On Monday, we had an old friend of Leif’s over, Steve. Steve used to room with Leif about 15 years ago, but then they lost touch over the years. Coincidentally, Leif is a big listener to 92.1 the Mic, a liberal radio station and a few months ago the DJ mentioned Steve. I don’t know the details, but it was something along the lines of “Our friend Steve has terminal brain cancer and his dying wish is to see Barack Obama in office.” With other details mentioned, Leif realized it was the Steve he had known so long ago.
So I got to meet Steve. He is 40, the same age as Leif, but walks with a cane and often wears dark sunglasses as his eyes are sensitive to light. He is bald and there are three indentations on his head where they drilled to remove the tumor. Because of this, he has to be extra careful not to fall because on the indentations, there is only skin between the outside and his brain. He was diagnosed a couple of years ago and statistically speaking, within 5 years, 90% die with this kind of cancer. He has been given the “You have 6 months to live” talk three times now. He cannot work or drive, and he gets Meals on Wheels. He has massive debt from the medical bills he has accrued.
But despite all this, he remains fairly upbeat. He feels like he still has things to do before he can leave. I asked him about what it is like to be him, and he was very honest, almost intense. We talked about his treatments and his dead cat, Uzi, whom he says will be the first to greet him on the other side. Except for the bald head, he looks almost. . .ordinary.
It’s hard to be human. It’s hard to see our own mortality. I think Leif felt a bit like I did when I saw Kris a few years back and he walked with a cane. There is something wrong about seeing someone in your age group is such a worse physical condition. And yet, why do we expect some sort of human perfection in a world that is so obviously imperfect?
In a conversation with my Mom recently about Bram, she said the death was hard for her, because the destiny of every child was to grow into an adult. But I think I have to disagree with that. What is adult? 20? 40? 60? Many children in this world will not live to even the age of 20. I think it is more accurate that it is the hope that children will outlive their parents, but we are not so far from an age where a woman could have 5 kids and easily lose all of them to an epidemic. Death seems so tragic for the young and younger because it is now unexpected. It seems almost preventable. But we forget, none of us will get out of this alive anyway. And sometimes a tragedy is the only for us to get the message, sometimes it’s the slap of the universe that gets us to open our eyes, to wake up.
My biggest regret about my life is that I basically wasted a decade of it to depression. One of my biggest fears is that Rowan will want to kill herself at age 11 like I did, though honestly she seems already better adjusted than I was. 🙂 I don’t ever want to waste time like that again, thinking about how tomorrow will be better, tomorrow will the day I end it and know secretly, really, I will never have the gumption to end it. Now my life is a far cry from that. Now sometimes I fear that my life will be taken from me because I didn’t appreciate it for so long, and to leave Rowan motherless is a horrible thought. And of course I have the fears that every parent has, that Rowan will be taken from me and I would go mad with grief. Yet these things happen all the time. Usually it seems like they happen to other people, until it happens to us.
But the really interesting thing and the really beautiful thing is that everyone has these stories. Nobody has the perfect life, that’s not what life is about. It is about the imperfection, the snags, the tears. And won’t it be nice in the end, in the eternal and unchangeable, to laugh and reminisce about everything we put ourselves through?