This has been a month loaded with highs and lows. I attended a conference that included some very brilliant people, and I drove through the California hills and desert with a wise woman in a leaky car. Once there, I met some women who had conquered brain hemorrhages, cancer, the loss of a child, alcoholism, and other traumas—all who went on to creative greatness.
At home, I received news of three dear friends who discovered that they must fight for their lives against that most powerful enemy: cancer. After my knees stopped shaking, I started to think about my life, my family, and just how fragile is the ground beneath us.
I never read When Bad Things Happen to Good People. I wasn’t sure that I could face it. This was years ago, when the book first came out. As a younger person, I didn’t even want to take five minutes to think about tragedy—it seemed so far off in the distance. I thought that my youth protected me from disease and the accompanying medical unpleasantness.
Now I am in the decade during which things start falling apart. Friends disappear from the landscape. Funerals are things we put on our calendars. I study the obits every week to make sure that nobody I know has gone. It’s not so uncomfortable these days, because it is appropriate that my generation is starting to fade. I have had a good, long go of it.
But when young people have to face mortal challenges, it just isn’t fitting. People in their childbearing years need to stay with their families; to see things through. Mothers and dads should never have to desert their children. And children should never have to bid goodbye to their parents.
I wonder how my dear friends who face living and eventually dying with disease come to grips with it. They have to learn to accept and live every moment, right up until the end. They still laugh, eat when they can, watch TV, and read books. They have to attend soccer games when weak, stand up when they want to lie down, and reassure the rest of us that “it’s ok.”
It isn’t ok, and we all know it. But somehow, some way, those who face mortality way too soon put on that mantle of heaviness and wear it with grace and perseverance. It must be very dark at times, and lonely. The mantle is always passed on. At least we can all take comfort from the fact that we each have our turn to wear it; and we all share in our human-ness. We aren’t alone in this, not really. So let’s all hold hands, smile, kiss, and give strength where we can.
This column is dedicated to Lisa, Nina, Rob, Ellie, Darryle, Amy, and all of us who need courage and grace. Every day is a gift, and we mustn’t forget it.