Tired of Cancer

My friend Carol Hunter died this past Sunday morning at the age of 68, of cancer.

I wrote to her recently about how much her teaching and life have meant to me:

I think the third term of Humanities during my first year at Earlham was the most time we ever spent together, gathering in the Meetinghouse Library four days a week to talk about the works of Willa Cather, Anzia Yezierska, Amílcar Cabral, Basil Davidson, Ayi Kwei Armah and others. I remember the gentle but persistent way you encouraged us to think, to organize our thoughts, and to share them in mature and helpful ways. I remember your way of talking of really hard things about the nature of the world - historical and modern alike - with a tone that was serious but encouraging. And I remember your overall kindness as a professor...I want to thank you for the life that you have lived, the challenges to heart and mind that you laid down for your students, and the ways you have shaped the rest of us through your time in this community and the way you have been as a family. I am grateful to you and for you.

My friend Roland Kreager died on May 28 of this year at the age of 65, of cancer. His obituary only begins to paint a picture of what a kind, active, generous, loving soul he was. He worked hard to create a world that was more just and equitable. Roland surprised me often with his ability to find good and hope within complex situations, even horrible ones. Even within his experience of cancer.

I can only hope to have a small piece of both Carol's and Roland's tremendous perspective on life as I grieve their deaths and feel anger and sadness at how quickly and profoundly a world can be turned upside down by illness.

Unfortunately this particular kind of anger and sadness is not new to me, or to many other people.

And it feels like cancer is everywhere.

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Why do we leave the communities that love us?

Summersault Staff and Family, Holidays 2007As I was preparing to graduate from college, I had already decided that I would be staying in the same town (Richmond) for the foreseeable future, and so I was a spectator to the strange but customary phenomenon of having all of my friends from the past four years pack up and prepare to leave town. In many cases they were good friends - loved ones with whom I had experienced some of the most challenging and growing years of my life so far. They knew me, and I knew them, and we had found a rhythm together in that bubble of academia. In other cases, they were people who I hadn't really had time to fully know despite wanting to, and watched whatever sense of possibility that existed there fade away as they went. At the time I had a feeling in my gut that it just wasn't right, wasn't natural to spend so much time building community with others only to see it scattered to the wind of change blown forth by the fairly arbitrary milestone of graduation day.

Since them I've come to wonder with even more bewilderment why we so often leave the communities that love us. We spend so much of our lives trying to find our identities, trying to establish who we are in a given context, trying to find people we can connect to, bond with, lean on. Why do we then also seem to be able to so quickly give those things up because of a job change, a shift in our passions, a thought of journeying across the state, the region, the country, the world to find what we're looking for?
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Doug, it's time to get up

Doug, Scott, Brandon and I were all sharing a room at Chicago's Drake hotel while on a weekend school field trip early on in high school. I was having a miserable time for various teen-agey angst reasons I won't go into, and I was tired of being cooped up in our room watching JFK (that is one long movie!). At the same time, I was quite fearful that our chaperones would make good on their threat to send us home early if we were caught even so much as peeking into the hallways after our prescribed curfew, so I remained stationary.

Doug, unfortunately, became the target of my antsy-ness. He had fallen asleep in one of the beds, and as 2 AM rolled around, I suggested to Brandon and Scott that we play a prank on the poor boy. All clocks were set to appear as 6:50 AM, the alarm clock was set for 10 minutes later (our prescribed time to start getting ready to go), the rest of us got into bed, the lights were turned off.
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