December 21, 2003 – “It is said that life is unpredictable. Well, that is an understatement. I have leukemia–cancer. Never in my life did I imagine the word “cancer” could, or would, be associated with me.”
This was a journal entry I wrote three days into my hospital stay after my leukemia diagnosis and how I opened Part I of my book, Rebirth. In just one day, December 18, 2003, my life shifted dramatically. This is the day I return to when tragic events happen. So yesterday when I heard about the bombing in Boston at the marathon, as when I heard about the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in December and the devastation Superstorm Sandy wrought upon thousands of residents in the Northeast in late October, my heart broke again, knowing many lives would be shifting dramatically. Furthermore, many of those running in the marathon were doing so to raise money for cancer research and programs, so to me, it seemed personal.
In Boston, three people died, one, an eight-year old boy. Over 100 were injured, many losing limbs. It is horrific events like these that leave us feeling helpless and scared because of the unpredictability and devastation; we long to make sense of the tragedy and destruction. How do we protect ourselves from mass shootings and bombings, or from natural disasters when the damage exceeds what the experts may have been forecasting? The answer is: we can’t.
Bombings happen all the time around the globe. Western countries are largely spared these incidents, so when they happen, it is shocking and shakes us at our core. But I wonder, in places like Iraq and Syria where bombings happen frequently, do citizens ever get used to it? Or do they live in terror every day? My guess is they live in terror every day and try to survive, doing the best they can for themselves and their families.
I know I am not alone when I say these acts of terror—and they are terror, maybe not terrorism because that has a political component to it, but it is terror nonetheless—sadden and confuse me because of the senseless loss of innocent lives. How can someone care so little about their fellow human beings, people they don’t even know? As someone who deeply empathizes with human suffering, it is agonizing to watch, to witness people’s fear and grief. How do we exist in such an uncaring, cold world?
Nature, while beautiful, is brutal and powerful. Mere human beings are no competition in the face of a tsunami, earthquake, hurricane, or tornado. If they are lucky enough to find protection from Mother Nature‘s wrath, they survive. Human beings are horrible to one another. We treat each other cruelly and despicably, in varying degrees, from nasty comments to those with whom we disagree to bullying, torture, and human trafficking of children and women into the sex trade, and yes, killing one another. The way we treat each other is truly an abomination.
The only way to cope with the incomprehensibility of it all is to focus on what we can control and on gratitude. We have no control over outside forces, even when we think we do. So what can we control? The only thing I’ve found I can control is my own actions and how I respond in any given situation. I also try to focus on all that is wonderful in my life.
I am thankful for my family: both of my parents are still alive, and I have a great relationship with them; my sisters are my best friends; their children are like my own. I didn’t know nine years ago when I was going through cancer treatments if I would see Aidan and Andrew grow up, but Aidan is now ten and Andrew is eight and they have a little sister who will be seven on May 1. My other sister has a daughter who just turned eight and a son who is five. How lucky am I?
My friends are amazing and my day job allows me a decent income and flexibility to pursue my dreams and goals. Again, how lucky am I? When a senseless tragedy happens, we must mourn the losses and acknowledge them, but we must also remember the positives in our own lives. I still believe there are far more good people residing in this world than evil ones. Sadly, it is the evil ones who more often capture our attention.
Fellow Everblogger E.A. Hauck shared a quote from Fred Rogers (I loved Mr. Rogers) yesterday which I had forgotten. It was a needed reminder that while we pay attention to the tragedy, we shouldn’t forget the helpers. It is during tragedy that the best part of us is revealed as we care for the injured and support each other, so look for the the helpers—there are many and we thank them.
When I speak at cancer conferences or events, I end my talks with: “None of us, whether healthy or sick, rich or poor, young or old, are guaranteed tomorrow. Live each day to the fullest. The past is gone, the future hasn’t arrived; the present is all we have, so embrace it.”
Peace to all.