I was recently reminded of an old song by Tim McGraw called “Live Like You Were Dying” during a conversation I had with a neighbor across the street that I have known for seven years, give or take. Jim, a veteran, lifelong diabetic, and amputee – he lost one of his legs as a fucked up result of a post-op blood clot – is a kind and decent man who loves to wheel himself out to the parking lot on warm sunny days, all oiled up to soak in some rays while he listens to his car stereo through the rolled down Windows. I have written elsewhere about my love of sitting on my front porch with Daisy just before bedtime to settle my soul with the soothing tones of my wind chimes and discuss with her all the things we did or didn’t accomplish and what we may or may not attempt the next day. But I haven’t mentioned the conversations I have had with Jim over the years, and it’s worth bringing up now, given the news he shared with me.
The distance between my front porch and his back door is roughly 40 ft, so whenever he comes out that door when we are sitting there, Daisy picks up her head (my signal for which direction to look toward for the source of the sound). One of us calls out some greeting to the other to opine about the weather. It has become a running joke, but the way this always works, he tells me he can see Daisy, but he can’t see me, and I remind him that I can barely see her and I can only rely on his voice to know which direction I’m supposed to be talking. It’s been a source of mutual entertainment, me reminding him I’m technically blind and him reminding me that at least I still have both legs before I remind him that at least he can drive while I am relegated to the city bus or a bicycle I shouldn’t be riding.
And so it was that, as Daisy and I were heading past his house toward my granddaughter’s house around the corner, he happened to come out the door. I brought Daisy over so she could say hi up close and personal, and we exchanged the normal banter about the weather while he patted Daisy, and she loved on him. And just like that, he nonchalantly told me he had some bad news.
With almost no emotion in his voice, he said he had been diagnosed with some sort of blood cancer and that he had a doctor’s appointment coming up, during which there would be a discussion about treatment options, survivability rates, and long-term plans. As his next sentence came out of his mouth, I was already thinking about how I would deal with the same news, but as I listened to him talk, I heard the same words running through my own brain: fuck that, I’m not doing it. Although he is five years my senior, each of us has experienced more than one brief meeting with our maker, after which we had already come to terms with our mortality while having lived long enough after to be able to tell the tale.
He told me, with complete conviction, that he had lived a good full life and had no regrets, certainly, none he could undo even if he wanted to, and we both chuckled-remembering that line in the movie The Green Mile-and agreeing we were square with the house. He doesn’t want, any more than I do, to go through all that hell just to live a little longer, sicker than at any other point in life, and die anyway, and neither of us wants to put our children and grandchildren through that either. I would further add that a life well enough lived should not have to come to a close being unrecognizable to yourself or any of those who have loved and cared for you along your journey.
Neither of us intends to ride 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu, but gym plans on a cross-country drive, and I could tell, listening to him describe the last time he did it, that it will be his last thing he never regrets. The question, as asked by Tim McGraw, is, what will you do when you get such news?