(Photo by Connie Whitehead)
I came home from the hospital Sunday with a clean bill of health – except for a stapled incision and a hole in my belly you could drop an egg into. When I underwent emergency surgery last fall I didn’t want to upset people by using the “C” word –but that is what it was. Now a CAT scan shows all clear. Unlike Humpty Dumpty, I’ve been put back together again and should be good for a few more decades of running around this earth.
In chemotherapy I met a lot of interesting people, some who whined and complained and some who bore their troubles with dignity and grace. It’s not fair to judge anyone there, but my role models were the stoic old black men. They knew how to do adversity. I even started dressing like them, wearing checked cotton shirts over overalls. We used to talk about collards and tomatoes and plums until someone would walk in, scoop up the remote, and end all conversation by switching on “The View.”
The joy of reaching the end of my cancer adventure is tempered by the hard knowledge that my friend Charles Wolff has also finished his. Charles and I have played together in I don’t know how many bands, starting with The Brains. He played drums on the original recording of “Money Changes Everything.” He played on Delta Moon’s first album. And he was the only other person I’ve ever known who could pronounce “Mxyzptlk” (Action Comics, circa fourth grade).
Charles entered a hospice the day before I went into the hospital. He’d been there once before, when the pain got too much for the drugs he could get from doctors on the outside. Week before last, when I went up to North Carolina to visit him on his small farm, with his goats and turkeys outside, his wife Nance’s paintings on the wall, and lighting fixtures made from old tubas and French horns hanging from the ceiling, I asked about the hospice.
“It’s like a four-star hotel,” Charles said. “But it’s not your home. It’s not anybody’s home.”
Charles has gone home now. He died one day before I was discharged.
There is no reason why it should have been him and not me. You can’t make sense of a thing like that. All I can do is to adopt a new role model and try to incorporate into whatever time I have left some of the generosity, humor and nobility that Charles manifested every day of his life.
Mark Johnson said, “I can’t think of Charles without smiling.”
Who could want a better epitaph than that?