(Walter Wangerin, writing to his family and friends, in Letters from the Land of Cancer)
Walter Wangerin is dying. Ever so conscious of his losses, the things he can no longer do, he is still able to write a line like the above, to not fall on bitterness and self-pity, a morbid introspection that makes him of no account to anyone.
I know nothing about such dying. Yet the smaller health issues I have faced along the way, even the flu or common cold which I share with the rest of the world, provide glimpses of what I might be like in such circumstances. Maybe God gives me --- gives us all --- these small challenges in order to build our faith, to tell us who we are when sickness makes us focus on our ailment to the exclusion of others. I can tell you I don't like what I see.
That's why I'm reading Wangerin's book, a collection of letters he sent to family and friends during his treatment for lung cancer. I want to see how he approached these circumstances with grace, what he struggled with, how he persevered, and how he was able to get both good and old at the same time. Mind you, Wangerin's no ordinary letter writer. He's a masterful wordsmith, even in his letters, even in pain, and yet in all respects he is like his readers, subject to the same irritability and pettiness as all of us.
How do you get good and old? Old is easy; I'm working on the good part.
Wangerin says his sickness --- indeed all sicknesses --- are "as creative a passage as any writer ever wrote. And that grants it the possibility of depth, gravitas and fulfillments and joy." His journey is one we will all make. What better a time than now to get advice on how to walk that path.
I recommend this book as a kind of Hitchiker's Guide to the Rest of Life." And death.