Sunday, April 22, 2012

What We're Made Of

If you know that you're close to dying, how do you behave?

Forget "If this were your last day on Earth" cliches. I mean deep down. Fear. Anxiety. Dread. Acceptance. Resignation. Happiness? Depends on the chemistry, I suppose. When your body is wasting away, your conscious mind must shift. I can only imagine the dreams.

I've been contemplating this since my lunch last week with Tom Davis and Brian McConnachie. Tom, as you probably know, is dying from cancer. He's been sick awhile now, but I really saw it when he arrived at the restaurant.

He mentioned it upon greeting. "I was supposed to be dead six months ago. I don't know what went wrong." Tom smiled as he said this. Brian's eyes looked sad. I chuckled because I didn't know how else to react.

Tom told several jokes about cancer and death. He was often the darker half of Franken and Davis after all. Yet there was an ease to his observations. He displayed no sadness, bitterness, or self pity.

We talked a lot about comedy, today's and the humor of Tom and Brian's generation. They reminisced about their rejected SNL material. How the last 10 minutes of the show was their domain. I reminded them that each had plenty of pieces in the first half hour. But they enjoyed remembering lost concepts and cut sketches.

I can't tell you what being in their company means to me. Especially Tom. I've experienced a major emotional upheaval of late, fighting through depression, digging into the origins of my self-hatred, seeking answers from my past. It's not easy, and there are moments when I collapse from despair.

But there are also positive signs. Revelations to build on. I never expected that The Project would be so personal. For me to get where I want creatively, I must weather these storms.

Then I see Tom. His bravery. His humanity. Maybe imminent death frees you emotionally. Again, depends on the person. I'm sure there are some deathbed assholes. But Tom isn't one of them.

After lunch, Brian and I walked Tom back to his car. A big 70s boat that was the model for the Royal Deluxe II, an ad parody written by Tom and Al Franken, where a rabbi circumcises a baby in the back seat to demonstrate the car's smooth ride. We chatted, snapped some photos, spoke of the next time we would meet. Tom and I exchanged lines from an early SNL bit, then hugged each other goodbye. He felt so frail. But his spirit was bending steel.

I do hope that I see Tom again. He seemed certain of it. But if I don't, I can't think of a better send off. Nor a better model for how to live not only in death's shadow, but embracing life itself. Thanks, Tom.