My circle of close male friends is shrinking, and it’s not that I’ve ever had that many; it’s been hard for me to reach out for that kind of intimacy and it’s getting harder as I get older.
I lost a dear friend this week, a truly extraordinary guy. David had a PhD in molecular biology, was doing basic research at UC in the sixties. The Viet Nam war was escalating, his government grants wanted him to be doing more practical biological research and he wouldn’t do it so he left academia and become an astrologer. His scientific mind understood the mechanics of the universe, and he delved into the mystical world. He studied Buddhism, Kabbalah, Chinese and East Indian mythologies, and when he gave you a reading it was a compendium of scientific and spiritual wisdom. David had you look at what was happening to you at this time in your life, why it was happening, and point out the choices about how you wanted to come to them. He built a worldwide reputation.
He’d been healthy until 4 years ago when he slipped and fell, they never saw the tiny bone fracture that eventually led to a spinal abscess. He developed serious postoperative complications leaving him blind and unable to taste or smell. It took him a year to recover, and then he went back to work. A year later a mass was discovered in his abdomen that turned out to be a kidney cancer, and was successfully removed. Last year, when he complained of neck and arm pain, doctors found metastases in his bones.
He knew what he was facing, understood the trade offs (suffering/side-effects) in exchange for getting the hoped for benefits, and decided to go for the chemotherapy and radiation. The chemo slowed the spread for a while, but he couldn’t swallow and required a feeding tube. We talked regularly about everything, two old guys schmoozing about how we come to our losses, and the price we are willing to pay to pursue life.
The chemo failed to slow the spread, and for the last year he was in unremitting pain. Last week, he had an afternoon appointment with his oncologist to consider another round of chemo. I saw him that morning; he was in bed and grimaced in pain as he got up to walk to the bathroom. I asked him what he hoped his doctor was going to tell them that would make him willing to continue his suffering, and he said there was nothing the doctor was going to tell him that was worth this. He said I’m not going to keep the appointment; call Hospice. With the same commitment and intensity that he pursued life he also pursued his demise, and died within 24 hours.
I spoke at his funeral, and when I watched him being lowered into the grave had this revelation… I had better be reaching out more to expand my shrinking circle, otherwise there’ll be no one left to talk to me.
Cultivate intimate friends; it is through their eyes that we see ourselves more clearly