He could have been a contender. Instead, he turnedcontemplative. And in doing so, Rudolph Giuliani, the brash mayor of NewYork, stunned more people than had any of his harsh rhetoric in thepast.Even his week earlier admission of infidelity and a broken marriageseemed to pale in comparison to Giuliani's reflective statements abouthis prostate cancer and his decision not to seek the New York Senateseat.The mayor looked different. His face was relaxed and open, he seemedready to laugh or cry. His voice was softer and more halting.And his words seemed unrehearsed and sincere, seeming to surpriseeven him."Things happen in life for reasons that sometimes you only figureout afterwards," he said. "And there is something good that comes out ofthis. A lot of good things come out of it. I think I understand myselfa lot better. I think I understand what's important to me better."Giuliani even came to the conclusion that politics isn't the mostimportant thing in life. For most of us, this is not a revelation. Butto a politician like Giuliani, the admission itself was something akinto Saul's conversion on the Damascus road.Said The New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, "Mr. Giuliani'scareer, even more than most politicians, has been about power andcontrol."In this surprising press conference, Giuliani seemed willing to giveup both.He pledged to be a better mayor and to open more lines ofcommunication. But mostly he said he wanted to spend time with those heloved.Like Hemingway's Francis Macomber, whose brush with death gives himnew life, Giuliani sounded almost giddy at times.
Hemingway's characterdescribed it, "Like a dam bursting."Naturally there are skeptics. Herbert, himself, is one of them,saying the mayor's conversion comes "too late" and is "all about him."But anyone who has gone through a life-threatening disease or whohas been close to someone who has, recognizes the honesty andself-examination that sometimes come in the moments when mortalityknocks at the door.The shock and horror of a deadly diagnosis is offset by a mental andspiritual clarity that seems truly other worldly. "What can a man givein exchange for his soul?" asks the writer in Mark 8:37. Most peoplewho face such a prognosis readily ask the same thing.My friend Lorraine, recently diagnosed with breast cancer, put itthis way, "Suddenly everything seems so clear. Most of the things youwere caught up in seem almost silly. And then you look at the reallyimportant things and realize you have been too busy to pay attention tothem. Cancer wakes you up."Rudy Giuliani may fully recover and go on to run for the Senate oreven the presidency in the future. If he does, he will be a much betterman and politician for facing his mortality.And we should all learn a lesson from the mayor of New York. As myfriend Lorraine says, "It shouldn't take cancer to wake us up to what'simportant in life."