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Sunday, July 21, 2013

These are the Voyages…

Happy belated Apollo Day! Yesterday was the 44th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. I’m one of many who believe that July 20th should be a national holiday. For us, the space program, civil rights struggle, and the anti-war and environmental movements were of a piece. Humanity appeared to be growing up. We were cleaning up our act, seeing others with more compassion, and were willing to sacrifice for the hard jobs. With our sights on Justice, and the glorious adventure that the Universe presented, there was nothing that we couldn’t do together. The Treyvon Martin debacle is just one example of what we’ve lost since those days.

This song still makes me cry-
I’ve had two personal voyages centering here as well. One began a year ago today. I’ve been saying for years that no matter how bad things get, there will be people alive in a century- after all, if that isn’t true, what’s the use of trying? BUT, those people will only have the tools and stories that we send down to them to work with. So, I went on a long drive through several states and provinces to see what some of us are preparing to pass down. I took hundreds of pictures, got hours of interviews, and saw sights both hopeful and depressing. I slept in cheap motels, in cabins in the woods, and on couches in both remote farmhouses and inner-city apartments. I compiled a pretty decent little memoir/travelogue, but it’s lacking the “zing” to make it really work. I’d been wrestling with it for months before it dawned on me to cast it as a letter to those future people. That’s the massive rewrite that I’m working on now.

It occurs to me that those descendants may have trouble believing many of the things I write: “Do you seriously mean that you took off on a journey of thousands of miles, counting on having food, fuel, and places to sleep? Do you mean that you weren’t afraid of being waylaid by bandits, or picked up by some sheriff who needed another body on his chain gang? You must be kidding!” All of those things have been rare in history, and they can be lost again. If you’d told me that in 1969 I’d have laughed in your face.

Then there’s my current personal journey. Yes, I have colon cancer. I feel that I’m standing in the lobby of a big building marked “CANCER.” Tomorrow I go in for surgery, which will mean getting on the elevator over which I have no control. I may get off again on Level One, which will mean that the whole deal is over and done with this week. It could be Two, Three or even Four, which would mean all-out medical war and saying my goodbyes.

In practical terms, I’m in the second day of a two-day prep regime. That means that I’ve had no solid food since Friday afternoon, and must drink several glasses of a salty laxative solution every two hours. It wouldn’t be too bad, except that my guts feel like a nest of snakes half of the time. The “cuttlefish” responds to this by sending out little icy spiky pain balls every few minutes. My chemistry is way off, leading to grotesque mood swings. Anything remotely sentimental gets me crying.

I’m not much afraid of dying. I’ve done that before. What I’m afraid of is not finishing my work.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

It Just Got Personal- My life has become a metaphor

As some of you know, I’ve been having health issues- weeks of abdominal pain, failing energy, chills, and a raft of other draining not-quite-right things. After months of bugging my doctor to figure something out, he concluded that I had a bleeding peptic ulcer, based largely on my having become severely anemic. What followed was weeks of medication, including an iron supplement that caused severe and agonizing constipation. This was certainly going to cure me if I just toughed it out. My questions and complaints were put off as impatience.

I was eventually able to get in for a colonoscopy and gastroscopy on Monday. The verdict- he was dead wrong. Oh, I did have internal bleeding, but not from a peptic ulcer. My stomach is fine. I have a growth that looks like a mutant cuttlefish in my colon, bleeding merrily away. These things grow slowly, so it should have been plainly visible during the routine colonoscopy I had just three years ago. The chances are 50/50 that it’s malignant, which means that my prognosis as of June 16th lies somewhere between “painful interlude” and “So Long, it’s Been Good ta Know Ya.” I’m scheduled for surgery to remove the ugly beast next week, by which time we’ll know how bad it really is, how much of my intestines will have to go with it, and whether I’ll be going on Chemo. Oh, joy and rapture unforeseen.

Meanwhile, under orders from my surgeon, I spent most of today, Tuesday, getting a massive transfusion. This was the first thing that my former doctor should have ordered. To add insult to injury, when I got home there was a phone message from that doctor’s nurse, that I need to calm down and try a different formula of iron supplement. I guess that they didn’t get the memo.

A lot of people haven’t gotten the memo in recent decades. Our one and only Earth, like my one and only gut, has been showing symptoms of serious illness for a long time, close to half a century. Aside from a few well-paid loonies and shills, the science is settled- we are screwing up our planet’s climate. It’s our fault. It’s too late to stop it. The people running the planet don’t want to take any real steps, but are tweaking the “iron supplements” of policy in ways which just further centralize things and make them less adaptable. Maybe we’ll muddle through with a painful interlude of economic collapse, die-offs, and the totalitarian government which will inevitably follow. Maybe the consequences will be so severe that all that matters is how much style and grace we show as we bow out. No one can say for certain.

My greenhouse and local foods work over the past decade has never really been about greenhouses or food. It’s been about giving people tools, and experience in a way of thinking, a way that will help them to adapt and thrive in the messy world to come. As long as I have the strength and breath that’s what I’ll keep doing. As a local businessman told me, “Chuck, you may end up saving millions of lives.” That would be nice.

Then there’s that matter of style and grace. I may be about to be handed a rare and precious opportunity. A person’s true character shows best in adversity. I may be about to experience soul-searing adversity. It surely hurts a lot so far. Will I dry up into the whiney husk of a man, or be remembered as one of those noble souls whose fiery trial burned away all the illusions and ego, leaving an inspiration for others? Time will tell. I freely admit that it scares the shit out of me, but know that courage isn’t lack of fear, but being terrified and doing what you had to anyway. Maybe it will be a false alarm, but I refuse to engage in the Bargaining and Denial that climate change deniers do. I only pray that if I must I can be the kind of example that we’re all going to need in the days to come.