Today, I’m relatively okay with the prospect of dying from cancer. Yet I choose to believe that I’m going to live. Those two ideas make strange bedfellows. They don’t really make sense as a combo meal, kind of like broccoli and Cheetos. Yet somehow or another they work gastronomically and I’m okay with some or all of it not entirely making sense, just for today (thank you Stuart Smally).
There wasn’t always this truce in place. It wasn’t always this way – believe-you-me friends and fellow freaks. The biggest brawls I’ve had since being diagnosed with cancer have been with myself. This particular fight, between the dying and living camps, escalated to epic proportions some time ago. We’re talking a bloody cage match- Ricky Rude vs. The Ultimate Warrior at WWF Summer Slam 1990 or Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant smashing folding chairs over heads- dimensions.
On the one hand I really wanted to believe that no matter what happened everything would be okay. I didn’t want to walk around pissed off, berating doctors, kicking puppies, punching babies, or pushing old ladies down stairwells, bitter and depressed to the bitter end. If anything I wanted to be an example to my boys and friends of how to comport oneself, even if I felt like the least qualified human to do so and even if things didn’t end up going my way.
Who knows, I told myself…Maybe dying would be the very thing that pushed Connor and Derek to become world famous musicians of the legendary band “Flux Capacitor,” in between stints as future NHL hall of famers, after graduating from MIT with doctorates in rocket brain science surgery and advanced metaphysical ministry? And Sarah, not to be left out, would fall madly in love and re-marry the next billionaire philanthropist, who’s fortune 100 company would simultaneously cure toe fungus and cancer (oh the irony!) with a wine derived entirely from polluted melted polar ice cap H2O which, in turn, would prove safe for hopeless alcoholics to guzzle responsibly (damn you cruel irony, damn you to Hades) while simultaneously removing those stubborn coffee and pets stains on carpets.
Okay, so things maybe wouldn’t come to pass in such monumental ways – hey but maybe they would, ya never know – but you get the point. My passing would yield, despite the hardship sure to be in attendance, a net positive result.
Diametrically opposed to acceptance of dying was the insistent thought/desire/hope/belief in living. As I tossed east, west, north and south in bed at 2 a.m. or screamed on the trail at 7 a.m. (much to the amusement and/or trepidation of my fellow runners/walkers who were likely thinking “Just smile and wave (and run away) boys, smile and wave (and run away)”), it had to be this way. I had to be healed no matter what. Belief in healing has been well documented with a load of stats and studies that suggest positive attitudes are a key ingredient in any surviving cancer concoction; and beyond that, as far as I was concerned, it was also an intrinsic article of faith that I better try to cultivate.
So these two concepts waged war, using me as fertile punching grounds, leading to sleepless nights, unpleasant drives to work, surly, bad moods, near puppy kicking and people pushing incidents etc. The best I could do was to try not to think about either one, dying or living, good or bad, right or wrong, pro or against, for either option. I had to wave “bye” to both for a time.
Here one of my favorite Seinfield episodes comes to mind. Its where George realizes that because absolutely none of his little plans and designs have ever worked, he should do the exact opposite of whatever his mind tells him to do.
@ 25 years ago this kind of approach to life began to make some serious sense. I was busted up pretty good at the time. Nothing was working right.
A friend used to like to say, whenever the subject of me and “brokenness” came up, “You know Lee the only thing that needs to change in your life is, EVERYTHING.” He’d follow that up with a good laugh, “”Har-har-har,” which I didn’t really find all that hilarious … 0-;
But I eventually realized that he and Costanza were actually onto the good stuff and I better start practicing the rule of opposites.
Doing it wasn’t easy or fun. In fact I found opposite work colossally hard; especially because it involved taking control of my thinking; or at least, continually redirecting it. As that same loving a-hole with the quote and the laugh above used to say, “Lee, you’re not responsible for the thoughts that come in your head, but you are responsible for what you do with them.” I wanted to quit everyday, a couple hundred-hundred times an day, hour, minute, second and do some serious binge thinking.
As it turns out, perceived suckiosity might actually have been a good sign. You know something along the lines of that old adage, “If it’s not hard it’s not worth doing.” Or as Dave Goggins in The 40% Rule: A Navy SEAL’s Secret to Mental Toughness says, “If it doesn’t suck we don’t do it.” Word.
The point is that sometimes a thing or things don’t really have to make sense, right now. Maybe they will later. That’s not a requirement for success or meaning or whatever.
Back to near present time frames, by letting go of the living or dying battle for awhile, I eventually came to accept them both, together, of being two sides of the same meal of whatever experience I was having.
Walter Murch, one of the mad geniuses behind The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, is not only a legendary film editor but a serious science nerd and meta physicist. I like what he had to say in recent article from Nautilus,
“…it’s very presumptuous of us to think that we are the end of it. Yes, we can perceive everything that we can perceive, and we can perceive downward pretty efficiently thanks to science…but constitutionally, I would say, it’s impossible for us to scientifically perceive upward. We have intuitions about that, which is the whole idea of religion…There is a kind of science in the Bible of, don’t eat pork, don’t eat shellfish, these things, behavioral stuff; but what are these based on? We now know what they’re based on and we can see the larger picture because we’re further down the road, so my hunch is that, I mean it’s a hunch, but a belief is that there are many levels beyond us and I don’t know what those levels are but I know that they are there…”
So the point is it is possible to not really understand something prior to believing or accepting it. That does not make it any less real, missing or not there.
Today I’m okay with dying but I’m also believing I’m gonna live.
Okay. Done. Peace. Truce. May the schwartz be with you.
Back to dinner.