The values of humanity

I just read a memoir by a Stanford neurosurgeon, Dr Paul Kalanithi, who died too young from cancer, in his thirties, just eight months after his daughter Elizabeth Acadia, nicknamed Cady, was born. He was survived by his daughter and his wife Lucy, an internal medicine doctor also in Stanford, who posthumously published the book with Random House in January 2016 after his death on March 8, 2015.

I was deeply moved by his humanity, mortality, strength and bravery in detailing his life and last years on earth as he battled with cancer. I’m sure there were numerous times Paul and his wife, both Catholics, struggled with the existence and omnipotence of God and questioned why wouldn’t God take away Paul’s pain and heal him? Yet no mention of this was ever made in the book. To me, a fellow believer in God, this signifies Paul’s courage even more, that he accepted what came his way and instead of questioning his lot in life, he lived the best he could with it. 

When Breath Becomes Air, the title of the book couldn’t be more aptly named. When he was living, breath was necessary. When he died, his breath evaporated into air, but never disappears, and instead lingers on and rests on those who love and remember him.

While absorbing his every line and prose, and even as I read the Foreword by his friend and a fellow doctor, Abraham Verghese, and in reading the Epilogue by his wife Lucy, I consider the depth of love that we humans are capable of giving, and the inexplicable amount of strength we display in the face of adversity and tremendous pain. I wondered, often and frequent, while reading, if I had that capacity to love and face my battles if placed in a similar situation as Paul did. I thought of Jason and yearned to touch the side of his cheek like I do when my love for him overwhelms me to do so, or when he has had a rough day and though he projected his frustration unfairly unto me, I knew the best, wifely thing I could do is to still gently stroke his cheek, because that simple act would make him feel loved and set his heart at ease that even in the midst of a personal battle, everything is alright because he is loved.

I didn’t realize how absorbed I was with writing this entry until I looked up for a brief moment and noticed a man looking intently at me as tears welled in the corners of my eyes, and a drop of two that couldn’t resist gravity had dropped to the side of my face, while the back of hand swiftly and instinctively wiped them away.

We are bound to one another by our mortality and compassion. To live is to love, give and empathize. To be absent of those qualities make us less human. In my pursuit of my dream to cycle across America, that accomplished; to produce a documentary, that accomplished; and now to write a book, which is awaiting publication; have I done them all (and in all that I will be doing next), in the spirit of humanity, which is to love, give and empathize? I hope I have lived true to these invaluable qualities of humanity, and that I will continue to do so for the rest of my life.

Angeline TanComment