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January 29, 2006


I'm on a stage in a theater, milling about with 99 other guys as part of a big crowd scene. Up in the theater's balcony, in the dark, is a guy with a rifle. The arrangement is that, once a year, the guy with the rifle gets to shoot one or two of us crowd-scene people dead. I know the odds are strongly against me being a victim. But, y'know, odds, schmodds: The nerves still tense and the sweat still runs when the time comes for Mr. Fate to gun one of us down.

Michael was told that "(...) given survival, living through cancer is fascinating." This is the story of how he found out how true that is. Five years later, he is still tested for cancer and goes through the feeling described above every year.

Stories of "how surviving changed my life" are often so full of clichés that they are impossible to believe or identify with. I think this might be a vicious cycle: we read badly written stories of other people's very emotional and dramatic experiences, and if we ever experience something similar, the only words we have to describe our feelings are the clichés we have previously made fun of. Sometimes there are no words that match our thoughts because (fortunately) most people never have to think them.

Michael's thoughts as he goes through cancer are surprisingly understandable and well-written, and ultimately his description of survival changing his life ("the whole soul-rearranging-thing") is something I can almost identify with. I write "almost", first of all becuase I don't think anyone who hasn't almost died can ever really get it, but also because I think this comment makes a very good point:

I am quite a bit younger than you Michael, but I have had my share of moments. And each time, I think, "well this is really going to change me," and I look at life differently and behave differently. For a while. But then I find my self regressing towards the mean of me. Each time there is a meaningless death around me, or I find myself looking at the ceiling of an ambulance, or in that weird place coming back into my body from anasthesia, I think "now I really know what is important," and I smile at my children differently, and enjoy my time at the breakfast table more. But then a few weeks or months later I find myself forgetting what I thought I knew. And I think to myself "Am I forgetting what I once knew, or did I never really know it?"

I know these things don't happen just for the rest of us to keep perspective, and I know that I am not alone in my inability to keep the right perspective.

Or maybe I just need to get closer to death for it to burn itself into me, indelibly.

Anyway, good for you Michael, if that is an appropriate sentiment.

I hope that I can get where you are, without taking the same path. But, for me, anyway, it may not be possible.

Posted by Julie at January 29, 2006 1:48 PM

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