Last night (14 May), about 10 pm, I took our two dogs out to relieve themselves before locking down the house and setting the outside passive alarm. Our lab/collie-cross poops on command, a skill I learnt training tracker dogs during my national conscription service in the dim and distant past. Of course, it helps if a dog is ready to go, but it certainly speeds up the process, especially if it’s chilly outside. As I lean with my forearms on the trapeze swing of our kids’ jungle gym and Maya and Emma (the latter, a loveable Jack Russel-cross-Fox Terrier who listens to no-one), do their stuff, I switch off my head-torch and lift my eyes to the Milky Way shimmering above our roof.
What difference will it make to the cosmic scheme of things if I die, I wonder? Contemplating my own oblivion is awe-inducing. Flip the existential switch. Done. Gone. Phelile’ (as in finished and klaar). Was I ever really here, and did it actually matter, cosmically? Oblivion doesn’t so much frighten me as induce wonder. Now you see me, now you don’t. Nature and the universe literally define the words: neutral and impassive. Will I even know I’m gone? Those left behind certainly will, hosting my love-legacy and several, my DNA. But I, in my physical existence will have atomised into thin air. Or rather, been reduced to dust.
I shake my head. I’m back in the here and now, the catalyst for my pondering; a four-to-six- hour surgery scheduled for June and aimed at curing my oesophageal cancer, with just a two percent fatality rate. Yet my mind will gnaw on that tiny bone. Something has changed in the way I contemplate death. It’s more visceral, no longer tucked away for toying with in theistic/agnostic debate; a distant, idle concept, an idea. It’s a-comin! Just when is, of course, middle and centre of my consciousness, but the inevitability is something I’ve never properly engaged with.
And that’s as far as I’ve got. I’m spending most of my lockdown time engaging with life-as-it-is, the here not the after, in spite of several spiritual, motivational and religious YouTube videos and SMS texts sent to me by well-meaning relatives, friends and acquaintances. I think a Rumi quote actually shaped my historic thinking the most; ‘There is no God but Reality; all else is the action of the fall.” I also like; ‘God has no religion.’
Best call me a Pantheist, because I do believe that everything temporal and finite is but some part of God, and that God speaks to us through the events of our lives. I reckon there’s some universal force that wants us to evolve spiritually and emotionally, before taking us back unto Itself. So many religions speak to that concept. I embody opposites which define one another, as do all things. Yet I’m uniquely human. No other Being quite like me will ever come this way again. That’s an awesome concept worth contemplating and holding onto, especially for those blinded by depression and hopelessness in a trough of despondency. This too shall pass. Covid-19 shall pass – somehow, dear God; though a vaccine remains elusive. Life is a rollercoaster worth riding, turning a gasp of fear into excitement, just by taking three conscious breaths.
My cancer path in this time of Covid-19 is littered with gifts. Surrender, born of the unexpected and unpredictable (lung clots, body rashes, fatigue among them). I can so identify with societal frustration at the lockdown. I need a travel letter from my oncologist just to get my weekly chemotherapy. I’m watching the Western Cape’s Coronavirus infection rate climb way ahead of other provinces. I wonder what my hospital Covid-19 patient occupancy rate will be like by June. Nothing is predictable. Will any hospital be of sufficiently low infection risk – and have an open surgical spot so my bariatric surgeon can swop theatre facilities if necessary?
My oncologist says things change hour by hour for all her immune-compromised patients as lockdown rules are tinkered with, upgraded or downgraded, or their personal contexts alter. She has to be agile and adaptable, innovative and empathic. It’s a time of mystery and wonder. We simply don’t know what the future holds – though we’re all doing our level best to omnipotently predict it.
Perhaps it’s time to surrender while taking full responsibility for protecting ourselves and everyone with us in this.