You get to thinking about your life, when you're on your back in a hospital bed, leg in agony, waiting for the surgeon to do her thing.
I thought, who am I?
Here's what I learned as an idiot child, along with a townful of other idiot children.
We'd climb the side of the abandoned pocketbook factory, brick by brick, to stand on the roof, looking down four stories at the Hudson River. I already dreaded the climb back down. Braver souls among us felt life's pull—the thrill of being—and they leapt.
I stayed back.
So, I knew already, I'm no hero. I'm not that guy.
Later, I was the writer guy.
I'd put bits of the world into words, for magazine readers to consume. Maybe a physics Nobelist's discoveries, or what the pilots of a terrain-following B-52 bomber experience, roaring inches over mountaintops.
Okay, I thought, whoever I used to be, I'm not that guy now.
I got to listening to my hospital roommate, a newspaper columnist and the host of a public-tv show. He'd go into the New England outdoors, with camera crews, via kayak or canoe or dogsled, if need be. Willem Lange is celebrated hereabouts. He had an infected foot, but told the medical staff he needed to be out by next week---he had shoots scheduled. Also, there was an upcoming trip to Portugal. Willem spent lots of time on his phone, talking to his girlfriend in another state. He called his cane "John McCain."
Willem is pushing ninety.
He's had six falls this year, he told me. Most recently, in the wee hours. He lay on the floor unable to get up. He had a phone handy, and his daughter and son-in-law live nearby, but he lay on the floor two hours, until they awoke, to call and ask his son-in-law to help him get up, on the younger man's way to work.
That's what struck me.
I thought about Joyce, back home, worried about me, but carrying on with her own work, which included editing my latest novel, and arranging to visit me every day, and handling most everything in our life together, all our finances and social contacts and just about all else.
I thought: have I been appreciating this?
So now I know who I aim to be—I'm the guy who looks out for Joyce.
I want to be the guy who'll lie two hours on the floor, so people who matter get their sleep.