This is one of several essays from my private cancer journal. It is not intended as anything than a record of my states of mind as I struggled with the disease and the effects of the treatment.
On being here
I went out to do some grocery shopping today.
As I got back into the van and kicked the engine over, the radio came to life. It was the local NPR (public radio) station and I was in the middle of a segment.
It was an audio diary by a young women, Laura, about her lung transplant. Coming in late, I had no idea why she needed one so as I parked in front of the house, I sat there to hear the rest of it. People who face their mortality are of interest to me.
Laura had cystic fibrosis, diagnosed, I think, in her teens, and had no prospect of living very long, without a lung transplant. Rather than writing about her journey, she had kept her thoughts and feelings on tape. One segment, in particular, moved me, recorded before the operation, wondering about the outcome. Despite the possibilities, her voice was clear and firm.
I listened with a peculiar affinity, thinking how difficult it must be to face one's mortality at such a young age, not that any age is easy.
The segment closed with an audio entry by her a year after the operation. It had not been an easy 12 months but she was still alive.
I shut off the engine and went to the back of the van and began to grab the plastic grocery bags, wondering about Laura, wondering if the prospect and the agony of an organ transplant was easier than simply facing the disease, as I must. I don't have the option of a transplant.
Carrying as many bags as my hands could loop through the plastic handles, I struggled up the stairs to the front door. My back was aching and my energy was waning. Even walking a 15-minute shopping trip is a struggle.
Caren was waiting at the door, offering to take the bags. No, I said (with the remnants of macho stubbornness), I'm fine.
But I really wasn't. Between the ache in the legs and lower back, the exhaustion and Laura, I was reminded too well what I was. Not who, but what.
Stepping into the house, the aroma of a dinner Caren was preparing lifted my spirits -- as it always does -- and dispelled the exhaustion. There is something wonderful about entering a home where dinner is being prepared.
I dropped the bags on the kitchen floor, leaving the unpacking to Caren, while I fumbled for a cold Heineken in the frig before retiring to the front porch where I could sit and catch my breath. I pulled on the bottle and watched as the woman across the street and a couple of houses up came down her driveway to get a newspaper. I don't know her age but her hair -- always well coifed -- is snow white and she walked with that slow, careful gait that marks a person who is well in years.
I lit a cigarette and watched her as she moved slowly up the few steps to her front porch -- one at a time-- holding to the black, wrought-iron handrail for guidance.
Do I look like that when I walk?
Probably, even though she could easily have 15 years on me.
I watched her move up the five steps, her left hand holding the paper and the right hand on the railing. I knew that feeling. It had come years sooner than I had imagined. People who struggled with what most think are simple movements -- regardless of their age -- was no longer puzzling or amusing. Why did I once think they were?
When she disappeared through her front door, I was left with Laura, easily my junior by 40 years. She probably struggled up stairs too, despire her youth.
I guess age has nothing to do with realizing one's mortality, although I cannot fathom how a young person does it. Kids are the toughest. Against what does a young person appreciate just being here?
Or am I merely locked into my years?
I don't really know. A book of essays, viewing mortality from across the age spectrum, would make for interesting reading.
For some of us.