As you can tell by now, my approach to dealing with ‘Living’ (as opposed to Dying) is probably different than yours would be. I can assure you it’s different than I expected. After all, you and I have spent a lifetime assembling what seem to us viable answers. We sort them out, think them through, and keep the ones that seem to fit our circumstances. Then, having gathered those ‘keepers’ together, we tell ourselves that we have created the life-answers that work for us. It was all so logical and straight forward.
Until that is, we are forced to test those assembled ‘answers’ against a not-so-logical real-life challenge. Are they still a ‘fit,’ even in the face of terminal consequences? A time like that calls for strength and direction. Do those ‘answers’ of ours suffice?
And of course there will be times when our answers are incomplete---stymied by uncertainty, a lack of verifiable facts. When it come to health issues, whatever our ailment, there are bound to be unknowns. Those kind of trials do not progress on a predictable schedule. Even now, with my first round of treatments completed, I must wait another month or two before the results of that therapy, good or bad, can be determined. Only then can the doctors decide on the next stage of my cancer journey.
Still, in the face of that uncertainty, and with time to think about such things, I am looking ahead---wanting to identify the hopeful elements of my circumstances, while at the same time seeking the strength to confront the part that threatens to undo me. For me, as perhaps for most folks, that leads me down what I consider a spiritual path, seeking something solid to lean on.
If you have followed my earlier posts you know by now that I accept the divine as a part of me, instead of a separate ‘other.’ I do believe in the ‘more’ that touches our lives. I believe that ‘something’ has a cosmic connection to our Source, THE Source. And when I need to name that ‘something,’ I call it God.
Finally, any honest discussion of cancer and its emotional impact must deal with the possibility of death. It is, after all, the 800 lb gorilla most of us cannot ignore. I read somewhere that ISIS counters such concerns by promising to have 26 virgins waiting for each fallen warrior who reaches the Great Beyond. Apparently that works for them, though I’m afraid my arrival would be a disappointment for all concerned.
In any case, for someone like me the notion of the ‘hereafter’ remains an unanswered question. I accept that after death the Source may well make use of my soul in some way. I am personally attracted to the possibility of reincarnation, as befits one who was weaned on Edgar Cayce and Wayne Dyer. Still, no matter what comes next, I expect I will have to wait until then to find out (or not).
In the meantime here I am, coming to terms with a cancer diagnosis, and moving past the initial shock to concentrate on living with that reality. Chances are I will have years to work on that, for which I am indeed thankful.
But as I explained earlier, I am not particularly interested in gaining an extended life span simply in order to live longer. I don’t want to score my life by how long I live---but rather, how well I live. Stated another way, I think that outliving the ‘worst case’ of any existential threat implies an obligation to use the time gained in a worthwhile way---to have a reason or purpose for staying alive.
So let’s take a moment to think about having a reason to keep going, for staying alive. What does that mean? And where do I stand regarding those ‘purpose’ questions I have raised along the way? Have I found credible reasons for going on---one or more personal interests suitable for the last years of an old man’s life? Do I know what I should be doing with those year?
In a word, or two---”Not exactly.” Still, though it is too soon to settle on the specifics, let me explain where my thoughts have taken me so far. For instance, I have recognized the need to strike a balance, a productive blending of the external and internal elements of late-life into a functioning whole.
Most of us would agree that family, and the loving attachments it represents to aging grandparents, is reason enough to continue nurturing those connections. Remember, science tells us the reproduction and continuation of the species is a primary function of life. I am quite willing to accept that as a noble purpose. More than that, I can claim an extraordinary level of success for Roma and me. We have certainly fulfilled that reason for being. Our family---four children, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren (so far)---is most certainly a blue ribbon assembly. Not only that, they are showing signs of doing their own part to continue an expansion of the race. (Hurray for hormones.) In any case, score one for our side.
Yet family is only part of what I am calling my ‘external’ life. Beyond those vital relationships I must also consider the role that friends and associates play in completing a whole and wholesome life.
It is there, in that ‘friends and associates’ realm, that I sense a definite need for improvement. Though I have been accused of being anti-social, I prefer to label myself ‘unsocial.’ I do like people, but in small doses. I am not one of those who needs a constant stream of human interaction. So, without quibbling over definitions, I can safely say that cultivating my social skills, with an eye towards being a better friend to more people, is something I ought to work on.
Is making friends something I can accomplish by simply trying harder? I don’t know about that. But a person like me, wanting to make the most of his time, ought to be doing more than I am.
That has me turning to what I call the ‘internal’ side of life---that ill-defined assemblage of mind, consciousness, and soul which resides between my ears, and motivates, evaluates, and directs my thoughts and actions. Although I believe in the value that the ‘inner me’ can add to any life, I must admit that my level of success in those ‘internal’ matters is dubious at best. Too often I have fallen short. Perhaps I can explain.
Several years ago, in a vaguely remembered time of trouble, I composed a simple prayer, which I continue to revisit on a regular basis. The opening lines of that meditation go like this:
“Thank you, God. Thank you, Spirit. Thank you, Source.
Help me I pray, to be an instrument of your intention---so that your intention might be my intention.”
In those few words I hope to remind myself of the divine God-spark that I believe resides in everyone. In even the best of times I need the help of that ‘Substantial Other’ to make Its ‘intention’ (i.e. its Love.) a prime reasons to keep going. Though I have too-often overlooked the need for that help, I accept that my pleadings are real, and my hope is justified.
You can tell at a glance that I owe my prayer format to a special hero of mine, St Francis of Assisi. Or perhaps I should say my interpretation of St Francis, because he might not agree at all. In any case, my intent is simple enough. I am reminding myself that it is my responsibility, aided by divine inspiration and guidance, to become the means (the instrument) of living out what I consider the divine intention---i.e. Love.
Finally, in this early stage of seeking I have identified one other reason to carry on. In the course of the last fifteen years I have invested an inordinate amount of time creating the late-life Tanner Chronicles stories I tell, along with the family adventure tales that Roma and I have written together. For that long I have tried to make those books as real and true-to-life as possible. More than that, in the process I have learned a thing or two about October and November life.
Whether or not the resulting stories, sixteen so far, have any literary merit they, along with my October Years blog, have served a personal purpose---a reason to get up each morning and exercise that most amazing of our capabilities---our imagination. I expect to keep doing that as long as I can.
And that, in a few paragraphs, provides a glimpse into some of the nooks and crannies I am exploring, seeking the best ways to use my remaining years, the ones that seem more vulnerable than they did six months ago. Whether I turn to external reasons, internal reasons, or the stories I imagine into being----these are not grand and noble purposes I am contemplating. Yet they are the ones that pull me forward---the ones I hope will blend my time, my love, and my imagination into a future that honors the time I am given.
In the meantime, if I can avoid the painful symptoms that cancer is capable to producing, and am able to recover from the post-treatment ‘punies,’ I intend to concentrate on Living in the face of Dying, and at the same time continue to blog about other late-life matters..
As I close for now I am thinking back to a question I asked at the beginning. Has it helped, telling this still-incomplete story of mine? I believe it has. If nothing else it has provided structure to the way I view my dilemma, while helping turn my thoughts from dark and gloomy to something brighter.
Beyond that, putting these thoughts on paper has served as a wake-up call, nudging me toward a more internal, dare I say more spiritual, understanding of how to carry on in the face of an apparent disaster. In the next installment, which will probably the last one for a while, I plan to address my understanding of where that not-so-subtle ‘nudging’ is leading me.