My fear of the future

I am sitting by a Zen-like creek in New Jersey (a delightful commuter trip away from Manhattan) watching an egret swimming along the water bobbing for a snack.


I am at peace, but it is a strange peace.

For one thing, minor ailments begin to crowd out major ones:

  • The allergies of spring assault my nose.
  • My left eye tears.
  • Whatever illusions I have of dignity disappear as I search my pockets for a dry tissue.

The larger issue of CANCER does not appear as real to me.

I have none of the symptoms of renal cancer (yet?)—just the radiologist’s report and the CAT-scan itself. (While preparing to go to New York, PH [to help me out] picked up the disc duplicating the scan from Mt. Nittany Medical Center which I carried with me to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; the disc now sits at the bottom of my book bag.)

Any time I like, I can insert the CAT-scan disc into a computer and view the tumor surrounding my right kidney—a view I have seen once and feel no desire to view again—dramatic as it might be to take a screen shot and show you. Ah technology!

Ever since I posted the news that I have renal cancer, I have received an outpouring of emotional support so intense it surprises.

I am loved; I am.


Reluctantly, I leave the egrets, take the ferry to New York and go to the Morgan Library to view a Mozart manuscript—a manuscript Wolfgang Amadeus wrote himself.

Last time I was treated for cancer, I surrounded myself with Mozart—with the piano sonatas and with trios and quartets—nothing involving more than five instruments played regally. I wrote a poem on one reality I have learned in this life: You cannot get enough Mozart. He was a talented guy.

Taking Megabus back home to State College, I search intensely for the reporter’s notebook in which I have written EVERYTHING. The message arrives on my iPhone. The notebook is safe. It was left behind in New York. [Freud is clear on this subject.] The notebook will be in tomorrow’s mail.


The relief that won’t be in tomorrow’s mail….

The relief that won’t be in tomorrow’s mail is the banishment of fear.

I can define the fear with olfactory precision—the way one knows the smell of a pine but cannot use language to describe. The fear is an odor of decay—a mold-like substance that infects the battery of my power operated vehicle so I cannot move and have neither the cash nor the energy to call T & B Medical on Atherton Street for repair or replacement.

The fear originates from:

  • Unwashed dishes in the sink
  • Dirty floors
  • Soiled clothes
  • An empty refrigerator
  • The refusal/inability to do anything else but rerun the same movie over and over on Netflix

I am afraid of losing my independence, of losing the ability to take care of myself, of being unable to think or write or contribute.

I am, at 65, afraid of being confined in a nursing home, having pills doled out on a regular schedule.

Compared to fear of this sort, Big Things do not matter. Either the cancer will kill me—which I do not believe—or it won’t. Death is a minor fear compared to sickness, infirmity and ennui.


I am glad that soon the Megabus will return me to my apartment and to the work I honor.

—-Joel Solkoff

Copyright © 2013 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.

This posting is the third part of the ongoing story of my third cancer–kidney cancer, a story that follows this expanding outline:



3. [You are here.]


3 replies on “My fear of the future”

Wishing you peace of mind, a safe return, and as much independence as your medical condition will permit.

Your latest post was most eloquent. Those are the fears all of us have, at least those of us old enough to feel the downward slope.

Since they are my fears too, I hope you will not mind if I point out that both these anxieties – about death and helplessness – have the same cause: our investment in transient structures. The transient structures are (1) ourselves (or at least our egos which Alan Watts has called our symbols of ourselves), and (2) what we imagine is our control over the circumstances of change. But of course everything arises and passes away, including ourselves and our imagined control over circumstances, and our anxious sufferings are tuned exactly to our attachment to this not being so.

Realizing this, in the particular as well as the general aspect, doesn’t make transience any easier, but it does make the situation much clearer, which in turn does after all make it easier, which is a paradox but not all that much of one.

Thus I have heard.

Hey, Kiddo,
Want to help, but don’t know how.
Thinking of you and caring in spite of not seeing you for a while.
Sending you Mozart thoughts — with too many notes.
Share your excitement of life, and weariness of dealing with the NOW.
Is chicken soup an offering?
Your work needs you and all you have to offer — even your pain.
Relating is what you do best.

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