Cancer: Life verses Living


If we cling only to the sunrise promise of living, we will mourn at sunset.

What happens in that terrible moment?  That moment when the doctor leans forward and touches your hand.  He looks at you, really looks at you, and sets his lips in line.  Or, cowardly, he stares at the blue screen or the parking lot window and hesitates, fumbles.  Maybe, he comes no closer than the door, left open a crack, as if fearing contamination, ready to run.  Then he says, “I’ve got news. I’ve got bad news.  Really bad news.  I have to tell you this bad news.  I am sorry.  You have cancer.”

In that most horrible of moments, absolutely real, clear and inescapable, life catches up with living.  Cancer’s bizarre message is that you are alive, but that life concurs living.  No matter how many years since your birth, you are now finite, frail, old.  Your life, always held in the magnificent challis of your body, is wearing out.  Despite a lifetime of denial, you are human.

The paradox, perhaps even the lesson and opportunity of catastrophic malignancy, is the clarity of this mortal story.  We spend our lives weighted with the details of life.  We fill the years with minutia, distractions and routine.  Our worlds are events, obligation, effort, vital dreams.  But, as the clock’s spinning blades harvest time, life absorbs living.

Social insects we crowd with other’s lives, but never touch, hold, connect.  Involved, we do not revel in the power of solitude. Life disconnects us from love.  We bow to peace, beauty and the glory of the moment, rushing to fight, achieve and fill our seconds with anxiety driven goal.  In obsession, in terror, we flee from the wonder of living and it is too late when we have been consumed by the daily headline.

The perverse injury is that distracted by life, we forget ourselves, as if this were casual choice.  We neglect to sustain and nurture. Exhausted, weak, obese, chemical-laden, angry and rushing to the next critical chore, we fail to hold ourselves precious.  We grow ancient too soon, injured, and rush down a path from which there is no recovery.  We plummet from wellness into a pit of disease.  We are erased by life.

Life will always catch up with living, separate only in the delusion of man.  We are semi-gods with visions far and can achieve the nearly infinite.  It is only the nearly, the almost.  We are finite, and we are body, mind and soul, and to live we must connect to life.  There are events of horrible loss, as we are reminded that however we might hope, we are going to die.  With courage, other moments will be magnificent, as we appreciate and are bound to beauty, love, and the color of creation.  It is so very hard, but we must hold ourselves precious, work to bind life and living; take the time to heal.

There are flags snapping loudly outside my window. Bright-excited-bold, red, white and blue, they speak of community, of responsibility, of glory.  I must watch not only these busy bits of colored cloth.  I must see the wind.


  • Life is in the details. Many thanks for this post.
  • John Gehr
    So true. We are all born to die. The clock is ticking whether we want it to or not.

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