I just finished a book a couple of weeks ago. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce. It’s the story of an old retiree, Harold Fry, who lives at the southernmost point in England, a town called Kingsbridge. At some point, he gets a letter from Queenie, an old friend of his who he hasn’t heard from in years, who says that she is in Hospice, Berwick on Tweed (up near Scotland) and that she is dying from cancer. He composes a letter in return, telling her how sorry he is to hear about her condition; a letter that he cannot bring himself to mail. Instead, he begins walking to her with a strange believe that if he keeps walking, she won’t die.
This book has been on my mind quite a bit since I finished it, probably because of what I’m doing with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and Team in Training.
One phrase stands out in my mind: “I should have raged.”
The phrase occurs during a conversation between Harold Fry’s wife, who he has left at home while he walks, and a widower neighbor of theirs, Rex. To give you some background, they are having tea, and talking about Rex’s late wife, Elizabeth, who died of a brain tumor.
(From the book: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce)
“I know how much you miss Elizabeth”
“I miss her all the time. I know in my head that she has gone, but I still keep looking. The only difference is that I am getting used to the pain. It’s like discovering a great hole in the ground. To begin with you forget it’s there and you keep falling in. After a while, it’s still there, but you learn to walk round it.”
Maureen bit her lip and nodded. After all, she had known her share of grief. It struck her again what tumult the human heart continues to feel. To a young person passing Rex in the street, he would look like a helpless old man. Out of touch with reality and all spent. Yet, beneath his waxen skin, and inside his portly frame, there was a heart that beat with the same passion as a teenager’s.
He said, “do you know what I most regret about losing her?”
She shook her head.
“That I didn’t fight it.”
“But Elizabeth had a brain tumor, Rex. How could you have fought that?”
“When the doctors told us she was dying, I held her hand and gave up. We both did. I know it wouldn’t have made any difference in the end, but I wish I had let her see how much I wanted to keep her. I should have raged, Maureen.”
He sat bent over his cup of tea, as if in prayer. He didn’t look up. He repeated the words with a quiet intensity she had not seen in him before, so that his cup trembled on its saucer. His knuckles were pure bone. “I should have raged.”
I think about that when I think about my history with leukemia. When I was told about Christian’s death… I couldn’t think. I think that gave up a little, inside. It took me until Leslee contracted leukemia, over a decade later, to do anything.
I should have raged!
I know that raging would not have saved Christian’s life. I know that the rage my wife and I felt when Leslee passed away would not have saved her life for those two little boys of hers.
There is so little the average person can do for those who have cancer. We all know someone who has battled cancer, who is now battling cancer, or who has lost their battle with cancer… if you don’t know anyone… consider yourself very fortunate.
We should rage!
I tell my boy scouts all the time that the best way to treat dehydration / sunburn / blisters / hypothermia are to never get them. Drink water, use sunblock, stay dry. We don’t really know what causes most cancers, but we are getting better at figuring out how to treat them… and someday we’ll know how to cure them.
I’m raging now!
Pick your organization. I don’t know about you, but I have no idea how to reprogram an H.I.V. virus to mutate a T-cell that will seek out and destroy a cancer cell, but I know that there are people out there who do, and they need funding. Every day there are people around the world who are working on the cure for cancer… and I do believe that they will find it. If we can send people into space, and land a probe on a distant world… we can find a cure for cancer. But these people need funding.
Pick your organization. I don’t care if it’s the American Cancer Society or Susan G. Komen for the Cure or Huntsman Hometown Heroes or The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Whoever it is… find your cause and give generously to that cause.
People… it’s time that we Rage!