This past year, after turning fifty and, hence, launching what I hope will be the final third of my existence, I decided I would do more than the contractual minimum, to give things another shot. To assure myself that I tried to make this world a better place in my own small way.
And that new approach meant that I was/am communicating with a few people whom I always valued as colleagues.
I wrote to one of them the other day, asking to meet with him.
The reply came after a few hours.
Not the reply that I would have ever imagined.
He is fighting an aggressive cancer.
Another nasty reminder about the unpredictability that life is all about.
I will meet with him in the next couple of days.
When visiting with one who is ill, I am always flummoxed with how to open to the conversation. "Hey, how are you?" which works well in normal interactions now becomes the most inane and insensitive opener ever. I am reminded of Christopher Hitchens' comment on that aspect:
It’s normally agreed that the question “How are you?” doesn’t put you on your oath to give a full or honest answer. So when asked these days, I tend to say something cryptic like “A bit early to say.” (If it’s the wonderful staff at my oncology clinic who inquire, I sometimes go so far as to respond, “I seem to have cancer today.”) Nobody wants to be told about the countless minor horrors and humiliations that become facts of “life” when your body turns from being a friend to being a foe: the boring switch from chronic constipation to its sudden dramatic opposite; the equally nasty double cross of feeling acute hunger while fearing even the scent of food; the absolute misery of gut-wringing nausea on an utterly empty stomach; or the pathetic discovery that hair loss extends to the disappearance of the follicles in your nostrils, and thus to the childish and irritating phenomenon of a permanently runny nose. Sorry, but you did ask …I will visit with him to wish him well in this fight. But, I know I won't open with "how are you?"