Monday, January 28, 2008

January 28, 2008 - Life Lost in Living

A friend shared with me an article from the Washington Post, dating back to 1998, about a 58-year-old man who was the speaker at his own funeral. His name was Alan Marks. He was diagnosed with mantle-cell lymphoma and given four weeks to live. He and his wife decided to organize his own memorial service, so he could experience that supportive gathering of family and friends himself, before he died.

Over four hundred people came out. There was something awkward about the experience, because no one had ever been to that kind of memorial service before, but the article reports that it was a love fest.

Reflecting on the rapid change in his perspective on life, Marks observed, “It’s so strange when we become aware that we’re talking about a very short period of time together, how the extraordinary becomes ordinary and vice versa. A good meal or a long walk has never meant so much before.”

I can remember feeling something like that, back during the early stages of my treatment. There I was, sick with chemotherapy, losing my hair, realizing how much my life had changed in such a short period of time. Even though my doctors were confident about my prospects, I was still very much aware that I had a life-threatening illness. I found myself thinking thoughts like those Mr. Marks shared with the newspaper reporter.

Suddenly, it became easier to live fully, in the present. I savored the taste of food as I never had before. I took time to do things I truly enjoyed doing, when previously I'd tended to put such things off, bending to the tyranny of the urgent. I sensed my marriage, my friendships, all my relationships with others growing stronger, as I gave them the time they truly deserved. It was possible, I remember thinking at the time, that I was dying. Yet, ironically, in some ways I felt more fully alive than ever before.

I can remember a brief return to that kind of thinking last summer, as the news of my relapse sunk in, but in all the long months of waiting ever since, I can sense that sharpened focus slipping away again. Life is pretty much back to normal. I’m back to measuring out my life in coffee spoons, as T.S. Eliot said in that famous line.

I’m not asking for a return to those days of struggle, but I do have to say that I miss the way cancer stripped away all the superficial distractions of life, for a time. It was a wise teacher, in that respect. Would that I could do a better job of making its lessons last.

Here’s T.S. Eliot again, from “Choruses from the Rock”:

The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance.
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?

Where, indeed?

1 comment:

Bryce said...

Hmm, see the people who attend the
funeral before your death and disposal.
I read the article, it doesn't mention when the subject died.

Nonetheless, weird. have already my plans; short and sweet cause once I'm dead somebody else can worry
about my mortal being.
That's the advantage of pre=planning.

Like you Carl, am in remission although receiving copious amounts of rituximab every three months or so for the next four years. My second time for drip injection is this coming Friday February 01.08.

We survivors of cancer treatment who are in remission and hope to stay that way, often find it difficult to get started where things turned the wrong way. You've probably had your weekly sermons to prepare which probably helped keep your mind off your own self. Ministering to a congregation as
employment albeit a bit different
than most however you're still a person, with feelings and as such yes your religious background no doubt helps you over the rough spots. However you've had some doubts about things no doubt that no religious being will smooth;
and for those, I suspect this blog has helped in its own way.

As a retired transportation journalist can well understand how just writing can sooth the savaged nerves. And although retired, still receive my share of assignments from various places;
for which I decline with thanks.

I write to me myself and I,really don't feel as if the world of the internet needs to know my being.

Must admit though, with the number
of blogs devoted to NHL (Not the
National Hockey League) that maybe my blogging to me may seem like just another entry. BTW I did enjoy the Gene Wilder sketch;
a very real person,
one of the old school when
humour was polite, funny and understandable.

If and when things for me settle, I might appear in your congregation one Sunday; you seem to me to be a person who enjoys his job, for
ministering is a job; however as noted a "different" job. Like a
funeral director, sometimes you take your work home with you whether you want to or not.

Keep smiling Carl we've all done very well. Now to return to whatever we were before
this unfortunate speed bump in our lives.

Bryce Lee
Burlington, Ontario