Wednesday, July 7, 2021

A Little Wider

 I’ve been sick for over a year now. That reality is hard to digest. Sure they diagnosed it as cancer in October, but I kept telling them something was wrong—practically begging them to believe me back in June of 2020. And by the time they caught it months later, the corrosive melanoma eating at my bones had reached stage 4. 

I cried yesterday—these weak, embarrassing sobs. It’s just that the feverish feelings are coming back, the swelling in my gut (from a still failing liver), and the nausea and vomiting…. Sure I’ve had worse—like when the docs removed an entire vertebrae, but although the cancer isn’t progressing, it’s not getting better either, and some days it’s hard to face the insurmountability of it all—I just don’t see an end to this fight.

I’ve been studying Judaism as a way of coping, reading three books at a time, just devouring everything I can. And although I’m just studying, through its tapestry I’ve begun to sense a beautiful meaning in life. And as I cried yesterday, what got me to stop was a strange memory that came to me as I studied, a memory from years ago when I ran a newspaper.

A lady burst through the dilapidated front door. She wore a fur coat to befit a queen.  This really stuck out in Blackfoot, Idaho which houses The Potato Museum, some excellent Idaho farmers, and various industry workers like welders, food production experts, and much more.

“Where’s the publisher?” she boomed.

A couple of employees pointed to me—and the woman seemed shocked that I didn’t sit in the big office designated for the publisher. Instead I insisted on sitting in the main area with everyone else, because we all worked hard; we were ALL equal on that team.

“Hello,” I said, standing to shake her hand.

“I do not shake hands. Don’t you know who I am?”

“I’m sorry if I don’t remember…. Have we met before?”

Come to find out, we’d never met, but the woman had starred in numerous Hollywood films decades before.

I wanted to recognize her. She looked to be in her late 80s, and I could tell she needed for someone to know who she was. But although I scribbled down her name, I knew I’d never heard it.

“I stopped by so you could write a story about me. We were passing through. But since you have NO idea who I am…!”

“I can still write the—“

Then she stormed from the office and left as quickly as she’d come.

I sat down, completely stunned. Everyone else had gone back to work, but the whole interlude shocked me. I googled her name and sure enough found her in some “song and dance” kinds of films. Granted, she wasn’t a Ginger Rogers, Debbie Reynolds, or Doris Day, but she’d been famous, beautiful, captivating…once. Now she seemed so forgotten in a world where younger generations had no idea who she’d been. Her whole sense of self-worth had been wrapped up in everything that she’d lost. And suddenly that memory seemed so close to home. Not that I was a famous movie star (I wish!), but rather that so much of my worth was wrapped up in my health. Who am I now that I take old-lady naps in my 30s?! I can’t walk normally. I feel sick constantly. Things have drastically changed for me. BUT that doesn’t give me the right to feel bad for myself, or become so wrapped up in my past that it mars my future.

It’s strange because I actually read a book by Kirk Douglas, on how he found his way back to Judaism. I wondered if he ever met that woman who came into the newspaper. Who knows?

It stunned me to read that in the end what made life worth living for him (other than his family) was simply giving to others. And that we should keep striving to live as long as we have the capacity to give. I so wished the woman with the fancy fur could read those sentiments. Maybe she could finally move on from the stardom that “made” her and later began destroying her from the inside.

So, yesterday after I rested for most of the day, I got up and tried to do an act of kindness for someone; albeit small, I wrote a note that I knew would make someone smile.

For a moment the pain and everything abated. I thought about how I wouldn’t trade anything for what I have right now: a chance at life, a chance to overcome and find good even in the pain, and finally, a chance to give. There’s beauty in the journey, sometimes we just have to open our eyes a little bit wider.