President Barack Obama pledged on Tuesday that the recovery plan will include funds to kick start a new effort to seek "a cure for cancer in our time." That means that of the $10 billion pledged on Feb 17 for the National Institutes of Health, about $1.26 billion will go into cancer research. The rest of the plan has yet to be revealed, but clearly the research pledge is only meant to be a "first effort".
That phrase "a good first effort" reminds me of something someone once said to me about a hand carved and painted wooden duck decoy. To be fair and accurate, the carving was a first effort. But hearing those words spoken out loud was a bit of a slap in the face. I've never gone back to carving duck decoys either because I am a true dilettante or because of a fear that a second effort would look much like a first effort, a clear indicator of my artistic mediocrity.
But today, as I lie here in my home hospice medical bed, I do hope for a miracle cure to my metastatic colorectal cancer, but I realize of course that my cancer is too far advanced already to warrant such a hope. I look at my wooden carving "first efforts", at large novels in my library still unread, at all the tasks left undone from projects in my Microsoft Outlook and PlanPlus applications that will never receive follow through. I think about all the family special events that I will miss, about weddings, births, and vacations.
When I indulge in thinking about all those things that will probably never happen, I fall into a bit of depression - not enough to merit worry, but just enough for me to realize that at this particular moment my glass is only half full. "In our time" for me means that whatever Obama and subsequent political leaders might accomplish, a cure for my cancer will not occur in my lifetime.
And then I get angry - not angry enough for anyone else to notice, but just enough to energize me into reflecting on things that I still might do "in my time" to spit into the wind, to thumb my nose at terminal cancer - to make a few more "first efforts" no matter how futile they might be according to someone else's judgements.
So what might they be? I'm thinking of buying a Folio edition of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time, wait the six to eight weeks for it to arrive by mail, hoping that I can read the entire novel before the beast makes its move. Or maybe I'll get started on learning a new language, one that I can't possibly put to use conversationally while lying in my medical bed. Or maybe I'll learn to draw and then make "first-effort" portraits of people guaranteed to be either already forgotten or soon to be forgotten.
It doesn't really matter what I choose to do to express my anger. There will be days when the anger itself is transformed into something more like joie de vie or a surprised by joy experience.
Maybe I'll just keep doing what I'm doing already. Why? Because the truth is that it doesn't really matter what other people think about my first efforts or what I might accomplish in whatever time remains for me. What matters is what I think. If I am pleased with my choice, I think there's a pretty good chance that at least a few other people will appreciate it as well.