The announcement that Senator Edward Kennedy has a form of brain cancer brings to mind these thoughts.
Most of us know someone who has had cancer, or has cancer or who has died of cancer. It is an insidious disease. It is indiscriminate and it is a life altering challenge, not only for those diagnosed with its various forms, but also for the family and friends of the afflicted.
Whenever these kinds of announcements come fourth that a celebrity is stricken, it reminds all of us of our vulnerability. Somehow we think the famous or the wealthy are immune to disease because they appear to have everything. The truth is that illness is the common denominator of all humans for we are finite beings.
What every cancer, every disease says to everyone of us, is that life is precious and fragile and fleeting and that all of us are vulnerable and maybe some of the things we call important aren’t really.
My son Lee died of brain cancer nine years ago. He was 31. I talk about this, not because I choose to share a personal grief, but because he was a great teacher and some of the things he taught by being the evidence of them, may be of value to you as it is to me.
Lee knew he was on a short life line. Cancer tends to focus one’s thinking on the finiteness of life, yet he never complained, despite three brain operations, chemotherapy and radiation and the debilitation that goes with those encounters.
Lee lived for the moment. To complain, he felt, wasted precious time and energy that he could use for healing. He chose to enjoy and embrace every minute of life and to gracefully enthuse everyone with whom he came in contact. His humor was infectious and he always chose to be positive even when another choice would be easier.
Lee also taught me that parents must love their children for themselves, not love ourselves, through our children. What a great lesson. And by example he taught that there is dignity in dying and that the spirit always dances.