As much as we may not admit it to ourselves in more than an intellectual or other superficial manner, there is a day to come when each of us will die. As a hospital chaplain I see concrete evidence of this on a regular basis. And one cannot see death to its conclusion using logic. The emotions must be involved, especially in its final steps. And if we have chosen to embrace death, most often the choice is made having chosen the lesser of bad choices and not having received a visit from a long-expected friend. It is not respecter of persons. Death chooses as it will and never seems to consider age, status, goodness of heart, effect on others, etc. in its decision-making. While one may wish that Justice were blind, it turns out that Death truly is blind.
Paul Kalanithi moved, as we all must, between accepting this and struggling with it. He vacillated between being thoughtful and reflective and being emotional and feeling completely lost. Yet, however he felt at any given moment, he was committed to facing the challenges of his journey toward death. He brought his God into the journey. He brought his family and close friends into it as well. But more than that he gave us a gift. He provided snapshots and commentary of it so that perhaps the sharing may somehow help us on ours. By joining hands with his family, friends, and medical team and by intentionally facing what was before him he came to know and embrace those parts of life that were most important to him, most sacred.
In his journey and in his sharing of it, Paul became one of those individuals to use their story to give us the opportunity to shape ours. Joining hands with others in facing and finding meaning in life adds a depth to this life and its meaning that may not otherwise be possible. Though excruciatingly painful in the short-term, facing the darkness together is a good thing. Hiding from the darkness in life may minimize and even deflect short-term sadness but to do so is ultimately isolating. I think I had much rather face death surrounded by people with whom I have shared my realities, hopes, fears, and dreams. The alternative a group of people grieving in the same space but doing it alone, in isolation from one another’s love and shared relationship. Thank you, Dr. Kalanithi, for choosing the former and for providing us a glimpse of what can be.
Rev. Kevin Adams, MDiv, PhD, BCC