Saturday, 14 February 2009

A New Day


Yesterday I lay under the machine and counted the buzzes for last time. I took off my baggy hospital shorts , put them in the laundry bin and didn't choose a new pair from the pile. Then I drove home and sat in the drivers seat of the car for a long time, not quite sure if I had the energy to walk from the garage into the house. Then inside, sleep for a while and go gently into that good day.

Because I had been remarkably OK for the past few weeks, it was a bit surprising to be so tired yesterday. I guess that when the whole process was finished by mind was able to let go of the effort required to maintain equilibrium and gave my body permission to zonk out. I keep forgetting how body and mind and spirit are an integrated whole, and are not three separate things sitting inside each other like Russian dolls. I am a trinity, not a tiumvirate.

Now it's wait and see. On March 25 I'll see the oncologist and he'll examine the entrails - my entrails - and tell me whether all the xrays have actually done anything useful. It's going to be a fairly clear cut divergence of roads in a yellow wood on March 25. Either I still have cancer or I don't. Either I walk out of his office as a comparatively well man or as a cancer patient waiting for the inevitable, albeit very slow, falling of Damocles' sword. Either way though, life is not the same from this point on. My body has told me that changes must be made in the way I exist within it. And because I am a trinity, changes to my body must imply changes to my mind and spirit.

Something else happened yesterday. Our Eurail passes arrived, complete with a book of instructions and a dinky wee map. In two months we're going to travel the length of Italy staying in monsatic guesthouses. We'll be tourists, sure, but night times will be regulated by the sounds and rhythms of monastic life and day times by the clacking of iron wheels on rails. Then we'll be with strong conservatively Christian friends in Switzerland before spending a week at Taize. Then we'll walk the Camino in Northern Spain. Then we go to London where I hope to spend some time with Laurence Freeman.It'll be a retreat. A moving retreat, I hope in more ways than one. It will be a retreat which seems to be providentially timed no matter what Mr North tells me on March 25.

10 comments:

Katherine said...

Go not gently... into the rest of your life.
Life is to be taken by the shoulders, shaken hard and anything that falls out of the pockets are ours to keep.
But if you have a joke, life will laugh and give us what's in its hands as well.
Hey, that's pretty good, eh? I just made it up.

Verna said...

May the sword of Damocles take a very long time to fall! [Like several decades].

Mr. Kinder said...

I hope the news you receive from Dr. North on March 25 is that you're cancer free and free to go enjoy those Eurail passes.

That said, I think it is beneficial for us to bear in our minds that the sword of Damocles hangs over all of us once we've passed the point of conception.

None of us knows when death shall come; bearing in mind that it WILL come (death being the one sure thing about life) can help us live with virtue, compassion, and, yes, equanimity.

May you be well, happy, and safe.

VenDr said...

Yes, the sword is always dangling there, but there is a difference between knowing that and KNOWING that. Knowing is a particular buden. When you think of it, the punishment of execution is not so much in the forcible taking of the life of the condemned - we are all going to die, after all, and for all we know maybe quite soon - but in knowing exactly when and where and how.

I have been thinking a bit lately, can't think why, about the denial of death - how pervasive it is. Ernest Becker said back in 1973 that the denial of death is the single greatest determinant in the development of culture -that practically every cultural artifact is an attempt to build immortality and thus deny the pervasiveness of death. The spirituality of being is posited on the non existence of the self, and probably this implies a similar thing happening in the psyche of most people. We build inner structures - the "things" that together make up our sense of self - in an attempt to deny our own finitude. Being told with authority what you already knew but have been pretending not to know - that death is lurking on the front porch - certainly cuts through the crap and brings one face to face with the reality of existence in a whole new way. Probably a good thing. But traumatic.

Kathryn said...

Wishing you well for the results on March 25th.

And also wishing you well with your European trip. Planning it is so much fun isn't it. I'm sure it will be fantastic. I love Europe and travelling by train.

Manfred & I have booked to go to Berlin again for 4 weeks in June, to visit his parents and sister and brother-in-law. Very exciting!

Thinking of you and praying for you. :-)

Mr. Kinder said...

Well said. I love your blog.

You write, "Being told with authority what you already knew but have been pretending not to know - that death is lurking on the front porch - certainly cuts through the crap and brings one face to face with the reality of existence in a whole new way. Probably a good thing. But traumatic."

It's traumatic, just as you say. Perhaps some of the trauma can be diminished by prior contemplation of death. Forrest Church's book, Love and Death, provides testimony to this idea. He was able to arrive pretty quickly at acceptance of his immanent death (too quickly from his wife point of view) when he was given an authoritative and dismal diagnosis of terminal cancer.

It's probably easier to begin by contemplating the deaths of those near and dear to us.

Roman philosophers Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius commended the contemplation of death as a means of living one's life more fully. Quoting from William B. Irvine's new book, A Guide to the Good Life:

"Epictetus also advocates negative visualization. He counsels us, for example, when we kiss our child, to remember that she is mortal and not something we own that she has been given to us 'for the present, not inseparably nor for ever.' His advice: In the very act of kissing the child, we should silently reflect on the possibility that she will die tomorrow. In his Meditations, by the way, Marcus Aurelius approvingly quotes this advice.

To see how imagining the death of a child can make us appreciate her, consider two fathers. The first takes Epictetus's advice to heart and periodically reflects on his child's mortality. The second refuses to entertain such gloomy thoughts. He instead assumes that his child will outlive him and that she will always be around for him to enjoy. The first father will almost certainly be more attentive and loving than the second. When he sees his daughter the first thing in the morning, he will be glad that she is still a part of his life and during the day he will take full advantage of opportunities to interact with her. The second father, in contrast, will be unlikely to experience a rush of delight on encountering his child in the morning. Indeed he might not even look up from the newspaper to acknowledge her presence in the room."

Anonymous said...

Christian thoughts, dear friends! Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius have their merits, to be sure (but not when that particular Caesar was persecuting Christians). Roman virtues extended only as far as the Roman could see.
A better vision: 'I know that my Redeemer liveth...' - you know how the rest goes!

VenDr said...

Well... sure. But then again, "everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die" which is the issue at stake here. Christians can have as passionate a belief in their redeemer as they like but, in my experience, they have as much fear of death as anyone else, generally speaking. In fact the inordinate interest in the details of heaven, the last things, the rapture and all that stuff so common in Christian circles is very likely the symptom of unresolved fears about death. Believe me, I know, that there is a world of difference between saying, with my whole heart, "I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting" and having a knowledgeable professional look me in the eye and say, ....and frankly, Mr Wright, the five year survival rate of men with your diagnosis is around 30%."

Indeed I do know that my redeemer liveth. But it's not my redeemer's mortality that I'm concerned about.

Alden said...

I hope that the news you hear on the 25th of March is that you are clear of all this. I will be hoping and praying for that!

Sam Hunt the poet has a poem (can't find the damn thing) where he holds and whispers to his newly born second son (out of earshot of anyone else) "Welcome to death row" - the juxtapostion of new born innocence and death is a striking paradoxical truth of our existence - from the time we are born we are dying - yet none of us knows the time.

What I admire about you as you skirt around the edges of all this is your humour, your wit, your intelligence and your courage - hang in there old friend, many people who love you are praying hard for that 'all clear' on the 25th.

Janice said...

I have been, until just lately, fond of saying that I was not afraid of death, until, that is, I had a little scare of my own just before Christmas. I have to say that, under threat, I was terrified, believing Christian and all. I'm still not clear what the fear was about, but I think it has to be about the unknown. Obviously I'm not thoroughly convinced that we live on, etc.; I want to believe, and I say that I do, but really, I have no prior experience, at least as far as I can remember, to apply to the situation, and my faith is shaky from time to time (usually just when I need it most). And I can't decide whether it would be better to know in advance that death was coming, so that one could say goodbye, or for it to happen very suddenly thereby avoiding all the pain that would go with knowing.

All that I do know for sure is that I feel for you Kelvin, in your present dilemma, and that I will surely pray for you.