Best Friends

Morning coffee and croissant off of Grant street. The city awakening. I’m feeling sad, though. Sad at excess. A little sad at wherever I am in my life.

I look down at the pavement. And I think of the guy.
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Last month my friend Patrick was walking to work in San Francisco and he passed some commotion and an area cordoned off with police tape. A little bit earlier a guy had jumped from a building and his body was lying on the pavement.

He had committed the irrevocable act.

He had arrived at a moment where he felt sad / devalued / alone / ill – enough so that he no longer wanted to be alive.

Since arriving in San Francisco I’ve considered him most days. I never knew him. But by killing himself he’s given me a costly gift. Even worse, it probably pales to what he gave the world when he was alive.

What would he think to know that after his death, a complete stranger would continue to carry his shadow forward into life? And by implication, what of me is carried by him?

Sometimes we can count even a stranger as a friend.

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San Francisco Spring

Union Square, San Francisco

Yesterday I had my string of checkup appointments marking the two year anniversary of my initial diagnosis and recommendation.

Rounds of hugs with the receptionists as I checked in with each doctor.  Diane and Misty and Rosa have become good friends and shepherds along the way.  And embraces with my docs as well.  Dr. Eisele and Quivey and Orloff are as wonderful people as you will ever find.

And it all checked out.  The incision has healed wonderfully.  The remaining salivary glands are intact.  There’s nothing funny growing in there.  I should be cleaning my teeth more frequently.  I’ll start as soon as I get home.

So now, in whatever way, it’s time to say goodbye to it.  I still have my appointments every year or so.  Some regular imaging.  But for now I can let go of that part of my life.

It makes me a little sad.  Dr. Quivey is retiring in July.  And my trips to San Francisco have been a staple for two years.  It feels a little like graduating college or leaving home.

It should be a wonderful San Francisco morning and I hope to enjoy it as such.  And then get the hell out of here.

I won’t miss the experience.  Only some of what it summons.

The Garden

Running toward the Embarcadero.  On Battery, I believe.  Lost in my iTunes playlist, I cut through a swath of green.  I guess we call them parks.  But suddenly I stop, arrested.  I am in fact cutting through a Japanese Garden.  It really is just a swath of green.  A scattering of stones.  A splash of water.  But it is a Japanese garden in the truest sense.

A Japanese garden is not a swath of green.  Nor an arrangement of plants.  It’s a psychological experience.  A metaphysical state.  A state that opens up the boundary between self and the outside world.  We call this boundary “perception.”

A masterful garden will arrest, it will capture the attention in the way I have just serendipitously experienced.

A park, a swath of green, has no rules.  Or rather, the chaos of the self rules.  Parks are primed for the 21st century American.  We are free to experience it in whatever way we damn well please.  Throw a frisbee.  Loll on the grass.  Kick a ball. Read a book.

In a Japanese garden, the designer rules supreme.  We become subjugated to the designers intent.  His intent becomes our experience.  And if the designer is gifted, a new layer of reality becomes our experience.

In this garden, the path turns and breaks.  A runner must slow down to a trot.  And then a walk.  And as you walk, you see the stones.  The swath of grass is home to the stones.  A pool of water is laced with moonlike stepping stones.  The stones invite you to enter the pond.  But not on our terms.  Instead on the terms of the stones.  The stones suggest where we should walk.  We have some measure of choice.  But the stones dictate the range of choice.

We have to pay attention.  If we misstep, we fall in the water.  And when we reach the last stone, what do we find? Nothing.

But it’s not nothing.  It’s the oval of rock upon which we stand.  It’s our vantage.  And it’s enough.  From this perch we see a small tree ungainly enough to be unworthy of attention.  So we look down.  And our attention is drawn to the reflection of the tree shimmering in the water.

We return.  But this time we see the fallen cherry blossom petals speckling the ground.  The death that arrives in hand with incipient birth.

The asphalt walkway turns to rock turns to a grass path, turns once again the rock.  This part of the garden privileges our feet.  Not our eyes or other senses.  Instead it says, you oh lowly feet.  You the ones that carry.  This spot has been created just for you.

1 California

I’m not sure I have the heart to write. 10 pm. House of Nanking. delicately sauteed pea shoots. an enormous onion cake. Today largely filled with appointments: Eisele to review once again the slicing; Quivey to survey the burn site; Jacob Kameesta on his broken down bike to hug and remind me what it is to be alive once again.

My one year anniversary tour leaves me a bit sad and forlorn. returning on MUNI to the Hotel Kabuki.

Rannie loved the 1 California. Or so she once said.

Rannie Yoo 1976 – 2009

Rannie Yoo died at home late on Sunday afternoon in San Francisco. On the message boards she referred to herself as CatsM. It stood for “cats meow.” She was 33 years old.

I first came across her posts on an online forum dedicated to patients with tumors of the parotid gland. Like many I was drawn to the love and joy and humor that was so present in her voice. I would later learn that the tone and words and wisdom that I found so compelling were as well present in her person.

She and I shared the same surgeon. I had been diagnosed with a recurrent pleomorphic adenoma at about the same time that the doctors had discovered her stage IV malignancy.

When she received the diagnosis from our surgeon, she asked him what the worst outcome was. He was a little bewildered. Well you could die, he said.

She received those words and she did more than soldier on. She proceeded to live her life with a beguiling grace. She wasn’t scared of surgery, she said. It was her job to just go to sleep and wake up. It was the surgeon’s job to get rid of this thing. And so she went even as her cancer threw everything it could at her.

After my surgery I looked her up when I returned to San Francisco for my radiation treatment. We met a few times. Although by that time her cancer had spread, she was publicly upbeat and happy. Like others in her predicament, her illness had made her feel strangely alive, perhaps more so than she had ever been. She once said that she was grateful for what was happening to her, that it was helping her become who she was. She could see clearly how much her fiancée David loved her, and how devoted he was. She was grateful to him and to her sister and to her vast network of friends and coworkers. And she was deeply sympathetic to others facing similar or even lesser conditions.

At one point I had confessed to her that I was primarily a lurker on the parotid forum – that although I found the information useful, I wasn’t necessarily seeking a community of illness. There’s a lot of love on that site, she gently cautioned. They are all really good people.

She relied on them, on us, greatly for both solace and as comrades in arms. I believe we also helped her to feel of service and to provide an arena for her to express the wonderful person that she was and and will always continue to be.

Rannie and David married five nights before she died. It was a forestalled wish that she had long been harboring. I would like to think that it was one of many wishes granted her.

With her hair gone she once described herself as looking like a shaolin monk. I will always remember her as beautiful.