A Kiwi friend sent me a package containing a pair of remembrance poppies (in honor of Anzac Day on April 25) and a poster bearing a poem entitled “Becoming Something Other” in which the author, a man named Chris Knox, faces mortality through the lens of his own father’s failing health. Rendering the piece all the more poignant is the fact that, according to the author’s blurb, Knox – “a New Zealand musician, songwriter, cartoonist & critic” - himself suffered “a life-altering stroke” in June 2009. His friends and fans subsequently released a benefit album containing covers of Knox’s music to support him in his recovery.
This struck a particular chord for me as a good friend of mine suffered a massive stroke in late 2008 – two days after his 35th birthday – prior to which he had been in otherwise very good health. He was fortunate in that his mental capacities remained more or less fully intact. However, the physical ramifications are something else entirely, having included countless surgeries, hundreds of hours of physical therapy and the need to completely relearn such basic skills as walking, to name but a few.
We talk on the phone regularly, at least once every week or two. When I underwent chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2007, he always made a point of calling me the evening following my treatment. He’d ask how it all went, how it was all going, but mostly we talked bullshit: movies, music, stories from college (where we first met one strange and twisted evening after I nearly smacked him in the head with an ironing board). Bottom line, he recognized two things: 1) that quite often, at the end of the day, the last thing I wanted to talk about was cancer, and 2) just how much I truly valued the thought – the genuine friendship.
So, when I received word of his stroke, I had some firsthand idea of what awaited him, at least insofar as the reactions of others were concerned – the initial (and sincere) outpouring of support from well-wishers that would, in time, fade to a trickle once the “novelty” of the situation wore off and a good many of them redirected their attention to their own problems, their own lives. It’s nothing personal – that’s just how it goes.
Though not his only source of conversation by any measure, I’ve nevertheless made a point of talking with him as frequently as possible – bullshit stuff most of the time, more serious matters when they’re obviously weighing on him – being all too familiar with the statute of limitations on casual sympathy. We also share an acute awareness of our own mortality statistically beyond our years.
Still, things are a bit different this time around. When I was sick, he was a picture of health. But for however close to death I came, within a year my treatments were done, my hair was growing back and I was looking forward to making the most at this new lease on life. Today, four years later, I’m the healthiest I’ve been since high school, the only physical relics of my ordeal being a rather small biopsy scar and a tiny pill I take every morning – a very small price, indeed. That said I cannot begin to imagine the uncertainty he must face with the dawn of each new day.
It’s interesting – though I was not familiar with Knox or his music before opening this morning’s mail, such “life-altering” occurrences recognize no synthetic boundaries like Race, Religion, Nationality or Tax Bracket. We’re all fellow patients and, so long as we draw breath, we are all survivors.
So here’s to ya, Knox – good luck, and Godspeed (whatever the hell that means)...