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By STAN GOLDBERG
It was 3:30 in the afternoon, and I was gazing through my
kitchen window at the Pacific. I’d recently decided to retire from the
university because of a chronic sleep disorder that resulted in memory
problems, and I was reluctantly accepting the loss of an important part of my
identity. My thirty-year-old title of “professor” would be swapped for
“professor emeritus” and, as compensation for losing the status that went with the
role, I’d receive a library card and a free lifetime email address. But I’d
also finally have an opportunity to resume my woodworking and travel to exotic
countries. Maybe even a trip to Tibet.
My thoughts were interrupted by a phone call.
“You have cancer,” the physician said to me. “And it’s
aggressive. If you don’t have surgery, it will kill you. even with surgery, the
escaped cancer cells may still be fatal.”
I don’t remember what I said to him, but eleven years later
I still feel nauseous thinking of his three words. He couldn’t see me for four
days, so in the interim I reread my favorite Buddhist authors. I was hoping to
learn from them how to tell my wife and adult children I might be dying and to
find some comfort. Yet I found little consolation in anything I read and—
despite the warnings not to—I grasped at my conditioned existence. There was a
gap between what many of our greatest teachers wrote I should be feeling and
what I was feeling.
Stan Goldberg is the author of Lessons for the Living:
Stories of Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Courage at the End of Life and Leaning Into Sharp Points: Practical Guidance and Nurturing Support for Caregivers.