Think about such things
And live them too
Dear Friends —
A hello from midway through Moxie Round 8. I’ve had nearly a month off from my last cycle, and so I came into this round with a bit of trepidation — would a break mean Moxie’s kick is even more fierce (both a reason to celebrate, and groan a little), or would my renewed energy and overall health translate into more Moxie vigor? So far, it’s the latter. I’m a little lethargic, but hanging in there just fine.
I’ll have Round 9 at the end of July and then we’ll scan the first week of August to see what’s what. My CEA score is holding beautifully steady at .8, so hopefully this scan will show more encouraging progress, and I’ll likely move back into maintenance mode.
Hopefully is of course the operative word in the paragraph above. I think about hope constantly these days, and how could anyone not? Anne Lamott likes to say that hope is a stubborn thing. It’s a lifeline of sorts, a reminder to keep climbing, keep enduring, keep finding pockets for gratitude — all fueled by the daily miracles that surround my every step.
This is a muscular, oftentimes somber hope. It’s not shallow or glossy. No, the hope that surrounds this trek comes from a far grander view toward possibilities — both the health outcomes I crave, and those twists that may turn my path to a harder, but still holy place.
Lately I’ve been curious about others who found themselves living with a terminal health diagnosis. Those who confronted the reality that time was limited, and decided to capture nuggets of wisdom from their last laps. I may have months ahead of me, or years. Maybe even several years (let’s all hope for that!). Still, there’s a community of saints swirling around who have grappled with this same question of hope and uncertainty, and I’ve wondered what they may have to teach me as I wrestle with it all.
Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture is captivating to watch, and read. Simplifying here, but Randy’s big idea was to celebrate all his achievements as he rounded his last lap. It’s a grand hoorah and encouragement to others to set their ambitions high, even if time is cut short.
Julie Yip Williams’s The Unwinding of a Miracle is more of a tender and anguished rebuke at the utter unfairness of it all (Julie also had Stage IV colon cancer). Her backstory is breathtaking, which — I think — likely led to her wrestling with cancer with more of a clenched fist than Pausch’s high five for life.
Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air is particularly poignant. Just as his surgical career was beginning to soar at Stanford, he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He chronicles his final months with tenderness, sadness, and an exquisite affirmation of living well, and with humble excellence.
There are thousands more voices who bivouacked on the precipice to learn from. I pace myself in this lane, but I do find companionship with others who took similarly brave steps, with hope forever on the horizon.
But perhaps my favorite is a voice from centuries ago, and he’s better known for provocative preaching and writing than musing about insights from quiet trek of precarity. The apostle Paul wrote his letter to the community in Philippi back in the year 62 AD, when he was imprisoned in Rome. Most scholars believe Paul was killed about two years later under the reign of Nero. Did he know he only had months to live? I think probably so.
If you haven’t read his letter to the Philippians, it’s worth a little of your time. There’s all kinds of encouragement, wisdom, friendship, joy, and gratitude throughout — remarkable given that he was imprisoned, and likely knew his life was nearing its final chapter.
As he closes his letter, he instructs his friends with this encouragement: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
As I move through these days of uncertainty, and hope (as I think Paul must have), my aim is to center my steps on the values he extolls: what is true, noble, what is right, pure, lovely, admirable, and excellent.
Randy’s zest for life is so beautifully admirable. Julie’s righteous anger is pure. Paul Kalanithi’s gracious transition from surgeon to patient is a lovely testament of both strength and fragility.
But when bundled together, these values oftentimes act like my own little REI headlamp when the darkness surrounds my steps. I can see more clearly, both for my footing ahead, and the trail, created and designed just for me.
Paul’s exhortations give my hope the rigor it deserves, and requires. I have no idea how many days I have left, but if they are surrounded in truth, nobleness, ideas that are pure, moments that are lovely, and all the while aiming for what’s both admirable and excellent, then the number of days are far less important than how they are lived.
The best part? These virtues are easier to spot than you might think. You’ll seem them on display this weekend for the Wimbledon finals. I spotted them when dropping Connor off to be a camp counselor this summer near Oregon — rolling hills and a river for rafting and what looked like incredibly uncomfortable bunk beds all equal what is right in the world. The good and hard conversations many of us are having about how to reckon with decades of racial injustice are a pathway to restoring a more noble country. My dog Bonnie’s tail wagging with abandon when she meets a new stranger — that is to say, new best friend — is the essence of admirable. Each and every walk.
These days — all of our days — are calling out for these virtues. Have we ever needed truth more? Or loveliness? Embracing these virtues — witnessing them, living them out — is where hope transforms into confidence, and gratitude most of all.
May we all live them out in these hours, these days, months, years, and perhaps even decades to come. With, like Bonnie, our tails wagging with joy throughout. Perhaps the most fabulous example of stubborn hope there ever was.