By Christopher Green
In case you know nothing about this peculiar and wonderful life-affirming series, it is about a woman who is diagnosed with a particularly lethal strain of skin Cancer and how she deals with the disease, her family and, as most of us must eventually do when faced with life-threatening disease, her mortality.
To be honest, I was a little trepidatious of watching this series, which, as the followers of this blog would know, clearly strikes close to home. First off, I wondered how they could pull off such a show to begin with, how could they entice people to watch a show that had as its premise, the slow and agonizing death of its star.
And then, they cast Laura Linney as the heroine and the wonderfully clueless Oliver Platt as the bumbling, big-hearted foil/husband. So, I decided to watch.
I am sure glad I did because in the long run, it is all about me just as it is all about you and everyone else.
Of course, it is easy to say that it is all about us simply because we are all faced with the Big D whether it comes from disease, by accident or simply from old age and fading away gently into the night.
But for those of us who have an idea of how we are going to die, The Big C provides us with a kind of template on how to deal with that knowledge and how to approach life in general and living in particular.
As we watched the last few episodes via the On Demand option on our cable, we saw how this woman, this particular non-descript boilerplate mother and wife, did more to prop up those who will be left behind rather than to worry about her own looming battle.
I know that is more of a female reaction, the inherent nurturing that comes with being a mother, but it also speaks, no screams at me and I am sure other men about how to cope.
In the very last episode, there is a scene that makes me cry out loud even now as I think about the sheer humanity that was captured in the last scene to this first season. If I were writing this out free style, there would be tearstains on the paper.
It also gave a new voice to my mother. Suffice it to say that she had the same reaction when she had finally had had enough and was ready to let go after cancer had ravaged her body for more than 15 years. I do not want to give up any more of the plot, but this was a pivotal point. If you get the chance, I highly recommend this very funny, very poignant look at a slice of life we all hope like hell never to have to glimpse.
Ever since I watched that last episode, I have been thinking about how I have been handling, dealing really, with my life as it shifts from moving ever forward to becoming more aware of that huge stop sign up ahead.
And then there is the situation that Cathy, the mother in the Big C, and I share and that is the diminishing of our lives in real time. (How great is the writing that we really never know if the Big C refers to Cathy or to Cancer.)
Of course, I started to think about all the missed opportunities, the roads not taken and the relationships I let lapse just because there would always be a tomorrow to get at it. That is the normal reaction, I guess, the bucket list approach to life and death. But I am not a millionaire like the Jack Nicholson character in the movie of the same name nor do I know anyone who would be willing to spare no expense so that I could see all the things I wanted to see in order to have lived a fulfilling life.
My grounded fulfillments, by necessity, have to come in small, realistic doses.
For one, I took us out on a financial limb to redo our home so that Laurie and I could finally enjoy our house. If I wasn’t disabled as I have been for the best earning years of my life, I would have been able to work more and we could have afforded a better house. But since this is what we have now, I have been trying hard to get everything in order so that if something should happen to me, Laurie could stay here without any trouble. It has not been easy living on the income we have been able to cobble together. But if my plan plays out, Laurie will be just fine.
I have also been able to pick up my love of music that I left behind 20 years ago when I was bitten by the political bug. It was always my dream to perform. I never wanted to grab the limelight. I just wanted to put myself out there and have fun watching girls dance with each other while all the guys stand around the looking for a dream. Now, with the help of YouTube, I am performing again.
And then there is Tom, the guy who believed in me back when I desperately needed someone to believe in me, patiently teaching me how to be a rock-n-roll guitar player. We have reconnected and now it is my turn to believe in him.
With the help of two political figures here in Cuyahoga County, Judge Peter Sikora and Brook Park Councilman Rick Salvatore, I have been able to maintain in touch with my other love, Politics. For eight years, from 1992 to 2000, I was at the center of all the political intrigue that big city politics can throw at anyone. Both of these men let me continue to serve as their treasurer even though I had diminished skills. Because of them, I can still have a toe left in that choppy water.
Over the years, I got the chance to meet President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore plus several senators, cabinet officials and of course, Dennis Kucinich and Sherrod Brown. I even met some good-hearted republicans over the years. I am glad to say, without even a touch of irony, that some of my best friends are republicans.
I also still find fulfillment in helping the few clients I have left that still believe I am their best choice to do their taxes. It is great for me and it keeps my mind working when I need it to work the most.
But this list of things I do is superficial, although important to me. These are the kind of things, the stuff we look for to build a full life with, which Cathy dealt with in the first 10 or so episodes. It was when she stepped away from the everyday and started to look at what was really important that she started to glow.
I think I found my glow in this blog. It has enabled me to reach out and touch people that I would never have been able. That glow also comes in the fight itself. Anyone who has been reading this blog knows that I decided to fight like hell because I still have things I want to do, feelings I want to share and love I want to give.
Many people in my situation retreat into their faith, look for comfort in that old time religion. I admit it; I have been tempted to embrace the unknowable. But instead, from the day I came home from the hospital back in 2004 after experiencing what could very well be described as spiritual encounter, I decided to search for the reasons why people turn to religion, what is the what that makes people in the 21st century still find comfort in the tale and redemptive nature of Jesus.
I have read hundreds of books since 2004. At least 20% of all of those books were about the spiritual, western spirituality, from the Bible itself to the slog I am on now, Christianity: The First 3,000 years.
I think I have been able to get a better idea of the why of religion. This could be my first step or it could be my last, but I can guarantee that I am looking, just like Bono was when he wailed “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” way back in the 80’s.
All my life I have been an observer. I always felt as if I was on the outside looking in even when I was at the center of the political world here in Cuyahoga County. I still relish that role. Even when I am in the thick of things, like when Sandy Alomar clubbed that home run into the right field seats to beat the Yankees in a playoff game back in 1997, I still feel divorced from what is going on all around me.
Maybe that detachment keeps me from embracing a spiritual outlook on life. Maybe that step I have taken back from life is what allows me to see more clearly, what is going on. But I think if I want to grab on to what it really means to be alive, to really be a part of the human experience, I have to reach out beyond what I am sure of and experience what I doubt.