So I was reading an article by Cecily Strong the other day. Word of warning, it’s raw and amazing. If you’re not sitting somewhere where you feel comfortable openly weeping, save it for later. I’d say this is some of the stupid shit that made me cry, but it’s far from stupid. It’s heartfelt and written in a way that totally puts you in her brain.
Anyway, the article got me to thinking. If you haven’t been in a place to read it yet, it’s about her cousin’s diagnosis and death from brain cancer, tied in with the pandemic. I read it during lunch, trying to weep as quietly as possible, then got myself together and went back to work. We shut down all of the production machines a week early because we’re getting ready to switch to new software on 1/3 and need to have everything organized, inventoried, and ready to go. This is a company founded in the 1950s that’s been operating off Windows XP and an Access 97 database since back when those were new technology. Now we’re going to web and iPad-based software. So it’s… a lot.
On this particular day, I’m reprinting labels for containers. Some of the labels are on products made in 1999. Two thousand zero zero party over oops, out of time. I have to find a label that looks like crap or has a bar code in the wrong space, take the label out of the package, take a picture of the label, put the label back in the package and the package away, then go to a computer, fire up the Access 97 database, look up the picture of the label, type in the ID number, make sure the information is correct and the label is set up in the right direction (landscape for metal bins, portrait for plastic bins. Holy shit, I just realized they both start with “p.”), print the new label, affix it to a 3″x5″ index card, go back to wherever the bin is, and swap out the labels.
So, mostly mindless work. The kind of work that lets my brain wander and/or churn along on something I’ve been thinking about. Like cancer, death, and why me.
Now, this isn’t the shirt-rending, fists-to-the-sky-in-the-rain kind of “WHY MEEEEE?” Instead this is the “Why did I make it when so many haven’t?” kind of “Why me?” If you ask anyone else who’s survived something like this, they’ve probably had this exact thought some number of times. Especially if they survived despite a grim prognosis. Like a stage 4 cancer that didn’t want to go away with chemo. Hello there.
You’ll read these stories of people who haven’t made it and they had so much going for them. So much potential wasted by getting this stupid disease. And yet somehow their death still made waves in the world. A relative decided to devote themselves to curing that kind of cancer so no one else would lose a loved one. A friend who was on the verge of making it writes a heartfelt song that shoots them to fame. A roommate pours their pain into their art and becomes huge for showing real emotion in their work.
I have a current working theory: when I was going through cancer, there was no one in my circle of influence who was perched on the verge of their own greatness. Since my death wouldn’t inspire anyone to reach greater heights in their art, profession, or service to mankind, there was no reason for me to die, so I got a free pass. So yes, if you knew me in the mid-to-early 2000, you had already peaked back then. Even me dying wouldn’t have made you a big thing. Fate says so.
Aside from pointing you toward Cecily’s great article and dissing all five of the people in my life, I’m writing this post as a warning. If you get diagnosed with any kind of disease that has death as a possible outcome, look at your friends and family. Any artists? Songwriters? Novelists? Potential med students or creators of international charities? DITCH THEM IF YOU WANT TO LIVE!