'In 1964, at the age of 19, I was told by a doctor that I had only a few months to live. The diagnosis was wrong and was corrected 24 hours later, but what a 24 hours! I was confused - why was I picked out? I was sworn to secrecy by the doctor, so I had to put a dignified face on my turmoil.
In that 24 hours I read the whole of Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls. At the end, Hemingway's central character waits for certain, early death at the hands of Franco's forces in civil-war Spain. He is calm and collected, regretful at early death yet appreciative of the wonderful experiences that living a full life entails.
Reading that made me realise I was undergoing an experience that many others had had: I realised then I was not unique. Indeed many, perhaps most, will go through a similar experience at some stage. The book was very comforting and it helped to give me a perspective about what matters in life. I still read it regularly.'
John Monks is general secretary of the TUC.