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21 Words

This will be my last post before the surgery.  I feel as though I should be witty, or wise, or at least pithy but at this point I think the best I can hope for is coherent.  I guess what I am really attempting to gain is a little bit of that much longed for perspective that everyone always wants, thinks they have, and then forgets about as soon as life gets hard, scary, dangerous, or annoying.

My day, tomorrow, is fairly well planned at least in my head.  I’m going to get up at around 5am.  Note that I didn’t say “wake up at 5am” but rather “get up,” because I don’t want to presume that I will actually be sleeping tonight.  Stranger things have happened – Sarah Palin for example – but I think it’s best to stick with “get up” and that will cover any eventuality.

After checking my e-mail and staring at the empty refrigerator for awhile, I’ll go take a shower and greedily use as much of the hot water as I can because it will be my last opportunity to bathe for the next several days.  I apologize in advance to anyone who comes to visit me before I am able to have some alone time with warm water and soap again.

Somewhere around 6am, I’ll call a cab and then wait outside until it arrives.  I always take a cab to the hospital for any kind of procedure, surgery, or test if it involves me not being able to drive myself back home.  It’s not that there aren’t lots of people who would be willing to take me to the hospital if I asked, it’s just that I prefer to go by cab.  Part of it is that it allows me some alone time to gather my thoughts and mentally prepare for whatever I’m about to face.  The other part of it is I figure that if I can survive being driven to the hospital by a Los Angeles cab driver, I can survive anything.

When I get there I will also continue with my other little hospital tradition, which is walking up to the receptionist in the admitting room and stating, with a cheerful voice, the reason I’m there.  In this case it will be thusly: “It’s a beautiful day for an esophagectomy!”

The surgery itself is scheduled to start at 8:30am and should take three to four hours.

Now… and this is important… the one thing I don’t plan to do tomorrow is die.  It’s not on the agenda as far as I’m concerned.

But here’s the deal: I hate things left unfinished.  I don’t always need to have a nice tidy bow wrapping it all up because I understand that life rarely affords us the opportunity to do so, but I do need to have some measure of closure.  I loathe ambiguity; nothing frustrates me more.  It’s like a TV show that gets cancelled after the season ended with a cliffhanger.  Did Angela really end up with Jordan Catalono?  Did Harrison choose Brooke or Sam?  Did Jessica get killed by the firing squad?

So with that in mind, I offer some thoughts and ruminations that will act, I suppose, as my version of closure should my plans go awry tomorrow.

I’ve had a good life.  I don’t know if it was a great life but it was good and that’s better than a lot of people get.

I had friends.  Several were amazing and life-altering.  Most people don’t even have one of those in their life so in that regard I was truly blessed.

I knew love.  Not in the traditional, romantic sense, but it was still a true, undeniable, soul-mate type of love.

I had fun.  Maybe not as often as I should have and perhaps with less gusto as I could have but it was fun nevertheless.

I did some cool things.  I had not one, but two plays produced in real, honest-to-God theaters and they won a bunch of awards.  I rode a camel in Egypt.  I drank ouzo in Greece.  I wrote books that were published and people bought them and read them.  I won $30,000 on a slot machine.  I drove a race car.  I visited the Britney Spears Museum and saw the biggest ball of twine.  I shook hands with the man that would be the President of the United States.

I tried to be a good person.  I didn’t always accomplish that.  I had my moments – some extended – of selfishness and vanity and pride and hedonism and sloth and greed and all of the other things that make us human but I’d like to think that, for the most part, I merely waded in the pools of my various sins rather than wallowing and reveling in them.

I certainly was not always nice to everyone all of the time but I don’t think I was ever cruel.  Well, not intentionally cruel.

Regrets?  I’ve had a few.

I don’t think I took enough chances in my life.  I’m not talking about risky stuff like bungee jumping or wearing white after Labor Day, but rather the chances we can take, both big and small, that can turn a good life into a great one.  For instance, I think I would have had a career as a writer if I had more often ignored the blasted Midwestern work ethic that constantly whispered in my ear saying, “You need to have a job and a regular paycheck and health insurance and security.”

I think that chance-aversion also applies to my emotional life.  I’ve always been reserved, private, and cautious when it came to other people and I think I missed out on a lot of stuff because of it.  I pushed people away or didn’t pull people close enough and so my life has been more solitary than it needed to be.  It certainly is the reason I’ve never had a real romantic relationship.  Well, that and the fact that I never met Anderson Cooper.  He would’ve loved me if only our paths had crossed.

I regret that I didn’t do something about my chronic heartburn earlier.  That’s a big one right now.

But I think my biggest regret is that I never really figured out a way to feel comfortable in my own skin.  It’s like I never fit into the life I tried on for size.  It was probably the fat kid thing that I never got over, but whatever its root was, it limited me.  No one can be completely unlimited without winding up jailed, committed, or dead but if you live a limited life you might as well be all of the above.

So if I may offer some advice, either to you or to myself if/when I live through all of this it is as follows: don’t be so fucking afraid.  Take a chance or do something new, every day, even if it’s something small.  Eat at a restaurant you’ve never visited.  Take a different way to work and pay attention to what you are driving past.  Introduce yourself to that guy at the bar or that girl on the bus or the person at the bookstore looking at the latest from your favorite author who might just wind up being your new best friend.  Get a tattoo, learn how to dance, sing karaoke, go bungee jumping… whatever that thing is that you have wanted to do but haven’t… why not?

And also this: be passionate.  If I were the divine overseer of this universe, I would make it a requirement, sort of like picking a major in college.  Everyone would have to have one major and one minor passion, whether it be an artistic endeavor, a sport, or model railroading to name a few.  As long as it’s something that gets you excited, makes time fly, and gives you something to dream about, it counts.

And finally, I guess, just this… thank you.  As a writer, I like to think that every person is a story.  Stories are meant to be shared, so thank you for sharing yours with me and letting me share mine with you.

Do I have any last words?  Well, I suppose I’ll go with the ones that I took the time (and the pain) to have tattooed on my body – 21 of them incorporated into a tribal design on my arm, chest, shoulder, and back.  They are my words to live by.  I did, to some of them.  Others, I fell short on.  I hope you find your words, embrace them, recite them to yourself every morning when you wake up, and not just live by them, but live up to them.

Courage.  Integrity.  Joy. Life.  Devotion.  Indulgence.  Desire.  Commitment.  Chance.  Creativity.  Family.  Passion.  Peace.  Tolerance.  Acceptance.  Beauty.  Art.  Perseverance.  Inspiration.  Aspiration.

Wait… there’s one more. What is it?  Oh right… Perspective.

3 thoughts on “21 Words”

  1. Rick, I had no idea what was happening. I am glad you are okay. Let me know if you want to get together for a vegan celebration sometime. Love, Sam

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