Kindness and Mortality

A couple of days ago, I wrote that my contractor failed to show up. I tried to remain “chill” about the situation, but my temper got the best of me. I sent the guy two texts, the second one after I tried to call him but got a message saying his voicemail box was full. In the first text, I wrote, “If you’re not going to show up as promised, will you at least call me?” I added a few more comments intended to induce shame and remorse. I ended the second text with “Let me know whether you will be here tomorrow and, if so, a time I can depend on.”

On one hand, I am proud of my restraint. In days not so long ago, I would have unloaded on the guy. I would have allowed my indignant rage to spray forth in vitriolic waves. So, in comparison to what I might have done, my two texts weren’t so bad. But, after he responded via text a few hours later, I wished I would have just kept my fingers in their cases for a while longer. His response indicated he had been without his phone the entire day. He had been at the hospital on a family emergency. He apologized and said he would be here by 10 yesterday. And he was.

He told me the emergency was that he had to rush his daughter to the hospital due to an asthma attack, something that has happened before. Now I realize the story may have been a fabrication, but it’s just as likely it was true. And I felt like a jerk for assuming the guy just flaked out on me. And I recalled the admonition I’ve seen and embraced so many times before: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle about which you know nothing.” Or words to that effect. Some attribute the advice to Plato, Socrates, and various others. It doesn’t matter who first said it, it’s wise advice to follow.

As I contemplated the matter, I concluded that it doesn’t matter whether the story is true. Something kept him from being here. It could have been something else equally serious or more so. Or, it could have been sheer laziness or simple disinterest in showing up. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. The condition of my deck is not the most important thing in life. It doesn’t warrant the kind of angst I’ve been allowing it to cause.


On March 28, my oncologist ordered an abdominal x-ray, which I had done the same day. The reason she ordered it was that I felt some pretty severe pain in my abdomen from time to time. She also ordered a CT scan, which was done a few days later. On April 18, when I had my next appointment with her, she said the CT scan was normal. She didn’t mention the x-ray. A week or so ago, I received an email indicating I had new test results available on my patient portal. I looked and saw the hospital radiologist’s report on the x-ray. The doctor noted in the “impressions” section: “Coarse calcification in the right upper quadrant may reflect cholelithiasis.” Naturally, I looked it up. Cholelithiasis is a condition where gallstones are formed in the gallbladder, liver or bile duct. After waiting a few days to see if the oncologist would call (and she did not), I communicated with my primary care physician, who said the x-ray did, indeed, suggest the possibility of gallstones and the next step should be an ultrasound.

Aside from being upset with the oncologist for apparently ignoring the x-ray (or being incredibly slow to do anything about it), I’m annoyed at my body for behaving so badly. I’ve had too damn many health issues over the years. Crohn’s disease and the emergency surgery I underwent because of it. Double bypass surgery. Cancer, causing removal of a piece of my lung and a bunch of rounds of radiation and chemotherapy. Arthritis. A clogged sweat duct in my left foot that occasionally makes walking quite painful. And, now, perhaps I have gallstones? All right. I get it. I’m approaching an advanced age. I understand. No need to convince me. I need no more reminders. Stop, already.

On a more serious note, all these things do, indeed, bother me. The collective crush of health-related issues, both major and minor, scream at me, “You are mortal and sooner or later, you’re going to die!” I know that, of course, but the “sooner” part is jarring. I’ve not thought enough about the preparations one might want to make in advance of that eventuality, whether it occurs sooner or later. Making the transition easier for my wife, should I be the first to go. That sort of thing.

Oh, there’s much more on my mind, but I’ve lost interest in sharing it with whoever stumble across these words. The world outside my window this morning looks damp and grey, the sort of day that invites bleakness to enter one’s mood. I suppose I could draw the blinds, but I’m too attached to the view out the window, dreary or not. Maybe another cup of coffee will enhappy me.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Kindness and Mortality

  1. Thanks, Chuck. I tend toward embarrassment when playing that card, but it sometimes seems a crutch I can not only live with, but appreciate. 😉

  2. chucksigarsblog says:

    I’ve been having similar mortality moments, although from a spectator’s point of view. I understand, I think, anyway. We used to joke about my wife playing “the cancer card” or “the brain tumor card” when she needed a little break, or forgiveness. This contractor may have had a family emergency; you’re the client, and you’re fighting with lung cancer. That’s the hand you’ve been dealt; you’re allowed to play the card once in a while. Give yourself a break and carry on.

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