Friend, colleague, YES Network columnist and cancer survivor Steven Goldman has a touching piece on the passing of Bobby Murcer in which he relates an encounter the two of them had last year. I’m not ashamed to say that it borught a tear to my eye:
I told Bobby that I didn’t mean to intrude, but that I was a fellow survivor — a term that seems ironic now, kind of a lie. With many cancers, you don’t know if you’re truly a survivor or just experiencing a delay of game. Yet, “survivor” is a thing we say to ourselves, and to each other, to make the whole ordeal emotionally manageable. There’s a great Peanuts strip where Lucy is told that to live life to the fullest, we must live each day as if it is our last. Lucy freaks, goes screaming off panel, overwhelmed by her suddenly imminent mortality. That’s what living with cancer is like.
You have to say “survivor”, because if you didn’t, the resulting depression would just be too strong. I’ve been diagnosed twice now, but I have been fortunate enough that although this cellular malware has attacked me twice, I’ve not been given a death sentence, at least, not right now. I might get to see my children grow up. And yet, I can’t help but wonder, sometimes, at what point it will all break down, about what my real odds are given how so many things have gone wrong so quickly. That’s not something I could have said to Bobby Murcer at the time, and I didn’t need to. It would have been cruel, cruel to both of us, but more importantly, he knew without my saying it.
Bobby asked me several detailed questions about my own cancer — I hadn’t even been diagnosed with cancer No. 2 yet — and the scars it had left behind. I gave him what has become a standard line for me: ocular cancer cost me vision in one eye, but given that I got the rest of my life in exchange, it seemed like a fair trade, and all things considered, I felt I had been quite lucky.
“Luck had nothing to do with it,” he said firmly. “If you’re still here, it’s because God wants you to be here.”
For a moment I didn’t know how to respond; religion and I have long had an antagonistic relationship, and I was not used to dealing with this kind of sentiment. I quickly reflected that this was the whole problem: the self-described religious types I have tended to encounter in my personal life were bigots, those who would use the tenets of their belief system to raise themselves up while condemning others. Religion was a wedge to break people apart. In this case, I realized, Bobby was saying something that (1) reflected a sincere belief, one that was bringing him comfort, (2) this assessment of God’s belief in me was basically generous and bestowed on a stranger to boot and (3) I felt uplifted. The politics of religion had no place here, nor my disputatious nature. This felt like a gift.
Now smiling widely, I still didn’t know what to say in response to something like that. It was a completely new experience. I clasped his hand, said something like, “I hope so,” followed by, “That is very, very kind of you to say.” I told him to keep on fighting, then finally withdrew so that he could spend more time in the company of friends rather than well-meaning fellow sufferers. He might have forgotten about it five minutes later. I’ll always cherish the moment.
Normally, bringing religion into a blog entry, even one on mortality, is like heading up to the plate wielding a wet newspaper with the count already 0-2. Steve pulls it off not by dwelling on their contrasting beliefs but by emphasizing the shared humanity of a unique and touching moment. Do go read the entire thing, and count your blessings along the way.