Change of pace this weekend as I recovered from a four-day “chemo hangover” (fatigue, no interest in food). An apartment mate from undergraduate days who has retired to Palm Springs rode his Vespa over to spend a couple days and nights as a houseguest. My wife, meanwhile, took a much-needed break from caregiving and met up with a friend for some R&R in Los Angeles.
Nonstop talkers, my friend and I covered a lot of conversational material from much reading and life experience accumulated over the decades that have transpired since we knew each other in the mid-1960s and went on to lead very different lives—his in Chicago and mine all over from Pennsylvania and New York to California. For common ground one night, we regressed to the English majors we once were and watched a movie on Netflix based on an Elizabeth Bowen novel about the Anglo-Irish in 1920 Ireland.
|Chicken broth simmering
I had spent all of Thursday making chicken broth in my new stockpot and used it and the cooked chicken for soup on Friday night, which may have been good bad, or indifferent; I could not taste it. Likewise the oatmeal on Saturday morning. Delivery of a large New York-style pizza on Saturday night kept soul and body together while we discussed 1,500+ years of church history, my guest being the better-informed expert on that subject; so it was mostly an education for me.
Getting out of my routine and doing some socializing (without using social media, phone, or texting), I found that my F2F social skills were getting a little rusty from disuse. It was both good to discover that and an encouragement to get out more often—which I can do now that I know the bus routes and schedules over to Palm Springs.
|New succulent garden finds a sunny window
Most of this past year of treatment has been like stumbling through a darkened fun house such as the one that used to be in the county fair carnival when I was a boy. After entering, you felt your way through a maze of corridors, turns, openings, and dead ends, while hearing the disembodied voices of others who had entered before you.
Utterly disoriented, you’d finally open a door to find yourself back outside on the fairgrounds, returned to the world you recently left, illuminated by colored lights and noisy with laughter and carnival ride music. I can feel something like that happening now, the passage through another portal—a portal of return this time that delivers one into the mainstream of life, no longer made exceptional by being a cancer patient, or a patient of any kind.
Is this what happens? I don’t know.
|The patient poses for a photo
I do know I’m not the person I was going into that funhouse—the funhouse of treatment—worse for wear, maybe, but more attuned to my mortality (and everyone else’s, including anyone reading this).
That means different things on different days. Today it means trying to honor the moment as an infinitely tiny sliver of time in the vast timelessness of the expanding, incomprehensible, and beautiful universe. This is a notion that would have been flatly and lifelessly abstract to me a year ago. Now, honoring it means paying attention to the present moment as a gift—and therefore remembering to say thank you.
And with that word “gift,” recognizing the mystery of its existence at all, not to mention my own existence in it. So today is like emerging from that county fair funhouse into something more like a Cosmic Funhouse, which has taken the place of the everyday world I once knew and seems to promise—instead of what I’d been led to expect—just one amazing surprise after another. You can’t beat that.
And so life goes on.
I’m closing again with a jazz video suggested by a reader. This one is Diana Krall singing “Peel Me a Grape,” for the public television series Sessions at West 54th and broadcast October 17, 1999.
Any other readers with jazz favorites of their own, links to them are welcome.
Photo credits: Ron Scheer, Steve Clarke
Previously: Ginger,cinnamon, and cardamom