On Sunday I was so preoccupied with thoughts of a friend that I forgot a grocery item. That’s maybe the least bad thing that cancer ever did to anyone.
In the past month, I’ve found out that three of my friends have the disease. (Four, if you count the neighbor’s cat.) I learned about two of them within 30 seconds of each other while checking my email on the treadmill at the gym. So I guess cancer ruined my workout. Another not-very-bad thing that someone else’s illness did to me.
Of course it’s self-indulgent to get mad about such minor inconveniences. But listen: it’s just the tip of an iceberg we’re all going to crash into someday.
I’ve been thinking constantly about all these people. The friend with the worst prognosis is the one farthest away, the one I can do the least to support: phone calls, cards, emails. The friend with the best prognosis just wants to hang out, something I’d gladly do anyway. The friend in the middle has rallied her community for help, and I’m happy—even relieved—to pitch in.
Listen: nothing I can do for any of them will make this go away. The best anyone can do is heft a corner of the burden.
Listen: all of us, maybe from the moment of our creation, carry the seeds of our own undoing. They sleep inside us—latent in the tissues of organs, bones, blood. We go about our lives, never knowing when the silent seeds will germinate, grow, and bear their fruit: the horror of the body’s corruption, the perverse self-betrayal of sickness.
Listen: the whole time I’ve been friends with each of these people, a secret hand has been winding down a count known only to God. None of us knows what will happen, nor when, nor to which of us. What can one person say to another under such circumstances?
Nothing more nor less than what we should say to anyone, anytime: “I care about you. I am glad you’re in my life. I am happy to be here with you now.”
And, “I went back to the grocery store and got that last item because I wanted to cook you this.”
As long as we share this life—however precariously, whether sick or well, and especially if we hope to heal—we still get to eat together.
This is Simplest Farro and a modified Early Autumn Vegetable Roast from Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s The Italian Country Table.