A.D.Y., Redux

May 7, 2002, Memorial Hospital, New York

A friend of mine from college came to visit me in the hospital yesterday. We had a nice chat, lively and energetic, talking about our kids, my treatment plans, opportunities for Zen Guitar, maybe going to visit him in Connecticut this summer. We parted and said we'd talk soon. Then, in the moment before he turned to go, he gave me The Look.

I might be wrong, but I thought I saw it in his eyes: This is the last time I'll ever see Phil alive.

It took me a moment to process, and by then he was already gone. But I turned to my wife and a tear fell down my cheek. Is this the way people are going to look at me now? She nodded her head and said, "You'd better get used to it."

People, let me tell you: A.D.Y., baby, A.D.Y. I ain't dead yet. The next person that gives me that look, I'm going to call out and say, Get that look off of your face! I don't need to see it, and you don't need to feel it.

Understandably, we're dealing with heavy stuff here, and I'm sympathetic to the difficulties loved ones have in seeing my body so gaunt. It's hard for them to know what to say. I know how awkward I would feel if the situation were reversed. But look past my body, look at my eyes: My mind is strong and my spirit is strong. I'm still here--the part of me that's me. I've set my mind and spirit on bringing my body along.

If total health consists of a healthy body, mind, and spirit, I've got two out of the three--and in a way, I've got the most important two. Because everyone's body atrophies as they get older; it's an inevitable decline that everyone grapples with at some point in their lives. I just happen to be grappling with it at an earlier age than my peers.

But at least I've got a healthy mind and spirit. Those two are what really keep you alive, in the sense of knowing what it means to be alive, to feel the joy of life, to pass on that joy and appreciate every day as a precious gift. You'll never find me complaining about the weather, no matter how "bad" it gets. To a person with cancer, all weather is good weather. So what if there's a rainstorm at the picnic grounds? It's a great day to be alive.

I'm just like anyone else, trying to delay the decay of my body for as long as possible. What's sad are those people unhealthy in mind or spirit, who don't see the gift they have, who squander it or can't find a reason to get up in the morning. Their struggle is far harder than mine. Compared to them, I'm lucky. The longer I live, the more I see how I'm one of the fortunate few who've been blessed to know True Love--a love that transcends this bodily realm, that's enveloping and eternal. I've said before, there are people who could live a thousand lifetimes and never know the comfort and peace of the love I've received. How can I not live in constant gratitude for this blessing? Who am I to measure an "early" death against such a timeless gift?

In Japan, they celebrated Children's Day two days ago, part of that nation's "Golden Week" of holidays. As part of the tradition, families hang colorful carp flags called koinobori outside their homes. When the wind blows, the carp look like they're swimming. The carp symbolizes vigor because it swims upstream, against the current to spawn. The flags encourage children to carry the same vigorous spirit as they grow up and meet the challenges of life.

That's the spirit I'm taking in my battle with cancer. I'm still a child at heart: Naive in many ways, optimistic about the future but not really paying attention to the future so much as the game I'm playing right now. It's fun.

Maybe I'm like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, in the climatic scene, hunkered down in their bunker, all shot up and counting the precious few bullets they have left. "When we get out of here, we're going to Bolivia," they say, neither one willing to acknowledge the array of armaments lined up against them. Then they charge out, guns blazin'.

Yeah, Butch and Sundance. Fun. Cool. ''I'm never gonna stop the rain by complaining--'cause I'll be free, nothing's worrying me."

Put a smile on your face. A.D.Y., baby, A.D.Y.