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Waiting for my Kierkegaardian angel


It was good to hear from you. I’ve had a tough couple of weeks. Dissertation is finally on the move and I’ve gotten in some revisions for my second book, as well as some new writing. But it’s not nearly what I want. The semester’s over soon enough, however, and the next round looks to be a little easier.

Part of the difficulty is just taking care of classes. I have a few geniuses but also a number of the indolent and lazy. I also have students who need really remedial help. Most of them understand that 90 percent of my class is just plain work. Intellectual calisthenics. Of them, 80 percent just don’t want to do it or think that, somehow, teacher will be soft and wonderful to them. It’s a tough business, teaching at a suburban community college. It’s hard to watch the rich idle.

What’s been even harder is that I found out about three weeks ago that a good friend, more of a brother to me than my own, is going to die of brain cancer. Sudden stuff. The end of September he starts having headaches, then his vision blurs. A CAT scan, and two weeks later he’s under the knife. I’ve never felt as sad and mournful in my life. Cleo is an oncology nurse and has never seen anyone with the kind of cancer he has live through it. There are exceptions, she says, but it’s rare.

He’s in Berlin, and I will be going to see him the first two weeks in January. While there, I’ll take a train to near the Luxemburg border to visit his parents, who are very important to me. The whole bunch took me in, provided me a place to be safe and warm every couple of weeks when I arrived in Germany in 1985 with just a backpack and $200. We grew even closer over the two years I lived there learning how to grow grapes. Ernst went on to get a doctorate in economics and has traveled to the states a number of times. He is my age–48, and his parents are now in their 80s. The most difficult thing to accept is that my visit in January may be the last time I see any of them. Even harder for me is to think I may be going back to visit graves.

I’m trying to get my shit together so I’m not blubbering when I show up.

I talked to him today, and I can’t tell you how happy just hearing his voice made me. He’s looking for words, at times, but since a scare two weeks ago–infection, swelling–when he was unable to speak or write, he’s in much better spirits and has been able to make some real headway toward just having a regular home life.

I get tired at times, Billy. I complain. I’m often angry, opinionated, overbearing, etc. But with this sort of thing happening to a friend, it makes me think how selfish I am. Today is it. All of it. Get up in the morning, take a deep breath, and the rest is absurdity.

I understand that most of the time. The pointlessness and futility of this short existence is what’s best about being a human being. When I accept the emptiness and absurdity of life, it really becomes something special, something divine.

That sounds pretty silly to a lot of people. Except Buddhists, maybe.

I hope you’ll forgive me for working this out in writing in an E-mail to you. I hope all is well with you. Besides the emotional complexity of my inner life, everything and everyone around here is just great. Sitting around the dinner table tonight, I realized I’m one of the luckiest people in the world.

But, jesusmaryandjoseph, it’d be nice if cancer was like the cold. Get knocked around for a while just remember how good not being sick really is. Get over it and forget what good health is all about.


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