We punctuate our lives with so many different markers. Memories, milestones, important events and accomplishments all serve to index an invisible timeline that, in times of peace, relief or rest we can look back upon and wonder.
Growing up in Australia seems like so long ago, the memories belong to another and not me. It’s funny that, as time takes us by the hand and begins to run with us, just how far back our hindsight can be.
I tend to, as I’m sure we all can, identify those defining moments in my own life with those memories that identify more with “close calls.” Too many times I have “wandered too close” to the proverbial edge, only to affect a narrow escape from a brief stumble or shallow fall that could have easily ended my life.
The first marker was when, in the second grade and having suffered from severe headaches, I was diagnosed with a cyst or tumor that had grown inside my head. The pain from the headaches was unbearable, and I would cry until I passed out. Finally, a neurosurgeon in Australia made the discovery and I was schedule for brain surgery. Luckily, when part of my skull was removed, the growth came out attached to the inside of the skull. I was put back together and after a year or two, was as good as new.
Life has been like that for me. Car accidents that should have been worse, nearly taking my fingers off on more than one occasion, military deployment as a young man, close calls alone in the wilderness, being at the right place at the right time to save someone’s life, or being just slightly not in the wrong place at the right time to lose my own. So many times I have wandered or skipped along the edge, the earth crumbling behind me, often patting myself on the back for my own ingenuity in getting myself out of scrapes that could have cost so very much more.
A few years ago, while changing a transmission in my truck, and forgetting to set the E-brake, it rolled off a set of railroad tie blocks and landed on top of me. I was injured, and injured pretty severely as I sometime later found out, but not so much that I was able to get out from underneath, call for help and go about my business the next day.
I'm not lucky. I'm not unlucky. I will admit freely that a large percentage of these things could have been avoided if I had only just slowed down a little and thought more about what I was doing.
This time, though, I walked just a little too closely to the edge. While my life is currently intact, it might very well not have been. I’ve not been feeling the best for a while. I ignored it until it got to the point where a little too much internet research served not to comfort, but scare the crap out of me…literally. Less than three months ago I was diagnosed with colon cancer and a large tumor. Six weeks ago, I had the surgery to remove the affected colon (about two feet of it) the tumor and 29 lymph nodes. Two weeks ago I started Chemotherapy.
To say the whole episode ‘has taken the wind out of my sails’ is putting it mildly. I don’t feel great physically, (which is to be expected I guess) but more than that, I don’t feel mentally as resilient as I always had, every day of my life. I know that I will get through this and that I will survive, that is expected and reasonably certain, but I will admit to the very foreign feeling of not quite having my feet under me.
A couple of mornings ago, as I began to wake up, I became aware that I could hear the sound of someone crying. I turned to face Eileen, but she was sound asleep. I thought that maybe her son Neal, also asleep at the other side of the house might be having a problem, but as I subconsciously wiped my face, I found the tears had been my own. I don’t know what that’s about….maybe I do….but it feels like I would only be unbuckling my own armor to try to figure it out any further. I guess it’s fair to say that I have been through a tough stretch, and that persevering at chemo is also taking its toll. Just hearing that I had Cancer in the first place sucked on levels I had not yet experienced. I really thought…..and damn it, forgive the cliché……that something like that would never get me.
However, while I may not be a lucky man, I am perhaps the most fortunate. I would never have been able to handle this latest trip to the edge without Eileen at my side. She has been so very strong and so very attentive….and so patient with me. I am undeserving of her love and would not have had the courage to make it this far without her. Also, and really in tandem with Eileen, I have the largest group of friends that any man could ask to have. I feel so completely loved and encouraged. Again I am undeserving of their love, but I’ll take it….yes Sir!
It looks like, with the dedication of the amazing scientists, doctors and nurses that are my healthcare team, this particular promenade along life’s edge will not be the one that claims me. There is a deep sense of relief in that….hopefully….but also a greater notion that hey, I don’t wanna walk this close to the edge anymore. I don’t want to punctuate my own life with markers born of tragedy and hurt. If I were given the chance to redo my own timeline, I think I would rather just erase the old one, and start fresh beginning with day I met Eileen, and punctuate it with every moment of laughter, every walk holding hands….even if it’s just to the mail box and back. I want to remember every bike ride, every holiday, every moment with friends and family.
As we get older we find out a couple of truths. First, we are not indestructible. I know this now, and while I most certainly am not afraid of eventually dying, I submit that I am more fragile that I thought. Second, when faced with our own mortality, it’s not the crap we own and work for so hard that is the thing we reach out for. Life and love, happiness and security lay in those relationships that are closest and most important.
You, all of you, are that to me. Without each of you, I'm nothing. I'm not a musician without someone to sing for. I'm not a mechanic or a builder without someone to serve. I'm not a cyclist without someone to ride home to, and I'm not a writer without someone to read me. Thank you all for your help, your encouragement and your love. You mark my timeline with your love, and I am better because of it.