I once got a call to pick up a man from the ER at a local hospital. In his case it wasn't the welfare hospital, just a regular hospital.
I remember it was some old guy about 75. When he got into the back seat the first thing he asked was, "Do you mind if I smoke?"
I usually took care of that problem by writing on the back of the headrest of the passenger side: "YES You can smoke" and "NO, the bead seat does not hurt" and also something else which I cannot remember.
I do remember my passengers found those writings amusing, including one woman who started laughing and couldn't stop. Sometimes they said, "Well, that takes care of any conversation."
Perhaps at that time I hadn't written anything, so I told him, sure, you can smoke.
So he leans back, lights a cigarette, and takes a big drag.
"Just saw the doctor. He told me I got the Big C. Lung cancer."
He takes a another big drag and blows the smoke out. "But I ain't givin' up yet," he tells me. "I got to stay around to torment the old lady."
I had no idea what to say, and I don't remember what I did say. But he didn't seem too concerned about the whole thing.
I wondered what he was feeling? He had just been told he might live another year or two, at the most. Was he scared? He didn't show any fear at at all. He sounded almost amused.
That's the mystifying thing about trying to understand people. Sometimes, even if they tell you, you just don't know what they are feeling.
I had seen this attitude before, of not being afraid of death. Someone old had just gotten a death sentence and they weren't too concerned about it. Lived a full life, I guess.
I mean, hell, if you've lived a great life, and are ancient, then death doesn't seem like such a big deal.
I remember reading about Vincent Price talking about his diagnosis of lung cancer. He was in his 90s, I think. He said it didn't hurt but made a joke about not being able to enjoy his retirement. I do know he smoked like a chimney so I was amazed he lasted that long. But then, my mother smoked from 14 to 75 and never got lung cancer.
I also remember what Warren Zevon said when he got his diagnosis of lung cancer. He had never smoked, so even today people are mystified how he got it.
But in his interview with David Letterman he said something that has become become very famous: "I enjoy every sandwich."
I guess my passenger enjoyed every sandwich. And every cigarette, too.
I took the man home - he didn't live too far from the hospital - and I never saw him again. But this was 25 years ago.
I guess he was grateful for his long life. If you can't be grateful then you aren't going to have much of a life.
Ray Bradbury said he lived his long life with an attitude of immense gratitude. He knew what was important.
I've met people who don't appreciate what they have. They're full of hate and envy and hostility and try to hurt innocent people and bring them down, including telling lies if they have to. Being envious excludes you from gratitude. That's been noticed for a long time. I've even seen this observation in Aesop's Fables.
Meister Eckhart said it best: "If the only prayer you ever say is ' thank you,' it will be enough."