Hungry for Life

September 18, 2001

Here we go again.

At 11:15 this morning--barring another catastrophe--I'm scheduled to report to Memorial Hospital for cancer surgery. I still don't know whether I'll actually have the full surgery (removal of my stomach). That determination won't be made until I'm on the operating table, under anesthesia. First the doctors will perform a laparoscopy, poking a hole in my stomach to look around with a telescope. Depending on the spread of cancer they find, they'll either go ahead with the stomach ressection or call it off. So I won't know until I wake up from anesthesia whether I've had the surgery or not.

My wife asked me last night if I'm concerned. I told her I feel lucky. How many people in New York would have traded places with me last Monday night? Probably none. How many would trade places with me now? If you asked the families of those missing in the World Trade Center, probably all. To have this day with family, to breathe this air, to walk in the sunshine--that is everything.

I don't look upon this last week as a reprieve; I need my operation sooner rather than later. But being so close to surgery on the 11th and having it called off, I feel as though Nature was asking: Do you really appreciate how good you have it? Do you know how close we all walk to death? Seven more days of "normal" activity--eating three meals a day, walking the kids to school, putting them to bed at night, lying together with my wife--allowed me to glory in the wonderous routines that before seemed so mundane.

As preparation for the surgery, I've had to fast more than 30 hours now. I did the same thing last week. The doctors want my stomach completely empty when they operate. It's been tough to pass back and forth through all the food in the kitchen, but oh, am I thankful it's there. In my hunger, I can only imagine what those panhandlers must feel, walking the streets with empty stomachs in this city of abundance, seeing the overflowing markets and bustling restaurants; what those anorexic girls do to themselves in denying their bodies food day after day; what the Mahatma Gandhi means when he says, "There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them in any form other than bread." I think of the spiritual resolve Gandhi showed in fasting for political protest; of those zen monks who live on the constant edge of hunger so as to remind themselves to be grateful for any meal they receive.

Stomach or no, I will eat again. Just to sit at the table, breaking bread with my family--how can I not feel lucky for that?

In every bite, a taste of God.