(This piece is intended to be read while listening to the attached song “Lessons in Love” by Level 42)
The doctor traipses through the door wearing a somber expression. It’s the face he saves for moments such as these. He looks to be in his late sixties with gray thinning hair, wearing a white lab jacket over a dress shirt and blue Dockers. A pair of silver rimmed bifocals are resting towards the end of his nose. He thumbs through my medical report and shakes his head in confirmation of what he’s reading. Without looking up from the final page he sighs “I’m truly sorry, but, well—-there nothing more we can do—-”. He’s a picture of detached professionalism, he might as well be telling me that my car transmission is shot. I squirm on the crinkly sounding paper that covers the exam table “What do you mean, there’s nothing more you can do?” He puts his hand on my shoulder and wistfully responds “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid it’s terminal.”
A fight or flight response kicks in and I feel a jolt of adrenaline shoot through my veins. I instinctively jump to my feet escaping the examining table with its protective paper that clings to my sweat glazed skin. “You’ve gotta be kidding me. There’s gotta be other alternatives, other options—-experimental treatments—-.” He offers me a weary nod that expresses a sense of futility. “I’ll change my diet, join a gym—-become a vegan? I’ll quit the beer. I’ll fast. I’ll drink vitamin shakes!” I’m not schooled in all the stages of death and dying, but I was obviously in the bargaining phase. “I’m still young, I feel better than ever.” The Doc rubs his wrinkled forehead and then removes his glasses “This is very common, one day you’re running a marathon and making future plans and the next, well—-” his voice trails off as he grimly shrugs his rounded shoulders.
Feeling emotionally and physically exposed, I self-consciously fuss with my hospital gown in an attempt to better cover my backside. I mumble under my breath, “You’d think with all the advances in modern medicine they’d come up with a better way to cover your ass than one of these flimsy butt curtains. I swear, you’ll see more ass in a hospital corridor than a strip-club.”
With all the melodrama carved from a climatic scene of a soap opera (sweeping organ arpeggio not included) I blurt out “How much time do I have left?” The old Doc straightens his starched lab coat and takes a deep breath “When it comes to these sorts of things, well—it’s hard to say. It could be today, or you might have another fifty years.” “What?” I stare at the report in his hand, “Well, what does that fucking report say?” He nods with a sheepish smirk “Oh this, it says you’re perfectly fine. I’m sorry if I’ve confused you, or frightened you.” Folding my arms over my chest I respond “As a matter of fact I am confused, and more pissed than frightened. What the hell are you trying to tell me? Am I well, or am I dying? What the—-” In a gesture of sympathy or perhaps pity, he puts his left arm around my shoulder. “There’s a little secret us doctors keep from our patience.” My voice is becoming louder and more frustrated “Secret, what little secret?” “Son, we’re all terminal. We don’t like to spread this kind of medical diagnoses around.” He squints his eyes displaying a painful grimace, “It’s rather—how should I say—–well it’s—–it’s bad for our professional image—–and it’s really not good for business.”
My sense of anxiety is replaced with a feeling of shock “So I have a reprieve, I’m gonna live?” He slips his hands in the pockets of his spotless lab coat “Why no silly, like I said, you might stroll out of here today and be hit by a Mac-Truck or have a massive aneurism. Or, you could carry on healthy and strong for another fifty years. But make no mistake about it, you are terminal and your days are numbered. And when that day does come, there’s no magic pill or fanciful medical treatment that will extend your life another year, another day or another second.”
He glances down at his watch “Times a wastin, I gotta get down to the commissary, the Women’s’ Auxiliary is having their annual cheese ball sale—Oh my God, they are to die for—-Oops, sorry for the poor choice of words.” He gives me a hand shake and a wink. And with that, he turns and walks out whistling a lose arrangement of “American Pie” by Don McLean.
Later that night I fall asleep and have pastel colored surreal dreams. I’m in a strange cosmic flow between reality and fantasy. I surrender—-I no longer fight against anything—-I desire nothing. I feel no need to assert my will, The “I” in “I am” is gone. There’s a sudden sharpness to the existence of nonexistence, awareness of unawareness, the un-conciseness of conciseness—-I’m at a place where all things intersect—-there’s a nothingness to all that is, and an everything-ness to all that it isn’t. That gibberish is hippy-talk for saying—I feel good,—all is as it should be,—–I’m in the flow—-
I wake up the next morning feeling refreshed and born again—-I finally understand that esoteric term “born again”. I pick up the phone and call my office. The operator connects me to my boss “Hey John, yeah its me, I’m not gonna be able to make it in today. No—I’m fine, in-fact I’m feeling great. I just feel too damn good to spoil it by coming to work.” I snicker to myself “I guess I’m calling in well.”
There’s a long pause “Did you win the lottery or are you drunk?” I laugh “Yeah, I feel like I’ve won the lottery and I feel drunk too, drunk on life—baby.” John’s voice becomes more curt “Now listen here, those quarterly reports are due next week and all those spreadsheets of yours need to be updated and posted. Cut the crap and get your ass down here—-now!” “No I’m sorry John, but like I said, I’m calling in well. I just feel too damn alive to be holed up in a stuffy cubicle all day staring at a computer screen—-it would bum my stone man.”
There’s another long pause. I hear a deep sigh come over the receiver “So, you’re calling in well. Now isn’t that some crazy shit—–. Okay, I’ve gotta hand it to you—-you’ve got balls. And I hate to say this, but at some crazy-ass, luny level, I’m gonna give you the benefit of the doubt. Why? I don’t know. But I’ll take your lame honesty any day over someone’s phony ass hoarse voice, whimpering to me that they’re sick. I guess ya got to do what ya gotta do.” I think to myself, damn—this honesty is some powerful shit!
I’m not sure if I want to take a shot of Jager or a shot of wheatgrass. I put on my baggy shorts, tank top, flip flops and head off downtown. I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the plate-glass store window and damn, I look pretty freakin good. I’ve got my tunes blasting from the speakers in my backpack. I’m diggin on the song “Lessons of Love” by Level 42—I never even use to like that song, damn—where the fuck did the 80’s go? I’m walkin in rhythm, I’m shakin it down like Ellen Degeneres (now, that’s kinda creepy too)—-but who cares, cause baby I’m movin and groovin—I start clapping my hands and laughin out loud like some sort of crazed madman.
I taste the diesel in the air and I suck it in with a smile. I cruz past kids walking home from school and they fall in behind me smiling and dancing,. Birds chirp, horns honk, an alley cat creeps by. A stray dog sniffs the air and then prances in rhythm behind the kids. I drop a dollar in a homeless guys cup—he falls under our spell and joins in, dancing and snapping his fingers at the end of our urban conga-line—. As we pass a Starbucks, a throng of patrons empty out of the patio and find their place at the tail-end of our looney parade. Out of the corner of my eye I see John my boss staring down from his corner office window, he shakes his head and gives me a half hearted thumbs up sign——-all of life is sweet and beautiful—-I’m in it—-we’re all in the flow.
“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”
“Happiness only real when shared.” Christopher McCandless Into the Wild