Don’t Look Down

I’ve been trying to come up with a metaphor or image to describe how I’ve been feeling the last couple of weeks. The one that seems to sum things up the best is the classic scene in animated cartoons when a character runs too far off the cliff and is suspended in mid-air. There is that split second where they defy gravity. And then they look down and inevitably fall.

I’ve been asking myself, “Am I living with cancer or dying of cancer? Am I an optimist or a pessimist, is my life running to empty or does it have the right amount of fuel to keep going?”

Caitlyn, one of my stand partners in the Chautauqua Symphony, would tell you I’m an Eeyore. I am the first to admit that I expect the worst and I’m always pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t happen. No one knowing my family history should be surprised to hear me say this. But I am not a pessimist.

Often when people gasp after I’ve told them my sad story I try to kid them about the advantages of my situation. “If I wake up and get out of bed in the morning” I’ll tell them, “I’m doing better than all the other males in my family”. This is a very low bar and some might find it a very pessimistic statement. I personally find it life affirming. No matter how crappy I feel, how awful my circumstances, I am still here. I am alive and bad feelings are still better than no feelings. Life isn’t always easy but, I’ll choose life over the alternative every time.

This weekend Kristina and I went to Dallas. We went because months ago in October I registered for a Go Tournament held in the Big D. At that time nobody knew if I would be alive and able to attend. For those of you who don’t know the game of Go; it is an ancient Asian game played on a 19×19 grid with black and white “stones”. The rules are very simple but the game itself is very complex and requires much strategy (see usgo.org for more info). I was very consistent and lost all my games. I found myself awake in the middle of the night berating myself for stupid moves and wondering why I even bothered to show up to the tournament. I eventually got back to sleep, woke up the next morning and realized that it didn’t matter whether I won or lost so long as I kept playing the game. Go itself has a philosophy to it that has much to do with yin and yang which is why I chose to persevere.

So, am I a pessimistic-optimist, an optimistic-pessimist? In the end it doesn’t really matter. What matters right now is seeing the wonder of this world while I am still here. To plan for the future the best I can knowing full well I will leave many things unresolved. To know that my time here is finite but not be fearful of the end. To love even when it hurts and to love the hurt as part of the whole. Hey, I haven’t looked down yet.

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11 thoughts on “Don’t Look Down

  1. I’m glad you are consistent in your Go game. And, you’re consistent in your life as well. Consistently waking up every morning. Consistently eating a breakfast of oatmeal or Wheatena. Consistently reading stuff that is deeper than most of us would ever consider reading. Consistently being Pete and what a gift that is to all of us who know you.

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  2. “Promise me you’ll always remember: you’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” Christopher Robin.

    Tigger and Eyeore were best friends.
    CKXX

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  3. I’m really loving your blog, Pete, and so grateful to have access to your thoughts and feelings. It strikes me that your musings are really affirming of life, and with the knowledge that yours is probably going to be shorter than expected you are giving us a chance to reassess our own. It seems to me that your question is “the” question, even without the cancer part. Are we living or are we dying? It’s all a matter of perspective, I guess. If someone were to ask, I would say, despite the sadness and tragedy you have lived through in your family, you have always chosen to live.

    Unexpectedly, you have been with me at some crucial times in my life. I don’t even know if I would be an orchestral bassist today had we not met way back when. I’d never met someone so enthusiastic about music and the bass, and, in retrospect, that was life-changing. More recently you were here with me the day my dad died. Having you here was a real comfort to me. I hope you know that. I’m now once again grateful for your presence in my life as you reflect on your own mortality. It’s an interesting opportunity in a sense, isn’t it? If I were to start a blog contemplating my own equally inevitable death, it would seem morose and depressing. Yet, as we read your thoughts, we are uplifted and affirmed. Maybe you’re just a better writer than I am.

    Today would be George Harrison’s 75th birthday. He died of cancer at 58, the same age you and I are now. I listened to his last recorded interview today and he was talking about all the bullshit (his word) that fills people’s lives, but it is our mortality, our eventual non-existence, that was the only thing he believed worth considering, not in a morbid sense but in the way that it makes us examine our lives. Not fearfully and trembling but with wonder and an appreciation of all that is beautiful that constantly surrounds us, and that the answers to life’s deepest mysteries actually lie within us. It made me think of you.

    Thanks for your thoughts and friendship. Hope to see you soon.

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    • Thanks Rob. All too often we forget how small personal exchanges can make permanent improvement in the cosmos. Rest assured that you have influenced me deeply and I’m privileged to call you my friend.

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  4. So my favorite line from this post was, “What matters right now is seeing the wonder of this world while I am still here.” This is so true for all of us and you summed it up beautifully. What a writer you are, Peter!

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  5. A pessimistic-optimist, an optimistic-pessimist? I don’t know a whole lot about the game Go, but I used to play it with my kids and it seems like the game itself may be another metaphor for the shifting back and forth from optimist to pessimist. I also find the huge question, “Am I living or am I dying?” immensely powerful, and the game of Go (or the Yin-yang symbol, as you point out) also seems to reflect the way the awareness of the fragility of life shifts for me between the times I am so absorbed in the action of the moment that I am unaware of my mortality and times when I am grieving the inevitable deaths of everyone I love.

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