A high school friend wrote to me yesterday. In her very kind, loving message in which she conveyed compassion at Mark's passing, she expressed a thought that has ravaged my mind many times over the past three years: the unfairness of it all. I lived decades in the closet, then came out and met the man of my dreams, only to have him diagnosed with terminal cancer 18 months later.
When we first learned of Mark's cancer, I did plenty of metaphorical (and actual) screaming at the universe for the cruel trick it had played on me. I raged. I ranted. I cried.
But you know, as I think about it, Mark never did that. Not out loud, anyway. Not once in the nearly three years of his cancer did he bemoan his fate or express outrage that the universe had done this to him. What he did say, repeatedly, was how lucky he had been throughout his life. And rather than express sorrow over the short time he had with me, he instead expressed - many times - how lucky he was that I had come into his life and how fortunate we were to spend together what time we had.
I'm only now realizing, I think, the effect Mark had on me in this regard. Over time, my rage softened into regretful acceptance. Regret that there was not more time, but acceptance of both this regret and of the reality of the situation.
We certainly had no regrets for anything following his diagnosis. He never regretted immediately retiring from emergency medicine. He never regretted continuing his hospice work, nor did he regret his eventual retirement from that work. He never regretted the choices he/we made concerning his cancer treatment. We never regretted a single day or a single dollar spent on creating good times and happy memories.
I cried last night for the first time in a couple of days. I have felt leaden sadness. I have keenly sensed his absence. But I haven't cried, and it was beginning to concern me. Last night, however, there was a special on PBS about the Carpenters, and as I listened to those songs from my/our youth and contemplated how Karen Carpenter had also died too young, I cried. Mark and I didn't know each other in our youth, in the 70's, but we had more than one experience that convinced us that, in a way, we had known "of" each other back then -- in a metaphysical way that defies explanation or description. Hearing those Carpenter songs reminded me of this, and I cried.
I'll close this rambling post by recounting an experience I had once with my counselor (who is a practicing Buddhist). I think this was before Mark was diagnosed and I was discussing my concern about my career. Understanding my anxiety but hoping to give me added perspective, she said, "Joseph, you have a unique opportunity to discover and learn about love. What - in the grand scheme of things - is more important than that?"
At the time she said that, I was somewhat skeptical. It was only over time that I realized how true her statement was. Though I raged and screamed at the universe when Mark was diagnosed, and though I wish he was still here, I thank the universe for what we shared and what I learned about love during the time we had together.