George has cancer. He smoked too much, and many of his other habits weren’t conducive to good health. The doctor’s don’t say, “You have cancer because you smoked too much,” because on some level they’re scientists, and they won’t draw clear lines where they don’t have proof. They nod somberly and give vague prognoses. They give percentages of success and focus on next steps.
George has suffered. The first course of chemotherapy was brutal, and in some ways exacerbated the discomforts the cancer was already causing. He was perpetually nauseous, exhausted. He lost 35 pounds. His head pounded. His guts hurt to double him over. Day-after-day the treatment unfolded, and he did his best to go on.
Let the metaphor (at least for you and me) develop.
The thing is, the first round of chemo didn’t work. The cancer grew, and the side-effects of its precarious abdominal placement grew worse. In the end, he needed surgery, not to remove the cancer, but to clear intestinal blockages. He didn’t eat for a week, except from a glucose bag. Every time he cleared a hurdle to move forward a higher hurdle appeared. Day-by-day. Week-on-week.
He felt overwhelmed. He told me, “I just don’t know how to react.” Few of us catch a glimpse of our mortality until we’re older, at a point when the shear number of candles on our birthday cakes suggests some contemplation of the end merits our time.
How do you act when you think you’re probably dying?
There is suffering, and there is suffering. What we do on the bike can hurt, physically, mentally, even emotionally. We’re pulling some sort of trick on ourselves, burning the present for some future gain. We keep faith with the treatment, so we can live more and better, but it’s hard for any of us to say, in the moment, that we’ll be better in the future. We can’t draw clear lines where we don’t have proof. Still, we put our noses into the wind, our hearts into the red, and we wait for the lessons to come washing over us.
George doesn’t like to complain. He has an irrepressible, irreverent humor that means we discuss the finer points of FlexSeal commercials at least as much a. we talk about his treatment. It would be cute to say that he’ll be alright, but of course, we don’t know that. We probably even doubt it.
I guess I think that makes the suffering I do on the bike even more urgent. I don’t really know it will pay off. I don’t really know if it will be ok. Oh, I’m pretty sure I’ll manage to keep myself going, that every pedal stroke is worth it in some way, either physical or metaphysical, but I don’t know what the net profit looks like. Will it make my family’s lives better? Will it save the Earth? How much can we ask of our sacrifices? And when do they cease to be sacrifices and look more like indulgences?
I’m sorry to get so heavy on you this week, but life is like this sometimes, isn’t it?
This week’s Group Ride asks, why do you suffer? What do you see at the bottom of the well? How has it shaped you, and what has it prepared you for?