2 a.m. thoughts from a man with chronic cancer.
Heaven. What is it? As a lifelong church goer, I’ve heard all the stories of what it’s supposed to look like. Streets of gold. Mansions everywhere. No pain. No strife. Just eternal sunshine in a spotless mind.
But is that it? Is that where we end up? In a state of ridiculous bliss where there is no disease, no hunger, and nary a mosquito to be found? To me, that sounds a bit boring. Not to be sacrilegious, but don’t we all need a little conflict in our lives to spice things up? How do you know what’s good and awesome if you don’t know what’s bad and ugly?
I can hear the church rebuttal to that question. We go through all the bad here on earth so we can transition to the awesomeness of being in Gods presence. We won’t miss the conflicts or the strife or the disease. It is our eternal reward.
Really? That’s it? For eternity? Nothing but bliss? Forgive me, but that sounds really boring to me. I’ve had different ideas on what heaven would be like that have sort of evolved over the years, kind of like my views on God and the place that religion has occupied in my life. So, if you indulge me for a bit, here is one of my views on the afterlife.
I know, I know, right now you’re asking yourself, “Wait, what? I thought this was going to be a serious discussion on the eternal destination of our wandering souls? This is about baseball?” Ok, hear me out. One glorious spring day back in 1984, I was sitting in the bleachers at old Tiger Stadium, 22 years old, drinking a cold beer and watching the Tigers kick the crap out of the Chicago White Sox, and I thought to myself,”This is heaven. A beautiful spring day, shirt off, cold beer, watching Chet Lemon run down a ball in the gap.” Seriously, it doesn’t get any better than that. The green grass. The blue and orange seats. The intoxicating smell of bratwursts and marijuana in the air. The wave. The slow wave. The reverse wave. The upper deck and lower deck reversing wave. The chants of LESS FILLING, TASTES GREAT, which would eventually devolve in to F**K YOU, EAT SH*T, ( stay classy, Detroit!). What a blast.
But then I had a thought. What if this were really heaven? What if my heaven involved my favorite baseball team in my favorite stadium beating their biggest rival? An eternity of double headers. Three run homers from here to infinity! Sparky and the boys playing forever. I could live,(or die, as it were) with that.
Man in the Box
2 a.m. thoughts about your own mortality aren’t just about ballgames and eternal sunshine. 2 a.m. thoughts can also get very dark. The kind of darkness that make you get up and go to the bathroom just to turn on the light to try to clear out the demons. They make me go downstairs and turn on the TV to watch Sportscenter so the voices go away. The fear of death. The fear of nothingness. The fear of eternal darkness. The nagging questions. What if this is it? What if life on this planet is all we get? What if after this there is…nothing? What if it is like that old Soundgarden song, “Man in the Box?”
(I’m not going to put the lyrics here. Google it if you must.)
Before you poo poo those thoughts with a condescending “C’mon Dan, you know better than that. You’re a Christian!”, let me ask you this question. If everything in the afterlife is such a wonderful blissful thing, why do we fight so hard to try to avoid it? I’ve watched people that were lifelong Christians absolutely dissolve into a mass of quivering flesh when they were confronted with their own mortality. Nobody wants to hear the words, “You have cancer.” When I first heard those words I didn’t think, “Oh good, I’ll soon be in the presence of my Lord and Savior.” My first thought was,”Shit, I DON’T WANT TO DIE!”
I just endured 6 rounds of chemotherapy to maybe extend my life another couple of years. And that’s a big fat maybe. It might have only extended it a few months. My PSA is bouncing around. My oncologist has mentioned another round of some other poison in case my latest CAT scan comes back with results that are less than desirable. My reaction to that was basically,”GOD NO!! I don’t want to do this again.” But if I have to, I probably will.
In cancerland, you’re supposed to fight. Never give up is the credo. Right? Is that because as humans we are born with an innate survival instinct that protects us against bad stuff that can harm us and our offspring? Is it part of our natural curiosity to see what happens next in our lives? We want to be there for the next wedding, the next baby to be born, to watch our grandkids play little league baseball. We really don’t want life to continue without us. We want to be part of all the life that we can. And with that desire for life is a natural fear of death.
And yet, we are told that the life after this one is magical, all disease is gone, that we will be “in a better place.” Why wouldn’t I want to be there? Let me tell you, when you’re throwing up your guts into the bushes outside your house, or into a gas station garbage can, or a quick after dinner puke that feels like everything you’ve eaten over the past ten years is coming out of you,(“Is that my liver?”), a “better place” sounds pretty good. Last week Monday, as I was laying in bed in serious pain from a sore back, nauseous and tired of it all, I had this thought. If Michael Jackson’s doctor, the one that “helped” him fall asleep every night, were here and could help me, and even if I knew that there was a 1 in 10 chance of never waking up again, I would have taken those odds. I was that desperate.
So, as I continue this cancer battle, I will keep fighting the good fight. I will endure more poison. I will endure more pain. I will endure the depression and the loss of intimacy with my wife. I want to be here for the next wedding, the next baby, the next birthday celebration. I am less afraid of death than I have ever been, but the thought still creeps me out sometimes. It worries me enough to keep going. Sometimes the fight against cancer is just running from the blackness of death’s uncertainty.
I know better than that. I know what God’s plan is for me. But it still scares me a little.
And when I do go and cross that threshold into the hereafter, my hope isn’t for streets of gold and mansions. My hope is for sunny afternoons watching baseballs fly into the upper deck in right field, a swift center fielder chasing down a double against the wall, and the taste of a spicy bratwurst washed down with a cold beer.
Thanks for reading.