The doctors gave him a few years, tops. He says he’s not afraid.
He spends a lot of time in the woods. He’s been this way since childhood. Chances are, if you don’t find him in the forest, you probably won’t find him.
A few weeks ago, I visited. We went for a walk near his house.
He looks good. He’s bald. His hair is growing back in patches. He covers it with an Ole’ Miss cap. Once upon a time, I would’ve given him hell about Alabama’s recent victory against the Rebels. Not now.
They first discovered his cancer when he was young. They operated; he thought he was cured. For a long time, he seemed all right. Then he started going downhill. He’s forty-three now—and a ways down the hill.
“My body hates me,” he said. “I’ve come to terms with that. But I’m not my body. I just live in it, lotta people don’t get that.”
Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t get it, either. But then, I never claimed to be smart.
“I ain’t worried about dying,” he went on. “I mean, it’s sad, but this life ain’t all there is.”
Well, I’ve thumbed through afterlife theories before. I’ve had a hard time making heads or tails. I’ve heard enough to confuse me.
A college professor once told me there was no hereafter—he emphasized that everything either becomes worm poop or limestone. My mother believes in streets of gold. My deranged uncle believes we come back as possums. My wife believes her father is a turkey buzzard.
“Oh, I believe there’s a Heaven,” he said. “I have to.”
We stopped to look at the pine trees. He still loves them. When he was younger and more agile, he could scale them like a monkey. Now, he just looks upward.
“God gave me a gift,” he said. “Letting me get this sick.”
Yeah? Well, I don’t see it that way. Life has dished him some hateful blows without having the decency to give him a reason.
“No, I mean it,” he said. “I’m really lucky. Been thinking about death for so many years, I’m not even scared of it anymore. You learn a lot when you get over the fear of dying. People go their whole lives without knowing what it’s all about.”
I hated to ask the idiotic question of the century, but I asked what it was all about.
He ignored my question, too deep in thought, I guess.
“Hey,” he finally said. “When you write your story thing, will you say in there that I love my wife and kids? Maybe they’ll read it when I’m gone, and remember that love.”
I’ll aim for more than that.
I’m going to tell every person I know.