Of Butterflies and Tigers


I saw my first Monarch butterfly of the season while out walking this morning. A definite sign that spring has finally arrived on the island. If I had to get cancer, I’m happy it happened at this time of the year. It’s so much easier to be positive and constructive with a clear blue sky and the warm sun on your face. My mood has always been inextricably linked to the seasons, and I don’t think I would have coped as well as I have if the news had broken in the dark depths of a Waiheke winter.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, I find myself thinking a good deal about time. How to mark its passing, how not to disrespect or squander it, and of course the most pressing and taxing question of all, how much of this precious commodity have I got left? As I have said in these pages before, I’m finding the best way to keep sane is not to look too far into the future. As a long time worry-wort and navel gazer, I’ve actually found it surprisingly easy to train myself to live in the present moment. Perhaps it’s a built in survival mechanism. Under normal circumstances, an ability to divine future events – however unreliably – should, you would have thought, have considerable survival value. Whether it’s a sabre-toothed tiger waiting for you around the next corner, or some doped-up adolescent in an out of control Holden, a certain amount of foresight could help you to avoid all manner of unpleasantness. But in my present predicament there seems little to be gained from knowing what’s going to happen next, and quite a lot to loose.

I’m not being defeatist here, just trying to be realistic and objective. I know the next few weeks and months are going to be no picnic. It’s probably going to get grizzly. It’s going to really hurt. There’s a good chance it’s not going to end well. As far as I can see, knowing my own expiry date in advance has little practical application beyond making sure I’m wearing clean underwear, and remembering to cancel the milk. Being blissfully unaware of the precise details of my upcoming ordeal is an indulgence I will continue to afford myself for the time being.

Just because I’m now dwelling on it however, doesn’t mean I’m unaware of the future. I know it’s out there, coiled like a watch spring and waiting to unwind with mechanical precision, with or without me. It’s just that for me “tomorrow” – that most abstract of human concepts – has become even more elusive and tentative. Breaking the future up into small, bite-sized chunks seems to work best. My basic unit of currency is the day. Specifically, THIS day. Each morning starts with a quick systems check and emotional audit. Do I feel well? Do I have any pain? Am I feeling positive and energetic? Am I likely to snuff-it in the next eighteen hours or so? If the answer to all of these questions confirms my continued well-being for another revolution of the planet, I say a silent but sincere thank-you to the universe, push cancer and it’s attendant fears and anxieties away into the darkest back corner of my crowded skull, and get on with the business of having the best day I possibly can.

Beyond TODAY, I set tentative short-term goals. After my initial diagnosis, my first thought (after “Fuck Me!”), was “Bugger, I’m going to miss the Rugby World Cup…” So that became the first way-point on my road forward. The final will be played here in Auckland on October 23rd. I really want to see that game, and I’m confident I will. After that, my next goal is to stay well for Christmas, and possibly a trip back to Blighty to see the family. I think I should manage that too. Past that, we’re really back into the abstract again. But I take some comfort in this thought.

Nobody else on the planet has any more clue as to what their future holds than I do. So it goes.

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