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It started out like any other Wednesday night.
After work, I ate tacos with my love at our favorite brewery by the river. We laughed, made dumb jokes, and savored spicy sauces, adoring the mango-butter sunset refracted over the surface of the water.
We looked forward to blackberry gelato awaiting us in the freezer and curling up together on the couch. We looked forward to a slow, soothing night.
On the way home, we got a call that his dad has cancer.
I don’t know the right thing to say.
We are so human and tender. Death is real. We seem so far removed from it in the midst of our action-packed days, thinking about our goals, dreams, and all that we hope to accomplish tomorrow. But tomorrow is not guaranteed. Life is a mystery.
I forget that.
It’s amazing how a few words can alter the course of our lives—three little words with a very big meaning: He. Has. Cancer. And boom—everything changes.
It’s hard to know how to make sense of it, so we succumb to the great currents of tears and the heavy, threadbare melodies of uncertainty and doubt.
Our perspectives shift wide open, old ideas blown to smithereens. ‘Cause after hearing those three words, all the other things I was worried about crashed down around me—they no longer seemed very important. Fears about how my writing sucks, about not being good enough, about what people think of me at work.
Well, those worries blow by now, their torn-up pieces land like shredded paper in my lap. They seem so little, compared to the big C.
And in this space of rawness, I do what I know how to do—I write. It is my way to pray. To drain the tears. To be okay. To hope. To try to find the strands of meaning braided in the darkness of this news.
What does it all mean?
Life is long. Life is short. It is both, I think.
Getting this news, though, shines a ray on what is truly important, which is so easy to forget in the midst of all we are trying to do and who we are trying to be:
Being alive is a gift. A glittering, precious gift.
Tomorrow is not guaranteed.
To be in touch with death is to taste life more deeply.
And maybe that all sounds terribly cliché, but to gasp with raw feeling at how suddenly it could all be taken away—well, that zooms in on what matters most:
Time with those we love, being real, savoring a breath, a breeze, a moment. Knowing ourselves. Not pretending. Showing up.
We never hear anyone on their deathbed regretting that they didn’t work enough. That they didn’t watch enough TV.
But people often regret not loving enough.
Not taking the risk to hinge open their hearts.
Not taking the plunge to really live. To be true to themselves. To speak their stories. To tell their dear ones how much they care.
Those are the things we regret.
So if we think of death, which is not maybe the sweetest thing to think about, we can get more intimate with the fragile heartbeat of life. We can become bolder in a really badass and tender way.
Because we are not often in touch with life’s fragility. We like to think we’re untouchable, invincible—like superheroes—and often assume we’ll live forever.
We don’t know when our time will come, when our conclusion is written—and though this thread of thought may seem morbid, I find it oddly motivating. It shakes me to the core.
I mean, how often have I viscerally appreciated being alive and healthy? What about you? I don’t think I’ve ever done that before.
Being human is so tender and weird.
The tears spill. I let them. It’s confusing. I wish I could take away my beloved’s pain and his father’s cancer.
I wish none of this was happening.
But this is life. This is the grit and concrete of reality. It is brutal. It is beautiful. It is sharp and winding and unexpected. It is shocking. It is wonderful. It is so damn messy.
And in moments like this, the pain is a teacher—the grief and the shock, too.
I settle deeply into my heart; I lift open the closed, dusty spaces. I breathe new life into them.
Because, even though I’m not the one who’s sick, death touched me today. The finiteness of being in a body touched me today. It took my breath away. And it draws me closer to what really matters…
Because I will never “toughen up,” as I’ve been told a thousand times. I will never stop trying to be a caring and loving human being.
In spite of the pains, the aches, the wounds, the sickness of this world—
Love and care matter. They don’t make everything okay, no, but they soften the blow. And that’s huge. It really is.
I reach out awkwardly to touch my beloved’s arm, for we are both shaky and unsure what to say.
This news weighs like an anvil on our lungs, and yet in our scratchy, uneven breaths, it also brings us closer.
Closer to the soft, searing love of the Divine.
Closer to the beauty.
Closer to the pain.
Closer to the strange realizations that only happen in the shadows.
Closer to each other.
I sit in awe of the stunning fragility of this life. I gasp at it a thousand times, until my chest hurts.
My beloved and I, we hold hands gently and night falls around us—a velvety cloak that feels welcome around our shoulders.
Damn, the day was so different than we expected. But we are so grateful to have one another.
In togetherness, hope is born.
Death is real. Life is a mystery.
As I close my eyes and drift into a restless sleep, my lips form the words to a silent prayer:
I promise to love greatly.
I promise to give a care about this world.
I promise to make each moment count.