Wednesday, June 14, 2017

LIVING WITH DYING - Installment 4

 I am eighty-years old. Even with the best of health, my productive future is probably limited. Still, in the face of a cancer diagnosis and the vulnerability that suggests, I am anxious to make the best possible use of whatever time I have. 
Though it has taken me a while to reach this point, it feels like things are finally coming into focus. While the doctors and the disease are at war with each other, using me as their battlefield, there is only so much I can do on the medical front. In that case why not concentrate on things over which I have some control, at least a little bit? It is time to deal with life beyond cancer.
I understand, of course, that it would help to have a reason to keep going in the face of my troubles---a reason beyond simply staying alive. If my only goal is to exist for another month or another year, what will I have to show for that a month or a year from now?
Truth be told, I have seldom thought in those terms. But the more I do, the more it seems that what matters most is not how many days I hang around, but rather the use I make of those days. 
But how do I do that? What worthwhile ‘something’ can an old fossil like me accomplish at this stage of the game? And if I don’t know, where should I turn for those answers?
Bottom line---I want to spend my allotted time doing the right thing. Chances are that means returning to the spiritual side of life that I mentioned in the last installment.


By now the gut-wrenching shock of a cancer diagnosis is wearing off, and my thoughts are turning to Living, rather than Dying. Two months ago, still bogged down in a post-surgery funk, my dark thoughts viewed the time I might have left as a very limited and very precious commodity. Now, with the first round of treatments behind me, my perspective has changed. The time I have left  (which I expect will be numbered in years, not months) remains just as precious, but my priorities are different.
It seems that mankind, from the beginning of the species, has tried to identify and connect with the nebulous mystery of ‘divine energy’---that hard-to-define ‘more’ which touches our lives in ways we struggle to express. Throughout recorded history, in every corner of every continent seers and shamen, gurus and mystics have created mythologies and sacred stories, cults and religions to better understand the mystery of the divine.
Whatever explanation we accept as our personal answer, and whatever name we assign to it, I have said before that I believe there resides in each of us a bit of God-spark, a DNA-like gift of birth. That in turn is part of another great mystery---how the complex and complicated person we have become, including that divine inheritance, could have been encapsulated in the microscopic bits of sperm and egg from which we emerged.
I have read, and perhaps you have too, that some folks believe our God-inheritance is linked to a companion possibility---the notion that our earthly incarnation includes a particular reason for our being---a ‘something’ that our time here is meant to accomplish. 
That possibility is especially intriguing at this stage of late-life, as I cast about for the best way to use my remaining years. I have been thinking those thoughts lately (it is hard not to)---about a ‘something’ that I ought to be doing, or at least trying.
I will admit that from time to time I have patted myself on the back for my self-judged virtues, congratulating myself for my occasional good deeds. (I tend to forget the not-so-good ones.) Those moments, however, certainly fall short of being a ’cosmic reason’ for my existence.
In fact I have always found the idea of a specific reason for my being hard to accept. It has the ring of a simplistic ‘churchy’ answer---with overtones of a micromanaging God. Truth to tell, I am not a God-fearing person. I make no secret of my belief in the Source, or Spirit, or God that dwells in me. But in my mind the presence of that Love-based essence is not something to be feared.
So it was, without a better answer, my gloomy diagnosis had me mired in a doubting limbo---until the night I lay in bed, letting my half-awake thoughts take me where they wanted. Apparently 'where they wanted' was what I accept as a minor epiphany which arrived in the form of a single word---one that I repeated to myself several times, to be sure it would not be swallowed and forgotten by a night’s sleep.
“Potential.” That is a fine word, isn’t it? In a world that longs for exact, succinct answers I can accept ‘potential’ as the raw material from which to construct one or more reasons for moving ahead---a logical step toward finding the ‘something’ that fits me.
Like I said, the possibility of a single life ‘purpose’ is hard for me to wrap my head around. It sounds so concrete, denoting a certainty I have rarely felt. ‘Potential,’ on the other hand, has the ring of ‘what could be’---hinting at a range of possibilities which might set me on the right track. Beyond that, it is something I have experienced myself. I know a thing or two about potential. 
After all, we have four children, four living and breathing examples of individual potential. We knew from the beginning how different they were from each other. As they grew each of them exhibited his or her distinctive characteristics, drawn to become themselves---and exploiting their unique potential. 
The more I pondered that ‘potential’ notion the more it sounded like something worth exploring. Though it was rather late in the game, the notion of a reason to keep trying was coming into focus, arriving with a clarity that perhaps comes with age. 
Despite a history of what I considered well-intentioned doubt, my personal search was leading me toward new understandings.
  I was following my long-held ‘Becoming’ rationale back to its roots---confirming the possibility of a divine organizing spirit, my own God-spark if you will. Though I still struggle to understand what that means, I am less willing to consider my arrival at this time and place as a totally random event.
That in turn has me wondering. Are these simply the wishful thoughts of a tired old man trying to wring answers from a late-life crisis---wanting to know the best way to use his remaining time? Perhaps so. Yet I am persuaded that there might be a potential reason to keep going---a valid ‘true north’ by which to set my internal compass as I face a new and daunting challenge.
So, you might ask, what was it that helped cement my belated acceptance of a potential reason? Actually it was a book---authored by Derek Rydall, entitled Emergence, which seemed to elaborate on my own primitive thoughts.
As I read Rydall’s case for fulfilling our potential---the way he explains how our ‘Becoming’ (which he labels ‘Emergence) requires us to ‘give away’ the love, kindness, and caring we already possess, his logic rang true to me.
I have long believed that even in my personal November, (at least I hope it is) I am still in the process of 'Becoming.' I have written whole books advocating that reality. Beyond that, it feels like I still have the time and energy for another lap or two---if I am willing to try, and can determine a positive course of action. 
Without knowing for sure where this latest obstacle is leading me, or whether my eighty-year old body is good for another year or another ten, I am determined to wring all the meaning I can from the years I am gifted.
True, the results of my future efforts, whatever they are, will not look like the good old days. But hopefully my ‘trying’ will confirm that even in late-life we can reach down inside ourselves to set in motion another bit of the divine energy that has kept us going this far. Perhaps Mr. Rydall is showing me how to do that. Hopefully I can explain his logic in the next chapter.


  1. Hey Gil, here's something to think about: All of us class of 55 folks are now 80+, and while many of us think we are healthy, there are no doubt some of us that will die before you for reasons yet unknown. So you should still look both ways when crossing the street.
    Also, please give yourself credit for the wonderful thing you have done by reconnecting so many of us.

    1. Ron, though we don't always like to be reminded, you're absolutely right. By now every one of us is being stalked by something. I suppose the main thing I am learning from my little adventure is the need to keep moving on, keep 'crossing the street.' (after looking both ways)

      As for reconnecting, I wish I could be better at that. I keep thinking there must be more of us who would like to share. Seems to me that's one of the things we can still do well at our age.

      Anyway, Like you I'll keep looking both ways.

    2. Ron, though we don't always like to be reminded, you're absolutely right. By now every one of us is being stalked by something. I suppose the main thing I am learning from my little adventure is the need to keep moving on, keep 'crossing the street.' (after looking both ways)

      As for reconnecting, I wish I could be better at that. I keep thinking there must be more of us who would like to share. Seems to me that's one of the things we can still do well at our age.

      Anyway, Like you I'll keep looking both ways.

  2. A lot of truth here, Gil. There indeed is a reason -- purpose -- in being. I spent a career trying to preach just that. I do fear I must take issue with your assertion that your "good deeds" hardly constitute a "cosmic reason" for your existence. They have and they do -- however small you may think they are. Isn't that exactly what Rydell's statement about "giving away love, kindness, and caring" is about? We always have something we can give to enrich others' lives.

    I think about your writing. What a giving that has been -- a giving that has touched and enriched many lives, I am sure.

    So, keep "becoming" (we churchy people call that the process of sanctification) and thereby living into your "potential" (Christ-likeness).

    Thanks for your insights! I look forward to reading the next installment.


    1. Thank you for checking n, Don. I appreciate that, and your kind words.

      As you might guess I am constantly surprised by the way such a "bad" event can produce such "good" results---uncovering truths and illuminating gifts we too often take for granted. All of us, 'churchy' or not, can experience the good to be found in our tests and trials.