Many Things are Dissolving
A few days ago, I was sitting in the coffee area of the local AA club while Barry sat in a meeting. To plug in my computer, I had to move somebody’s pictures to a corner of the table. I don’t know who the photos belonged to. I looked at a few of them. They were clearly from different decades, going back at least to the 60’s. I didn’t recognize anyone from the club in them and I didn’t see any descriptions on the back of who these people are/were.
It hit me real hard: is this all that’s left when we die? A pile of pictures that some random relative will have to dispose of? What’s more is that I have allowed few pictures to be taken of me as an adult. I may not be remembered at all.
Life is change. I am accustomed to thinking of things in terms of transitions from one thing to another, but some things don’t really change into something else; they just dissolve. Even Thich Nhat Hanh talks about water becoming clouds and that kind of thing.
Things seemed simpler when I was a Christian and believed in a personal god. A childlike faith can be reassuring, even if it is false.
This past week, Barry was told that he probably had “a few cancer cells down there.” At first, I found that reassuring. Some men, after all, can have slow-growing prostate tumors for twenty or more years. However, I doubt those men have Huntington’s or a previous cancer diagnosis. Is having “a little cancer” similar to being a “little bit pregnant”? I’ve decided to proceed forward from the position of “the cancer is back,” not “a few cancer cells.” When a person first gets a cancer diagnosis, they can get treatment and maybe live another twenty or thirty years. On the other hand, when someone is told that the cancer has returned, the next step is to get one’s affairs in order, starting with a will. We’ve already done a lot of that. I am just living from the perspective of a shortened prognosis. We already have a palliative care plan in place.
Six months ago, I thought Barry could live another ten years—a very possibly ugly ten years. The Huntington’s is slowly progressing and there is the possibility of a nursing home within the next few years. There was no light at the end of the tunnel for me. Now there is. Barry will not likely live another ten years. Palliative care is not treatment; it is hospice. I may outlive Barry after all.
Part of me says, “So what?” Eventually, any meaningful trace of my existence will disintegrate. In the end, the light at the end of my tunnel will be a train.
Pema Chodron wrote a book many years ago, When Things Fall Apart. It is really good. But what about when you fall apart? Not just emotionally, but actual physical dissolution? I am not talking about metamorphosis. I am talking extinction. Very different.