Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Cancer has become a dark shadow that crosses all our paths in one way or another. I have lost my dear friend Dennis to lung cancer, there is my friend Ian who struggled indomitably and successfully through rectal cancer, my friend Jim who lived longer than the odds allowed with melanoma, my father who had prostate cancer that could not save him from the degradations of Alzheimer’s, my beloved brother-in-law Matt who survived Burkitt’s lymphoma, my mother-in-law who had several different types of cancer that wasted this dominant woman, and their are others. We all have our lists. It is a disease that holds no regard for anyone and respects no boundaries. Now is the time for my personal scare.
Just a few days ago, I underwent my door prize for turning fifty – a colonoscopy. I had no expectations going into the procedure; my digestive acumen and cast iron stomach were (at least to me) things of legend. The new anesthesia is miraculous, I was out one moment and alert the next, no time for groggy, no place for incoherence. In recovery my wife and I sat and were greeted by the a nurse who said words we all make fun of but are never thrilled to actually hear, “I have good news and bad news.” She said that the preliminary results were that the polyp (four times larger than the average) which was found and biopsied was likely pre-cancerous. Because it was a flat multi-lobed polyp they were only able to take half of it at this time without risk of compromising the bowel. The rest will be removed later.
Still while the phrase “pre” was absorbed readily, the term “cancer” hung like the big elephant piñata in the room, ungainly swaying back and forth, the sudden ugly and unwanted center of attention. Questions were asked and answered, the gist of which is that the biopsy results will be back in seven to ten business days, and the results will determine when I go back for another scope to remove the remainder of the polyp which is taking up too much room in my life right now. There is the slimmest possibility that surgery would be required but the chance is so remote and not worth my attention until the report is in.
The benefit of the prefix ‘pre’ is that there is far greater breathing room than afforded with it than without it. But the damage is done and the baggage has been placed at my feet. There will not be a doctor’s visit no matter the reason without the echo of that word in the primal recesses of my brain. I cannot remove it from my sweet, sweet wife’s thoughts and vocabulary.
In one instant of time I have become the pre-cancer man. An internal label given by me to a mental image of Dr. Jekyll hoping there will never be a Mr. Hyde, or a rising hominid hoping not to devolve into some destructive ancestor, but I have never done well at worrying about myself, I am much more wired to worry and care for others. It is difficult for me to see beyond the practical implications of the results I have been handed and will be handed. I will adjust my diet; I will drink less whiskey (and this is said with a truly heavy heart) and enjoy more water, I will take care of myself with this too close brush with fate, and that will be that. I cannot, however, not worry about the effect that word has or may have on my wife, family, and loved ones.
Cancer (even the insinuation of cancer) is a pebble that makes large unending waves once it is carelessly tossed into life’s pool. The concentric waves reflect and return to me from my wife and children, from my friends and siblings, setting up a silent and persistent echo in my head. So I present the warning and wake-up call I have received to all I know. I encourage you (as Katie Couric did a dozen years back – only without the video tape) to stay vigil, listen to doctors, and undergo whatever preventative screenings they recommend. It keeps the waves as small as possible.
Friday, January 25, 2013
The sunrise comes as no surprise. “As day follows night” the saying goes and proves its truism each morning. From the eastern horizon the sun threatens, rays lighting it and spreading west. The light in these brief moments of dawn is transfigured crossing the prairie to cast a coral glow on the rise of Rockies. Such a contrast, landlocked mountains painted the color of sea life, bringing together ocean and mountain, ephemeral moments, blink and it is gone. Gaze upon it and drink it into your soul before the sun at the start of its brazen passage whitewashes all with its naked stare, claim this daily miracle for your own while it last.
Mile markers and mountains race by as I head south on the interstate. I long for there to be silhouetted Saguaro about me, frozen arms outstretched in acceptance or submission, but not here, there are only walking stick cacti to see in Colorado. Sad stand-ins for the quintessential quilled plants that inhabit our image-ridden imaginations. Still walking sticks are something, as cacti are succulents of myth and lore in my native South.
As I look over the hood of my car, the blacktop goes by and beneath me. Years on this circuit have imprinted upon me, and I can gaze about freely in the knowledge that my car knows where it is going. Amid the stark, arid beauty of these barren plains that abut the Rockies, people I pass and that pass me seem oblivious with eyes on nowhere and cell phones nestled against their cheeks. How can they not see, how can they not think of God instead of the microcosms of their lives?
At seven thirty in the morning (or the A.M. as might be said in the masterpiece of a movie, Raising Arizona), they are talking on their cell phones. Who is on the other end? Are they talking to other commuters, reaching out for kindred spirits with whom to hide from the braking dawn and its majesty, or someone at home who tugs at their hearts in a life that seems more commute than anything else? I don’t know, but I wonder. I have no one to talk to that early, and wish no one to talk with. They need their sleep or start to their day, and I need to commune with the visions about me to assure myself that I am part of the coming day. I see exits familiar in number and name, and locations marking my progress, a self-congratulatory pat on the back that one meager morning milestone after another is passed, each milestone taking me further along from bed to work.
My mind is a transition as well. I process dreams, think of home, and then accept work and its list of things that cry for my attention. These last thoughts nurse me along the final miles to the office so that the beginning of my work day builds upon the foundation of my thoughts.
Returning home reverses the imagery of going to work. I take the drive to unwind and drink in the surroundings, to numb the thoughts that are best left to my desk and tomorrow. The mountains take on a different quality as I work my way north. The sun having dipped behind them is still lighting the world, and leaves the mountains in relief to such an extent that they appear cut out of cardboard. Layers of mountain shapes shown in two dimensions to the thirsting eye.
I leave the work behind and settle into the home ahead. I plan what to fix for dinner, I scan the mountains and the prairies. I see different faces in adjacent cars doing the same thing as their morning counterparts – talking into phones, ignoring the world, absorbed and self-absorbed.
Home is the boon I unconsciously await all day. It is the gift afforded to me by trial of a fifty mile each way commute. I relinquish home in the morning, knowing I will reclaim it at night. Returning to my wife and our dog, to cook dinner, to relax together and taste each others waters of the day.
It is at the end of this routine that bed waits, that sleep dreams for my return as the price of a new dawn. I know not where the dreams will take me, though I try to be the boatman of it across my private river Styx. I have some say at times how I enter, where I tread, but never the whole of the whole. The true boatman is my subconscious and goes by the name angst. My dreams are the very definition of worlds colliding. They are linear feed and juxtaposition of past and present and mist enshrouded future. I embrace them as such; I groom through them for insight, and take them at face value.
When morning comes, I walk free of the dreams and must rise from the bed trailing a longing glance back to my sleeping wife. I partake in my morning ablutions and return to my car and my commute, the cycle repeating as cycles must. My day is under way and the sunrise comes as no surprise.
Thursday, January 17, 2013
Crucified replica lord hanging amid weeds
Driven into cracked and arid hardpan
Mourned by wilted silk flowers at his feet
Plastic savior, eternally upturned face
To uncaring sky, and unresponsive heaven
Riveted through stigmata to metal frame
Silently suffering the elements, unheard by saints
Mocked by dust devils
Ghosts that come and go in time with gusts
Turning in fleeting dance
Chaotically about weeping silks and foot of the cross
Frozen agony searching, mutely asking
God, why have you forsaken this traveler
Whose life was robbed too soon
On asphalted road between Sodom and Gomorrah
Our Resin Lord
Caught between life and death
Upon the cross on foreign Golgotha
Not even thieves to keep him company