ralph stanley’s high and lonesome sound is in my head, not playing in my ears but reverberating in my soul. there are few voices that can capture pain and heartbreak and ecstasy and joy the way that his does.
one of the great privileges of a cancer diagnosis is immediate and permanent membership into an elite group of remarkable individuals: the survivors. i’ve met so many incredible folks along this journey – and then i’ve watched them die. witnessing a friend wither away is pain beyond pain. when disease begins its inexorable march, there are no words of comfort, no inspirational kittens hanging from branches, no wonder drugs or master cleanses or raw food diets or [insert magical unlikely cure here] that will stop the inevitable. granted, life itself inevitably leads to death, but in order to go about our daily lives, to make and achieve our goals, we have to fool ourselves a bit.
tell ourselves that our lives are huge and wondrous. which they are, of course.
but they are finite.
terminal illness breaks down that fallacy. it places our mortality in our hands and walks away, leaving us to stagger under the weight of our own fragility, our temporal nature, the uninfinity that is our existence.
and yet those who face the end-times are still with us. they are not gone, though their corporeal presence may crumble and wash away like a sandcastle at high tide. when my treatment finally took my hair, i could watch my body quite literally going down the drain. bezoars of loss.
and yet, how blessed i am to have come through the last five years relatively unscathed – though it’s been tortuous, i have all my limbs, all my senses and (most of) my hair. i’m met plenty of survivors who lost far, far more.
i’ve just gotten the news that another friend, a survivor and a brave, courageous man, has run out of options to treat his disease and has moved to home hospice. we met some time back when he was visiting new york, and his bright spirit was visible from space. we talked shop, compared scars, shared war stories. we gloried in our luck to each have partners who loved and cared for us even as we leaked unspeakable fluids onto them and asked them to spend their weekends at the hospital in uncomfortable chairs at our bedsides and filled their lives with worry and poverty and pain. we agreed we were lucky.
but sometimes, luck runs out.
my friend, i think today of that sunny day in the west village when we met. i imagine your spirit soaring, even now, over the west village, joining the pigeons in the fountain, climbing to the top of the arch in washington square, watching over the winter-weary, the dealers of smack, the ever-expanding collegial margins, the brave and battered homeless, the red tails in love, the denuded trees with their hidden promise of spring. of green. of life.