“Old age is not for wimps.”
That’s what singer-songwriter Ian Tyson wrote in his 2010 memoir titled The Long Trail. Truer words have never been spoken.
Originally, I believed I set out to write a tribute piece to Tyson. But that wasn’t the truth. I just didn’t know it at time.
I couldn’t write what I wanted, because I wasn’t being honest with myself. Or, by extension, with you, the reader.
So this narrative sat for a month. And then for a second month.
I wasn’t writing about Tyson’s death. I wasn’t ready to face the fact that I was writing as much about myself.
Last August a surgeon told me I had osteosarcoma, bone cancer. It resides in my left shoulder, and has caused me a great deal of pain, among other things.
In November, after two rounds of chemo, the same surgeon told me the cancer had spread and was incurable. He had an opinion as to how long I might live. Other doctors on my oncology and palliative teams strongly disagreed with him.
The point is, I didn’t write about it, which is what I do: Write about things. I told family, a few close friends, and then locked it away in a small, dark place.
Talking last weekend with one of my closest friends he agreed that writing about it, and by extension, a number of other ideas I had around this, would not be a bad thing.
In the meantime, the roll call of the deceased increased: David Crosby, Tom Verlaine, Jonathan Raban. Not that I place myself in their August company.
But the fact of the matter was I had begun to think hard about life, and our purpose on this planet. That’s not something I’m not naturally given to do. I’m more of a “Hey, we’re not here for a long time, but for a good time” kind of guy.
And, yes, there will be something about off-grid living at some point in this narrative, so just hold onto your boots.
What I’m going to tell you isn’t going to be terribly profound, just because you’ve likely heard it a million times before. But I’m a slow learner.
I’m coming to believe that the reason we’re here is to do the best we can, be as kind as we can, and leave the world a better place.
I also have come to believe that in our rush towards blind ambition, slowing down and savouring every moment of our lives is one of the best things we can do. They said it first in the ‘60s! (probably earlier than that): Be here now!
In that regard, the last three years (as of May) have been a blessing to me. I have had the luxury to lounge on our front verandah and observe the hawks wheel in the sky. I have been lucky enough to stand around bon fires at dusk and listen to the boom of the nighthawks.
Every day I walk the dogs up and down our lane, and every day the lane changes, minutely. In summer the trees overflow their abundance, overhanging and shading the road. In fall, the hardwoods and softwoods explode into reds, oranges and other bruised colours. Everything dies back in winter. New life rushes in, in spring.
A solar light on our property in late January.
When Tyson wrote his memoir, he was still 12 years out from his death on December 29, 2022. He was already fielding a lot of chronic pain, both physical and mental.
He ingested a steady diet of pain killers from living the life of a cowboy, from caring for animals on his ranch in Longview, Alberta, and from his life on the road as one of Canada’s most influential singer-songwriters.
“I’m a bacon freak,” he wrote, “So I fry up some bacon, boil a couple of eggs and have a grapefruit before taking my vitamin pills.”
But the pills he took for arthritis, and practicing guitar for an hour every day to keep his fingers limber did little to ease the heartache he felt from watching the land he loved and in which he grew up in gradually vanish day after day.
Old age is not for wimps.
No country for old men.
Nonetheless, it the coming weeks, months and, yes, even years, it’s territory I hope to navigate.
Oh Charles, this is a group I hope my friends never join...but...you have. I am in remission for 5 years now from Non Hodgkins Lymphoma...along with my brain tumor and 1 less kidney,this is my unholy triad. A year ago January, my son, who inherited my genetic disease, was rushed to hospital for an emergency operation to remove his brain tumor. He would never get tested for Von Hippel Lindau (rare genetic disease that causes tumors that can turn to Cancer) but finally, he had no choice. I can share a few thoughts I hope will help. First off, I (and my son ) are still here...which proves it CAN be beaten! I have learned to stress as little as possible...with my relationships, my job and ...well, everything! A positive attitude is non negotiable. When you feel you just can't...rely and lean on your friends and those who love you; remember you would do the same for them in a heartbeat. Finally, a reminder that you should do all the shit you were planning for a distant future. I did my marathon in 2019 that I was going to wait to do until I turned 60...I am slowly writing my book...and other smaller stuff. I too have questioned why...especially after being cancer free for 12 years...and have come to the conclusion , (with the help of fundraising with Team in Training) , that I am still here to give people hope and to help my son in this journey called life. if you ever want to contact me, feel free. email@example.com. Who would have thought all those years ago... remember Nicks birthday celebration? I was so full of life, excited to run with the big kids... oh, that was my last piece of advice. Remember the things that make/made you happy...contact old friends, take out pictures to look at, even medals... some days they might make you sad because you are no longer that person...BUT other days, they WILL make you smile. You never know until you try. Hugs...and I mean it...reach out if you want an ear. Ellie
Charles, this news just hit me very hard. My heart is heavy. I don't have any words to say that will make you feel better but know that I will be thinking of you both. Thank you for being brave enough to share this with us and reminding us all how precious life is.