A young man approached me in the waiting room of the medical clinic.
“Are you Dr. Burke?” he asked.
“You look a lot like him. He’s a Notre Dame fan. He graduated from Notre Dame in 1937.”
I was born in 1937, but I didn’t tell him that. I just whopped him upside the head with my walker. Well, no. I didn’t hit him with my walker, mainly because I don’t have a walker. Maybe in a few years I’ll get one, just so I’ll have something to use to whop on people who think I’m Dr. Burke.
Obviously there is something wrong with that young man, primarily his eyesight, because I look very young, not at all like Dr. Burke, whom I have never seen but who is 22 years older than I and surely must look it. Oh, sure, my head is bald and my beard is white and my face is wrinkled and my hands are spotted, but those are minor because I move in such a youthful manner.
I stand straight and walk fast. That’s because my back won’t bend and I’m always hurrying to get to the bathroom, but the guy who thought I was Dr. Burke doesn’t know that. I still play softball, and I am definitely not the slowest player on the team, certainly not since Nancy got the cast on her ankle. I hit the ball with Authority, which is the name of my Louisville Slugger, sometimes clear over the outfield fence, or over the pitcher’s head, whichever comes first.
The worst thing is that he thought I looked like a Notre Dame grad! I’m not even Catholic!
Well, maybe that’s not the worst thing. The worst thing is that I can remember how I looked at old people with a combination of disdain and pity when I was young. Where is memory loss when you really need it?
When I was about twelve, I overheard my parents talking about a man in our neighborhood who had died. They thought it was tragic, because he was only thirty-five. I can vividly remember saying to myself, But he had already had enough time to do everything anyone can possibly do in life; what more did he have to live for?
Through the years, I revised the age-of-worthlessness upward, but I kept the attitude. Forty-five? Fifty-five? Sixty-five? Seventy-five? Eighty-five? What more is there to live for after that?
I came face-to-face with that in a very realistic way on my fifty-third birthday, when my first oncologist told me I’d be dead “in a year or two.” There was a lot more yet to live for! That, however, was the same thing my Grandma Mac said when she was ninety-six: “I’m not afraid of dying, but I still have so much I want to do.”
I think maybe that’s why we think there is an “afterlife.” There’s just too much to do for one life. Perhaps I should make a bucket list for the next life instead of this one.
I stopped writing this column for a while, for several reasons. It wasn’t until I had quit, though, that I knew this reason: I did not want to be responsible for wasting your time. If I write for others, I have to think about whether it’s worthwhile for you to read. If I write only for myself, it’s caveat emptor. If you choose to read something I have written, but I have not advertised it, not asked you to read it, and it’s poorly constructed navel-gazing drivel, well, it’s your own fault. Still, I apologize if you have to ask yourself, “Why did I waste time reading this?”
My book, NOW THAT I HAVE CANCER I AM WHOLE: Reflections on Life and Healing for Cancer Patients and Those Who Love Them, is published by AndrewsMcMeel. It is available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc. in hardback, paperback, audio, Japanese, and Czech.