October 20, 2011

Time passes differently

When you were a child, for instance, it seemed that school days in June, when the weather had turned warm, moved more slowly than school days in January when it still got dark so early in the north-east. When you were a child, time seemed an infinite resource, replenished unstintingly from a never ending flowing river. Days followed on days and you thought, if you thought about it all, that it would never end. I'm sure that's what my college roommate, D, thought, too.

Then he was rushed into emergency surgery to take a tumor out of his brain, a stage IV glioblastoma, the worst kind. He and his wife were very brave as they made the rounds of Sloan Kettering and Duke to see if D was eligible for trials. I'm sure, even with this jolt of mortality, that they still envisioned an ending time that they could not put a date to, even if it was now longer infinite in comprehension of scope anymore. They were full of brave words about how young D is, how he is in great health, that he could and would beat this, that he would be able to dance at this daughter's wedding one day.

Now, not quite a year has passed since I last saw them. Now, in the space of 2 months since D's last MRI, the tumor has grown back so quickly that it is as large as the tumor that they took out not quite a year ago.

Recurrence. Now, all the choices (assuming they really ever had any choices to begin with) are bad and all the choices come with easily comprehensible expiration dates. When the average projected survival rates are 14-36 weeks post second surgery, then your time is now longer infinite. Now you can grasp an end, if you will. Your mind can comprehend the conclusion date, even if it is more of a range than a date certain.

So the question is, how is it that time which once passed so slowly is now passing so quickly? Time which stretched out into infinity is now quite finite.

There is no dying with dignity here. There is simply tremendous sadness that time has become so circumscribed. I am put in mind of Houseman's poem, To an Athlete Dying Young:

To An Athlete Dying Young

THE time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

To-day, the road all runners come, 5
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay, 10
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers 15
After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man. 20

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head 25
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's.

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