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Misery and Monsters Among Us

July 7, 2014

Cancer patients have an inside track when it comes to issues of mortality.

Most of us with serious diseases have some idea, a window if you will, about when our time might be up.  It’s a gap that for most of us seems very finite; five years, 10 years, 15 years, but definitely at some distinct point in the future.

If you knew you had a 75 percent chance of being involved in a serious car accident on your way to work this morning, and there was nothing you could do about it, wouldn’t you be extra careful?  Wouldn’t you hug your children and spouse just a little longer knowing something bad was likely to happen to you in the next hour?  You’d tell them how much you loved them with as much emotion as you could muster as you fearfully walked out the door.

But because most of us don’t have a true sense of our mortality, we never give these things a second thought.  Just another drive to the office, just another day at the office and just another drive home in the afternoon.  Freak accidents and acts of violence notwithstanding, we’re certain we’ll live long enough to return home safe and sound as we’ve done for years, decades even.

My dad used to say that if you lived long enough you’d see it all; things you never imagined.  I had an old journalism professor who took that one step further.  He said, “There’s nothing new under the sun.”

“Short of aliens landing at the White House, nothing in history has happened that won’t continue to happen,” Jim Featherston, the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter told me in 1982.  “Man’s inhumanity to man will never, ever stop.  It’s what keeps reporters in business.”

Both Nick Danna and Jim Featherston were right on the money in their own distinct ways and two events in the last seven days made me realize that when it comes to our own mortality, you just never know.

The last week of April, just eight days before my diagnosis, I taped a segment at Honey Brake Lodge in Catahoula Parish with a videographer named Richard Stafford.  We were working on a pilot segment for Cabela’s called “TWILA Outdoors,” and were fishing near the lodge on Larto Lake.

Richard, who the Honey Brake staff affectionately referred to as “Mississippi,” was a great shooter.  He even fell out of the boat getting a shot.  Fortunately, he saved the video camera by throwing it into the boat just as he went overboard.

“But I got the shot,” he exclaimed as he surfaced.  “Is the camera alright?”  Typical shooter; more concerned about the shot and the equipment than himself.  That’s the mark of a real pro.

Later in the afternoon at his studio he provided me the video he’d shot, as well as some amazing aerial footage he’d taken with GoPro cameras attached to the wings of an ultralight aircraft he flew at the lodge.  The video featured him flying his small aircraft among flocks of Canadian geese and every species of ducks that frequent the Honey Brake flyway.  It was literally National Geographic-quality stuff.

As the video was downloading I asked Richard how he learned to fly, as well as how often he took the little plane up.

“I fly a couple of times a week,” he said.  “During hunting season I fly more to get shots for our television program.  I just kind of learned to fly it myself.  It’s not really that hard once you get the hang of it.”

Because the ultralight flies below 4,000 feet no flight plan is needed, nor is a traditional pilot’s license.  Richard seemed to be a master of the little aircraft as his video attested.  That was, until 8:30 p.m. Monday, June 30.

At some point that evening while flying near his home he lost control of the aircraft, crashed into some trees and was killed instantly.  He was 56 and left behind a family.  Even though I’d only known Richard two days it was evident he was good at what he did, enjoyed the outdoors and enjoyed helping fellow TV production folks like me.  I wished I’d known him longer.

And then there are the monsters among us.  The monsters who without warning target us and take us without hesitation or remorse.

By now we’ve all read the accounts of the 12-year-old girl found dead in a cane field in St. James Parish near Vacherie.  Authorities have reason to believe Talaija Dorsey was abducted from her home and murdered.  Her mother’s boyfriend is currently in custody.  Whether police have the right man is irrelevant.  Someone decided to abduct an innocent child and kill her.  That person is a monster worse than any cancer, more lethal than any illness because of their deliberate disregard for all human life.  At least cancer sometimes gives you a fighting chance.  Child killers, true monsters, do not.  Given the choice I’ll take cancer any day of the week.

Since May 12 I’ve been seeing the world in a very different light.  As a reporter I’ve always known about and covered the tragedies of life.  But now the tragedies of the world are more meaningful to me, more saddening, not for me personally mind you, but for the victims of those tragedies.  I’ve lived a good life, never known real tragedy and hopefully won’t ever have to experience what the Stafford and Dorsey families are going through.  My prayers go out to both their families.

But as my dad and Jim Featherston always said, “You just never know.”  Anything can happen at anytime.  Reporters will never want for a story about man’s inhumanity to man.

So of late I’ve been living my life by a simple motto.  You can’t get more time in your life, but you can get more life in your time.  I pledge to spend both much more wisely.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Billie Middleton permalink
    July 8, 2014 8:12 pm

    Another great article. I look forward to your writing them. It was so good to see you last week and meet your beautiful wife. Will continue to pray for both of you — keep that positive attitude. Nurse told Carl that is one of the important things you can do while battling cancer.
    Love,
    Billie

  2. Lori Oster permalink
    July 8, 2014 9:52 pm

    Just love that Mike…”more life in your time.” Something we all need to live by.

    Thanks for a great entry in your blog.

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