Prior to 2018, I rarely read anything outside of fiction and the Bible.
Self-help books, biographies, historical accounts – they just weren’t in my realm of interest.
But then I was faced with something I’ve never faced before. And another thing. And another…
And I decided to start reading a little nonfiction.
I’ve gone through several biographies and self-help-type books since last February. Basically, I’ve been trying to really come to terms with my new reality – a life forever altered by a freak event; an uncertain, potentially scary future.
Throughout the year, I’d been looking for someone who feels the things I feel, experiences the same type of joy and sadness and fear and drive to not let illness define the future.
That’s when I stumbled upon When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.
It’s the unfinished memoir of Paul, a neurosurgeon in his thirties, who is diagnosed with and eventually succumbs to terminal cancer. I began reading it in mid-December, around the same time I had my own cancer scare and subsequent surgery to remove the offending dysplasia from my back.
For the first time, I read a memoir that wasn’t filled with anger or underlying bitterness or uber-positive “you will overcome this battle!” commentary. Instead, it is the writing of a man who shared the understanding that sometimes bad things happen and there’s nothing we can do about it, and who chose to make the best of his reality – despite his circumstances. (I won’t share too much in case you choose to read it!)
In one particularly poignant passage, Paul describes what I’ve felt so deeply several times this year. He says:
I remember the moment when my overwhelming unease yielded, when that seemingly impassable sea of uncertainty parted. I woke up in pain, facing another day – no project beyond breakfast seemed tenable. I can’t go on, I thought, and immediately, its antiphon responded, completing Samuel Beckett’s seven words, words I had learned long ago as an undergraduate: I’ll go on. I got out of bed and took a step forward, repeating the phrase over and over: “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”
I, too, remember this moment in my own life. Last April, I literally said, “I can’t do this anymore. I just want to go to sleep and not wake up again.” Yet, after a few minutes of sincere weeping, I dried my face, sat up on the couch, and tried to manage a few bites of dinner. The next day, I started this blog and got my first low-FODMAP cookbook in the mail.
“I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”
As we begin 2019, I hope for better days to come. I hope for fewer “can’t go on” moments. I hope, instead, for moments of triumph, moments of joy, moments of peace.
Will they come? I’m not sure. Neither are you. But we can always, always, always hope.
Happy New Year, friends.