March 2, 2007
March 2, 2007
A few times a year, I enjoy returning to Philadelphia, which was my home for a decade.
In the 12 years since I lived there, nearly everyone I know has moved on. The few friends and acquaintances who remain form the core of the karate dojo where I trained.
The instructor now, as then, is Gerald Evans, whom everyone knows as "Ski." He is my mentor and my closest friend -- like a father, really -- and the subject of blog entries in the past.
I regard my visits to Philadelphia as homecomings. Friday's visit, though, had a much different vibe. There was an undercurrent of agitation and unease brought about by recent developments in my medical situation.
In a previous life, I must have been an actor or filmmaker or at least someone with a deep appreciation for those crafts. I can see the potential for drama and pathos in any situation. And so, running through the back of my mind during this visit was the thought, "Will I be coming this way again?"
Fade to black ...
Ski has offered me wisdom and inspiration over the 14 years we've known each other. A dozen years ago, I was working in the latest in a succession of dead-end, woefully unsatisfying jobs and I was about to be fired. A fellow dojo student told me of an opportunity to live and work in Japan. Ski helped me to decide whether to give up my career (such as it was), abandon my comfort zone and take this chance. We approached it from every angle, carefully weighing the many risks and benefits.
I took the chance, and it changed my life in fundamental ways that are still revealing themselves.
And now I find myself at another critical juncture in my life, when the deepest questions about existence haunt even my most enjoyable moments. And again, I turn to Ski.
We talked about my cancer, as we've done during the five years since my diagnosis.
I told him that I think I need a diversion, an adventure to offset reality for a while.
"An adventure?" he said, laughing. "An adventure? You're on an adventure now, only you can't see it or refuse to see it.
"You're a worrier. Your worries create chemical changes within you. Then you try to shake yourself of those worries and you have to undo all those changes you've caused."
Ski has a way of discovering a person's demons and parading them before the person's eyes. He is a mirror.
I told him that the combination of the effects of the cancer and the possible side effects of the drug I received Tuesday were making me extremely irritible, impatient and anxious with myself and those around me -- tendencies I have anyway, but not to this degree.
"Maybe the disease and the medication are showing you glimpses of your true nature you'd rather not see," Ski said.
He's right, and meeting with this stark truth is painful.
Of course, there are other aspects of my nature that this illness has brought to the surface for which I'm thankful. But the good and the bad are different sides of the same coin. It's just too easy to say that the disease is always to blame, or the medication, or whatever.
Ski isn't suggesting that I deny the reality of what's happening to me. He is urging me to do my utmost to accept it.
Before major chest surgery two years ago, I discussed my fears with Ski, especially the fear of possibly dying during the procedure. "If it succeeds," he said at the time, "you've got nothing to worry about. And if you die, you've got nothing to worry about.
"So what are you worried about?"
Dogen Zenji, the 13th-century theologian who brought Soto Zen from China to Japan, said much the same thing: "If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where do you expect to find it?"