My first partner had a tattoo. If you had known him you would have been surprised – it happened as the result of a drunken night out when he was doing his national service. He hated the sight of it but it was there every time he happened to look at his arm – the fact of its mere existence just wouldn’t go away. You could have tried to assure him, in good faith, that it made him look butch, but that wouldn’t have changed the situation!
Cancer is like that. Even when you’ve been told that they’ve got rid of it, the fact of it remains in your mind and it just won’t budge and, like it or not, each time you are reminded of having had it there is the added reminder that it might come back today, or tomorrow or sometime. It’s a bastard, that cancer!
Despair? Be like Shakespeare’s Richard II and ‘Lets talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs… Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings’? You can if you want to, but it doesn’t have to be like that. Here’s my take on it all.
For me the secret is to focus on the ‘now’ of existence.
At first, that meant using diversionary tactics. Letting something command your attention as a way of combatting your anxiety, and your fear of the future. That seemed a good idea to me and so off I went for a 5 week course on,
wait for it,
on ‘Scandinavian Film and Television’. That should be good for a laugh, surely!
After a couple of weeks of viewing a world almost solely in black and white; of concluding that Scandinavian society is wholly consumed by having to solve gruesome murders; of trying to accept that there is no valid cinema outside of Scandinavia; and of trying to convince myself that the Scandinavian welfare state is the best thing since sliced bread; I almost finally came to the conclusion that having cancer might be a viable alternative after all. However what I did learn from it all was that this activity, or any other, wasn’t actually a way of forgetting reality but was actually a valid way of living now. I discovered that learning, making, walking, singing, writing was not the alternative to having a meaningful life, or just using up time, but was actually the real stuff of living. Now I’m into researching family history and when Mr Cancer rears his ugly face he will get a gruff ‘f – off!’ because I’m too busy now!
Again, living in the ‘now’ brings its own rules about status, possessions, and regarding the future and the past. It is tempting to lapse into ‘I used to be’ in one’s conversation as a way of keeping what status is left in your own stuff of living. But everyone who embraces and holds on to that approach is likely, sooner or later, to end up demeaned and by-passed. Far better to let what you are now be your reason for existence. Learn that where you are loved and are respected by those who matter, it is for what you are now, rather than for some way back role in seemingly another world. I acknowledge it not to be easy to live like that, but all should be warned, nothing is forever.
In the gay world, and in other world’s too, our possessions are becoming the key to what we see as the good life and, to be honest, how comfortable they do make us feel. But in pursuing them our futures have become mapped out and determined as we strive to keep and better what we have. Living in the ‘now’ takes away much of that striving as we focus simply on having enough and that being sufficient.
I want to thank Mr. Cancer for teaching me something else about living in the ‘now’. Initially I focussed on what I might not be able to do in the future; a simple phone call to a travel insurer confirmed that within a minute or so. But learning how to respond to an idea, an urge, a desire, now, without planning, foresight and not leaving it till later, is the real stuff of enjoyment and satisfaction. So keep your suitcase packed; go and catch the train to wherever; if you can afford it, get it, whatever ‘it’ may be; and let doing it now be the focus of your life.
Finally, because you are the centre of this new way of living, and your needs and your life matter most, learn also to say to others ‘not now’. With love, possibly sometimes with regret, and possibly even at the expense of other’s justifiable requests, let your ‘now’ come first. There will be moments when that rule will have to be relaxed, and perhaps even when others requests will enable you better to live better in the ‘now’, but, without others giving you the permission to do so, you have the inalienable right to smile and say ‘not now’.
So who do you think you are kidding Mr. Cancer, when you think that life is done? You have unwittingly provided a key to living which is rich beyond measure – thanks.