I never understood or appreciated it until now
At the risk of offending the floppyeared, candy purveyor and, thereby, finding nothing but synthetic grass in my Easter basket, I confess that Easter isn’t my favorite holiday. Like a lot of people, I prefer the gifts, pageantry and merriment of Christmas.
Who am I to argue with the experts? Actually, I can’t say that I know all that much about the whole life-and-death thing, other than it appears, based on today’s medical science, death is inevitable.
It turns out that death has been on my mind a great deal lately. I was recently informed that a close high school friend, Mike, had been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and has been given five months to live.
I hate cancer; it seems so random and unfair. It’s like God is blindly tossing carcinogenic darts at us as we scurry about. Yes, I know there’s the whole smoking and asbestos thing, but what about people like Mike, who didn’t smoke or have an appreciable exposure to asbestos? I just don’t get it.
I know that Easter, with the resurrection of Christ, is supposed to lift my spirits and give me hope for life after death, and it does. But hearing about Mike’s cancer still feels like a kick in the gut that I can’t seem to get over. As each day goes by, I find myself thinking that it’s one less day for Mike. It really drives home the paraphrased words of Dr. Heartsill Wilson, “What I will do today is important because I’m giving up a day of my life to do it!”
On top of feeling terrible for Mike, I find myself feeling guilty for my good health. Of course all of our clocks are ticking, but the only time we seem to hear them is toward the end. And these days, I imagine each tick of Mike’s clock is deafening.
Someone once told me that we should live our life so that, if we sat in the back pew at our funeral, we’d be pleased to hear what was being said about us. Some people appear to have a different philosophy, though. Their philosophy seems more like, “Get whatever you can, from whomever you can, whenever you can.”
My father-in-law used to say, “Cheat all but six; those are for pallbearers.” (He was a kidder and great guy. I was proud to be one of those pallbearers.) I like the “back pew” philosophy. I believe that living a good life is its own reward.
What I mean by that is: Even if you aren’t a person who believes in heaven and hell, the rewards of living a good life are worth the sacrifices. Your kindness and decency provide you with a sense of self-worth and peace, as well as true friendships, and a loving family — all of life’s real wealth and joy.
People who are only out for themselves find it difficult, or even impossible, to have true friendships and a loving family. They focus on associations that benefit them financially, and the fair-weather friends they make in the process are doing the same. Each is looking over the other’s shoulder for better opportunities. Their relentless pursuit of wealth and material possessions leaves them shallow and with scant time for loved ones. They become living examples of the adage, “You can’t be both selfish and happy.”
The more I think about Mike and his waning days, the more I’m drawn to the philosophy, “Life is a gift, and what you do with it is how you say, ‘Thank you.’” Mike has always been one of those people who left a room better than he found it and every person better off for knowing him. It seems like people who live by that philosophy find peace. And those that don’t die painfully aware that their life was a waste.
Perhaps I’ve been unfair to Easter.
Perhaps Easter warrants more credit than I’ve given it. I know I could really use some strength and hope right now. And Easter offers both — not just for Mike, but for all of us. We don’t surround Easter with the spectacle and merriment we wrap around Christmas, but what could be more profound than Easter’s promise of hope, especially when our heart is breaking like mine is for Mike?
I find myself wanting to say, “Sorry Easter. I never really understood or appreciated you, until now.”
(Al Rudnitzki is a retired Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance manager, past educator and resident of the town of West Bend.)