This week one of my friends found out that the cancer in his lung cannot be removed by surgery, may be knocked back a bit by some new drugs, but will definitely kill him. I’m not sure how I would cope with that news if it was me. He is doing what the specialist advised – get your affairs in order, take the new drugs, and get on with living every day that is left to you to the fullest.
It is probably a test of one’s strength of character, times like this.
He is an astonishing person. From old farming stock with a seemingly endless cache of relatives that live locally. He was dux of his high school – a fierce intelligence that borders on insanity at times. In full flight, it is difficult to keep up with his train of thought; I think he assumes we are all as well read as he is. He writes poetry. He has a passion for sailing. He gave up his teaching career to care for his Mother, who lived another 15-odd years until she died well into her 90’s.
He is what can only be described as incorrigible – full of fun and games, operating on multiple agendas at all times, slightly disrespectful of ‘rules’ but with a passion for what is right. I have come to enjoy his friendship very much. I believed him when he said he would go for aggressive treatment and they would cut the cancer out and he was going to therefore recover and carry on. We all believed him, or wanted to.
I called in to see him on Tuesday, to cadge a cup of tea on the way back to the office. He was having a good day – for someone who has been told he is dying he looks remarkably well. Sometime over the teacups I said I hoped that when the time comes to die, it is over and done with quickly, but that in the meantime, he could live well. In the age of informed medical care, he has been given 8 – 18 months. Quite a range really, if you want to spend every last cent before you expire.
He said he was getting a new passport. He has a brother in Australia he wants to spend time with, and he wants to go to Tahiti with a friend who speaks fluent French. Sounded like a good plan to me – living well indeed.
I don’t know how it has happened, but he has got to 70-something with next to nothing. An old car, a little trailer-sailer yacht that has been a source of great delight, a wealth of friendships that he values above everything. Unfortunately, plane tickets cannot be purchased with love.
So I decided to let the people that we both associate with know of his wish to travel to Tahiti and suggest that if anyone wanted to assist with a donation, that might be nice. So far, there is $1,250 sitting in a bank account in my name, sent in by friends of his, which I will hand over to him when next I see him.
What is interesting is how people react.
My partner “doesn’t get it”. This is deeply disturbing to be honest. What is not to get? He hasn’t explained, but had already said “I must sail with him more” and offered to pay for the plywood for his coffin. Another friend has raised all sorts of concerns – has he travelled before? will he come home in a box? I pointed out to her that he has cancer, not dementia. Is that what happens when you are sick? People assume you are no longer a functioning adult? People that are well-resourced and that I thought would want to give him a bit of treat are surprisingly absent. I know he is getting lots of support with meals and assistance with trips to the Dr and things like that, but again, you can’t cash those things in at the travel agents.
On the plus side, other people are more than generous, and incredibly trusting that I will in fact hand over the cash. I will, of course, and I am heartened by their support and good wishes.
In the parlance of this digital age, I suppose this is invitation-only crowd funding. Back in the day, it would have been called a whip-round. I have a newspaper clipping from about 1912 when my Great-great-uncle’s widow was given fifty pounds or so collected by his workmates, and given to her to feed her five very young children. He had drowned about 3 months earlier, so I suppose that is why it was reported in the paper. Unfortunately she died too, about three years later.
There is much discussion about the effects of our have/have not society, the distance between top and bottom now seemingly insurmountable. It has always been there, but so too is the inherent urge to help your mates when they need a hand. Perhaps it is that urge, as much as opposable thumbs, that gave us the big step up in evolution?
Compared to my friend, we are millionaires. In fact due to the stupidity of house prices in Auckland, we probably are millionaires, on paper anyway. Lucky we have separate bank accounts, so I can do what I like with my share, and I choose to give a little bit to someone I am pleased to call my friend. Someone who has made my life just that little bit richer for all his wild ideas and vast knowledge of all sorts of obscure things, shared freely with the uninformed, particularly after a glass or two of good (always good) red wine. Someone I know would give me the shirt off his back if I needed it; who makes me laugh, and for whom I will shed tears when he is gone.
When I get a postcard from Tahiti, I will be grateful all over again that I can call him my friend.