Thursday, July 31, 2008

What If This Is As Good As It Gets?

As the summer wears on, my mind continually hovers over a central question: Is this real life, or a diversion from real life? Is Pablo's cancer a cosmic crack-up on the way to what should have been? Were we careening toward our summer full of holidays, and a couple of tumors showed up to create an inconvenient fender-bender on the way to me racing the Etape du Tour (stage 10 of the Tour de France), or our 10 days at Peter and Brie's in New Hampshire? We hardly think so.

We believe this is part of our path. 60 seconds after Dr. Austin told us it was cancer in the ER, Jo Ann said those exact words to me. We believe in a power greater than ourselves. Some people call that power God, some call it It, some call it the Universe. I don't care if you call it Al. Well, actually, I do, but you know what I mean.... In my life, and Jo Ann in hers, there have been many permutations of spirituality. Where we landed after lots of ironic stances against the Man is that we don't get to play director, actor, lighting technician and camera man. We get to play one of those. And we get to play the cards as they lay. We get to wake up in the morning and hit the rack at night and do the best we can in between.

One of my spiritual teachers was a gentle, wonderful man named Bob Timmins. Sometimes when I went to sit with him, and I was in a terrible way, he'd ask me, 'What if this is as good as it gets?' Read that again–s l o w l y. It stops me dead in my tracks every time. When that question brought comfort and calm to my nutty mind and my jagged heart, I knew I was in the right place with the right man. The Talking Heads song 'Once In A Lifetime' touches on this theme. Bob passed away in March. The energy I felt and all our mutual friends felt when he passed was indescribable. I loved him. He really knew me, I really knew him. I spent a lot of time with Bob, and always wanted to be with him more. Today, as a father and a husband, I see the hundreds of hours I spent with him as boot camp for my current life. Now I want to spend more time with Pablo, make the days stretch so we have more time to read and mess around.

While Papa ruminates over deep thoughts, Pablo is a kid being a kid. He is a kid with a couple of tumors in his belly. One of them is quite large, and protrudes from his side like a miniature Nerf football. The other is smaller, but by no means minute. Both are serious, although hanging with P for an afternoon leaves anybody wondering 'Where's the sick kid?'

When I review the game tapes in my mind, Pablo hasn't missed a beat. He does not compute on the idea that he should be or could be doing something else with himself. He doesn't say 'I wish I didn't have cancer.'
Recently, Pablo has started to verbalize his desire for the tumors to leave his body. The other day, he said to Jo Ann, 'I want my bump to go away and never come back.' Sounds like a postulate more than a complaint.

Pablo has found efficiencies in the dull patterns of cancer treatment. Going to hospital, opening mouth, saying 'ahhhhh' before the doctor asks, turning his head to have this ear checked, then that ear checked, getting all his glands checked every Tuesday have all become as normal to him as going to Silverlake Park used to be. Those things and more. He is patient. There is an instinct at work in him. He is aware that Dr. Mascarenhas is helping him. He watches as his port is accessed. He watches consciously as the chemo vials are pumped into his port. He asks for his anti-nausea pills. And when he vomits, he often states, soberly and matter-of-factly, 'I feel better now.' Then he returns to what he was doing, even if it's eating.

Is Pablo's world view wide enough at his young age to describe his experience in these terms? We will only know when he is old enough to report on this era of his life. In my view, Pablo is exercising free will choice and surrender and harmonious action in every single hour of his life. And those actions, we believe, are credits that transfer into all areas and eras of life. We can't wait to see his person and personality blossom.

Most five-year-old children are not confronted with this kind of stuff. What flavor of ice cream, what movie to see on Friday night, who should I have a play date with tomorrow–those are the topics of a typical kindergardener. The rails of Pablo's life were that narrow and that smooth prior to 17 May 2008. That night, in the bath–the very tub where he and I bathed tonight–Pablo's life changed. He hit a switchyard. It wasn't on the train schedule. The trainspotters didn't see it. But, as my eyes caught sight of that anomoly in his abdomen, his life changed. So it was part of the plan. By being with my son and seeing a sudden change in his body, many things happened. One, we were able to get him help immediately. Two, I was able to heal the neglect and abandomnent I'd survived in my childhood, just by being there with him. In that moment, in a tub filled with pirates, dinosaurs, a pirate ship and bubbles, our lives changed. The definition of what is shifted, never revert to what it once was. A good thing, because, as I said earlier, we believe this is part of our path, not a bent fender on the side of the road.

We marvel at Pablo's simple, quiet serenity. Jo Ann, Grady, Polly, Francine and I. We look at him, hoping his eyes will connect with ours. We are hoping his eyes will say 'It's OK. I'm OK.' They rarely do. That look would make us feel better. He knows better than to worry about how we feel. He is inside himself, tending to the only thing a five-year-old ought to tend to: himself. He is having his own Experience. It's really something to witness.

It took me until August 28 2001 to start on that path. I was 28, and that was the day I called Bob. Looking back, I had a loooooong way to go from that date to even consider what I've written above. All the things I have learned about life since that day have found a purpose in Pablo. Found a launching point in his war with cancer. It's enough to think that, as a parent, one can do a better job than one's parents. The simple, beautiful fact is, Pablo is a better specimen of humankind that I. As is Grady. They are both gifts in our lives, opening our spiritual scope just by breezing, and at times, struggling, through their expanding lives.

Thinking back to Bob's oft-posed question, if this is as good as it gets–the cancer, the canceled summer holidays, the hours of bike riding I haven't done this summer, the sleepless nights, watching my wife cry herself to sleep–I'm the happiest guy I know. A conscious life is a life worth living. And seeing Grady and Pablo's world view widen in front of our eyes is inspiring.


MKPatrick said...

Dear Jeff,
By writing your heartfelt experiences and feelings, you are turning into a "Bob" for many people, especially me.
Thank you for sharing your life with us. You and your family are a gift.
Mary Kay

Dawn: said...

Amazing post. Thank you for that.