There are few things that remind me that I had cancer like my yearly balltrasound, and it's exactly what it sounds like: one part testicle, one part warm jelly, and add a dash of ultrasound. Wand. Repeat. I'm heading for mine a half hour after I finish writing this blog.
It's a mixed emotion for me. Sure, it's one of the most humbling things I go through every year, and yes, I pray for a large matronly woman to perform the task... unlike that nubile 26-year-old that took me through my paces a few years ago.
He was pretty fetching.
But it also reminds me that I don't have cancer anymore, and this is but a very minute price to pay. The smile definitely outweighs the frown, and it will for the rest of my days (hopefully).
And the smile brings me back to something my dear friend Shinsuke told me during my time with cancer: "In Japan, we say that the heart helps to heal the body." Now, there's no irrefutable proof to this, but it is my own opinion that attitude serves one of the most vital roles during a cancer battle... the whole positivity breeding positivity thing.
Which is why it makes me sad for cancer patients at this moment in history. It's so important to do what you can to keep as positive an attitude as humanly possible. Yet it seems that no matter where you look in the world, hate and division is just rampant.
The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is as bad as I ever remember it in my almost 42 years. I don't think I've ever seen anything as horrific as what's going on with ISIS, or whatever they're calling themselves these days. Russia and Kiev are having a contest to see who has the bigger... missile.
And then here at home, you have the police shooting and subsequent protests... looting... riots... race bating, etc. I actually heard the city called "Ferganistan" yesterday.
And when was the last time you actually heard an example of political discourse that had any shred of respect for the other point of view? Throw in a heaping helping of attack ads that we're about to be bombarded with for the fall elections, the accidental deaths and non-accidental suicides of those who gave their life over to entertaining us in our darkest hours, and the general malaise of seemingly every economy on earth, things seem pretty bleak right now.
It's times like these when our faith in humanity to do the right thing is tested and bent to the point of breakage. Try to imagine being positive through that while traveling to your friendly neighborhood chemotherapy ward.
It's times like these, when I feel utterly hopeless for the future of mankind, when I look to my homeland, Ireland, the place I was born, the people that got past the hate, and the ones who are revered in the unlikeliest of ways from the unlikeliest of sources.
My wife Stephanie and our boys and I were unbelievably fortunate to travel to Ireland for two weeks earlier this month. As we very rarely get to Europe, we tried to make it as diverse as possible for Sam and Ben. We spent five nights in an apartment in Dublin right near St. Stephen's Green, four nights in a country cottage in a very small town called Kildimo, and four nights in a four bedroom house with my cousin, her husband, and her two boys. It was the absolute trip of a lifetime... three utterly different experiences evoking so many different feelings of happiness, awe, and wonder.
It was in our last residence, a house in a town called Kenmare near the Ring of Kerry, where I was told one of the most remarkable stories I'd ever heard, and a story that quite possibly none of you have ever heard.
As we were cooking breakfast one morning, my little nephew Ross and I were having a conversation about soccer. I told him I liked his soccer uniform, and he thanked me while running out of the room with a Weetabix stuffed in his mouth. Ross' dad, Alan, asked, "Do you know what team wears that jersey?"
It was green, so I guessed, "the Republic of Ireland?"
"You would be wrong," replied Alan. "It's actually the German national team."
Excuse me? "Why would the Germans wear a jersey that looks like it belongs on a red head?"
"Because they're honoring the Irish," replied Alan. Now I was really confused. He smiled and told me the most remarkable thing.
At the end of World War II, everything in Europe was pretty decimated; England, Germany, Italy, France, you name it. But life still had to continue, and a big part of life in Europe was and still is football (soccer). So here you have the German National football team, and because the anti-German fervor was so high all over the world, not a single other country would play them... except Ireland, who were neutral. Germany's team was so grateful to simply have a second chance, that they adopted the same color green as the Irish to wear during some of their international matches. So whenever you see the Germans playing in green jerseys, it's a symbolic nod to Ireland for having the grace and courage to say, 'You are not your former government. You are men. You are footballers. You are welcome.'
Now like anything, politicians wreck everything they touch. The leader of the Republic of Ireland at the time was a man named Éamon de Valera. And de Valera hated the British with a passion, who hated the Germans with a passion. Politically, he saw this as a fantastic way to give England the finger.
This is yet another example of how politicians suck.
But this was not about the politicians. If you know Irishmen at all, you know that you have as much luck telling them what to do as you would fitting King Kong Bundy in a kayak. They didn't play the Germans to make de Valera happy; they played because it was the right thing to do.
I heard the story about the German National soccer team and it brought me hope... hope that while things are seemingly impossible to solve at this moment, it won't always be so. At the very moment of this writing, the presidents of both Russia and Ukraine are meeting face to face in Belarus. I'm not saying things won't go south, but at least they're talking. And in the Middle East, it looks like they've hammered out a semi-permanent cease-fire between the Israelis and Hamas. Again, some idiot could launch a rocket tomorrow and throw the whole thing into chaos, but being the insufferable optimist I am, I'm quietly hopeful that this one will take.
And if you think it can't happen, all you have to do is go back to 1998... the year of the Good Friday Peace Accord essentially ending the sectarian violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland... two groups who had as much hatred for each other as the Israelis and Palestinians have for each other today. They realized that history is history, and the sins of our forefathers need not continue to be the sins for our children.
Did the accord happen over night? Oh Hades no. There were many fits and starts. But they kept moving forward, no matter how many times they had to step backwards.
I may be naive, but I still have hope for so many things... for all of us to accept and embrace each other as brothers and sisters of a single human race, for a cure for all cancer, for my children to fulfill their own dreams, and for Coke Classic to go back to using sugar instead of corn syrup.
Don't tell me that you haven't thought it.
So take heart ye who feel your fight is a losing battle; the men and women from a tiny island in the North Atlantic have shown the world the way. We should all be like the Irish, a people who continue to show that a brighter day is always just around the corner.
And they have sugar in their Coke. It's amazing.