I was lying in bed with Dixie. It was morning. We were engaged in what we refer to as cuddle therapy, which basically means putting off the day’s chores by remaining in bed an extra half hour. We usually laugh a lot during this time. We recount any dreams that we remember. It’s a cozy time. Low stress. At least it usually is. But that morning, as we lay knotted around one another, yawning ourselves awake, Dixie said:
“Hey, Honey? You have a dark spot in your ear.”
“Dark spot? What do you mean dark spot?”
“A dark spot.”
“Describe it to me. Is it a mole? Does it have irregular edges? Is part of it dark and part of it light?” I extracted myself from our embrace. Pulled a bookmark from the drawer of my nightstand. Thrust it at her. “Does it look like THIS?”
The bookmark I’d thrust at her was one I’d been given at the Dermatologist’s office some years back. It shows you what moles to watch out for, what moles are signs of melanoma. I’m terrified of melanoma. My father died of it.
“Um. Kind of?” Dixie said, knowing my predilection for hypochondria.
I flung back the blankets and charged to the bathroom, trying to get a look. Which was impossible due to it being in the bottom bowl of my ear. Then I made Dixie take some pictures. Again, the angle made it impossible to get a good look, but the look I did get, well, it looked exactly like melanoma.
That afternoon, I was down at Kaiser for a Telederm appointment. I’ve had these before. It’s basically a super-duper photo of your skin. The lens is so accurate, it actually defines the individual cells. Or that’s my understanding of it. Later in the day, I got the call. The dermatologist wanted to see me. Only the next available appointment wasn’t for a couple of weeks. Shit!
Spoiler Alert: It wasn’t melanoma. And I pretty much knew this before my appointment, because I have a friend who’s a doctor, and, after a few days of me totally freaking out, Dixie suggested I call her, which I did, and she looked at it, and said it looked more like an injury than a melanoma.
But here’s the thing. For those few days before I saw my doctor friend, I contemplated my death. Now, I’m always contemplating my death. I always have. But during that time I’d also been writing about my obsession with death, about my relationship to it, how this relationship has shaped who I am. Which might be why I spiraled so deeply into this morbid hole. Because I’m telling you, for those two days, my impending death was all I could think about. I told Dixie, who is so loyal, that I wanted her to mourn me, yes, a lot, yes, but then to find someone new. To which she just said, “Really, Clifford? You’re going to go there?” I scoured my soul for any regrets I might make right. I thought about how I would be the first of my siblings to go, and how it would affect them. How hard it would be on my mother. I said goodbye to my garden, my palm tree, my earthly belongings. But mostly I asked myself: So, knowing my time is limited, how do I want to spend my last few years? Because that’s how much time Mr. Google predicted I would have after diagnosis. And here’s what came to me. I wanted to be present in every single moment: to savor that first sip of green tea in the morning, to listen to the birds in my backyard. And I wanted to take more time for my friends, to find opportunities to love more. This realization filled me with such a sense of gratitude, that I began to think of that dark spot as a gift. I even called it the gift in my mind.
The official visit to the dermatologist confirmed what my doctor friend told me. Of course, by now the injury was mostly healed, revealing just a regular mole underneath, which she suggested I get biopsied just in case it’s a basal cell. But my death scare is over. Ridiculous, I know. Because any of us could die at any second. But I want to hang onto that gift. To remember to cherish each moment, and to find reasons to love.
So that’s it for today. Remember to live the love! I mean seriously, what else do we have?
Now, I’m feeling paranoid because I’ve been thinnking I should get a dermatological check-up and typically have put it off due to my aversion to going to the doctor. Maybe you have given me a push though I know that’s not the point of this piece.
Go to the dermatologist! Just kidding. Do what you want. Sending love.
I can totally relate. My acupuncturist saw dried blood on the inside of my ear for two weeks in a row and suggested I get checked for skin cancer. I flipped out of course. Waiting to get the appointment was excruciating. It turned out my earring was rubbing against that part of my ear when I slept on that side. Whew…but ..yes, it does get one thinking of what’s important. Love is everything.
I’m wondering if it was my earring too! That’s nuts. You and I are so in sync!
Yes, me too! Enjoying tea, birdsong, and friends makes up the bulk of how I’m relishing in my last days, even if there are ten-thousand more of them. Love you!
What else is there to do, really? Nice to hear from you, Angelee.
As I read the first part of your cozy blog, I thought lucky ladies❤
As for the mole, I too have paranoid concerns about moles on my body!
I plan to get them checked soon!
I’m glad you’re not dying even as we are all dying.
The study of Tibetan Buddhism puts death at the core of its teaching…
Still, it feels better not to have an end date.
Carlisle Castaneda said ” Let death be your advisor”
I read him in college and that is so profound…
Love, love more yes, I agree
Love you and Dixie
Such beautiful souls🙏🏼
I read Carlos back in the day too. What amazing books those were. They sure shaped my thoughts. Glad to be alive. Glad you are alive! Yeah life! Sending love.
Very good thoughts, Clifford! I can relate in more ways than you can imagine. Life is so unpredictable – so much that the smallest moments can bring SUCH joy and heartache – surprise and wonder. – – I often break my my day into three parts (or waves, if you will). It’s kind of a reset – to remind me to be Aware, to be Grateful, to find and offer life and others “the Love” … and to build gratitude within myself / nurture compassion / and discover & learn what that part of the day would like to teach me.
My relationship with death has become a constant reminder to LIVE – and I now am grateful for it’s presence, enough so that I will be at peace when we embrace. Thanks for the reminder. Love ya BUNCHES! James
Hey Brother James! I love looking for what a given day has to teach me. What an awesome way to go through life. I love the peaceful embrace too. What a beautiful world this is. How lucky we are for a brief visit into it. Sending love!
I remember when I found a lump in my breast. Terror without your wisdom. But a friend I later came to love scheduled herself to be my surgical nurse (she headed the outpatient surgery department). She was a healing presence and, when I woke up, she had rushed the biopsy results, which were negative. Years later, I was with her for her last illness and death from cancer. She’d taught me how to be a comfort and a loving companion through her last months.
Thank you for sharing this. What a wonderful circle, you caring for her later. This life is such a gift. Not sure about me being all that wise…. But thanks for the sentiment.
Dear Cliffi- I love how openly “human” and vulnerable you are. It’s one of the things that makes you a great writer and a wonderful friend. love, Rafe
First, congratulations on cozy cuddling and on Dixie being so lovingly attentive to the details of your body that she noticed the black spot. And on not having melanoma. And on recognizing the gift. I’m reminded of something from one of the etiquette writers of decades back – Ann Landers? – who said, “Most of us fail to recognize life’s gifts because usually they come packaged as hard work.” Sounds like you did yours, and that Dixie, as ever, took the journey with you. As I age I do wonder what will take me out, and whether I’ll go out dancing and singing, or kicking and screaming, or somehow else. Death is not a bad North Star on the journey, and I hope I can use it to guide me toward an appreciation of the wonders of the moment. Thanks for highlighting that.