On what life teaches us

A friend of mine has been diagnosed with one of those diseases that could kill him in a month or it might hold off for a while. Understandably he has been thrown by this, the uncertainty as much as the diagnosis. How do you live when you know the end is coming, but you don’t know how long you have?

He is struggling to explain that the surgeries are brutal, and at some point he will draw the line, but that does not mean he is just giving up.

“Life is good,” he says. “And I don’t want to die.”

I know, I say. I know.

He has tests regularly and each set of tests buys him three more months, although he knows that the tests could miss something, or he might get run over by a truck, and there are no guarantees for any of us. He knows that, but the tests have come to dominate his life; they direct its ebb and flow. He plots his life around them.

I think how much I have in common with him, more now than ever. I am waiting for Jessica’s test results; I will know them today. And then things will either be very hard or I will have a reprieve, six months of liberty. There is the rising anxiety as the week of the tests draws nearer, and the night before when I can never sleep. The day of, when I am incapable of concentrating on anything, but unwilling to talk about my fear. The rising crescendo, the denouement. If I am lucky, I will not have to think about it again for six more months.

My friend says, “I know I have learned something from this. I have been trying to say what it is, but I don’t have the words. Nothing I say is right.”

I think how true this is. We would like to pass along the sentiment that captures the experience, but the words aren’t right. What you think you’ve learned is different today than it was yesterday. And anyway what you know doesn’t help anyone who isn’t going through what you’re going through. My friend is taking all those trips he always meant to take, but if you’re not dying, you probably have to go to work today.

But he knows I know, and I guess that is what matters, and it is why we have to find each other, those of us who plot our lives around the tests. We tell our stories to each other, and we don’t have to try to explain what we have learned because everyone around the table already knows.