The last few moves you make in a pursuit, such as business or diplomatic negotiations or in strategic games such as chess, are your endgame. It is a critical point in the process where you vie for the best outcome. Good negotiators and chess players anticipate and plan for it. The trick is knowing when the endgame begins.
My life’s endgame began in April this year when the doctor called to say the cancer has returned and spread to the bone and lymph nodes. Twenty-two years after my first match with it. Except this time, it is Stage 4. Terminal.
When I got the news, the shock reverberated through me. Then it turned imperceptibly to anticipatory grief. I mourned the time when I will lose my faculties and independence as the cancer ravages my body. As a practicing Christian, I am not burdened by death itself or the thought of it, because I am secure in my faith and believe in the sovereignty of God. Unlike Dylan Thomas’s urging of his father, when the time comes for me to die, I will not rage, rage against the dying of the light. I will go gentle into the good night.
I do, however, dread the time when the cancer in my hip bone will not allow me to take my daily nine-mile walks anymore. Or travel. Or care for myself. At some point, I will lay in bed and waste away. When all that will happen, no one can predict.
But this I do know. Until that happens, I am playing the endgame on my own terms.
A week after the diagnosis, treatment started and I emerged from my grief. I was now ready to make my moves with clarity and perspective.
In the opening and middle games, there are grey areas when moves are a matter of preference or judgment. In the endgame, everything is laid bare. This gives great insight into the heart of the game. Every single move is important.
So what do I want from life now and how do I get it? On that I am clear. I want to be happy and three things give me great joy. Traveling and seeking adventures – the inherent restlessness from being a lifelong vagabond, the need for movement such as hiking in the Scottish Highlands or riding dune buggies in Huacachina, Peru. Writing, whether an assignment from the business school I work for or deeply personal essays that help me make sense of life. And being with family and friends I care about and in whose company I delight.
To achieve these goals, I plan trips immediately after my chemo appointments, before the side-effects set in and my neutrophils plunge and make me susceptible to infections. I flew to Chicago after my first chemo cycle; made a short road trip to Manchester, Vermont with a friend, followed by a family trip to Bar Harbor, Maine after the second; and I was off to the Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks in Washington state after my third. I’m in New York City this week after my fourth cycle to explore Brooklyn and its neighborhoods.
I continue to accept writing assignments covering business trends in Asia, or profiling research on esoteric disciplines such as blockchain and artificial intelligence. Work keeps me intellectually engaged and makes life feel normal, even though it isn’t.
I hang out with family and friends whenever possible. Making memories and redeeming lost time by letting go of grudges, as we strive to make the moments count. Cancer facilitates an unspoken understanding and forgiveness is mutually demonstrated through gracious acts of forbearance, compromise, and kindness.
I don’t have time for the media anymore. I scan the headlines on my phone without clicking through. Skip CNN and move to YouTube vlogs on “World’s Best Train Journeys.” I look at the world with more detachment. I cherry-pick what I want to do and do it with vigor and full engagement. Like the king in a chess endgame — after spending most of the game being surrounded by other pieces — I’ve now become much stronger and active in the center of the sparse board. It doesn’t matter what was removed from the board but what remains.
Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan at twilight today, I see no visible horizon between light and darkness. The expanse makes me feel free and alive. And I am intensely happy.
Image: “A Chess Pawn” by Indi Samarajiva, licensed under CC 2.0.