Thursday, October 2, 2014

George Bailey should have just paid more attention

You ever feel like George Bailey had it right the first time? (Before the stupid angel wanna-be butted his nose in.) The world would have been a better place without you. Or worse yet, you'd have been better off if you were never in the world.

I certainly have. We live in a tough old world, brothers and sisters, and if you get your butt kicked enough days in a row, you wouldn't be human, I don't think, if you didn't want to pull a George Bailey at least once in your life. Look, I think there are plenty of days when the bravest thing we do is to get up in the morning. For me, those are the days when I run through my morning checklist and realize there isn't a single thing on it that makes me think it could possibly be a good day. And I get up anyway.

I mean, that's what I've always done. I got up, when I was seven and knew the school bully was going to beat the crap out of me, just because he could. I did it a lot in high school, maybe because I hadn't read the book and handed in a report based on the movie, hoping to God that the two were close to the same. Or it could have been that I hadn't studied for a test on something I didn't understand anyway. Or when I extended my own school record for consecutive days without having a girl acknowledge my existence. And in a related example, I also got out of bed when I realized my only chance of getting a date was if I ran into a girl who was conducting some sort of social experiment to see if it truly was possible to make someone die of embarrassment.

And I don't think you have to have to have a terrible illness, or a broken heart, or any other “big” reason to feel George Bailey-bad; you just have to be a living, breathing human being, just trying to get by.

But brothers and sisters, life can also be wonderful. Maybe just for a few minutes, but maybe for hours, days, weeks... who knows. But I've become curious about how that's going to happen. I have no idea what terrific thing might happen today to make the past period of misery not even worth considering.

I'm not gonna lie. In mid-September I was about as done as a twice-baked potato. I kept going, as always, but in my mind somewhere was the thought that this would be the time something terrific wouldn't happen, and then what?

Well, then I experienced the following extraordinary sequence of events.

First, I got a phone call from arguably the best male friend I've ever had. We had not been in touch for 23 years. Yeah. Nada. No in touch. Turns out we'd both made attempts to find each other over the years, but this time he couldn't get over the feeling that he really needed to find me.

He now lives in Idaho, and the last he knew I lived in New York. He remembered, after all this time, that our daughter Alison's name was spelled with one “l” and that led him to her which led him to me.

We had always had a different kind of connection, more than close really. How did we drift apart? Don't know; we just did. But as we talked, it seemed like my getting cancer was somehow the driving force behind his not giving up this time.

Then, rather incredibly, a couple of days after we talked, he had a biopsy done on a mole and found out he has basal cell carcinoma. He seems okay with it and it does seem very treatable, quite curable. Still...

While continuing to reel from that shock, I checked my voice mail one day to find a message from my sister. Now, I won't bore you with the details of why I would have been less surprised to receive a message from my other sister, who passed away six years ago... Suffice to say I was stunned.

Here is how surprising it was. Sheri, one of the best people I know, heard me listen to a message but didn't know what it was about. I told her it was from someone pretending to be my sister, and she didn't tell me that I wasn't being very nice, which would be her usual reaction. She merely laughed, thinking it had been a wrong number and I was just trying to be amusing. When she heard me call my sister back, and it became obvious who I was talking to, she joined the ranks of the stunned.

I had called my sister when I went into the hospital at the end of April, and hadn't heard from her since. That was fine. That was normal. We used to go years without talking to each other. Truly. Years. But, this calling to find out how I'm doing... I don't know about that.

Still a bit wobbly after all that, I talked to my daughter Jennifer. Among other things, she told me she had heard from her college roommate who worked for a drug company that was working on a cure for multiple myeloma. So now we not only know that “they” are working on a cure, but someone we know is working for “They.”

That would have been a lot to miss and that is why I get out of bed every day, sometimes twice, if I take a nap: to endure the bad long enough for the good to arrive, because the good is usually terrific and the bad fades quickly.

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere.”