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Neal's Cancer Blog

A Passage About Death From A William Saroyan Book

William Saroyan won a Pulitzer Prize for the play, The Time of Your Life, in 1940. Also well known for his famous short story "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze," The Human Comedy was made into a movie (1943, Academy Award for Best Story), starring Mickey Rooney, with appearances by Van Johnson, Donna Reed and Robert Mitchum. It was remade with Meg Ryan as director, in 2014, with her as Homer's mother, and Sam Shepard as the only other recognizable name, (Okay, and Tom Hanks who appears a couple of times as Mrs. McCauley's (Ryan's) dead husband) as the others are newcomers, except for Jack Quaid, who is Ryan's and divorced husband Dennis Quaid's son. The remake received so-so reviews. Enough Hollywood background??

Well, alrighty then. You have a little history of the author and a little history of the book turned screenplay. Now you need a little of the setting. Isn't this scrumptious? Just like story telling hour. 

From William Saroyan’s The Human Comedy (1943), this is just one of about a half-dozen passages in this book that have made an impression on me. For obvious reasons, this one touches me, and probably always will. I wanted to share it's simplicity, and yet it's profoundness as well. And, this is towards the end of the book, the very end, last few pages, so if you think you may read this book, I hate to spoil it for you, but it really is not a complete surprise, as you are sort of expecting this will happen even though you are hoping it would not.

Okay, the setting, a little background to this scene. Saroyan grew up in Fresno, California. But, the book is a fictional town in California named Ithaca. After finding out from a telegram that came in at the telegraph office where Homer, age 14, has worked for the last six months as a messenger delivering telegrams (learning about life and death as some of the telegrams are about townspeople who have died in the war) his brother Marcus has been killed in the war (WWII)…Homer says to Spangler, the manager of the telegraph office where Homer works:

“What shall I do? What am I going to tell them? They’re waiting for me at home now. I know they are. I told them I’d be home for supper. How am I going to go into the house and look at them? They’ll know everything the minute they see me. I don’t want to tell them, but I know they’ll know.”

Spangler put his arm around Homer. “Wait,” he said. “Don’t go home just yet. Sit down here. Wait awhile. It takes a little time.”

They sat quietly on a park bench, not talking. After a while Homer said, “What am I waiting for?”

“Well,” Spangler said, “you’re waiting for the part of him that died to die in you, too—the part that’s only flesh—the part that comes and goes. That dying is hurting you now, but wait awhile. When the pain becomes death and leaves you, the rest will be lighter and better than ever. It takes a little time, and as long as you live it will take a little time, again and again, but each time it goes it will leave you closer than ever to the best that is in all men. Be patient with it, you will go home at last with no death in you. Give it time to go. I’ll sit with you here until it’s gone.”

“Yes, sir,” Homer said. The manager of the telegraph office and the messenger sat in the courthouse park of Ithaca, waiting.


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What wise words these are, and so very true. William Saroyan was obviously no stranger to the loss of a loved one; the shock, the ebb and flow of pain. Thanks for sharing this, Uncle :*)
You are welcome. It is obvious that you have felt loss yourself in the way you describe it... I feel like I am fulfilling some Duty or obligation or honor to share some of his writing I wish I could layout the six or seven other pieces of dialogue in the book that move me so much. He wrote a preface to of collection of his Works called the William Saroyan reader in which this novel was abbreviated and in this book called The William Saroyan reader he writes a preface as to why he writes one of the reasons he said initially was because it gives him a way to cheat death by leaving something of himself behind. Ultimately he said he writes because he likes to but it is obvious from his writing that it is both. There is one chapter where the mother in the story has just such wisdom for her son I wish all mothers possessed that kind of wisdom to be able to present exactly what is needed at the right time and there is another Passage of his ancient history teacher which is just beautiful about how people should treat each other with respect no matter their stature in life whether they are rich or poor no matter what their Origins are it was lovely when it was written and it is still lovely today. I am so glad you liked the selection
Thomas likes this comment
WOW. But the passage begs the question: can it really happen so quickly for the pain to leave and to be lighter and better than ever? Surely not while sitting in a parking lot for an hour or two with a friend, no?
But I do love the insight on the basis of the pain. Thanks, Neal.
Hey don't overthink this it's a book it's fiction And he's 14 years old and he has to go home to his family and have dinner and there's more to the story cuz his brothers buddy in war a fellow comrade who survived because of his brother is waiting at the house etcetera Etc cetera so of course not can you get rid of the pain just like that no absolutely not it's the concept... But I do appreciate your pointing out the reality. I just liked it because of the fact that he talks about the pain never really going away and I just like the whole idea because there are times when you feel the pain and it subsides after a while is in an hour sitting on a bench in the park I don't know it could be a few minutes sometimes these days or it could be a couple of hours who knows and if I ever find who I'm going to give him a piece of my mind or her thank you Susan
And I do love that something like this could stimulate some kind of discussion
Thank you for writing about this book. I want to get it and read it as soon as I can get my concentration back. I haven't finished a book since Roger got sick. This book would probably be a great interest to me in many ways.

This sounds like a very interesting book.
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Mindfulness Meditation


Why am I posting this here? Of all places, I think this site is the most important place for this. I strongly believe that both caregivers and those with cancer, can benefit from this type of mindfulness meditation. Why? Because more than with any other group of people, everything is amplified when you or a loved one has cancer, and coping with the stress is a bear. I think this can help in many different ways.

I went to a great meditation class last the Graduate Institute in Bethany... I tried Shambala in New Haven, but this was different...much more personal ... Mindful meditation, a la Jon Kabat Zinn who teaches at Massachusetts General Hospital.

I was first introduced to meditation in college...initially Transcendental Meditation... I even did a research paper on it back then... It was much less popular then and not something much talked about...this has changed somewhat over the has always fascinated me...

I have come back to it over the years on and off.... and recently again...Hoping to find something spiritual after Emilee died, something to help me focus... I have been inconsistent...and this time I want to stay with it.

There is even an app for phones for a meditation timer with a chime that chimes to signal beginning and end... how cool is that... no excuse not to do it for a few minutes.

By the way...this is not something you, it is not something you practice and someday, you get it right....... it is something you do for your brain... you do exercise for your body? okay, this is exercise for your mind...for your being conscious and paying attention...without attachment... it is exercise for emotional health...especially, emotional health because it helps you to feel, observe, release. The more you practice returning to your breathing, coming back to focus on something neutral, the easier it becomes to release emotions, especially ones that cause suffering.

And it takes practice... a lifetime of practice...and I don’t mean it takes a lifetime to learn…I mean it is something you incorporate into your daily life... no, you do not become the dalai lama...or some enlightened buddhist just get better at being whoever you are and being more in touch with that...I want that. You get better at not getting stuck with emotions that influence your thought patterns in a non-productive way.

I was not going to go last night because it was a little far, and I was saying, there is a meditation center nine minutes from my house. This was worth the drive. Sometimes, the right instructor, the right guide, makes all the difference in the world.

We did two five minute meditations, with some input and guidance during these segments by the instructor. We then discussed what it was like for us. Well, some of us did, and some of us had questions. Like me.

Question: My thoughts can be bizarre combinations of thoughts and images and sometimes so wackadoo I want to laugh.

Response: It is okay to laugh if you have to laugh.

Question: What if I have a thought that solves a conundrum no one has ever solved before?

Response: Have a pad and pen nearby just in case.

Question: Okay then, and what about the soup of flowing thoughts, or even falling asleep?

Response: Well, the thoughts are always around. Keep coming back to your breathing as soon as you realize you are caught up in a thought or emotion. And if you notice you are falling asleep, bring awareness back to your breathing. If you fall asleep, you fall asleep. Allow yourself, your body needs that. Whatever happens is okay.

Homework for the first week….focus completely on some task…brushing your teeth, washing  a dish, whatever, and think of nothing else. And, do a two minute meditation, one or more times, daily.

Until you have tried this type of meditation (with a guide, not by yourself, and preferably someone trained in MBSR or Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), do not be so quick to blow it off as either nonsense, or, “that’s not for me”. You may be missing something valuable. Possibly, something invaluable. 

And, there is quite a bit of research on it. Look it up and see for yourself. And if you are interested, you can find instructors. Many teaching hospitals offer it to staff, patients, and caregivers.

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Hi, Neal. I'm glad you had a great experience. I have a mindfulness mediation retreat coming up in November. I typically go to this retreat only twice a year. It is also done in silence (though our two guidance leaders speak to us a bit) over the course of 3 days. And the food is the best vegetarian delight to ever grace my plate. And most of the attendees are cancer thrivers. So your post reminds me of how grateful I am that people are dedicated to bringing us the gift of learning to be present, to render silence and to appreciate earth's bounty. Namaste.
Thomas, Marcia like this comment
How long have you been practicing? I so love really good vegetarian cooking. It has been such a long time that I did any period of Silence that I am not sure how I would cope with that. I think I would need three days of deep conversation and connection to counteract three days of Silence
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So you don't talk to each other but you do an awful lot of talking to yourself I imagine... Does that quiet down too over the course of the three days?
aha...The Major Challenge: Quiet the mind. It's commonly called Monkey Mind because thoughts jump all over the place. By quieting the voice, I do find it's easier to be present and to settle down. Plus, when you're with other people in silence, it's actually kind of freeing. But at the end of the retreat, we have a lunch where we all talk and boy do we all turn into motor mouths.
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Quieting the mind is my challenge too. I'm a fidgety, high energy person - but slowing down physically is not nearly as difficult as curbing those intrusive thoughts.
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Yessss.. intrusive thoughts... and in response to my question as to when doing a task mindfully such as washing the dishes there's 20 different aspects of what is going on that I could focus on so what part of that task am I supposed to be focusing on... To which a friend replied it is kind of like directing a symphony... Some instruments will be in the foreground some instruments will be in the background and this may change in different should see the email I sent to the instructor am eagerly looking forward to her reply..I believe she is going to be helpful
We must be sisters!
Susan J likes this comment
I was into Transcendental Meditation in my sophomore year in high school at a prep school I attended in 9th and 10th grade (1972-74). TM was actually an elective at this school. But I think it was lost on me at the time; too intense for a 15-16 year old, lol. And I'm not familiar with Mindful Meditation. I started on Lexapro to "slow down" a year ago, but at times I feel it needs to be supplemented with a non-pharmaceutical, such as meditation. Community has non-credit courses available in meditation. I think I'll check it out for the winter months. Over the years I've tried to meditate but I was always waiting for that 'Nirvana' sensation, which doesn't exist. Thanks Neal!😘
I am really liking the mindfulness approach...i know what you mean about the Nirvana...I am glad you are going to check it out... I don't often recommend something like this....but Marcia... this is profound in a way I am not yet prepared to would be premature...but I am finding it to have the potential to be profound on both a cognitive level and an emotional I am thrilled to hear you are considering .... I am finding that the instructor a guide... is most important...that you feel some rapport or connection, and the ultimate is feeling of trust...I feel a sense of trusting this instructor, and that seems to me to be paramount.
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Vital Info


February 10, 2017

North Haven, CT, usa 06473

In Memory of a Loved One

Cancer Info

Pancreas Cancer

Stage 4



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