I’d like you and I to end this part of our journey through my cancer domain with a grandfather’s wisdom, but I’m hard-pressed to remember any wise thing he ever told me.
He did do lots of life’s grandfatherly things and told me lots of life’s grandfatherly stuff, but he never said anything on the order of the oft-quoted and worldly definition of life from Robert Frost, who said that he could sum up everything he knew about it in three words: “It goes on.”
Grampa never came close to what may be three wiser words on human life and its longevity: “Where’s The Beef?”
Or, let’s face it, he missed the brilliant formula (and its endless garage variants) that drives all of us to get up and live another day: “See the USA in your Chevrolet.”
Still, well into his nineties, and not long after my grandmother’s passing, he did say that the biggest challenge of aging and living day-to-day was coping with loneliness:
“I don’t mean being alone,” he said. “We all live our lives alone. Your grandmother and I lived alone together for sixty years. And, no, I don’t mean solitude, which I cherish; I mean loneliness, which I loathe. Feeling lonely. Sometimes it’s possible to feel lonely with someone lying right next to you.”
I knew exactly what he meant, and I wished I hadn’t.
“I mean lonely because you’ve outlived the characters you grew up with. Lonely because everyone you knew then is dead. No peers, no lifelong friends, no adversaries, no companions from your past, no bosom buddies, nothing to remember with another living soul who also remembers your memories. You’re lost in time, traveling alone … and lonely.”
He added one more thing: “But, I don’t miss all those people. Either they all left too soon, or I hung around too long. I miss the person I was, the person I could only be, when I was with them. I miss that guy. I miss me.”
When I think of this exchange, one of my last conversations with him, I’m second-thinking it. Today, with what I’ve experienced and what I’m facing, I think I’m wise enough now to level a colloquial bunkum at Robert Frost, serve up a burned hamburger at Wendy’s, and send a Klaxon horn blast to General Motors.
Yes, indeed, thinking about it now a third time, I think my grandfather was the wiser man. Wiser than all the poets, burgers and cars in the world.
* * * *
As of this writing, we’re heading down the immunotherapy road.
My tumor has shrunk. I’ve finished the intense courses of radiation and chemotherapy. Food tastes better than something you might feed your pet iguana. My scarred chest now looks better than the insides of your pet iguana. My disease and I are “well-managed.” We’re okay.
I would say everything is static, but I’ve yet to find anything in this life that is. Nothing in this life never changes.
I do have one request:
Every day I meet people who know me and my recent history --- friends and folks who've heard through one grapevine or another that I have cancer. They're also aware that I've had lengthy, harsh and debilitating treatments.
First thing they say is "You look good!" (Right about here, I want to write the literary equivalent of skid marks.)
I wish this would stop. The meaning between the lines is “You look good for someone who has what you have and who’s gone through what you’ve been through and who may or may not be dying.”
Or, perhaps less generously: “You look good for a zombie.”
Don’t misunderstand. You know my sense of humor by now, and I do deeply appreciate the awkward but good intentions of people meaning well. But, if you and I meet at a live book-signing, please, any other greeting will do:
“You look good for someone I thought would be shorter” will do nicely.
More as we go, El