see more and more that the choices made were often wrapped in a past needing to be unpackaged, slowly, layer by layer, the themes emerging, becoming, and folding up into our consciousness.

And so I sit here, night after night, dreaming a collective past into permanence, wrapping it in the present. Carefully folding each tale and placing them as a mosaic among the tiles of my daily life. And all of it to better understand how and why the river has spared me, as it spared those who have guided me by their example.