five years

“There’s something about time they’re not telling us.”

Don’t bother to look up the quote online.  It’s not from a famous philosopher or even some social media phenom.  My brother-in-law said it.

I don’t really know what he meant (I’m pretty sure he wasn’t referring to the space-time continuum), but I can guess.  Time has been doing some weird stuff of late.

The ongoing pandemic has messed with our heads in many ways.  The rhythms of life have been disrupted.  What was once routine is now infrequent or nonexistent.  Things that you look forward to doing every year don’t happen.  And important events that you would otherwise never miss are missed.

For those of us of a certain age, that other time warp is a factor too.   The one where things move at different speeds than they used to.  Sometimes slower, but mostly faster.

In February, when we thought the virus was somewhere over there (even though it was already here), I got an email with a poem by David Budbill.  I then scheduled it to pop up in my electronic to-do list every now and then so that I can be reminded:

Tonight at sunset walking on the snowy road,
my shoes crunching on the frozen gravel, first

through the woods, then out into the open fields
past a couple of trailers and some pickup trucks, I stop

and look at the sky. Suddenly: orange, red, pink, blue,
green, purple, yellow, gray, all at once and everywhere.

I pause in this moment at the beginning of my old age
and I say a prayer of gratitude for getting to this evening

a prayer for being here, today, now, alive
in this life, in this evening, under this sky.

I don’t really feel like I’m at the beginning of my old age, but I probably am.  No matter.  “Gratitude for getting to this evening” is more the point.  I have a lot to be thankful for along the way.

Five years ago today, also a Thursday, I woke up with blood in my mouth and on my pillow, the second time that had happened.  Late that afternoon, I was examined by our dentist, who got me in to see an oral surgeon first thing the next morning.  The news wasn’t good.

Thus began a round of doctor visits and tests, with three opinions in all.  Ultimately, we decided I should be treated a couple of hundred miles from where Sue and I lived, but a mere thirty miles from where we grew up; I was returning to the hospital where I’d had knee surgery forty years before.  This time around, the goal was to vanquish the cancer on the base of my tongue.

During the seven weeks encompassing the bulk of the treatment, we’d drive to Sioux Falls each Monday morning, stay in an apartment near the hospital, and drive back Friday afternoon for a weekend at home.

There were daily routines as well.  The familiar first notes of the song set as an alarm on my phone, with the words reminding me that it was time for me to “be on my way.”  My thirty-five dates with the radiation machine (and its old man music), the weekly infusions of chemo, and occasional ones of an experimental immunotherapy.

Always, time to think.  Lots of time to think.

I wish I could say that I’ve done everything I’d hoped to do in the subsequent five years, personally and professionally.  Dreaming is easier than doing.

Physically, my outcomes have been terrific.  When I woke up in the middle of the night recently with a throat that was devoid of moisture, I could give thanks that it was a rare occurrence.  Some people who go through similar treatment have to deal with that every day for the rest of their lives.

My recovery matched the trajectory laid out by the doctors; as each day went by, I was one day closer to the next milestone.  I knew where I was going.

We are certainly one day closer to the end of this pandemic, but, in this case, we have no idea when that might be.  Our expectations are in constant flux; there is no end date to guide us, and we are in suspended animation, desperately seeking positive news to avoid the grim realities in front of us.

People continue to die.  Some “long-haulers” appear likely to suffer the consequences of the virus for years to come.  Families are isolated from their loved ones just when they need each other the most.

And time seems out of whack.  But the days and the weeks and the months pass, and pretty soon another half-decade will have gone by.  This nightmare will be behind us.  Will we have learned its lessons well enough to do better next time?

Subscribe: email | twitter