Last week, I packed up my school badge, classroom keys, and teacher laptop, sent in my letter of resignation, and started the drive to my school that I used to make everyday. It was a hard day but a good day, because even though I was on my way to say my good-byes, I had my little Annie in the back seat, my new partner in crime and my best friend.
And somewhere between home and school, my past and my present, I happened upon a radio interview with Kate Bowler, author of Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I've Loved, and we became instant friends (even if she doesn't know it). She is real with words and heartfelt as a listener. Her voice has such a quality of a sincerity that it felt like she was talking directly to me as she shared her story.
So it was hard to rectify in my mind that this vibrant, beautiful person was dying even as she spoke. Kate, diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer, was discussing what it meant to be in her situation, to lose the ability to speak of herself in the future tense without skipping to the end entirely.
I bought her book that day, something I rarely do when I can just put a book on hold at the library and wait my turn. But I had to have it and thanks to Amazon Prime, it arrived within 48 hours. Now, I should mention that this is not the kind of book that I usually read- I am the girl who did not enjoy Tuesdays with Morrie. And unlike most stories I read, hers isn't over yet. There is hope that comes with that, but also questions without answers. You can't read her book expecting there to be a turning point or some big epiphany. I honestly felt like she was writing the book as an attempt to figure that out for herself through the process of putting it all on paper. She grieves in the book. She is angry in the book. She is learning to deal with what life has handed her. So to some extent, readers shouldn't pick up this book under the impression that it's about them- it's simply not. But you can certainly take away a thing or two about compassion from her story.
When Matt learned more about Kate's book, he encouraged me to read When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, a memoir I have avoided because it's about a husband/father who gets terminal cancer right before he finishes residency (strikes a little too close to home, if you know what I mean). But after reading Everything Happens, I felt like continuing my study of facing death by living. And it was too close to home, but it resonated with me even more because of that. Kalanithi was a student of literature as well as a master of neuroscience, a patient and a doctor, and in his book he is a teacher writing a lesson about life in spite of death. It is acceptance and overcoming. It is resilience and "finding your values." I cried with each of his goodbyes and felt a peace in his passing.
I happened upon Kate Bowler's Podcast after I finished Kalanithi's book, and was happy to see that Kate and Paul's wife Lucy have found each other. They did an episode together sharing their perspectives and experiences, and Kate ended on a thought from When Breath Becomes Air. When Paul and Lucy were deciding if they should have a baby in light of his diagnosis, she asks, "Don't you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?" And Paul's profound response is, "Wouldn't it be great if it did?" So Kate's parting thoughts for her listeners speak to that truth:
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