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Becoming a Fred or whoever you are: or, Damn Harp

November 18, 2015
I go to the Stanford Cancer Center, driving through Facebook–er, I mean Palo Alto. I see the playing fields of Stanford and figure there are some who graduated and fondly view those days. But my memories are different: shivering, bald, too weak to climb the stairs to infusion and having to take the elevator. But these aren’t bad memories, they are humbling ones that peeled off layers of whatever was unnecessary. Ibsen said trying to understand the meaning of life was like trying to peel an onion–it all disappeared. Well, that’s an onion not a life. And I know humans have a core, and it’s solid, determined, and if you can man up to the responsibly to others and commit to waking up within your dream it pulsates out with a richness that inspires and haunts you.
And so I drive. “Tommy” by The Who in in my player: “Listening to you, I hear the music, gazing at you…” And each time I make this trip to my toll booth to get a clearance for my next turn on life’s highway, I always listen to the music I heard when I was seventeen–when I didn;t have a critical faculty, and the music reached inside me without interference, and it lifted me to all the possibilities of a life ahead, where I was still inarticulate, and hoping to speak and become one with all of them. It was the purest essence of my life force. And I thought about my life and said to myself, “Did you become the Fred you wanted to be?” And I thought of surfing, knowing about wine, doing stand-up, and writing, and radio, and the people in my life, and there are times I came up short, failed, slipped, made mistakes, but I kept going and said to the memory of 17-year old Fred, “Yes, I became the Fred I wanted to be.”
If you talk to people who have gone through cancer treatment and some out, or even those who were just given a few more moments of life, they will say they are lucky and feel they have been blessed. And there’s the presence of an awe-inspiring gratitude. And fear. What if they find something?
“You’re looking good,” said Todd, the parking attendant who recognizes me. I gave him a book awhile back. He fist bumps me.
I walk toward the cancer center on my Veteran’s Day. I can see the windows of Infusion that look out from the floors above. I’m wearing the Akubra hat I got in Australia, my Relay For Life shirt that says “I survived.” And yet again, armed with donuts and some microwave pizzas for the oncology nurses, and candy and books for the chemosabis in the waiting room.Yeah, it was during the holidays when I was diagnosed years ago, years go. But I will always come back here, I will always return, and I will never leave what’s there. What looks out those windows and sees all the healthy people on cell phones, the joggers, and people caught up in jobs and life…all out there on the same board.
“That’s a nice shirt,” an attendant says.
“I wear it, to bring back hope,” I said. And I climb the steps that I couldn;t climb when I was getting chemo. I see someone who is trying to atke two steps at a time ahead of me, a fighter, or one relying on strength to overcome a fear or step on cancer with determination. I climb behind him
A woman is playing a harp within a group of seated people waiting for chemo. They are weak and pale and wearing masks. And she is playing a tune I don;t know, but each note is disturbing me. An old ma sitting in a hweelchair is staring at me, He sees the shirt. He knows I lived. ANd the notes of the harp sadden me and I feel all their pain and I start crying. I look down, wipe off the tears, and wonder why they allow this stupid instrument here–it’s grief with strings, it’s somber, it’s a memorial, and sadness is not what you want to feel. It only brought back my pain. I know the pain. The pain knows me. Damn, harp. Maybe it helps, but its tone angers me.
“Hi!” says one of the oncology nurses. “How are you!”
I wipe a tear from my eyes and said, “The damn harp got to me.”
“Oh,” she said smiling.
“I bought you guys some pizzas this time too, and my Insult book, I figure you can use some laughs instead of my cancer book, but I bough some of those too.”
“It’s so nice of you to do this,: she said, taking the donuts and pizzas.
“I’m only as nice as what you gave me.”
I walk slowly through infusion past the seated people, letting them see the shirt, and I leave my book in each area, and then walk back through the waiting room past the chemosabis, again slowly, so they see the shirt, and leave the packets of candy and my book. The harpist is still playing, and surprise, it’s “Amazing Grace.” My least favorite song of all time. I stand in the corner behind the chemo guys, just in case they see me crying, I didn;t want them to think I was feeling sorry for them. I wasn;t there for sympathy, I was there for support. To rearm. To reload. To charge. To grow. To scream To throw a punch. To fight, to fight–dirty. And I absorbed the notes, digesting them She finished.
No one applauded
I can’t blame them.


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