I used to be a cynical realist before the C-word entered my life. There is a lot, no really, A LOT of debate between me and everyone I know how much of me was "cynic" and how much was "realist," ( clue where I fell: A "cynic" is an "optimist's" word for a "realist."). Irregardless (I know that isn't a word, but love to torment my inner English major), I have changed in every single way; you sort of can't face impending death and NOT change.
Let me say for the record and without false bravado that not once was I sad about my potential death. To be honest, and my mom is going to hate reading this, but I was shocked I made it as far as I had. If I was stage four and death was a certainty, I was OK with what I had done with my life and the impressions I had left with those I cared about. Being Gen-X, the concept of a life cut short was ingrained in a lot of us from an early age. Think of the opening scene from "Pleasantville". Here is the scene:
[Montage of teachers talking to David's classes]
College Counselor: For those of you going on to college next year, the chance of finding a good job will actually decrease by the time you graduate. The available number of entry-level jobs will drop 31 percent over the next four years. Median income for those jobs will go down as well. Obviously, my friends, it's a competitive world, and good grades are your only ticket through. In fact, by the year 2000...
Health Teacher: The chance of contracting HIV from a non-monogamous lifestyle will climb to 1 in 150. The odds of dying in an auto accident are only 1 in twenty-five hundred. Now, this marks a drastic increase...
Science Teacher: ...from fourteen years ago, when ozone depletion was just at 10 percent of its current level. By the time you are thirty years old, average global temperature will have risen two and a half degrees, causing such catastrophic consequences as typhoons, floods, widespread drought, and famine.
Science Teacher: [With a bright smile:] Okay! Who can tell me what "famine" is?
Fiction? Afraid not. This is right on the money for what I was taught very early in life, so I was a bit of a cynic, yeah.
Cancer was life's way to deal with my existence cleanly; I was meant to die, this was the time for it to happen, but it didn't. That haunted me actually more than my perspective death: why did I live when I had so little to live for and why did people who had so much more die?
Survival Guilt? Me? That shit is fiction! How can you feel guilty for living? It is not like my life or death had any impact on their survival. Death doesn't work on a quota system (I hope), but there it was. I spent a good three weeks after a family friend's death from cancer in a funk questioning everything. I suppose it was my emotional cocoon and how I was processing what I had gone through. On one side I was no longer a cynic, but on the other, my nihilism was born.
I would spend the next year of my life believing nothing mattered; everything was random. Healthy life or eat like shit? Work out or lounge? Family or single? Slacker or contributor? It doesn't mean shit. The value of one's life is purely random and without any deeper meaning. There is no "Fate" other than "your game has ended." How could it mean anything? I had seen for myself the meaningless waste and cruelness life can dish out and there was clearly no meaning to any of it, so why bother trying?
So why did I survive? To spread that message? That couldn't be, because if I survived to spread the message that "Life Had No Meaning," that clearly means my life had a purpose yet unfulfilled (to spread that message) and therefore the message was wrong. But if the message is wrong, then I couldn't have been saved to spread a false message; there had to be something more. My nihilism became detection.
I began recounting books I read, movies I watched, songs I knew, and reviewed them for hints. Richard Bach's "Illusions" and his "Messiah Guide" were big helps. I looked up Gandhi and MLK and other great minds for things they said. I looked at quote sites for things about life, death, and what could be between. I became obsessed. It was amazing. The INTERNET became my own personal "Messiah's Handbook."
As Bach wrote
: (H)e said. “You just open it and whatever you need most is there.”
“A magic book!”
“No. You can do it with any book. You can do it with an old newspaper, if you read carefully enough. Haven’t you done that, hold some problem in your mind, then open any book handy and see what it tells you?”
“Well, try it sometime.”
The INTERNET was working this way (Why is INTERNET in all caps?) and I was transforming internally. I realized, as Socrates had said, "I know that I 'KNOW' nothing." I realized I believe, I think, I hope, but I don't know and odds are neither does anyone else. We are all slaves to our perceptions, so we can't be anymore upset at someone who sees an issue differently than we do than we can at a dog for not understanding abstract advanced calculus in Spanish backwards. This was illuminating to say the least.
I'm going to split for now, but the greatest way I can summarize my new found outlook is to again quote Richard Bach:
“The world is your exercise-book, the pages on which you do your sums. It is not reality, although you can express reality there if you wish. You are also free to write nonsense, or lies, or to tear the pages.”
Every person, all theevents of your life, are there because you have drawn ... What you choose to do with them is up to you.
Everything in this post may be wrong =D