Friday, September 30, 2016

stage three

Keep it 100.
-- Larry Wilmore

Happiness floats.
-- Naomi Shihab Nye*

My new doctor is very encouraging. She has a lot of information for me. Many options, many tests, many possible treatments, some of them not invented yet. All this will take time. There's time. That's her subtext.

How kind of her to say I am a young man. Part of the plan is to ensure, during all the years before me, that I don't have too much bone loss. All those years. Informative and encouraging, she is.

I've lost a little weight, enough for women to notice, and after my morning stretch and my pills I go to work without symptoms and free of pain. (Some men have noticed my loss of weight as well, but it doesn't affect my vanity in the same way.) I feel pretty good for a sixty-nine year old overweight arthritic man who takes six meds, one of them very expensive. Very expensive. I've got my aches, my good days and bad, but haven't felt this strong in years. Some say I don't look sixty-nine, and I take it very kindly. Those who think I look my age keep their silence, and I take that kindly as well.

Larry Wilmore doesn't have a TV show any more, but he used to say we should keep it 100 and not cover up our truth. The new information, if held away from light, would make me less than 100. It's come back, this fight between my body and itself, not responding neatly to the first treatment, so I'm at the second, the third option. Nine years ago a doctor told me I was cured, so I've been a survivor for nine years, but the organ in question has practiced its designs on my life for thirteen. Quite a story, already complicated. It will be complicated. The complications will take a long time.

Until now the word "survivor" hasn't felt right. I didn't feel that I deserved it. I felt lucky. My previous treatment was too easy. I didn't suffer at all. And then the doctor said, "You'll die of something else," which was his way of saying I was cured, but I didn't feel I had survived anything.

As it turns out, that doctor wasn't exactly right. But he got me eight good years, and he made me wise. We're all going to die of something, if not of this now, then of something else later. What's unusual is that I know its name, and I'm far enough along in the count of years that I feel its presence. I feel, as a poet said whose work I learned in school, "the always coming on, the always rising of the night."**

The new stage, though it changes nothing, changes everything. I see, hear, the same things I always did but differently. It's like walking a high wire: there are thrills and chills, delights and terrors, in high definition, very bright. I become, as I said before***, permeable. And I haven't got time not to pay attention.

Attention to work, to people who work with me and people for whom we work.

Attention to the one whose patience with me now approaches half a century.

Attention to the old and to the young, in their opposing fractions of past and future.

Attention to silence and to noise. Attention to music and to words. Attention to the joy and the terror. Attention to the heart and to the head.

I will of course fail to pay attention, but I owe attention to my screw-ups as well as to my tiny triumphs.

Sometimes I'm asked how an actor becomes a chaplain. Actors and pastors chase authenticity. When they do it well, they're authentic.

Or rather, inarguable. Herbert Blau wrote about the inarguable in the theatre: not the good or the bad, the pretty or the ugly, but the thing you can't tamper with, that can't be changed without becoming something else.

When the song passes through us, it's inarguable. You don't say "no." You don't say "yes but" --  It passes. We have to be ready. To be ready is to be what we are, where we are. And I am a sixty-nine year old man in the middle of what my friend calls a "health journey."

I won't die soon, not of this at least. It's prudent to assume I have time to live and work and love authentically. I look forward to the rest of my life.

I first shared this knowledge at a table of colleagues. I paired it with Nye's words about floating happiness, and they said I looked happy, as if relieved of a burden. I said, yes, at this moment I'm very happy.

I've been given a gift. So this is me chasing authenticity. This is me keeping it 100.

*"So Much Happiness"
** Archibald MacLeish, "And You, Andrew Marvell"
***"subway music," June 13, 2016

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