How to Discover What Really Matters?
No glasses, no silverware. The space quickly grows crowded: a few men on the bed, one on the locker, another on the toilet. In a room smaller than most bathrooms, five men sit elbow to elbow, mouths full and heads nodding in approval. When I first came to prison, I felt that the tradition of sharing a meal had disappeared from my life. After she entered and saw the comb full of hair in my hand, we held each other and sobbed.
External achievements will not bring sustaining happiness and meaning.
Over the weeks of chemotherapy I would lose my mustache, my eyebrows, and even my eyelashes. My skin would grow pale and my eyes sunken. I would turn into the generic image of a cancer patient. In addition to losing my looks, I lost my strength. Two naps a day became the norm. I began forgetting things: conversations, names, to turn off the stove. The treatments gave me blurry vision that prevented me from reading or driving. At times I could do nothing but curl up in bed or on the floor. Every three weeks I planted myself in a recliner in the infusion lab for six hours while toxic chemicals dripped into my veins.
Afterward I had to wear rubber gloves when I used the bathroom, so that the chemicals leaving my body would not touch my skin. I took heavy doses of steroids to counteract the side effects.
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My blood-cell count and kidney function were monitored closely to make sure I would survive the treatment. My wife and I met other patients in the infusion lab, young and old, liberal and conservative. I saw people break down upon learning what chemotherapy would entail. I made new friends. Some are still fighting cancer, some are cancer free, and some have died.
Discovering What Really Matters
There is no predictable pattern to this disease. The common themes are suffering, endurance, and love. They cross cultural boundaries. So I became reclusive. My siblings and children came to our house and took over the cooking and cleaning. They asked nothing of me and often sent me off to rest.
Friends showed up with flowers and food, though I could visit with them for only five or ten minutes. Mostly I sat and watched the bare branches of the cherry tree in our yard swell with buds, then burst with color. I watched the bees pollinate the flowers. I watched the bleeding hearts open.
I saw birds carry twigs to nesting spots. I saw the cherry blossoms turn to fruit. I marveled at how the elongating buds of the wisteria unfolded. Cancer has redefined what matters to me. Today I showered and ran a comb through my short but growing hair.
I took a deep breath and reminded myself to appreciate the love of friends and family and the beauty of the natural world. I grabbed the corsage and hurried up the walk before anyone could see me. If I had known that anyone was going to record this moment on film, I would have told Sue to meet me at the restaurant.
Finally Sue was finished getting dressed. I picked up the corsage and stood for her entrance, aware that she had spent a month scouring the western United States for the perfect dress. Surely all this preparation would make her even more beautiful. Sue resembled a pomegranate, her petite body engulfed in shiny pink material. I wondered whether there would be enough room for her and the dress in the front seat.
Her blond hair, which she usually wore in a cute ponytail, was done up in tight curls, maybe a thousand of them all sprayed into place.
How to Discover What Really Matters - Value of Humility
Whenever she moved her head, they bounced like broken springs. I wanted to, but I was afraid of stepping on the hem of the dress. I wore sunglasses at dinner to conceal my identity, and we ate without saying more than a few words to each other. At the dance the band played upbeat surf music, so it was possible to gyrate while keeping a fair distance from your partner, but Sue stuck close to me.
The band took a break, and she and I went outside to cool down. Sue and some other girls got into a discussion about the scandal of the night — two girls had shown up wearing the same dress — while I joined a group of my male classmates, all of us in the same tux. Sue always overlooked my shortcomings. Passed judgment on the way she looked. I felt horrible. Sue forgave me. I love you. I was seventeen years old, and no girl had ever said those words to me.
The dying know which five things really matter in life
Then I stood and offered her my elbow and walked her back inside, feeling proud and a little grown-up. At first I was afraid of crushing her dress, but then I stopped caring. Sue looked up at me, curls bobbing in time to the music, and smiled. I grew up in a segregated black community. Though he rarely talked about his experiences with racism, his diatribes suggested they were too painful to talk about. Despite his private denunciations of white people and their behavior, my father sometimes invited them to our home and was friendly and engaging.
This paradox confused me as a child. He was known for his ability to teach calculus, geometry, trigonometry, and algebra to even the most difficult students. After the schools were integrated, my father was assigned to teach general math — a basic course. The higher-level math courses were all given to white teachers. According to my dad, he was never even consulted about the decision. Something within him retreated after that. I have not forgotten the example of how my father treated white guests in our home, though. I know that white people may perceive me with wariness and preconceptions, as I do them.
But increasingly I am able to let my distrust subside, so that I can approach these interactions with openness. Only when we are able to see others clearly can we discover their humanity — and our own. Last fall my seventeen-year-old son was struggling to come to terms with his sexual identity. Admitting he was bisexual made him deeply uncomfortable, to the point that he was cutting himself and considering suicide.
His father and I were happy to accept our son as he was, but he felt strongly that being bisexual was not right for him. He fell into a deep depression and was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder which, once it was pointed out, we saw had been present all along. He entered therapy and tried medication, but ultimately he took himself off the pills and self-treated his depression with long hours — and even days — of uninterrupted video-gaming.
It was terrible to see him numbing and isolating himself. The problem was beyond anything that I could fix or help manage. His skin was smooth, the scars from his cutting barely visible. He began to ask me for arm massages after that. I was glad to have something I could do for him. My son made it through that terrifying darkness. He is himself again and spent this spring taking courses, tutoring other students, and traveling to Europe. I choose to be with you.
For ten years I let him have his way. Then the accident happened. The doctors pronounced Kenny brain-dead and put him on life support. I was in shock. His mother and siblings arrived. As the hissing machines kept Kenny alive, his family members began to argue over who would get his belongings — many of which he and I had bought together.