About six weeks ago I started watching the AMC show Breaking Bad on Netflix. I did so on the recommendation of my college roommate, Michelle, who told me that if I like Mad Men I would probably like this as well. I didn’t know much about the show before her recommendation, other than the fact that its lead actor, Bryan Cranston, has won three consecutive Emmy Awards for his part in this show that very few people seem to know about. So, about the time I decided to get on my bike trainer again, I decided to check it out. I need something to watch while I’m stuck on the bike indoors. The show has gotten me through 250 miles so far. I am impressed.
If you’re like most people I know who have not heard of the show, let me fill you in. The lead character, Walter White, is diagnosed with lung cancer and receives an unfavorable prognosis. He is a high school chemistry teacher who also works part-time at a car wash to support his family. He realizes that he’s running out of time and he has nothing to leave to his family, which includes a pregnant wife and a teenage son with cerebral palsy. Through a series of convoluted circumstances, it occurs to him that as a chemist he could make a boat load of cash quickly by manufacturing methamphetamine. I know. It’s a crazy premise for a show, but that’s what makes it so interesting. Walt’s transformation from mousy cancer victim to drug criminal is profound.
The episode I watched yesterday while on the bike trainer showed Walt at yet another doctor’s appointment awaiting a scan. In the waiting room, a newly diagnosed cancer patient strikes up a conversation with him.
“It’s like they say. You make plans and God laughs,” the guy tells Walt.
“That is such bullshit,” Walt replies. “Never give up control. Live life on your own terms.”
How easily we all give up when an impediment blocks our way. Oh well. I guess I’m supposed to do this now. What else can I do? I’m sure in the face of a cancer diagnosis, the first reaction is to feel bad about the hand we’ve been dealt. The man is saying as much to Walt. Cancer is cancer. What are you going to do? Blah, blah, blah. Then, Walt says this:
“To hell with your cancer. I’ve been living with cancer for the better part of a year. Right from the start it’s a death sentence. That’s what they keep telling me. Well, guess what? Every life comes with a death sentence…but until then I’m in charge. That’s how I live my life.”
Wow. I had to stop the show, back it up, and watch that part again. It was brilliant. It’s got shades of The Shawshank Redemption‘s “Get busy living or get busy dying” in it but it’s definitely a more in-your-face message. Every life comes with a death sentence…but until then I’m in charge. Walt’s cancer wasn’t a death sentence for him but a life sentence. He’d been going along in his daily routine not thinking a thing about it, not truly being present in his life, until the cancer gave him a wake-up call he desperately needed. When you stop to confront your death, you might see your life differently. The cancer took Walt out of his comfortable life. He became less fearful. After all, what did he have to lose?
I’ve been thinking a lot about Walt’s little speech. It’s good to be reminded that we’re only here a short time. We’re not in charge of everything that happens in our lives, but we are in charge of how we react to it. We won’t live forever, but we can live on our own terms.