Thursday, March 17, 2016

How one of my closest friends taught me how to die

"People dying of a degenerative disease like cancer have things to teach us, if we choose to listen. The lessons are often hard to hear, and they are even harder to embrace. They are gifts that cost too much, horrible but not unspeakable. They are thrust on us, unwanted. But to ignore them is to squander something precious. Some of the gifts Mike left are tangible: his treasure box of songs; his binders worth of smart, dryly funny, improbably entertaining articles and essays; his family. I will draw comfort from those parts of Mike that remain accessible. But it's the other gifts that may guide me somewhere else, somewhere better. Here's the biggest, most ungainly gift Mike left me: a visceral reminder of death. Last year, in the warm Austin fall, when it wasn't clear if the chemotherapy was working, Mike would invite friends on walks, one at a time, presumably for company as well as exercise. I hope he got something more out of them; I know the rest of us did. On one of our walks, he told me he'd never imagined he would become "that guy," the person who makes everyone around him reconsider their priorities and, yes, appreciate their life in a new way. Mike didn't seem angry about it. He knew that it's important to live, and to do that you have to accept that you will die."

How one of my closest friends taught me how to die

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