P.J. O’Rourke has been diagnosed with a very treatable form of cancer. He talks about it and his view of his mortality in a way only he can.
I believe in God. God created the world. Obviously pain had to be included in God’s plan. Otherwise we’d never learn that our actions have consequences. Our cave-person ancestors, finding fire warm, would conclude that curling up to sleep in the middle of the flames would be even warmer. Cave bears would dine on roast ancestor, and we’d never get any bad news and pain because we wouldn’t be here.
But God, Sir, in Your manner of teaching us about life’s consequential nature, isn’t death a bit … um … extreme, pedagogically speaking? I know the lesson that we’re studying is difficult. But dying is more homework than I was counting on. Also, it kind of messes up my vacation planning. Can we talk after class? Maybe if I did something for extra credit?
Why can’t death — if we must have it — be always glorious, as in “The Iliad”? Of course death continues to be so, sometimes, with heroes in Fallouja and Kandahar. But nowadays, death more often comes drooling on the toilet seat in the nursing home, or bleeding under the crushed roof of a teen-driven SUV, or breathless in a deluxe hotel suite filled with empty drug bottles and a minor public figure whose celebrity expiration date has passed.
I have, of all the inglorious things, a malignant hemorrhoid. What color bracelet does one wear for that? And where does one wear it? And what slogan is apropos? Perhaps that slogan can be sewn in needlepoint around the ruffle on a cover for my embarrassing little doughnut buttocks pillow.
Furthermore, I am a logical, sensible, pragmatic Republican, and my diagnosis came just weeks after Teddy Kennedy’s. That he should have cancer of the brain, and I should have cancer of the ass … well, I’ll say a rosary for him and hope he has a laugh at me. After all, what would I do, ask God for a more dignified cancer? Pancreatic? Liver? Lung?
Death is so important that God visited death upon his own son, thereby helping us learn right from wrong well enough that we may escape death forever and live eternally in God’s grace. (Although this option is not usually open to reporters.)
I’m not promising that the pope will back me up about all of the above. But it’s the best I can do by my poor lights about the subject of mortality and free will.
Thus, the next time I glimpse death … well, I’m not going over and introducing myself. I’m not giving the grim reaper fist daps. But I’ll remind myself to try, at least, to thank God for death. And then I’ll thank God, with all my heart, for whiskey.
You may disagree with him on politics — and I do — but my heart goes out to another kid from Toledo whose sense of humor I can only marvel and and wish him the very, very best for a speedy recovery and many more years of doing what he does so well.