Monday, September 15, 2008

An Unwanted Journey: Day 1027 - Comedy or Tragedy?

"You're asking me to knowingly face my death?...This is really bad timing." - Harold Crick from Stranger Than Fiction

But there really isn't any good timing, is there?

Well, maybe, if somebody told me that I had another 50 years, that I would write a best seller, that I'd get to dance at my granddaughter's wedding, that I'd be somehow influential in achieving world peace...well, maybe then knowing the time and date of my death might be considered good timing.

Maybe that's it. It's not the timing. It's not knowing in advance. It's being an active participant in shaping the future. It's working towards things that matter, whether or not the target is actually reached. It's surrendering those life strategies that work in highly artificial situations, but not so well when facing life-and-death scenarios. It's about choosing what your life means.

That's part of the reason why Stranger Than Fiction is such an amazing movie for me. We'll probably never awake one morning to find someone else's voice narrating our own life story, but if we aren't actively creating the screen play of our lives, then that's what's happening by default, isn't it?

Harold is shocked into attempting to change the course and meaning of his life by the realization that someone else is plotting his life. At first, he and his literature mentor try to figure out the narrative structure and determine whether his life is unfolding as a comedy or a tragedy. If Harold were told that he had inoperable Stage IV cancer, chances are he would consider that a good indication that his life was a tragedy. In the past few days, I've wondered if that is the direction my own life story is taking.

But comedic moments keep happening. I find myself even creating them at times (see yesterday's rather pathetic attempt at sarcasm). Today, my wife and others with whom I've communicated have helped me create levity and laughter which push at the chevron incision of my midriff ("U, ya checky wee monkey...keep yer chin up, ya wee git").

And then there are those moments that are neither comedic nor tragic, but "merely" inspirational and touching. Dedicating a 10K run at the Terry Fox Run with its symbolic yellow ribbon around a tree in Bechtel Park. Or claiming I helped her to a second-place finish in the duathlon national championships on Sunday in Montreal by comparing our respective situations. Or the many Facebook comments and notes and email wishes for better times ahead.

So, whether you believe in a divine narrator or, like me, that we are responsible for providing the meaning of our own lives, knowing the time of your death isn't really that important. Knowing whether you're part of a tragedy or comedy may not be that important either. But knowing that you are participating in creating the narrative of your own life, that you are open to the tragicomic elements of life in general, that others help you shape the meaning of your life, that your own life is actually stranger than fiction - this all matters a great deal.


Lorna Scott said...

I am a stranger to you, but feel very connected. In April of this year my husband was scheduled for surgery to remove 2 small growths from his left lung (metastasized rectal cancer) which appeared to be cancerous. This was our hope of a cure. Four days before surgery we found out the cancer had spread to both lungs and there were multiple nodules. He, too, is on a palliative regimen of chemotherapy. He had a flu in June and one symptom was bad headache. This lead to a CT scan and MRI of the brain and we learned he has spots on his brain that appear cancerous. One had been bleeding a bit so he has had to quit taking Avastin. I am not sure he has come to terms with his mortality - my head has, my heart hasn't. I relate to many of your comments about this situation. I think it is helpful to know you are not alone.....even though it feels like that a lot of days. I admire your honesty and courage to share your journey. I have started a blog - from a caregiver's perspective. I wish for you a speedy recovery from surgery and many great days ahead. I will come back now and then to check and see how your journey is going. Keep your life full of love and hope - they are magical!

Don Spencer said...

Lorna, thank you so much for including me in your thoughts. I'd be happy to communicate privately as well should you or your husband wish to do so. And I will be checking your blog regularly now. Good luck to you both.