A cautionary tale of brilliant stupidity
Being told that he has bone marrow cancer and may have only months to live has forced PATRICK BEAN, the former Royal Gazette journalist, to take stock of his life and a dark path travelled that he now warns against
“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” — Psalm 23:4
When previously drawn to this text of the Bible, and having been moved to examine it for meaning, I have always extracted the phrase “shadow of death” for in-depth review, whereby this “shadow”, by nature having no tangible substance, presents absolutely nothing to fear. Which, in reflection, ties in with a phrase that my parents, indeed many parents, would sometimes offer during the time of my youth: “What? Are you afraid of your own shadow?”
Yet today as I once again peer at the same verse, this so-called “shadow” appears in a much more tangible state. For I have spent the past few days consuming, digesting, processing the news that I have acute myeloid leukaemia, a form of bone marrow cancer, which has brought forth the prospect of death “up close and personal”.
Thus the “shadow” in the valley has become less a mere ghost of fictional tales, but more akin to a hungry lion eyeing a kill among the expanse of the Serengeti.
According to my medical team, untreated I may have a matter of months left to breathe the air of this world. So, yes, in modern parlance — real talk, if you will — “The s**t has truly hit the fan”.
So much for feeling “nifty at 50”, for since hitting the milestone in March — St Patrick's Day, in fact — my life has been anything but a party parade.
Chronic fatigue gradually progressed to the point where walking 100 yards became a chore, while working was absolute torture, particularly as mostly I perform physical tasks as a maintenance technician with specialisation in masonry and carpentry.
Now out of work and unable physically to perform many of the duties previously carried out, I sit alone with my thoughts in the sterile confines of the new — and, I must say, quite comfortable — hospital wing, as warily I contemplate my fate.
Broke, busted, disgusted and thrown to the scrap heap ... the light at the end of the tunnel all but snuffed out!
A sad story of woe? One of life's tragedies? Maybe in some minds.
A cry for sympathy? Absolutely not.
There is little denial on my end, and this is but a cautionary tale of a man once filled with endless intellectual and physical talent ruined by his own hand ... his own poor choices. Choices made despite having knowledge of the associated dangers ... understanding fire to burn, yet embracing the flames regardless.
I've earned this position through years of unremitting self-destructive behaviour, specifically the regular ingestion of toxic chemicals such as cocaine, crack, tobacco, cannabis and, to a minor extent, alcohol. I enjoyed smoking from the first time I inhaled that “spliff of good herb” in the backyard of my best mate's house — and I've been chasing the “dragon” ever since.
At the time, I had found my Utopia. I grabbed firmly the anti-establishment mantra coined by Ian Dury, referencing the glory of self-indulgence through “Sex, drugs and rock ‘n' roll' — an edgier upgrade of the earlier-invented cliché “wine, women and song”. I sidled to the humour of late 1800s comedian W.C. Fields, who famously stated: “I spent half my money on gambling, alcohol and fast women. The rest I wasted.” I immersed in the music and leisure habits of the then-burgeoning rebel Rastafarian movement sweeping the island, fuelled by ganja-laced entertainers Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Jacob Miller and the like.
Whatever the attraction, I can say that the sex and music soon became bystanders to be ignored while drugs increasingly were crowned king to be worshipped and fêted unremittingly. Drugs became the centre and, as I “progressed” from cannabis to cocaine and then to crack — the three Cs — my relationships, hobbies, dreams and goals fell by the wayside.
Philosophical disdain for the political pillaging, pimping and prostitution of the masses, inherent among our warped strand of capitalism, would further poison my view of society. And, having already been forced to participate in its systematic miseducational process — in my case Somerset Primary, Saltus (both “white” schools) and two overseas colleges (one predominantly white, the other black) — the moulding of this socioeconomic misfit, who had no great sense of culture or “blackishness” and little personal wealth, was complete.
Of course, drugs have a way of making one forget such ills — and I did an awful lot of forgetting.
Whispers among co-workers and peripheral bodies became screams and shouts from family members: warning, demanding a cessation in my use of dangerous substances. But I “knew” what I was doing — and, in any case, had succumbed hook, line, and sinker to a god standing as the antithesis of the one most of them acknowledged.
Allow me to cut a long, repetitive story of my “brilliant stupidity” short.
Jails, institutions and death are the inescapable consequences of drug addiction, as are job losses, career short-circuiting and familial dysfunction. I've experienced such with regard to incarceration and stays at rehabilitation centres, home and abroad, and being terminated several times by this very publication.
Nevertheless, those places stand in my mind today as petty precursors.
As I said in the beginning of this very true story, the Grim Reaper has entered the gates and is no longer a concocted creature reserved for Hollywood, but a very real spectre with scythe in hand. And, after enthusiastically succumbing to his attendants for most of a half-century, I am now called to fight against my “friend” and coauthor of this demise.
The question is: “Can I? Will I? Should I ... even?”
After all, isn't this what I paid for? Don't I hate current society anyway?
Why now worry about spending more time with my son and grandchildren rather than rest in the comforting euphoria of the latest, potent, flavour of “chronic” or some good fish-scale “caine”?
Yet, regardless of my past and present failures, fight I must and so I hearken to the words of at least two men who were once inundated throughout their bodies with cancer, yet were never defeated ... even in death. As a former sportswriter, I have leanings towards others in the field, so I am drawn to the spirit behind the seven words of former North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano, as he told a gathering at the 1993 ESPY Awards announcing the formation of the Jimmy V Foundation for cancer: “Never give up ... Don't ever give up”.
Valvano died eight weeks later.
Then there is ESPN's Stuart Scott, the SportsCenter presenter, who said famously in his Jimmy V Award acceptance speech in the summer of 2014, also at the ESPYs: “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live.”
Scott, who somehow had managed to engage in mixed martial arts training in between chemotherapy treatments, died the next January.
Oh, but there is one other voice; that of the world's next great philosopher, my namesake and son, Patrick M. Bean Jr, born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, largely in my physical absence. His tells me the following:
“What's good without bad? Tell me who knows triumph without being defeated? How would you know where up is if you have no clue of what being down feels like? How can one know everything yet not God? What good is faith if there is no test of it?
“I never thought I was physically, mentally or emotionally strong until I was put to the test. I have lost loved ones, been rejected, denied, overlooked and disregarded to the point of near total despair. Yet I did not grow faint of heart.
“I could choose to just survive, but I don't ... I choose to thrive. I live every day as if tomorrow will not come. Every day there are tears, but I own them, knowing that God gave them to me in that I may appreciate what I have and what greatness there is to come.
“This is not just about some glorious gift to be given to us in the afterlife, but in this life today. It's your choice to swim in its spoils or waste away not believing they'll ever come ... I say that they're already here.
“Use faith to be your light when all you see is darkness, Pops.”
Time to suit up for battle!