“One who knows others is intelligent
One who knows himself is enlightened.”
– Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching
The text was short: “224 miles to Deming NM √”
We had decided we would not say good-bye. After our conversation, Douglas slipped out the front door, climbed into his Chevy Tahoe. We gave each other a salute as he backed out of the driveway, and as curiously as this man entered my life in December 2013, he was gone – one of the more fascinating people I have ever met.
Who knew then...
We moved to Oro Valley in mid-November of that year. Biking was a great way to poke around and get familiar with our new digs. On a bicycle trail near our home that December, I had a flat tire – an experience I wrote about at the time (http://whynot-ted.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-samaritan-was-good.html).
Just finishing the fix, I heard a voice, "Hey, do you need any help?"
As I wrote:
"I turned around to see a fellow about my age, bike parked on the other side of the path. "I'm sorry, what?" I said. "Do you need any help?" he replied. "No thanks," I continued, "I'm just finishing up," turning back to my bike. He tethered the conversation a little more by saying, "You're lucky it was the front tire. A back-tire flat can be a bitch to change!" I was thinking, "Listen, man, thanks, but I have a tire to fix here and get home." Then I had that little voice in my head saying, "Hey, pay attention here. Do you think this guy stopped by accident?..."
Any number of people had ridden by, while I was replacing the tire. None of them even nodded in acknowledgment. Yeah, it was time to pay attention.
As it turns out, Douglas had been in Oro Valley only a day or two. Enroute to San Diego, he had diverted to Tucson because of a life-threatening situation with one of his dogs (Tucson has a 24hour veterinary emergency service). We stood chatting a little. As he turned around to head back the way he had come, I mentioned he could do a loop if he followed me to my neighborhood. At the front gate, I got his email and thanked him for stopping. His reply:
“No, thank you! I didn’t really have any tools with me to be able to help, I just felt to stop and was rewarded. I was depressed and needed to talk about my dog…your company filled the bill.”
I wouldn’t see him again for more than a year. He was off to San Diego to winter. We emailed sporadically. I sent him the blog.
From here, the details are a bit fuzzy, but our next encounter was when he left San Diego to see a friend in Tennessee. He stopped through looking for a veterinarian to check one of his dogs. We ate Chinese. He was off again.
Closer to now…
Next I heard from him was in the fall of 2017 when he had barely escaped with his life from the California wildfires that fall. He lost everything (an Air Stream trailer with all his belongings), fleeing with literally seconds to spare.
Escaping the trauma, physically, if not mentally, he would winter 2018 in Tucson.
Through the first quarter of the year, we rode bicycles weekly, occasionally more often. It was conversational riding and converse we did – old fella riding filled with old fella talk. Exchanges based as much on philosophic and spiritual topics as our life journeys. We reached deeply into one another during these rides and quiet conversations in other places.
I learned many things about this former East Coast elite fellow. Trained at the best prep, university, and business schools, he had been so successful as a Wallstreet trader that he retired in his early forties. He knew there was more to life and was determined to explore it.
Now in his late 60s, he is an intellectual Don Quixote. Not fighting windmills but canvassing this great country and engaging life as few that have the time, resources and curiosity to do.
Last spring, when the temperatures began to heat, he hitched up his Air Stream and headed for a fifteen-thousand-mile adventure to Alaska and back. By this time, we had bonded and regularly emailed back and forth…him sending lots of stunning pictures with commentary and me basically responding with iterations of ‘WOW!’
When he returned, we rode again. But he seemed to tire a little more quickly than before. Visiting his local physician for a checkup and routine removal of a couple of lipomas (benign fat accumulation pads) he was confronted with devastating news. As a matter of routine, the tissue samples were sent to the lab for biopsy where it was discovered he had stage-four, diffuse B-cell lymphoma.
Excluding the detail of six-months of chemotherapy and the eventual removal of his thyroid, I learned even more about this man…this time it was the strength of his character and the fiber of his soul. I have been around chemo patients any number of times in my life, but few have demonstrated his focus and fortitude.
After the shocking mortality-confronting-news, he put his head down and stepped into the abyss with unwavering commitment to do whatever it took to pass through the gauntlet successfully. The ups and downs of chemo/prednisone therapy cause enormous stress to the body. Killing cancer requires killing parts of the protective immune system, making the pilgrim’s body even more vulnerable. Sleeping, eating, exercise, (if possible), and attitude all become tortuous, and yet he carried it with grace and wit.
A little over a week ago after nearly six months of treatment, he was given a clean bill of health. It is impossible to reflect the joy he expressed when learning he was about to be released from prison. Indeed, it was not easy for him to articulate it. But his countenance was radiant as he knew he was free to roam again.
This time, he was off to Canada, where in late summer, he will head to Michigan to meet some traveling friends. From there, they will drive in tandem to the eastern Maritime Provinces of Canada and finish the season. After that?...
I have gotten short daily progress texts since his departure. I have little doubt there will be emails with photos and commentary as his adventure continues. I will reply with a few words and thoughts experiencing a sense of vicarious satisfaction. But when I reflect on that stranger from that bike path and the time we spent together – WOW!