My friend’s message reads:
I drop the phone. I fall to my knees. I burst into tears and sob uncontrollably.
Sad. Crestfallen. I weep for my dear friend. I feel her pain. I feel her anger. I feel her fear and uncertainty.
What’s also true is: I’m terrified.
I am filled to my core with terror.
Just a few moments before the message, Tracey and I were having a discussion. I try (try) not to open texts, etc. while my wife and I are connecting, so when we reached a little break, I took a second to open the message. When I collapsed to my knees, Tracey and I embraced. I say to Tracey through the tears, “I don’t ever want anyone I love to get that text from me.”
I grab Tracey in a full bodied, full strength embrace and explode in tears into her shoulder. I grab hold of her sweatshirt and pull her into me so hard it hurts my nose. The fear I am feeling is so primal, so infantile, I lose all sense of who I am. I am consumed. I am transformed. In a moment of primal sympathy, I revert through fear into pure terror.
Rarely during the months of symptoms prior to my hospitalization did I feel fear. Rarely during the days in hospital prior to my diagnosis did I feel fear. Rarely - during my treatment - did I feel fear.
This fear, however, feels very real...
It really shook me. For two days, rocked back on my heels, I wandered around in a haze. Trudging through my work - and not that well I might add - not really feeling it or myself. I wonder to myself, “is this what post traumatic stress feels like?” Is that what I’m experiencing? Is this common among survivors of cancer or other death defying experiences?
I thought I was okay after I spoke with my friend. She assured me that the doctors are confident in their ability to manage her symptoms and that advances in pharmaceuticals will allow her to live a fairly normal life. Normal. That’s a bit of a riot. Anyone who’s been through cancer or another life threatening situation knows that the new normal is wildly different from the old.
My friend told me that when she first got the news she went to her car and had a bit of panic attack. Over the years she’s read my books, she’s familiar with my programs, she’s been on the calls.
She told herself, “George would want me to breathe right now.” “So I sat in my car and breathed for 10 minutes” she tells me. “It got me home without being a freakazoid!” She explains, paying me a huge compliment. After our conversation, I thought I was fine. I was reassured. I was affirmed. I was relieved that my dear old friend would be okay.
I meditated. I prayed. I went to the beach and meditated there. I reflected on the past ten years since my diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Three sobering inquiries came to mind.
“Had I lived fully since then? Had I held back?“
“Have I mattered?”
“Had I done my best?”
These are questions an ordinary man asks of himself. It’s normal and healthy enough. For a second-chancer like me to ask these questions ten years into Act Two? It’s especially sobering to think that maybe, just maybe, I may not be able to answer a resounding YES to them.
Can you relate? Sure I have my moments where I get glimpses of glory and legacy. I see the results of my efforts impact people’s lives. I see someone I’ve encouraged accomplish something exceptional. In any given moment, however, can I feel satsified? Can we feel satisfied?
For years I’ve been saying that at our core as humans, in order to feel confident, or truly engaged in a relationship, or to feel secure in our own skin and satisfied, two observations are true: Women simply need to feel safe and men need to feel invincible. What this experience has shown me is that this is only mostly true.
The full truth is that this reminder made me aware that my adult self couldn’t possibly feel ‘invincible’ as long as - or whenever - my inner little boy is terrified! I think psychologists call that cognitive dissonence. It was one of the first priniciples I learned in my post-divorce therapy 20 years ago. I can’t feel crippling fear and invincibility at the same moment.
When my inner little boy was in terror at the concept of anhiliation, of death, of non-existence, I was rendered weak, debilitated and broken. When exposed to my most vulnerable core, I was no more powerful than a newborn. It recalled for me a moment when I was about ten years old, when I heard of my great-uncle’s death. My mother tried to explain death and heaven to me. I was stricken with such panic I could hardly breathe. The ten year old version of me panicked. The concept of non-existence terrified me. Have you ever felt this feeling? As though electricity is surging through you and at the same time your body can’t contain it?
I thought my brush with death had “cured” me of that. I thought my fear of death had been vanquished.
What kind of man can I be, now that I have seen myself balled up on the floor, weeping as a deprived infant or wounded juvenile?
Just as my fingertips yield these words I am reminded of words I wrote ten years ago at the end of my treatment:
My Hairy Cells are now dead. They’re forgiven and I’m grateful for what they’ve taught me. Now my mind sees healthy stem cells making healthy marrow, making healthy red and white blood cells. I see me healthy. My body will take it from here.
Although I may look like I wallow in the most pathetic point of my life, in fact, I may be at my most triumphant.
“in fact, I may be at my most triumphant.”
Ten years ago, as I lay curled in my bed - weeping at my physical anguish and smiling because I had been able to find humor in the moment - I wrote these words. I celebrated my ability to be aware of my circumstances without having them determine the quality of my experience of life.
In this moment, right here, right now, I am afforded the same opportunity. Anew. But it’s not triumph I feel. It’s more like gratitude. Surrender and gratitude.
I have been driven to my knees by the awakening of a fear I had long since thought was asleep for good. I have been confronted, once again, with the raw power of circumstance to shake me to my core. I have seen the naked boy inside me as he weeps and quivers without comfort or protection.
For three days I’ve been beligerent and cold toward Tracey. Inexplicably, I’ve detached from my work. I’ve been focused on the mechanics of my world - systems, structures and procedures - just to get me through each day. I’ve been aloof and cold and I’ve despised myself.
The judgment of my weak self is so hard wired and so strong that I denied for three days the power of my fear to still bring me to my knees. Yet, the moment I allowed myself to behold my self in that state, the moment I was able to behold my true self. The moment I allowed myself to behold that version of me with love, acceptance and free of judgment, the moment my true nature revealed itself to me.
I judged myself because, after ten years, I still don’t have the 3000 strong online community of survivors and caregivers providing my professional work on a full time basis. I still haven’t filled Yankee Stadium and Staples Center with survivors and caregivers chanting i-Can-Sir! I still haven’t written $50,000 checks to Stowe Weekend of Hope, Friends of Mel Foundation and the Center for Disabilities Services (There, now you know my dreams). I’ve let so much distract me from making all of this real. Or, may it’s just all perfect and it’ll happen - or not - when it’s meant to.
What this experience has taught me is that all of that - in the scheme of things - doesn’t matter. My true nature is loving and giving and kind. All the rest doesn’t matter. While it may be aspirational and it may yet come to be, all the rest is just window dressing on a soul filled with extraoridinary love, peace and joy. So many people whom I’ve loved and have loved me in return. Two beautiful children who’ve loved and taught me so very much. A family of sisters, parents and cousins who love me dearly. A brilliant wife who loves me for the spiritual being I am.
The truth is a powerful me. This truth is a me who can see infinity. Who can manifest wonder. Who can love. This is a me who can love myself, love my wife, love those in my life with a passion and a permission that goes beyond fear. One that goes beyond my conscious understanding of God and life and death and fear. A version of me who recognizes that I don’t know what tommorow brings. A version of me who celebrates the second part of Horace’s famous quote “Carpe diem”. Not the part that says “Seize the day!” which is awesome enough, but the part that says ”For tomorrow cannot be trusted!” The version of me who knows that any given moment could be my last. That try as I might I could never cause the sun to rise and fall on a schedule other than its own. That control is an illusion I’ve conjured to relieve myself of the madness that would surely result upon the discovery of the illusion.
The version of me, who, at the end of this madenning and exhausting week recognizes the wisdom in surrendering to an Energy far greater than myself. Not because I am APART FROM that energy, but rather because I am wholly, inextricably and permanently PART OF IT!
I finally understand what is meant when it is said that surrendering to a higher power allows us to shed the shackles of ego. I feel that in my bones right now. In that surrender I feel a surge of deep, profound gratitude. Not for my triumph, but simple for my good fortune. The gratitude renews me. The gratitude calls me up. I am freed. I am freed to pursue what I am called to pursue and at the same time let go of any need to accomplish it.
Because right here, right now, in my soul I am good enough. My true self is good enough.
My true self is my soul. Free of birth. Free of death. Timeless. Ageless. Without health or illness. Without stress or peace. Without success or fear. Free of ego or ambition. Pure potential, pure infinity, pure love. Invincible: One might say.
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