Saturday, 8 November 2008
Repent, The End Is Near
We went and saw the urologist again on Friday. He discussed options for further treatment. He outlined the probable side effects of radiotherapy and then said, "Most of these side effects will happen in about ten years, so, of course, they aren't going to be an issue for you. " It was double take, knock me down with a feather, go back a sentence or two if you don't mind time. He's a very frank, matter of fact sort of guy. He spends his days from morning til night dealing almost exclusively with men who have prostate cancer. He knows my profile. He knows the odds. He was telling me the truth as he saw it.
This was 8:30 in the morning, and I spent the rest of the day in a sobre sort of way. I did some internet research and was even more sobred. I emailed and texted my family and friends. And I got on, as best I could, with preparations for our parish fair and with the other things that would normally have happened on a Friday. Life was suddenly very rich and real and precious and I didn't want to miss a second of it. A couple of other encounters happened in the course of the day. I learned of a man about my age with five large tumours in his liver. This is normally a death sentence and an imminent one as well, but he's lived 2 years with it so far and is still going strong. He even took a 3 month voyage to the Pacific Islands on his yacht. Clemency met a woman who had a cancer of the cervix which had spread into her lymph system. Her prognosis was a 30% chance of surviving for 5 years - about the same odds the statistics give me - but 14 years later she's still here and seemingly untroubled by her cancer.
I'm aware that the number of funerals I lead often rises just after Christmas. People hang on to see their families one last time, and then let go. Our bodies and the course of our illnesses are much more intricately linked to our minds and wills than the statistics give credit for. I am aware that an authorative person giving me a timetable could, if I was not careful, become self fulfilling prophecy. I am grateful to the doctor for reminding me just how very serious the issues are and for making me aware of exactly what I am dealing with; but I have other plans. Here is another of life's paradoxes. It is important to realise the fragility of life and the imminence of death, but realising that I am only a heartbeat away from the end makes life more real and precious and makes me more determined to live it as completely as I can.
This Sunday I will preach about the ten bridesmaids and their lamps; a story which is told to enjoin watchfulness. As I was reminded by the death of Diane a few weeks ago, life is fragile and temporary for all of us. The parable says that none of us knows when we will be called to give an account of ourselves and it's probably not a bad idea to live in such a way that we won't be ashamed if today's the day. I'm suddenly very aware of that, and regretful of the huge acreages of time which I have frittered away over the past fifty six years . I want to waste as little as possible of what I have left , which may, of course, be quite a long long time yet. People beat the odds all the time and I think I am beginning to see how the dice can be weighted and the cards marked, just a little.
3 guys die and go to heaven. At the pearly gates St. Peter opens the lamb's book of life and gives a low whistle. "Wow! You guys have been really good. I mean, REALLY good," he says. "As a special reward I'm going to allow you to dictate what people will say at your funerals."
The first guy said, "At my funeral I want them to say 'He was a great husband and father'." And so it happened.
The second guy said "At my funeral I would like them to say 'He was kind to animals and everyone really liked him'." and so it happened.
The third guy said, "At my funeral I would like them to say, "Look! He just moved!'"
I'm with the third guy, all the way.