The simple truth is that I am tired of being sick. I do my best to carry on a normal life, but I am slowly losing that battle, I fear. This infernal disease is insidious. It is like a guerilla fighter. It does not attack me directly, choosing instead to snipe at me when I am weak.
I have often said that no one “fights” this sickness. I am right about that. There is nothing I can do about it, except try to live on. So far so good, but I know that I will fail. Eventually, it will get me. It is one of those situations where your best intentions, willingness to work hard, and the support of friends and family do not mean much. You just try to make it to another day, hoping it will be better. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.
I dragged out of bed this morning at 9:00 AM, already exhausted. It seems so wrong to wake up worn out, but that is how I feel most mornings. Just plain beat. I got dressed and worked on the kayak and went to the library, but that was about all I could manage for the day. I find that I have to stop and rest after doing little things, like walking to my workshop. That is infuriating for someone who, in his prime, was swimming 6 miles a day. On my worst day back then, I could always swim a mile or two, without even breathing hard. I do not think I could swim a length of the pool now. Pathetic.
So I try to do other things.
I find myself spending a lot of time reading, which is one of life’s pleasures. I never spent a lot of time reading when I was working. Now I read, not only for pleasure, but because of a love of literature. I marvel at the talent of great writers. They are artists. I have reread every novel written by Ernest Hemingway. (He killed himself, some say, because he was worn out with living with endless pain from injuries received in an aircraft accident. I can understand that.) I just finished On the Road, To Kill a Mocking bird, and The Catcher in the Rye. Simply magnificent. Each in its own way. I finally read War and Peace. Les Miserables.
Then, my Charles Dickens Week: Oliver Twist. Great Expectations. David Copperfield. Followed by John Steinbeck’s East of Eden,
Grapes of Wrath and The Pearl and everything written by Pat Conroy. These are just a few of the books I’ve read. I thought I read most of these books in high school. I do not know what my English teachers were thinking, because these books are for adults. They should not be wasted on hormonally charged teenagers.
I’ve fallen in love with playing music. Few things in life can give a person such pleasure. When I get to walk out on the stage at Oakbrook Church and play in front of 1000 people, I am still thrilled, even though I have done it a hundred times. Making music with other band members, a vocalist and back-up singers is a completely engrossing experience. Last Sunday, I played acoustic guitar instead of electric. I had a substantial part to play, backed up with two other acoustic guitarists. As we played, I turned and smiled across the stage at one of the other guitarists and the bass player. Both nodded and smiled back. Three guys who love music, playing for an appreciative audience. It does not get better than that. Period.
I am teaching a class at IVY Tech. I find such joy in teaching. My students are generally older and displaced from their jobs, so they are trying to get degrees to be more marketable. They are there to learn and it shows. My students come prepared for class and ask intelligent questions about the material. They joke and kid constantly. The class is lively and, so they tell me, entertaining.
I give my students a writing assignment every week with an assigned topic. I have had them write about their worst day, who their heroes are and their best meal, among other topics. To my astonishment, some of their writing is publishable. Much of it has broken my heart because they often write about extremely personal matters, allowing me a glimpse into their lives. It is painful sometimes to look at the class and know how hard life has treated some of them. Some have terrible loads to bear. It has made me appreciate the many advantages I have had in my life, which I have taken for granted. I have such respect for them. They are remarkable.
I hope I am healthy enough to finish the semester. Some days, I doubt I will make it. Some days, I think I might. I owe them that for what they have given to me.
It is about 3 AM as I write this. I look over at my Ducati motorcycle which shares my bedroom in the winter. (I have a very tolerant wife.) I hurt and the pain keeps me awake. I wonder if I will get to ride silver Duckie again, because that is also one of life’s little joys. I love throwing on my leathers, helmet and gloves and going for a ride which has no destination or return time. Just the sound of that magnificent, snorting motor that only Italians can build and the rush of the slipstream by my helmet gives me a thrill. Pure pleasure.
I look over at my wonderful wife, who excels at taking care of me. She is peacefully sleeping, recharging for tomorrow. She is so strong and seems to never let my sickness get her down. I do not know how she does it. I often wonder how much time together we have left. It can’t be that much longer, you would think, but it has been three years. That is a lot longer than the previously predicted 90 days . The unexpected extra time has been a gift to us both. We are still in love and have grown closer these last years. I wish we could grow old together and be that old couple who toddle along holding hands as they go for their evening walk. But that is not likely to happen.
I am not the same man I was three years ago. I have changed. I like to think I have changed for the better. I value relationships with other people as most important in this life. Spending time with my wife brightens even the worst day. I do not worry like I used to about things I thought were important. Like clients and work. Nearly all of my worries were about unimportant things. When you live with sickness and death around the corner every day, almost everything else is silly. Who cares if you get a flat tire, or the roof leaks, or the dining room needs painting? It’s just not important. My wife matters. My friends matter. My children matter. Just about everything else is superficial. I should have learned this years ago. I would have been happier.
I am going to try to make another day…and one more after that. I am not going to quit, or give up, although I am sometimes tempted to throw in the towel. I am going to ride this life down to the ground. I owe that to my family and friends. And to Dr. Moore and my nurses. All of these people have given me so much that I can never repay them. All of them do their best to encourage me and to hope for the best. I am a lucky man to have so many friends. I am indeed rich in friends. You could do a lot worse.