I came back home from the hospital this evening just after visiting my brother-in-law. He had a bathroom fall this morning. He is recuperating. He is also undergoing chemotherapy and he is being monitored in the high dependency ward. He is in his late thirties. A few weeks ago, I visited a close friend who had her pancreas and spleen removed due to suspected tumor. She is in her early forties. And a few months ago, I went to see my uncle-in-law who is in his early seventies. His cancer had sadly spread to his other organs and he was recently discharged to be placed under palliative care.
I recounted all these visits because I am struggling to describe the effect these people have on me. It took me some time to regain some direction and expression of how I really felt inside. And the first word that came to my mind was cowardice. I can’t imagine myself going through what they are going through right now. Theirs is a story of overcoming that I can only stand by the sideline to quietly dread and at the same time, to be deeply inspired. I told myself that I underestimate the power of the human spirit at my own self-inflicted ignorance and disillusionment.
Take my brother-in-law for example. After his brain surgery five years ago, he never gave up. He was unflinchingly persistent. His fight was as relentless as the affliction was relentless. He took it all in his stride. He confronted it not because he had no choice. But on the contrary, his choices were many and what made the difference for him (and us) was that he dared to make the toughest choice amongst them. On the continuum of innumerable options with giving up at one end and braving forward at the other, my dear brother-in-law chose the far end of the latter. And he made that choice every single day.
He was not a man without any choices. He in fact had many of them and he chose life. He chose hope. He chose to overcome. He chose to believe. He chose to never give up. He chose to love, to trust, to embrace, and to have faith. Like my friend and my uncle-in-law, they all had choices and they valiantly made theirs in their own unique way – not with superhuman strength mind you, but with that part of humanity that is admittedly fragile but hopeful, privately broken but grateful, and intimately scared but determined to soldier on.
Theirs is no doubt an ordinary life with extraordinary courage that makes living such an invaluable gift worth hanging on to. And for those who are well, their fight to be well is a fight that ought to make taking living for granted an unpardonable sin. It ought to set us thinking about what is the true meaning of life. It ought to make us treasure that which can never lose its value come what may and to let go of that which readily do when all is unraveled.
At his dying bed, Steve Jobs hurried all his loved ones to gather around him. His sister, children, wife and daughter of a previous relationship all came to be by his side. This was what his sister had to say about Steve Jobs on his final lap of life: “His tone was affectionate, dear, loving, but like someone whose luggage was already strapped onto the vehicle who was already on the beginning of his journey, even as he was sorry, truly deeply sorry, to be leaving us.”
Before he went quietly into the night, Steve Jobs couldn’t keep his eyes off his loved ones, especially his children’s eyes. In all his weakness and pain, he maintained eye contact as if to lose it was to lose them forever.
The author of his biography wrote: “At one point he looked at Patty (sister) and his children for a long time, then at Laurene (wife), and finally gazed past them into the distance. “Oh, wow,” he said. “Oh wow. Oh wow.””
That was how a billionaire died. That was how a fearless and feared entrepreneur passed on. The last thing he took away with him was not the memory of all that he had achieved - the recognition and the accolades. His immense wealth and monumental innovations were secondary to the last enduring and endearing look of his loved ones standing right before him. That vision of love, contentment and joy is incomparable, irreplaceable. It was what gave him the courage and hope to finally let go. It was the defining moment of his entire life captured in one priceless image and that image is family.
My brother-in-law is family. His family is family. I pray with him and rejoice with him. I hope for him and stand by him. I believe with him and move inexorably forward with him. I guess at the end of the day, when all is said and done, when the wools are finally removed from my eyes, and when the fog of this material world is cleared from my cluttered and weary spirit, that which stubbornly remains is what I have been drawing on for strength, hope and resilience all this while. And that timeless, dependable resource is none other than the unwavering love of family. Cheerz.