Beliefnet
Fresh Living

My blog brother Rabbi Brad Hirschfield wrote a post this morning called “Senator Kennedy Did NOT “Lose” His Battle with Cancer.” Amen. I saw that New York Times headline myself today and it made me cringe.  It’s no secret that our culture is all about winning, but to essentially call someone who dies of cancer a loser? Oy.

When I was sick it actually bothered me when people lauded me for “beating” cancer. I understand the sweet impulse, but there’s nothing better or braver or more noble about someone who survives an illness than someone who does not. If anything, the opposite is sometimes true. I think these illness-as-battle scenarios that are so popular (breast cancer-pink boxing gloves exist) do everyone a disservice. To heal–and in fact to have a good death–we actually in many ways need to release aggression and surrender to a calmer more balanced way of being. So the whole “War on Cancer” thing that Richard Nixon proclaimed in 1973 might be getting some things done with that macho “kick its ass, dude” energy, but overall may not be such a helpful framework.

And it’s not just cancer. Today it was announced that the actress Parker Posey had to withdraw from an upcoming play because of illness. A Times article included this bit of ridiculous deadline journalism: “[Parker Posey] may be a one-woman dynamo capable of several projects at once, but even she isn’t powerful enough to overcome Lyme disease.” Ok, I can’t even articulate what is so utterly backwards about that, but it’s wrong, right? 

Maybe it’s this: Our strength and verve and “wins” actually very often have little to do with the external outcomes of our lives. If there is any winning to be had, it’s about the process–how we keep our wits, grace, sense of humor, stamina, and open heart in the midst of the hell of a horrible illness. And even if, say, that stuff isn’t present, we are human. The end-game for us all is the same. And maybe that’s why the “battle” scenarios are popular–to make it seem like we have more control than we do, to  distance the “well” from the sick, to feel a little less mortal and fragile than we most definitely are.   

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