The Burlington Hawk-Eye
The Hawk Eye
Go in Peace, We'll Be Along
November 12, 1992
I've been writing a lot about politics lately, the season being what it is, but as with most other folks, there's lots else on my mind. Another birthday triggered a freshet of memories of growing up in my old hometown of Chapman, Kan.
Some readers may recall my stories about Gene Book whose friendship was so special it never flagged, even though he bested me on the honor roll from first grade through 12th and was always better at fishing, swimming, and Boy Scout merit badges. Gene's career as a nuclear engineer took him around the world both in a private role and as an official of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, exposing him to whatever dangers such a job entails.
When he retired, he came home with his wife, Ellen, to Chapman (population 800 when we were growing up, about double that now). He bought our old high school principal's house and set out to become the town's pre-eminent environmentalist, hunter, trapper, fisherman, archeologist, historian, and reporter for the long-time paper, The Chapman Advertiser. In 1986, he organized a 50th anniversary of the Boy Scout troop we started in 1936, taking a bunch of us old codgers on an overnight camp out, much to the amusement of the town. Of course, Gene had aged with the rest of us; but it didn't seem so. His hair was still more sandy than gray, eyes still sparkling with some devilment; the same wiry frame, exuberance; eager for one more hike to show us a beaver dam, an old stage coach track. It's a comfort growing old with people like Gene.
The phone was a warning bell in the night. Another old friend from home. "Bad news," she said. "Gene Book has cancer. The real fast kind." I phoned at once, expecting to talk to Ellen, groping for some words of comfort. But as soon as she recognized my voice, she said, "Wait, here's Gene."
His voice came on, a little hoarse it seemed, but strong and cheery. He was comforting me. He laid it all out facts, figures, parameters the way an engineer would. I don't have to try to quote him because a few days later another friend sent a copy of The Advertiser with the column, called Book Ends, which Gene had been writing for years.
"An Open Letter to My Friends in Chapman:" it began.
"In order to avoid misinformation and speculation, I decided to take this method of telling all of you about my situation. I have very recently been diagnosed as having lung cancer. It is a very invasive and fast-growing type. It has spread to my liver and my pancreas, my bones and my brain. The brain involvement has resulted in the stroke-like paralysis on the right side of my face.
"There are two possible courses of action. I can start a series of chemotherapy treatments and this would extend my life to a limited degree, with little real hope of a cure. The extended life would be of a very poor quality and most of it would be spent in doctors' offices and hospitals.
"On the other hand, I can take no action and the doctors say they will keep me as comfortable as possible to the end.
"I have chosen to take the latter course. The doctors say I may have two or three months. Personally, I doubt I will last that long.
"Anyway, I will be around town and the physical and mental deterioration will continue. I hope that my appearance and actions will not offend anyone. All I ask is that you be kind and forgiving."
Gene's apology, and request for forgiveness, may seem strange to some. But that is Gene always concerned with the feelings of others. It is doctors tell me, a common phenomenon among the dying a sense of guilt for going off and leaving their loved ones with their sorrow.
That's why it's important to match courage such as Gene's with our own. Not to whine about our sorrow but to say: Go in peace, old friend. We'll be along.
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