Still Wearing My Helmet

I took The Dog out for a walk this evening. As I was enjoying the golden light of the sunset filtering through the green foliage of the woods and the birdsong all around me, I realized that two days ago was the one year anniversary of my diagnosis. A year ago, after I left the office of the squat doctor, I met BF in the evening at a reception at a humanities research center near our house. We had lived at this center several years back before we had moved here permanently. And we remain friends with a lot of the people who work there, and each year we make new friends among the visiting scholars.

BF had ridden her bike to the center after teaching all day, and I rode over from our house. As we were heading out to our bikes after the reception I mentioned to her that I needed to talk to her about my appointment that day. She knew that I was going to receive my biopsy results. She looked at me seriously, but then joked, “So are you going to start riding without a helmet?” Her way of asking if the prognosis is bad. I replied, “Well no…not yet…but I think I need to do some more research.” Then I explained that the biopsy was positive for myelofibrosis. Neither of us was exactly sure what that meant, but she knew, either from previous conversations or from my tone, that it wasn’t good news.

A year ago we had no idea what was in store for us the coming year. I never went back for another appointment with the squat doc. Instead I sought a second opinion, switched doctors, and never looked back. I now realize that, given the diagnosis, things could not have gone more smoothly this past year. But it has been an exercise in coming to terms with the reality that the orientation of one’s life can switch dramatically from one day to the next, and not always for the better. And that possibility—let’s face it—is always there for all of us. As the Preacher in Ecclesiastes observes: “The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all. Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so people are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.”

The message of Ecclesiastes is not supposed to be one of despair. At one point the Preacher also recommends,Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart.” The contingency of life and the inevitability of hard times is no reason for nihilism. All that is valuable does not lose its value simply because life is temporary and highly contingent. To think otherwise seems remarkably solipsistic. The finitude of life provides a reason to make the most of the time in which we have to learn, love, grow, create, and improve the world around us. Not to give up on all that. As Horace recommends, sieze the day!

With the transplant behind me, and the recovery moving along nicely, the orientation of our own lives is slowly shifting again, and most certainly for the better. I hope to be wearing my helmet for many years to come.

Blue Before

The Hospital Bill