Hamlet, Androids, Dreams and My Cancer

Yesterday I came across the blog oldermanyoungerman which touched me enormously, so much in fact that my wife asked why I was sniffing so much. Naturally, as a bluff, hale, no-nonsense Yorkshireman, I couldn’t admit to the tears which were about to gently roll down my cheeks, but the words which I’ve quoted below really got me thinking:

“Tomorrow I will lie on a table that will convey me, like an auto body part on a conveyor-belt in a factory, into a tube where I will be photographed and analysed. Not “I” but the body that I am, because the imaging will not record my terrifying thought that the cancer may still be there, nor will it pick up the sinking feeling of someday having to leave behind the man I love, nor the prayers I send up to St. Anthony and St. Michael–though I never pray that way on a normal day.

The pictures, when they are sent to the oncologist, will not show my dreams for the future, my plans for spending my days, for sitting in the sun reading, for playing with the dogs, for holding Mike tight to this too fragile heart.”

I found the images created by the blog to be as powerful as the images which may, by now, have been created by the PET scan. I’ve lain on the PET scan table where I felt more like a piece of luggage going through security at the airport and wondered, just as I’ve done at security, “Will they see something I’m unaware of? Something which appears to be a threat that I don’t know about?” Stupid thoughts at the airport where I’ve knowingly complied with all the restrictions but not on the PET scan table. Unlike the author of oldermanyoungerman I didn’t distinguish the “I” from “the body that I am”. I should have done that: I really should have done that. I accept the teachings of the Buddha and try to live according to the Dharma. In many ways, such as in this instance, I fail to achieve what I would like to achieve but there’s a teaching in there too, I think. Anyway, the reason I should have distinguished my “I” from “the body that I am” is because in Buddhism there is a meditation, which I’ve done many, many time, based on trying to find the “I”. I’ve tried to find something on-line which would explain it clearly but have been unable to do so, so, here goes. In essence the meditation involves considering your body as your I and asking yourself the question “If I lose a finger am I still my body, is my body still me and what is the missing finger? If I lose a second finger am I still my body?” and so on until the body has been thoroughly explored without at any time discovering just which part of your body contains your “I”, thus leading to the conclusion that “I” and “my body” are not the same thing at all. I’ve explained this extremely badly and can only apologise to Steve, and to Gandon “but my mum still calls me Malcolm”, for not being better able to express their valuable teachings, for which I was, and continue to be, very appreciative.

The part of oldermanyoungerman’s blog which perhaps got me thinking most was “The pictures, when they are sent to the oncologist, will not show my dreams for the future, my plans for spending my days, for sitting in the sun reading, for playing with the dogs, for holding Mike tight to this too fragile heart.” This, naturally, got me thinking of my own dreams. Of the future with my wife for which we’ve both waited for seven years while I tried to support my mum as her dementia worsened. (I think I actually heard my wife threaten to kill me before the cancer could if I was going to die and leave her behind after all this time spent waiting, but perhaps I misheard). Of my dreams of spending time with my daughters who have both given me so much support and so much to be proud of down the years and sharing, vicariously, in their future achievements. Of spending time with my grandchildren and delighting in their activities and their achievements. Of seeing my step-children go on to achieve success in their lives. Of discovering more of America – I’d love to do the Dave Gorman unchained trip across the USA – this really is possibly the funniest thing I have ever read (reading it on a trans-atlantic crossing my seat-buddy just had to know what the book was that was literally causing me to laugh out loud). Of walking once more on those fabulous Pennine Hills which have surrounded me for pretty much all my life and in which I’ve spent a fair bit of time walking, mountain biking and kayaking – if that makes me sound like Action Man you should immediately lose the image! I dreamed of sharing these pleasures with my grandkids and watching them take-off on their own. Those are my dreams! I was tempted for a moment to write “those were my dreams”, but I think I was correct the first time: they still are my dreams, however, oldermanyoungerman got me thinking how sad it must be for people who, for whatever reason, do not have dreams. Perhaps they have no dreams because they are so isolated, and this cancer thing can be very isolating even in the middle of a loving and supporting family! Perhaps they have no dreams because they know their life won’t extend that far. It was this last thought which really made me sad, and thoughtful, as I began to wonder what I would feel about losing my dreams if I were to be told, “Sorry, but you only have x months left to live”. That ‘x’ might, or might not, be enough time to go on a world tour and fit in everything I’ve ever wanted to do, but if you aren’t going to be able to remember the dream is it worth living it? In the strange and seemingly random manner in which my mind often seems to work (if work is indeed the correct verb!) my thoughts then jumped to Hamlet with his famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy which includes the words “For in that sleep of death what dreams may come“, and this made me wonder just what dreams we might take with us into, and perhaps even through, death? It also made me think of a book I’ve recently re-read by Philip K Dick, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

I can no more answer Philip K Dick’s question than I can Hamlet asking what dreams may come in death, but I do know that my dreams are important to me, and I know that having them will help me to come through this with the help of the medical profession and my loved ones (though not necessarily in that order) and that I will go on to dream more dreams and live them too.

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3 Comments

Filed under Buddhism, Cancer, Death, Dreams, Meditation

3 responses to “Hamlet, Androids, Dreams and My Cancer

  1. Pingback: Another change in diagnosis!! | exiledtyke

  2. Sarah Jane

    This post is very insightful. I have dabbled in Buddhism and am evoked by how you convey the significance between “I” and “the body I am”.
    I will certainly reflect on this.
    I too aspire to turn dreams into reality.

  3. Thank you. I’m glad I managed to make it make sense!

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