This Essay Addresses Alfie
What’s It All About?

This is a personal confession or, at least, an explanation of what haunts me. I passed my milestone of living successfully after doing the dance with death a decade ago. In 2008, I did the dance…twice. I managed to lead death on my dancefloor of life. To be honest with you, I’m not sure of the meaning beginning a year of another decade. I could have easily gone belly up over ten years prior. That haunts me. It is like the question asked by the movie, Alfie; what’s it all about?

Even beyond the decade issue of entering another decade, I am haunted by the reality that I didn’t understand either dance for several years. Some people saw the different me. Mike Schmitt was the one who caused me to realize my radical transformation.

Another person that helped me frame my new life was Haruki Murakami. We are about the same age and liked similar writers like J.D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut, and Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Haruki Murakami

And once the storm is over, you won't remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won't even be sure whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won't be the same person who walked in. That's what this storm's all about.

Obviously, Murakami has done some dances in his long life also. If you have done the dance like I have, you can readily grasp his questioning facing the storms of life. However, if he did, he isn’t sure how he was able to come out unscathed. Reflecting the nearly two months in two different hospitals after my traumatic brain injury, a subdural hematoma, I wonder often how I made it through my dilemma.

The other dance was with my metastatic prostate cancer. While the da Vinci robotic surgery was successful and done as an outpatient, the cancer had spread beyond the prostate. That required getting a PSA test every six months. A couple years later, my PSA spiked, which meant that I started taking an experimental hormone therapy for two months and radiation every day for two months while I continued with the hormones.

The radiation took about forty-five minutes every day. While the procedures were painless, I wondered during the radiation whether the technician would eradicate the cancer that day. For two months, I quietly wondered whether a small clump of cells was destroyed as the x-ray machine beeped away as it passed around my body.

However, in the middle of the last week of radiation, I knew that on that day the cancer had been gotten. As I got up after the procedure, I thanked the technician for eradicating the cancer. I’ll never forget the expression on her believing face when I thanked her. Surely, she wondered about my medical observation and how did I know at that moment in time I resulted being cancer free? Nevertheless, I got through that storm, which radically changed me also. Murakami wants his readers to face the storm. After the storm, whatever sacrifice that you were forced to make, it was worth it. That is what makes life worth living. It is the answer to the question, what’s it all about?

The other writer, Friedrich Nietzsche, also addresses the Alfie question.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Interestingly, Nietzsche adds to Murakami with this comment, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” What Nietzsche wants for us, in the midst of the problems of life or what Murakami calls storms, to have a reason for living, a purpose. If you possess a purpose you can endure nearly any onslaught that you will face.

When I look out upon my world, there are three foci in my life: teaching, politics, and my family both here and in Myanmar. That is what I am all about. In the past five years, I traveled to Myanmar twice and will be returning in less than a year during winter break. 

What's it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What's it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give
Or are we meant to be kind?

Randy Pausch in The Last Lecture caused me to wake-up to the reality that my clock is ticking. That reality cannot be grasped prior to doing a dance with death. Prior to my dances, I didn’t grasp it. The truth is that I had to watch Pausch’s Last Lecture. And then…I saw the light.

The world is different…that is what life’s about.