The man sitting next to me on the flight to Ft. Lauderdale was named David. He was on the way to Florida to visit his cousin and her children.
He was an aircraft mechanic, lived in Clarksville, Tennessee, was divorced and was going to South America from Ft. Lauderdale.
He was born in Kentucky, did not like Tennessee, and had moved to Georgia.
He was 47 years old, wore jeans, a sport shirt, and an orange cap with a logo on it. He didn’t like cats.
OK. I’m not real fond of cats either.
And then David told me in the same tone of voice he had used when complaining about cats that his body was eaten up with cancer and that his doctor had told him he had 60 days to live. David told the doctor he didn’t want chemo. “I’d rather hurt and see South America and Italy than throw up and see the ceiling of a hospital room.”
I didn’t know what to say. I mean, I had prostate cancer but haven’t had a reoccurrence in over 10 years.
David didn’t look like someone who had 60 days to live. He was thin, sure, and pale. He said he had stopped worrying about it. He’d had the life he had, some good, some bad, some very bad. He said he was at peace.
I didn’t believe him. He was scared. But I don’t think he was trying to put a brave face on anything. He seemed to have accepted what was happening to him, but he was still pissed.
He told me he had made all the preparations for after he died. Everything was paid for, even money set aside to ship his body back from wherever he was.
He had visited his parents, was now on the way to see the cousin and that was it for family. He told everyone he would call them if he wanted to talk.
He laughed easily when he told me stories about stupid aircraft mechanics, and had a bitterness you could taste when he talked about the insurance companies who fought him on the medical bills.
That’s everything I know. You don’t ask questions to someone who won’t be around by March 15. (I’m aware David could live longer than 60 days, but he had settled on that number and so I kept my mouth shut.)
As we took our bags out of the overhead bins I was trying to think of anything to say that wouldn’t sound stupid or maudlin. I enjoyed talking to you was dumb. Have a nice day was a slap. Hope we run into each other again? Right.
So I told him to enjoy his trips.
And he told me he enjoyed our talk.
Was it a coincidence that David and I met? Although I think predestination is a cop out, I do believe that some things happen for a reason. There are literally millions of people in 12 Step programs who believe in a Higher Power that saved their lives. And those same people will tell you they have personally seen miracles.
David and I sitting side by side on a airplane going to Ft. Lauderdale would be easier to understand if I had been in been in a deep depression. And it may be equally true that circumstances or whatever put us together for his sake. Maybe. But somehow I don’t believe “enjoy your trips” qualifies as life-changing insight for a guy with sixty days in live.
It may also be true that David was wildly schizophrenic, and it was another person doing the talking. But I don’t think so.
We’ve all heard that “today is the first day of the rest of your life,” but that old bromide is painfully stupid.
I have my own bucket list, and I’m trying to check them all off. However, I do keep putting sky diving at the bottom, just after my trip to Antarctica.
I’m very aware that the asteroid no one sees might take us all out, or my pacemaker will stop working, or some yahoo driving and texting will come out of nowhere and make Antarctica a moot point.
Like most people I take the future for granted. I don’t think about how much time I have is left. I occasionally think about what I would do if my doctor told me I had two weeks to live. But he hasn’t. Besides I’ve got three shows next week. The idea of packing up and getting on the next boat to China is a nice idea, but I’ll do that later. Probably.
But David won’t go away. I met him a week ago today. That means he has 5 weeks.
So I keep coming back to this, and it is becoming less and less theoretical: Most of us don’t know whether we have five weeks or five years or 15 seconds. But if you and I were holding the hand David was dealt, how would we play it?