Cold rain falls in the river, flows down to the sea, gets into the skyline, circles endlessly. Same old rain on the wind, same old pain in my soul.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Death On The Horizon

I’ve lived long enough now, that I’ve known my share that have passed on from this life. I find myself trying to understand those that have been given fair warning their time is close at hand. I had a neighbor, Virginia, a dozen or so years ago that found herself feeling sluggish. She lived alone in a trailer and loved to garden. All her joy seemed to come from the small gifts she could garner from her yard.
One day she went to the doctor. From then on, she had cancer. The day before, she had simply been tired. Go figure.
Suddenly her days became a journey to the city for the treatments she now had to have in order to sustain and extend her life.
Within a week, an old skeleton wearing floppy skin lived in Virginia’s trailer. Nature, her only joy, no longer mattered. Only being at the hospital by eight o’clock for the magic serum. But there was no magic serum.
Within a month of diagnosis, Virginia no longer existed, only a trail of criss-crossing scars and the scent of death. I went to check on her one morning and she didn’t answer the door. In I went and there she was on the floor. Not dead but close enough. She went to the hospital that day and never returned.
I don’t pretend to know what might have happened had she decided not to put herself under the care of those that certainly meant well, but it could only have been better. Worse didn’t exist.
A year ago, a different neighbor in now a different part of the country was told he had six months to live. He believed it and that belief made it so. For years I would pass him on my way home and he would give a big sweeping wave and smile as I passed. There isn’t much I can truly count on, but I could always count on him being on his porch.
I only saw him one more time on that porch after the verdict was given. I stopped to say hello. Finally. Ain’t that the way?
He told me in excited breaths between bloody coughs that he really didn’t feel that bad-almost with hope. They had pumped him full of steroids and said good luck. He spent his days now going to Wal-Mart, he said, and walking around the store for exercise. All his previous joy had been found in his chair on the porch waving and looking over the valley. He chose to spend his few remaining days walking the shit I call Wal-Mart. I was confused.
“ Maybe they were wrong,” I said.
“ No, they knew their business,” he said.
Turns out he was right.
I wonder what I would do, or will do upon hearing the news so many of my acquaintances have heard. Easy to say when it’s hypothetical. I wonder if I really want to know in advance, if it really would be a blessing.
When I was young, my mantra was that I didn’t want to live beyond fifty. Guess who’s fifty. Paul McCartney asked, “Will you still need me, when I’m sixty-four?” Heather said no.
What I want to do today is live my life as fully as possible. Chew it to the bone and then chew the bones. I may live forty more years or I may live forty more minutes. The same could be said of a twenty year old. I lost three friends who were teenagers in a car wreck I could have been in if not for a mind change.
I also know that I have to balance the rest of the universe with my own wants. This is not so easy a thing to do.
I wish Virginia had stayed in her garden. I wish the old man had held to his porch and felt the cool breeze on his face rather than the cold lights of Wal-Mart. Perhaps from them I’ve learned that moments lived are more precious than sickness extended. But that’s just me. We’ll see.