Here I am, emerging from another long radio silence. I haven’t blogged not for lack of things to talk about but because all the posts I considered writing seemed superficial to what’s really been on my mind of late. Today I’m ready to say f*ck it and just write about what’s really been on my mind in spite of the chance it might make anyone who reads it feel heavy too. I hope it doesn’t do that. I hope you’re able to find something good.
My 18-year-old second cousin, whom I’m close enough to to just call my cousin, has been dealing for the past two years with a diagnosis of medulloblastoma, an aggressive type of cancerous brain tumor. Just before Thanksgiving and after a long stretch of thinking things were going well in his battle, he got some pretty bad news about his prognosis. Last week he went through his second serious brain surgery. This week he’s finding happiness in getting to spend Christmas at home before starting another round of chemo.
My cousin is the first young person dear to my heart that I’ve seen suffer with a serious illness. My loved ones have been a fairly healthy bunch, and it is never, ever lost on me that the only people in my life whose deaths I grieve each managed to live a fully and long life before they passed.
For the past few weeks, so many of the thoughts and experiences I’ve had have gone through the filter of what my cousin is going through and how our family is facing it. He has been very open about what he’s going through and has a huge network of family, friends and strangers cheering him and his strength on. Because he’s open about what he’s going through, when the bad news comes in his hurt is known to all. He faces his pain publicly.
For the most part I’ve been able to challenge the pain of watching my cousin face his illness and my family struggle with it into remembering to fully live my life and appreciating each day for what it is. I still hurt about it from time to time about what he’s having to deal with and what me may miss out on, and when I hurt, I usually do it privately. My tears only seem to escape when I’m in my bedroom, alone with my thoughts. When I’m seriously angry, I sulk about it quietly. This is not just in my reaction to my cousin’s illness, though. This is my M.O. for day-to-day struggles, for better or for worse.
A few days ago I was seething about some things. One person mocked me in a tweet directed toward my work Twitter account. Others around me were bitching and obsessing about work-related things that were not in any way important. If I wanted to remain professional, I could not respond the way I really wanted to so I chose to remain silent. Their words hurt. Remaining silent hurt. I sulked about it for a few hours and then channeled my energy into a baking project that finally helped me let it go. I’m sure there are plenty of less-sensitive folks who wouldn’t have been bothered by what upset me. Maybe on a day when everyone in my family is healthy and happy it wouldn’t bother me either.
Now, I’m no saint in this equation. Just as easily as my feelings can be hurt by a simple tweet can I dole out my own judgmental observation or snarky remark toward someone. Even knowing the preschool lesson of being nice to one another is the right thing to do, being unkind is sometimes the far easier thing to do — especially when we might not like someone or even know them. This world is tough, and we see evidence of that every day in job loss, economy woes, political stubbornness, homelessness and hunger. I think I’ve become hardened by the world’s toughness to the point that I make my own contributions through sarcastic comments or laughing at the expense of another.
My cousin suffers but I want to try to make something good out of what I’m learning from hurting with him and for him him. I was given a very small reminder of how easily unkindness can hurt, especially when you don’t know if or how someone is suffering. And in this day and age it’s a safe bet that everyone is suffering in some way.
So in honor of him, I’m working harder on being kind to everyone. I’m trying to withhold judgments, sarcasm and negative gossip. I’m trying to spread smiles and warm wishes. I’m trying to keep in mind that I don’t know what’s going on in someone’s head, and I trying to remember that a little kindness can go a long way sometimes. It may not keep those around us from hurting, but maybe it will keep them from hurting more.
And I’m asking you to do the same. I’m not asking you to be perfect, because that’s impossible. I’m just asking that you try to be a little bit kinder every single day for people like my cousin who are hurting publicly and greatly and for the people around you who might be hurting privately too.