Saturday, April 23, 2005

My Last BLT

Wheat toast was my only concession to concerns about nutrition, otherwise I relish the mayo, lettuce, tomato, and, most importantly, crisp bacon that Sonny at Bob and Edith’s Diner has taken years in perfecting. He gets it just right. Bacon not too crisp that the flavor has been cooked out of it and yet, not at all showing soft signs of the fat that carries the deadly cholesterol I have now comes to grips with.

“Hey Chuck, where ya been lately, haven’t seen ya in a couple of months; still on that health kick, dude?” This all said over his shoulder. I hadn’t noticed him looking up or over to this side of the counter. But, like Radar in the story, movie, and television show M.A.S.H., Sonny, or even Erica, my other favorite short order cook, knows what’s going on in the world behind his back.

It’s been several years that I have ignored the other signal of my impending loss in the battle against mortality, the first being the asthma that almost did the touchdown dance of death’s victory a little more than two and a half years ago. As I used to joke about it,

“If my blood level number for high cholesterol were my weight, I could pass as a pro defensive end!” Ha ha, I think as I long to take a bite of the beautiful sandwich, catching a wad of mayo with my tongue from the corner of my mouth in my quick fantasy.

My neighbor across the street just died of cancer. It was a sudden thing, covering a few short months and while I was not that close to him his demise got me thinking. Ed was only six years older than I am. He was a widower, his wife having passed away of cancer some eight years ago. He leaves two daughters, both of them young, un-married and childless, and a host of other relatives, some of whom I’ve met over the last couple of weeks. He and I would talk at night or early in the morning, not about anything of real consequence, but good guy talk, honest and real. He consistently invited me to his poker games even after I told him of my gambling ‘issue’ in an effort to always make me feel welcomed.

I think of him often, usually when I’m taking the trash to the curb to be collected, or, sometimes, just looking at his house and remembering the stories he’d told me over the years of the neighborhood or his experiences in the navy…

Anyway, what I want to say is this. After getting considerable distance from my own close encounter with death I slipped badly in my attempts to stay open to life. I fell back asleep, as it were, and forgot the lessons of my wake up call: live freely and openly, be of service and love with courage and determination, and share the vision I have of life with an ever widening “circle of compassion”.

I knew it was time to start anew, refresh my practices for health, work, and play…all of them. I had to find a way to ritualize my commitment. Hmmm, one last BLT? Why not?

Sonny and the others I run into at the diner remind me that the world is broad and that ‘salt of the earth’ people like Sonny and Erica, Sam, Cookie, good honest people, are at the heart of my being. His comment about my health kick was laced with the sarcasm of the smack dealer spotting an old, soon-to-be-ex-junkie approaching for a fix. I told him with certainty and assurance,

“That’s my last BLT you’re about to cook for me my man, the last. I know my moment’s gonna come, but there’s no sense trying to get it here sooner than it has to, right?”

I do serious work with serious people. Coaching is part of who I am and I’m grateful to know both my clients and my colleagues. My art, this writing, my storytelling with words, music, and film is part of me as well. But the real part of me that calls me to action is my role in this family, father to my children and partner to my wife. Not being fully awake not only cheats me but cheats them too. Regardless, I still hungered for that grease, I still salivated watching the bacon sizzle on the grill, watched him pick the ripest and juiciest tomatoes. He toasted the bread just right, all this while also frying eggs, making French toast and cooking something disgusting (I’m sure) in the deep fryer.

“Here ya go man, the best BLT on the freakin’ planet! You sure you only want one?” He was grinning at me, sweat glistening on his forehead. “Does this mean we won’t be seeing you and the kids in here anymore?”

“Dude,” I told him, “you’ll be seeing me for a long time is the plan. Only after this I’ll be eating pancakes or waffles, or having a cup of that God-awful coffee!” I bit into the sandwich, savoring it all for the last time. I sat there slowly chewing as I planned a typical week, each day broken down into waking meditations and exercises for my body and mind, my music and writing; time for my coaching clients and marketing for more business. I swiveled on my stool on the counter and thought of how my children like to sit there and do the same. I planned time for me and each of my kids, individually and collectively, planned for ‘couples’ time with my wife. Planned for those longed for moments with my friends, phone calls, visits, emails, and instant messages…

I was lost in thought and fantasy. I looked up and Sonny had turned around, handing me a napkin.

“Dude, you’ve got mayo all over your face…”

I flicked my tongue out and over, catching every bit of it.