Posts tagged ‘Michael’

Cancer, Michael, and Heroes

Once in a while at an odd moment, thoughts of my cancer come flooding in. This time it was probably brought on by the fact that I go in for another PSA test and my PSA has been showing a slight rise.  Is this a new chapter? Now as far as cancer patients go, I have no complaints. While I have an incurable prostate cancer with a really high (9) Gleason score (highly aggressive), right now the treatment has put it in slow motion. So other than the side effects of androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) and antiantrogen therapy to wipe out testosterone in the body (fatigue, loss of libido, some weight gain, hot flashes that never end, sore breasts), I am mostly fine. No pain, no chemo, no radiation or their horrible side effects. So it is easy to ignore it, forget your now on a fast-moving time clock, and just cruise like most of us did through our younger days. Sure, weight lifting is more of a challenge, and golf wipes me out for two days, losing weight is a bitch, but I can still do all of them. My tolerance of heat is non-existent, but I am not suffering the ravages from the treatment that most cancer patients suffer so bravely and fight so valiantly (My sister-in-law comes to mind as a close example).

But still, I know that when things start to go down hill, things are going to get tough, unless some new treatment comes along to prolong my life until I die of something else. When those thoughts come flooding in as they do sometimes, I think of the movie Michael, the archangel played by John Travolta, who was on his last trip to earth to pull off one more miracle. But he knows this is it, this is his last hurrah, he is not coming back. Michael lived life large and enjoyed the sensory pleasures of this world taking in everything life had to offer. But in a great scene, Michael has that same sense that I am sure most terminal patients all have at one time or another, about how much they love life.*

The scene is with Michael who sees a bull in the field and decides to take it on. The noble fight. Imagine the battle scene between the two when they charge at each other, full of the passion of the moment and the fight, and then Michael and the bull are both knocked out by a high-speed head butt (there might be something here being said about fighting itself and its utility). When Michael gets back to his feet with help from William Hurt, he reveals to Hurt that this is his last big blast on Earth, his last hoorah. Michael looks to the skies, eyes closed, arms up, wind in his hair, and says, “I’m gonna miss everything so much.”

That is exactly how I feel. It just could not almost be over. There is so much around me that is to rejoice in. Yeah, young love is gone no matter what, I am an old man after all, but I have a wonderful enduring love that few will ever experience. And then there is that sunset, the amazing beauty of the sun, the feeling of a breeze blowing by you, just the pure joy of living, of being, all of that is still there and the thing that comes flooding in, that soon this is going to be over. Take it in, drink it up. Stay in the moment. And then… I’m gonna miss everything so much.

But the moment I am trying to stay in will pass and I will be in another moment, one that could be brutally hard, not just on me, but for everyone around me. And that is when I think of heroes. People who just carry on when things get really tough. That is the real definition of a hero. I think of the Medal of Honor winner who was honored the other day at the White House, who was a medic who just carried on with his job risking everything for his comrades. Who does not have a hero fantasy about themselves? You know, some fantasy about you saving the world. We have a whole genre of movies these days about heroes.

I think they all miss the point. Heroes don’t have to be super. Heroes are all around us. People, who in the face of adversity, carry on. And many of them do it with such grace. Whether it is the last throes of cancer, a disability that puts them at a disadvantage in this life, a tragic loss, or simply being poor and disadvantaged. If you want to find heroes, stand in a crowd and look around. The fact that you don’t know their stories makes what they are going through and how they manage it so much more heroic. And whether they win or lose the battle is not the point, but how they nobly fought the fight.

And that is my next great challenge. Who knows, I may luck out, but then again I may not. And the challenge is to do this thing with grace and dignity, to leave those you love so very much ready to carry on without you, remembering you for your grace and dignity. This last chapter is really more about them than me. Am I up to it? I really don’t have a choice. I have to be up to it. And if I need a role model to inspire me to get me through, it is not the combat soldier, the Navy Seal, the fireman, the police officer, the usual suspects, it is a little old lady who spent her last days in pain, but carried on. It is the bravery of those around you who will have to shoulder the pain of your loss when you are gone. It is all around us and yet most of us are oblivious to it. Well, I see it, maybe because I now am forced to profoundly understand it. I just hope I am up to it.

*This is not to say that at the end, some could and should choose death when the reality of life and their disease overcomes them. I cannot help thinking of the bravery of Brittany Maynard, her husband, and her family on her journey with cancer, and giving the rest of us some modicum of control over our lives in the end. That is one amazing role model.

Why Are We Here

I guess that is about the most fundamental things we have to deal with.  What is our purpose?  Do we have a purpose?  I am at a place in my life where that is a more urgent question than for most.  I am getting old and there are things I love that are no longer possible.  And with the diagnosis of an almost always fatal disease (at least there is no cure and maybe you can stave it off for awhile), I can’t help wonder, what did I do, or still have to do that gives my life purpose?  

Religion is one answer.  God has a plan.  Except for me that one does work.  Why is the plan so unfair?  There is a roll of the dice and that decides your fate.  I would argue with God, if I believed in one, on his plan. For some it really sucks. Why do some not make it out of childhood?  Why are some grossly abused and their lives are abysmal?  No, the God Plan thing does not work for me.  There is no God, just us, evolved on this planet from the animals to be aware of our existence and to wonder about it.

Most animals never worry about it.  Their job is to get through it and procreate.  Is that our purpose?  Well, clearly we have this need to be involved in something we think is meaningful whether it is our family, gathering wealth, improving our fellow man, getting something done.  Probably the best evidence for this is combat.  Many service people will tell you that they felt most alive and focused when part of a combat team.  Their purpose is well defined, the mission, keeping their team alive, working together to get through it.  But that ends and many are left flailing.  How does working in a Seven Eleven have meaning after that?

Some focus on their family and making sure they have a good life.  But sooner or later they leave the nest to live their own lives and there you are wondering what is next and why it matters.  Some dedicate their lives to improving the lives of others, however they define that.  Some are focused on bringing beauty and truth to our existence, whether through art or political action.  But I have to step back and recognized that we as a people on this planet have destroyed almost two-thirds of other living species.  What rights do they have?  If our lives are important, aren’t theirs?  To put it simply our existence is rapidly destroying the world we inhabit.

So I am back to that basic question, what is our purpose.  So far getting through it and procreating seems to be destroying the world we live in.  I also have some rather pessimistic thoughts about the idea that our economy and our well being depends upon ever expanding economic growth.  Sell, sell, sell.  Consume, consume, consume. When do we hit the ceiling and is there a ceiling?  As long as we can’t beam to other planets, there is a ceiling.  And is it a zero sum game?  For some to do well, must others have less?  We would like to think not, but most of us don’t really ever think about it. Does focus on what we can get.

We do all kinds of things to justify injustice.  Whether we believe that working hard and having discipline is all that is required,  to being chosen and it is all part of God’s plan.  The poor, disenfranchised, and abject are simply morally inferior or lazy.  But the injustice is there.  It would be nice to be able to say that your life’s purpose is to end injustice, but still, where are we going.  In other words, we have a just society living on the planet that we are killing?  And if we weren’t killing it, what then?  Maybe as human beings we just need to have something to do whether that is scratching out life at a primitave level to finding a source of clean and cheap energy for the human race.

Since I am doing neither, I am back to my existential question, what makes my existence worth the trouble.  I guess enough of us decide at some point it isn’t (suicide).  For those with a terminal illness and in great pain, they make what I consider a really really brave decision that their time is up.  And I think that in the fact that I think that is a really really brave decision, I may have an answer to my question, because they are choosing to no longer experience life or the love of those around them.

There is something about our awareness of experiencing life that makes it precious.  I still marvel at a beautiful sunset or the wonder of the universe.  I still find fine food or wine an art and the experience makes makes me smile.  I still love art and the creativity of my fellow man.  To be loved as I am lucky enough to experience is justifying in itself. Maybe, just maybe, the whole thing is about the joy of the experience of the world around us like no other animal can.  Maybe life is meaningful because we can feel the wonder of it.  The experience of love and regarding another’s life as more precious than ours is something very very precious.  And maybe what really makes it meaningful is that we don’t get a choice about being here, we just are, and we should be working hard to make it better for all of us.  

But that doesn’t mean we should quit asking the question where are we going and is this sustainable. For me the meaning of life is experiencing it in all its wonder.  On the other hand if you are a young man or woman trafficked for sex, you might have a whole other view.  I think of two scenes in art that captures my thoughts here, one is from the movie Blade Runner when Harrison Ford is on the roof and at the mercy of the replicant Rutger Hauer.  Hauer wants to kill him but as his internal clock is running out and life for him is ending, he finds his love of life so strong, he does not kill Ford:

In the film, the dying replicant Roy Batty makes this speech to Harrison Ford’s character Deckard moments after saving him from falling off a tall building. Deckard had been tasked to kill him and his replicant friends. The words are spoken during a downpour, moments before Batty’s death:

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

The other is in the movie Michael with John Travota playing an irreverant angel whose final trip to earth is ending. When Travolta in the movie finally knows his time is up, when his body is ready to disappear from this world and he says with tears in his eyes:

 “I’m gonna miss everything so much.” 

I think that about sums it up for me.  Now I need to get back to saving the world for Donald Trump and Republican who are bent on destroying life and freedom as we know it.