I wonder if the flower would seem so exquisitely beautiful if its time weren’t so short, if full bloom wasn’t also the beginning of fading away to nothing.
Yesterday by chance I came across a note I’d typed out on my computer for a parishioner early in 2016. He asked for a quotation I’d included in my sermon that week, from the book “When Breath Becomes Air,” by Paul Kalanithi, the brilliant young neurosurgeon who had just begun his final year of training when he was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. He went on with his work as chief resident, decided with his wife to have a child, and began writing his memoir. Kalanithi knew he was dying, but until death came he was going to live.
His wife finished his beautiful and heart-wrenching book after he died. In her epilogue, Lucy Kalanithi summarizes their story in one sentence that is as full of truth about life and pain and meaning as anything I have ever read:
“Although these last few years have been wrenching and difficult—sometimes almost impossible—they have also been the most beautiful and profound of my life, requiring the daily act of holding life and death, joy and pain in balance and exploring new depths of gratitude and love.”
My parishioner’s wife of 67 years died six months after he asked me for the quote. Two weeks ago, we buried him. Yesterday, I visited their daughter in hospice. Seeing her parents’ picture on a dresser in that room brought them both alive for me again, just for a moment.
Life and death, joy and pain. Would human life and love be so exquisitely beautiful, I wonder, if our time were not so short?