I was reading about the Marvel Cinematic Universe yesterday with regards to Netflix. There’s a Punisher series coming, I guess, and one about a character who was in the Jessica Jones series as well, among others; I can’t remember them all. They were giving the projected release dates––sometime in 2017, sometime in 2019––and I suddenly caught my breath at the realisation that if something appears in 2019, which is two years after my initial expiration date, the chances are now very good that I’ll be around to see it.
There are no guarantees, of course. I might get through all of 2017 in great shape only to have my cancer wake up loaded for bear in 2018. Or I might be planning my 67th birthday party (a surprise party, of course) and fall under a bus. It’s always Anything-Can-Happen Thursday. (Actually, it’s always Anythiing-Can-Happen Thursday for everybody, even those of us who don’t live in my particular area of Cancerland, or any other Chronic-Life-Threatening-Illness-Land.)
However, when I started getting the good news that the level of cancer in my body was diminishing, I thought of what my mother, Old Eternal, told me during the Cuban Missile Crisis. (Scroll me if you’ve heard this one.) I was a little girl at the time and the possibility of nuclear war between the US and the USSR seemed very real, but never more so than right then and there. I was actually having nightmares. One night, after she’d read to me, she was tucking me in and I asked her if she thought war could really break out.
‘Not a chance,’ she said. ‘Take it from me, putschka, nothing’s gonna happen that’ll get either of us out of going to work or to school tomorrow or the next day or the day after that, or ever. Nobody’s gettin’ a day off, so you can fuggedaboudit.‘ (Her maiden name was Saponaro and at the time ours was a Mafia neighbourhood. We all used to talk like that, myself included, even when my mother and my aunt lapsed into Yiddish or Polish, as in putschka. Life’s rich multi-cultural pageant. But I digress.)
I thought about that when I first got the Diagnosis of Doom. Old Eternal had been gone for a little over two years by then but I could hear her like it was yesterday. I could even hear things she would have said: ‘Two years? Don’t count on it, putschka. They’ll be telling you the same thing ten years from now, and ten years after that, and probably ten years after that. Nobody’s gettin’ a day off so you can fuggedaboudit.‘
Of course, that was just my defence against the dark arts, so to speak. You do whatever you have to do and think whatever you have to think in order to keep putting one foot in front of the other rather than curling up under the bed in the foetal position. But I also wanted to face reality. I rearranged my priorities, got my affairs in order, got my mind in order, decided that if I had to live in Cancerland, it would be as much on my terms as cancer’s. And while I don’t think I ever really believed I was going to check out in late 2016/early 2017, I didn’t realise how much of the future I had abdicated from. I would read something about London Transport’s plans for 2020 and think, Well, that’s not my problem. Then, when things went right and the possibility of living years longer than my doctor had originally estimated became real, I had to consciously acknowledge that whatever London Transport or anyone else did in 2020 would be my problem.
As I’ve said elsewhere, Be careful how you talk to yourself, because you are listening.
Another good thing to remember: things aren’t done blindsiding you.
I.e., I was pretty sure I was done with all the feels about my extended lifespan: Yeah, I’m gonna live longer than they thought, hooray! Mom was right, nobody’s getting a day off and hey, that’s a good thing! The good die young but the lucky get old. And in the immortal words of the immortal Warren Zevon: I’m too old to die young and too young to die now.
Yeah, I really did think all those feels about having more life ahead of me were settled, old business, case closed, now back to writing the sushi novel and the ‘Truth and Bone’ novel and who knows, maybe Doré Konstantin will get her last hurrah after all. And all of it contained within my 12-week schedule for buying green bananas (not after the end of week 10).
But apparently I’m not done with feels. Today I was, in the words of (I think) Gerard Manly Hopkins, surprised by joy. Not euphoria or ecstasy, more of a quiet bliss arising from the fact of my existence and of having given it purpose myself, and the satisfaction that comes from figuring out what to do and how best to do it.
And that no matter what I’m facing, all I really have to do is get through today.