The search for truth and meaning
Have you ever had a brush with death? Maybe a bad car accident or a near-hit on the interstate? Perhaps you stepped into the street without seeing a fast-moving car. Perhaps you had a health scare that got you thinking about your mortality.
Do you remember that moment when you thought: wow. I really should appreciate my life more. If I had died just then, how would people have remembered me? Did I hug my kids this morning? Do the people I love know I love them? Did I even notice the sunrise this morning?
You probably vowed at the moment to be a better person, to love life, to live for the moment, to worry less and to love more.
Then, like, 10 minutes later, you had forgotten about the incident. Maybe your actions changed a tiny bit to make you more of the loving, life-focused person you wanted to be, but you didn’t start doing yoga every day, watching the sunset and kissing babies more. You meant to do those things, but you didn’t.
Every day since March 17, 2006, I’ve wondered when I would start to forget. When that sense of “seize the day” would fade from my memory. It hasn’t yet. It seems to grow stronger, actually, as time goes by. What is important to me has crystallized. My value on this Earth is obvious to me now. Your value on this Earth is obvious to me.
There is a calendar called Moments In Time of photographs taken of South Africans living with cancer. The photos are beautiful, of course. I find every photo from Africa to be moving – it’s hard to go wrong when you are photographing the birthplace of humanity. The prologue to this project says what I find so very hard to find the words to say.
During these “moments in time,” there is no escape from a ruthless contemplation of both life and death. It is forced upon us and in this sense provides us, quite unconditionally and without invitation, with the existential gift of choice. Within this paradigm, there invariably emerges a paradoxical and noble recognition of the deeper intentions of our existence. Then, emerging from this misty terrain, a tragic optimism rises waif-like from the burden of reality, allowing us to reach out and touch the very source of our power. It is in this place that we begin to radiate a sublime energy and become the victorious bearer of those rare and empowering spiritual fruits which thrive only in soil reflecting the uncompromising glory of the Human Spirit.
This paradox is a hallmark of patients who are afflicted with cancer. Emerging from their own private sorrow, they typically discover an acute realisation of a deeper meaning in their lives.
They see light in the presence of darkness, they find passion in the presence of pain, they experience joy in the presence of suffering.
They are filled with peace in the midst of turmoil and hope in the face of despair. They manifest freely an innate heroism and by so doing, redefine the indomitable nature of man’s spirit. Finally demonstrating to all that the veil of concealment, which so readily can blind our spiritual vision, can also be discarded at will. Removing the impediments which threaten man’s propensity for achieving the rich fullness of personal power which lies waiting in us all.
They have said “Yes” to life, in spite of the tragic triad of pain, guilt and death. They have affirmed the veracity of Frankl’s assertion that “everything can be taken from a man, but one thing, the last of human freedoms: To choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances. It is this freedom – which cannot be taken away – that makes life meaningful and purposeful.”
I do feel filled with peace, often amidst turmoil. This is such a reversal from my pre-cancer self I imagine it’s hard for people to take sometimes. I don’t react to situations the way I used to do. Something that would have previously made me angry or frantic seems like no big deal any more.
I feel pain and suffering and don’t turn away from it, but I don’t wallow in it the way I used to do. Life goes on. I know this without a doubt. It will go on whether I’m here or not. It will go on whether I choose to participate or not. I merely have to decide if I’m going to participate today.
I knew yesterday would cause all sorts of crazy feelings in me, so I just let it happen. They washed over me. Sadness came again and again, but I just let the feelings roll through me. And because I did, I’m really extremely good today.
The pre-cancer Rosie would think this post-cancer Rosie was a freak.