I’d like to think that I’m at a point in my life where I’ve got an enlightened view of death. Where I’ve come to terms with the reality of it and made peace that when it happens, it happens, and that because of my religious beliefs look forward to it as the start of something wonderful.
Like everyone else I’ve had my share of scares. From the beginning actually. When I was in the womb the cord got wrapped around my neck and Mom just felt that something was wrong, insisted on being taken to the hospital and being checked out. They performed an emergency C-section and here I am. As a kid I was running through the house too fast once and bounced off a door. I caught the hood to the sweatshirt I was wearing on the door knob and tripped. All I can remember is leaning forward, being held up by my sweatshirt, not being able to breath, and not being able to figure out how to fix it. Fortunately Mom once again saved the day. Once Dad and I got caught in the undertow off Tybee Island. I didn’t realize it at the time, but years later Dad said that was the most scared he’d ever been in his life until my sister started having health issues.
I’ve had the bad car experiences, including hydroplaning off the interstate @ 65mph in a near tornado in Kansas. I’ve been grazed on a motorcycle, been outside during a hurricane. I grew up in Iowa and spent many a night in the basement while tornados whipped through the area.
Before I’d ever deployed to a combat zone I’d been shot at 3 times; once in an armed robbery, once by gang bangers while I was delivering pizzas and once by a dumb private who’s helmet had fallen over her eyes and couldn’t see anything. She heard everyone else start shooting at a live-fire range and decided she should start shooting as well.
I had several enemy combatants try to shoot me and blow me up. I’ve taken direct and indirect fire. I’ve been ambushed. I was on a military transport that sucked something through one of the engines and had to make an emergency landing.
My Dad has had a quintuple by pass. His Dad died from heart complications and poor circulation. My sister passed away from cancer as did one of my Dad’s brothers. Cancer has hit another of my uncles. I’ve been told by doctors “This sure looks like cancer, we need to run some tests to make sure” twice. As well as “There might be a hole in your heart. That could be causing this lack of oxygenation problem. Let’s run some test, but if this is it, we might have some real problems.” Once they finally DID figure out what was wrong with me it still turned out to be a disease with a pretty high mortality rate.
I’ve made spur of the moment, gut decisions that may or may not have been life-impacting. Like telling a driver to push the car in front of us out of the way and lead the convoy out of what I was sure was an ambush situation, or jumping a median and driving head on into oncoming traffic because I thought I saw a triggerman or possible I.E.D. on our side of the road. I’ve made carefully thought out (but foolish) decisions like not wearing a seat belt because the anxiety it caused wasn’t worth it at that moment, or not wearing a helmet because I’d rather feel the wind in my hair and the mist on my face and I’d rather die doing something I love than from a heart attack or lung problem years down the road (though I’m fully aware that there are worse things than death, and some of those things are a direct result of a motorcycle accident). I was convinced that “Third times the charm” and that I was going to buy the farm on my third deployment but willingly went anyway because I didn’t want the rest of the guys to go without me.
Two phrases are used by me and my family a lot. I’ve stopped saying them aloud to others as much as I used to because apparently they come across as pretty callous. The first is “It is what it is” and the second is “Don’t borrow trouble” or the longer version “Don’t borrow trouble, worry when there’s something to worry about.”
That’s much, much easier said than done. Sounds cool. And I can lie to myself, and it helps inspire… something. Helps lock the bad thoughts into a box. But they’re still there. Some tiny bit of sub-consciousness keeps them alive, unbeknownst to the rest of the mind and body. I had another potential cancer scare over the last couple weeks. Something in my noggin which sounded suspiciously close to what my sister went through. The possibilities were much more gently worded than in the past, there was a lot more ambiguity, less certainty and more possible explanations for my symptoms. I did the CT scan and went about life while I was waiting for the results. Told a couple people what was going on right after the possibility was mentioned. One, a friend, just while I was in processing mode, another local friend to say “Hey, I might need some rides coming up” because I was optimistic that it wasn’t going to be cancer, and my sister, just in case it was, so that I could impose on family instead of friends. Then I honestly didn’t think I thought about it for the next week and a half.
The results came in late last week. Clear. There’s some stuff that has to be addressed, but nothing to make them think cancer anymore. This whole weekend since I got the news has been like one long exhale of a giant breath I didn’t realize I was holding. A lot of internal giddiness and prayers of thanks. Maybe I’ve thought about death a lot and mentally have come to terms with it, but emotionally I’m happy to stay here for a fair bit longer.