My head is in a fog of allergies, moving and other assorted chaos – both internal and external. We are finally in our new home, and I am ecstatic. After just the first few days, life in the swamps of Jersey feels perfect for me. All of those dark, irrational thoughts that gripped me over the winter – I can’t leave the city! It will forever and irrevocably change my identity if I leave the city! I will grow another head! My skin will turn purple! – have proved baseless. I miss my wonderful block, but not much else. I can see stars at night. I can run along the tranquil paths of Cooper River in the morning as the fog is lifting and the birds are chirping. And to top it all off, I can walk five minutes to the train and be in my office twenty minutes later. The good life.
Amidst all of the packing and wrapping and organizing and breaking down and disassembling of the last few weeks, I have almost forgotten about cancer for the first time since my diagnosis. I have been caught up, propelled forward, buzzing with anticipation and excitement and stress and aggravation and confusion. I’ve spent days not knowing where my socks are, or where to find a coffee cup. When our pooch woke up on our first morning in the house, she clearly didn’t understand where she was; neither did I.
But it’s been brilliant. I feel optimistic and energized. It feels like anything is possible.
Then, two nights ago, as I visited Planet Cancer for the first time in a few weeks, I came across a heart-wrenching and typically humorous post from one of the most precious souls to ever walk this earth. It doesn’t matter that I have never actually met him: I know this. A little over two years ago, we connected on the Planet – sharing stories of our respective nephews (with whom we were both equally obsessed). I told him I would love to help him and his partner adopt a child (he expressed concern about the possibility of a gay couple adopting in his home state of Texas.)
It doesn’t matter that I have never met him; the light that radiates from him is palpable, the love that he generates simply blinding.
And now, it seems, he is preparing to die.
It may not be tomorrow, it may not be in the next few months, but he has been dealing with multiple and on-going recurrences of acute lymphoblastic leukemia for over a year, and from his latest writing, it seems like he has reached the point where he has to make a decision about quality over quantity.
So he offered this epic post, and reading it was like open-heart surgery. I could barely breathe as I read his words, followed his thoughts – from the darkest, loneliest, scariest recesses that any person can ever know, and back out into the light of day, where his humor and brilliance and compassion shines so brightly. I was so dumb-founded, I couldn’t even cry, or offer a meaningful comment in response. I just told him that I loved him.
So, just like that, cancer knocked the wind out of me. For the truth is, even for those of us who are fully alive in our post-cancer lives, those of us who can work and run and travel and take a shit without screaming in pain, cancer still shrouds our existence. Even now, when I am filled with so much good feeling, as I am preparing to head off on another First Descents adventure, and soon after to return to my second home for Jazzfest, cancer can pick me up my the scruff of my neck, hurl me across the room and knock me senseless.
I have grown attached to and come to love so many amazing people since my diagnosis, and I have yet to lose any of them to this disease. But when I read my friend’s words the other night, it occurred to me with painful, stark clarity that the day may not be far off when it comes time for me to mourn. So many others have already lost people, and so many people are fighting with everything they have left in them – even if they don’t feel like they can. They may be tired and hopeless and “ready to die,” but at bottom, they are still young people who deserve to live. There is endless fight in them. They will not go gently.
I read my friend’s words, and I wondered why I do this. What can I possibly say? The real wisdom, the real insight – what we all need to hear, but are afraid to – is being whispered and shouted by those of us who are at the precipice, waiting to show us the way. Right now, all I want to do is sit quietly and let their voices be heard.