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How Struggling With My Illness Changed My Perspective on Life

This moment is precious. Your time is precious. Have you ever thought about the probability of the occurrence of your existence? Think about it now, spend the precious time. What was the probability that your biological mother and father were going to meet, that their parents would meet, and hundreds of generations before them? Your specific genetic makeup, your specific situation…you are a rarity, a single occurrence in a vast unending cosmos.

It often occurs to each of us to think, “Why am I here? What is my purpose?” And this question often comes to light in the darkest of moments. In the midst of my illness, I have often sat still. Perfectly still. In these times, I could not walk well, or stand well, or sit well, or sleep well. For a while, I would spend my days knitting hats for chemotherapy patients. I needed a purpose, to be of value in the world. Then came a time when I couldn’t knit, either. And all I could do was exist.

There were many days when I felt useless. There were days when I felt worse. Sometimes I felt like a parasite, sucking up my family’s resources, longing for my friends’ precious time. What could I possibly contribute? I felt like all I did was take. And so follows the tragic: I felt that the world might be better off without me.

Have you ever heard of the ascetics? Recluses, hermits. Holy men. Throughout history individuals have sought enlightenment through stillness, to gain wealth through scarcity. Religious have caused suffering unto themselves — physical pain, emaciation, isolation — so that they might learn how to overcome the suffering of the tangible realm.

Joking to my friends, I’ve called myself an ascetic by default. Illness has isolated me, turned my legs into twigs, turned my body into a prison. So often I sat in silence, just thinking, just existing. Because that was all I could do. But in these times of silence, I reached my own kind of personal enlightenment.

Suffering has caused me to rethink life. Each painful day has turned me, a chronic patient, into a chronic student. I can’t stop learning. I don’t want to stop.

I have learned that my loved ones like to sit and do nothing with me. That my doctors like caring for me. That I don’t need to be a strong man to lift someone up. I have learned that my smile means something, and that my thoughts are of value. My perspective is uniquely mine, and a gift only I can give to the people around me.

The other day, I was rambling to a dear friend. I was simply sharing my thoughts, releasing a stream of consciousness, letting her into my internal life. She grabbed a napkin and started writing. When I let out a laugh, she said, “What you just said. I want to hang it on my wall.”

Sometimes I’ll overhear someone’s conversation, and I’ll be amazed by their words. Sometimes I’ll watch a YouTube video, which makes me want to give another day a chance. Sometimes someone will smile at me, and suddenly, I don’t feel so isolated.

Every little thing you do is of value. Any thing you say might be profound. You never know whose heart you might touch, and you never know the sheer power of your hand.

In the darkest of times, when I felt completely devoid of hope, sometimes a text from a friend was all it took.

Your smallest act of kindness might save someone’s life.

So to you, whoever you are, I send a single message: You are of value in the world. Even if all you can do right now is simply be. Because everything that we are is shaped not only by our own will, but by everyone we’ve ever known. By what they’ve taught us, by the little ways they’ve moved us. You have affected people in ways which you will never discover. And in the future, you will change lives in ways that I doubt you can anticipate.

So if all you can do is exist, then exist, if only for the people you might love on another day. Each moment is a chance to learn, each interaction a chance to teach. Today, you might be in a hospital bed. Tonight, you might be asleep. But even then, a doctor may learn something from treating you. Taking care of you is not a burden – every moment with you is a privilege. And tomorrow- tomorrow is a whole new day.

Maybe someday you and I will meet. Maybe we already know each other. What are the odds, that two people’s paths might cross? If we have met, I want to thank you. If we have not, I hope I meet you.

Because you contribute to the world in a way uniquely yours. The world is changed merely by means of your existence. You are rare. You are precious.

And now is the time to know it.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock Image By: BrianAJackson

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