He could have been a contender. Instead, he turned
contemplative. And in doing so, Rudolph Giuliani, the brash mayor of New
York, stunned more people than had any of his harsh rhetoric in the
Even his week earlier admission of infidelity and a broken marriage
seemed to pale in comparison to Giuliani's reflective statements about
his prostate cancer and his decision not to seek the New York Senate
The mayor looked different. His face was relaxed and open, he seemed
ready to laugh or cry. His voice was softer and more halting.
And his words seemed unrehearsed and sincere, seeming to surprise
"Things happen in life for reasons that sometimes you only figure
out afterwards," he said. "And there is something good that comes out of
this. A lot of good things come out of it. I think I understand myself
a lot better. I think I understand what's important to me better."
Giuliani even came to the conclusion that politics isn't the most
important thing in life. For most of us, this is not a revelation. But
to a politician like Giuliani, the admission itself was something akin
to Saul's conversion on the Damascus road.
Said The New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, "Mr. Giuliani's
career, even more than most politicians, has been about power and
In this surprising press conference, Giuliani seemed willing to give
He pledged to be a better mayor and to open more lines of
communication. But mostly he said he wanted to spend time with those he
Like Hemingway's Francis Macomber, whose brush with death gives him
new life, Giuliani sounded almost giddy at times. Hemingway's character
described 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 who
has been close to someone who has, recognizes the honesty and
self-examination that sometimes come in the moments when mortality
knocks at the door.
The shock and horror of a deadly diagnosis is offset by a mental and
spiritual clarity that seems truly other worldly. "What can a man give
in exchange for his soul?" asks the writer in Mark 8:37. Most people
who face such a prognosis readily ask the same thing.
My friend Lorraine, recently diagnosed with breast cancer, put it
this way, "Suddenly everything seems so clear. Most of the things you
were caught up in seem almost silly. And then you look at the really
important things and realize you have been too busy to pay attention to
them. Cancer wakes you up."
Rudy Giuliani may fully recover and go on to run for the Senate or
even the presidency in the future. If he does, he will be a much better
man and politician for facing his mortality.
And we should all learn a lesson from the mayor of New York. As my
friend Lorraine says, "It shouldn't take cancer to wake us up to what's
important in life."