Well, today marks my 43rd full turn around the sun.
I walked through the snow and slush with Grace the dog. I worked on my website. I took the girls to rent skis for the winter. We sat down for dinner as a family, then piled onto the couch to watch a holiday baking show.
In my book, this is a damn good day.
When you’re living with metastatic cancer, especially as a parent of school-age children, you live a jarring double life.
In one, you believe and hope you will live long enough to see your kids graduate from high school, to see them make an impact on the world, perhaps even to meet their children.
In the other, you feel the crushing burden of time. You are frantic to pack in a lifetime of love and memories now, because you don’t know when your time will come (please no “don’t think about death” comments. If you’re stage IV, it’s part of the job description).
So here I am as a father and a cancer patient, racing down the razor’s edge.
Sage is a freshman in high school. Elsie is in 7th grade. We function in that chaotic, high energy transition between the stuff of youth and the stuff of young adulthood. Each day careens toward the next, with the bustle of the girls getting ready for school in the morning, and the bustle of homework and sports and dinners in the evening.
During the past few weeks, Sage sang in her first high school chorus concert. Elsie had her first middle school dance.
I set my intention to draw out these moments, to linger in them. It is pure joy. Yet when each distinct moment concludes, I’m left almost deflated, powerless to slow down time.
The philosopher and farmer Wendell Berry wisely observed that humans suffer because we tax our lives with forethought of grief. No doubt, much pain can be avoided when we condition our imaginations not to wander.
To focus without distraction on right here, right now.
To let go of tomorrow’s troubles.
Of course, letting go is easy in the abstract. It’s far harder to achieve in real life.
Because, man, I’m attached to these humans I share this life with. I love their unique voices, the way they walk, the scrunched-up faces they make when it’s too early and too cold to get out of bed on winter mornings. I love the way Sage sways just a bit from side to side when she sings on stage. I love Elsie’s laugh when she has her headphones on and she’s listening to a book no one else can hear.
I love their warmth, their breath when they hug me, their spirits.
I love how, after 26 years into our relationship, Sarah and I still look forward to reconnecting after our day’s work is done.
So when I’m troubled by forethought of grief, I remind myself that’s the natural byproduct of love. I let the grief pass through, and I search out the next moment of connection. After all, any man who lives in such an abundance of love, well, that’s one lucky guy.