Skip to main content

"I Have Seen the Eternal Footman"

The lastest Vanity Fair piece by Christopher Hitchens really struck a chord with myself and others. Hitchens, for those who are unaware, is one of the world's best writers, thinkers and debaters (even if everyone does not always agree with his principles or beliefs). He is also in the midst of stage IV cancer, diagnosed last summer, and it would appear to be getting the better of him (as cancer unfortunately often does).

I found the following passage of his latest piece particularly moving:



Deprivation of the ability to speak is more like an attack of impotence, or the amputation of part of the personality. To a great degree, in public and private, I “was” my voice. All the rituals and etiquette of conversation, from clearing the throat in preparation for the telling of an extremely long and taxing joke to (in younger days) trying to make my proposals more persuasive as I sank the tone by a strategic octave of shame, were innate and essential to me. I have never been able to sing, but I could once recite poetry and quote prose and was sometimes even asked to do so. And timing is everything: the exquisite moment when one can break in and cap a story, or turn a line for a laugh, or ridicule an opponent. I lived for moments like that.
This resonates with me because, like Hitchens, I "am" my voice. If I may be allowed to indulge in a bit of self-promotion for a moment, it has long been remarked upon that I have a nice, deep voice. 'A good voice for radio,' as many have said over the years. In fact, I partook in several radio theatre productions during the early 1990s, and used to host my own radio music program from 1995-97. The bit of ego-stroking I received for my voice was typically used to compensate for what I call my 'rather average' (at best) looks. I've never been a terribly striking individual to physically behold, so my mind and, by extension, my voice, have been purposefully cultivated in an attempt to impress people. Sometimes, it works.

This is why, in early 2010, I panicked a bit when it became clear over the course of a few months that I might possibly have thyroid cancer, and that the thyroid gland would need to be surgically removed. Aside from all the normal complications that can arise during and after a multi-hour surgery, my doctor informed me that, with this particular procedure, there was the risk of nicking the vocal cords and/or having something "really terrible" go wrong, and thereafter requiring the use of a tracheotomy. Permanently.

You might well imagine my fear at the prospect of losing my voice. Now, one doesn't have to have developed a complex psychological crutch on their voice -- as I have -- in order to be afraid of losing it, but it was doubly horrifying for me to think of such an outcome. A lifetime's flow of compliments about my "mellifluous" voice went streaming through my head on a daily basis leading up to the surgery. This was it. My one great asset was in danger of being taken away or, perhaps, altered into insignificance. No more joke-telling, no more spinning of stories of everyday occurrences that people might find interesting. No more at-home 'singing.'

Thankfully, the surgery went well. The thyroid gland was removed and, upon being sent to the Mayo Clinic for study, was found to be cancerous (so it was a good think they took it out). Aside from a temporary higher pitch and slight cracking, my voice remained unscathed. In pretty much every aspect, I felt very lucky and very fortunate.

It is thus with a pang of recongition that I read Hitchens's Vanity Fair article about losing his voice to cancer, much the same as when I think about Roger Ebert's battles with the diseases that robbed him of the ability to speak. The three of us share a common foe with millions of others, and are at three different levels of the battle. I am in remission and, aside from a scarred-over incision on the neck, relatively unscathed. Ebert, too, is in remission, but is no longer capable of speaking, or consuming food through his mouth. Hitchens, unfortunately, is likely on a path toward the undiscovered country much sooner than the rest of us.

Our life stories on this earth all end in the same way. There are different causes for that ending, but it remains immovable. All of our journeys are different, and everyone has their own sorrow somewhere within them. But I actually feel fortunate for my sorrow. In this case, it made me that much more appreciative of the life I have. To be reminded of what can be lost is perhaps, while not an oft-desired occasion, a very effective way to really appreciate what we've got. And while now, in May of 2011, Christopher Hitchens may be facing the spectre of the eternal footman, I know that it is only a matter of time before I join him and the billions of others before us who have already done so. Hopefully, until then, my voice will hold out.

Comments

  1. Hitchens' columns regarding his experience with cancer have been very helpful for me. I'm still working on getting rid of Hodgkin's lymphoma. While it's true that both Hitch and I have cancer, to compare mine to his would be like comparing a rhinovirus to hepatitis.

    I'm hopeful that my experience with cancer, and the unlooked for help of others like you, Ebert, & Hitchens, is helping me to find my own voice.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The Best Superhero Movies of All-Time, Revisited

We are just a few days away from the North American release of Avengers:Infinity War. While I am dutifully going to see it opening night, it's not a film I'm looking forward to. It is (spoiler) part one of two, which means we can expect plenty of plot threads left dangling when the credits roll. In other words, part two will probably be better, and provide some actual resolution. Also, Thanos looks like a CGI yawn-fest. Hopefully, I'll be proved wrong.
Nevertheless, this is a good opportunity to rank (again) the major superhero movies (Marvel and otherwise) that we've had so far. As you know, I love making a list, and this one is going to be a definitive one! If you don't see a film on here, it's because I haven't seen it (the first two Thors, Iron Man 2, some of the X-Men features, etc.).   Alright, here we go.

Walk and Chew Gum

Yesterday marked a touchstone moment in the U.S., as students across the country participated in "walkouts." This was an occasion for students to express an array of thoughts and emotions, ranging from a desire for stricter gun control, to simply sorrow over the loss of so many of their peers to school shootings. They were peaceful protests, but protests nonetheless. Where you're at on the spectrum of agreeing or disagreeing with what they did may vary, though not wanting to get shot in your school seems pretty reasonable to me.
Some folks have taken to sharing a meme on social media platforms this week -- in direct anticipation and response to the walkouts -- that encourages students to "walk up, not out." Following are suggestions provided for the walk ups:

Walk UP to the kid who sits ALONE and ask him to join your groupWalk UP to the kid who never has a voluntary partner and offer to be hersWalk UP to your teachers and thank them!Walk UP to someone and JUST …

Prediction: 2020

It may seem odd to attempt to predict the outcome of a presidential election that is two years and eleven months away, but then I never claimed not to be a little odd. Politics is also something that is weighing on people's minds a lot these days, especially at the national level. The biggest focus is on the 2018 midterm elections, but I'm curious about 2020, as well.
A lot of folks -- though certainly not all -- are of the opinion that President Trump will be ousted (or will resign) during his first term, making a prediction of his 2020 re-election chances a moot point. I'm not so sure. If 2016 taught us anything, it's to never be too certain of anything. The pessimist in me thinks that Trump could possibly not only stay in office, but also be re-elected. Following is why -- at this particular juncture -- I think that is the case.
With a little help from the 270towin web site, let's look at how the Electoral College could shake-out in 2020. We're only focusin…