- Race This Race
We are racing toward the airport. The rising sun glints off every stalk in the cornfield and makes an ocean foam out of the tassels. My partner, Doreen, is driving and I am sipping on tea, thinking of how the sluicing movements of life—getting ready at the crack of dawn, loading the car with luggage, staring for miles at that hazy space where gravel meets cornfield—nearly escaped from me. I go through security at the South Bend airport and I already know that this is my moment, my call to attention. I flash my driver’s license to the security agent; she cannot know I was nearly denied these mundane acts and mild thrills. But there is something there between us, or I want to believe that there is always something between me and the strangers I casually meet. She nods, we make eye contact. I am alive, with a heightened sense that that alone is remarkable.
It is a bright Sunday afternoon and we are heading for Denver, then to Vail, where my brother is training for a bike race. He and his wife are there waiting for us. He did his research on breast cancer and called me one day: he had made his calculations, his dollar would have the most effect in preventative care, he wanted to fund mammograms and early detection efforts. I agreed to do this fund-raiser with him. It was a race, a difficult mountain bike race up and down three Colorado mountain peaks. Yes, I said, you bet, I’ll be there. I told him this as if this were now my race to win for others. I did not say that sometimes the race to fit more into life seemed exhausting and quantitative to me; the completion of a day, an abstract point.
When I first was diagnosed, my breast cancer pathology report was not good: it was rated a number nine and when I looked it up, I found that as pathology reports go, ten is the worst one can do. Many have spoken of a war against [End Page 79] cancer, but I did not go to war; my mind could not have placed me on that battlefield. I looked up the stats on cancer as if doing research for a friend. My mind—the part of me able to feel the loss of luck, the looming battle, the enveloping black hole—this mind was not with me. I was not very good at the race against time. I felt my cancer had gotten comfortable; perhaps it would vacate its hold on me, perhaps not. In the afternoons, after chemo, I took short walks, stopping in the street to stare at the berries on the trees. I’m not sure I understood then, nor now, the difference in effect between being able to study the shape of these berries and being able to complete some greater, more complex task—for instance, writing that essay on Fitzgerald and Kierkegaard, on the way they both allude to the ability of the mind to accept paradox, the desire we have to hold and balance two opposing ideas at the same time.
My brother and I spent a childhood of Sunday afternoons walking our dog to the park and back, talking about everything. We liked trying to size up life, to contain it somehow: we liked to talk of which next-door neighbor played guitar better, Billy or Charley. We liked hypothesizing a god and seeing the thread of god everywhere we looked: there was a god in the blades of grass along the cement curb, and maybe the cement curb itself, and the guy riding by on a bike. We liked trying to bottle our lives by talking of odds, the odds that the little store would stay open on our street, the odds a teenager could get rich delivering pizzas, the odds that Hawkeye would quit M*A*S*H, the odds that one of the movies we liked, Mister Roberts or Ninotchka, would be on the movie channel that week.
When we were not wandering down to the lake and talking...