August 4, 2008
Tough to get ‘round it. We hope and pray for healing. We are grieved by a grim prognosis. We are lifted up by the courage and the good fight and the technology of medicine. And then, the end comes. It’s the one thing we didn’t want. It’s what we prayed against.
It’s in those final weeks and then days that we grow accustomed to the idea that our hopes of “complete recovery” grow dim. Ultimately, we cross over into new territory – we are willing to let go. The suffering has lasted long enough. We release the one we love. And in the passing, we hurt. We find peace.
When Tony Snow announced his diagnosis (colon cancer) in 2005, people who loved him sat stunned. The popular Press Secretary to the President was the picture of vitality and good health. The President’s choice was celebrated on both ends of the political spectrum. He didn’t need the job. It was a considerable cut in pay. Snow was well established radio personality – conservative talk. I first heard his voice when he sat in for the mega-star of the medium, Rush Limbaugh. Snow was a strong voice for conservative values – without the edge. Even the tone of his baritone voice had a soothing effect; confident, yet easy. He unleashed his sharp and engaging wit in a conversational, guy-next-door, over-the-fence style.
In Washington, Tony Snow took to the microphone just about every day to speak on behalf of a President whose approval ratings were on a steep, discernible slide. Snow brought at least one issue to full consensus – the world would hope for his success against the scourge of the cancer cells rummaging around in his otherwise healthy body.
In our media drenched culture, the hopeful battle gets more play that the final farewell. When Russert died of a sudden heart attack, the media went non-stop for a week. But cancer is different. That long final journey is private, arduous, laborious. And when the end comes, it’s almost like… oh. Wow. We almost forgot.
I was taken by surprise as I reviewed the stats on this LeaderFOCUS blog. On July 23, 2008, the LeaderFOCUS I called “Time Management” got discovered, on Google, I presume. The hit count blew the graph right off the scale. To date, 2,363 people have read it. An all-time LeaderFOCUS record. I did a little search of my own. Turns out, it was the day Randy Pausch died. The man who gave “The Last Lecture,” and became an instant celebrity thanks to U-Tube, bid farewell to his beautiful family – and the rest of us who feel like we knew him.
Tony Snow left an amazing body of work. Someone will someday sift through it and provide us a summary. But perhaps the greatest summary of all appeared in October, 2007 when he wrote…
I don’t know why I have cancer, and I don’t much care. It is what it is, a plain and indisputable fact. Yet even while staring into a mirror darkly, great and stunning truths begin to take shape. Our maladies define a central feature of our existence: We are fallen. We are imperfect. Our bodies give out.
But despite this, – or because of it, – God offers the possibility of salvation and grace. We don’t know how the narrative of our lives will end, but we get to choose how to use the interval between now and the moment we meet our Creator face-to-face1.
You won’t read about Gena Gentry in the media. A couple weeks ago, along with her husband Darrel and her adult son and daughter, we said good-bye to a woman who gave the world the gift of laughter and hope. She and Randy Pausch and Tony Snow fought the same battle this summer of 2008. She was passionate about ministry. She invested heavily in a couple hundred of the best and brightest of a new nation. As Kosóva celebrates its independence, scores, maybe hundreds of young collegians from the University of Prishtina will remember the woman who challenged them to know and follow Jesus.
On this Monday morning, as a leader, you and I may well be too busy to reflect on the bigger questions – until we sit long enough to contemplate the journey’s finish for Tony Snow, et. al.
While climbing a long grade on Saturday morning, another cyclist pulled up beside me and joked about aging and climbing hills on a bike. We talked a bit. I learned that Natalie is a CPA. And she dropped a hint. I probed. “Cancer,” she said. “I’ve got cancer.”
We chatted a bit more before our course diverged at a fork in the trail. Natalie laughed out loud and said, “We’ll, I’ve got today.” I answered back, in between pants up the hill, “You go girl!” She made the turn. Out of sight.
The sun was bright. The sky a deep blue. The Southern California mountains stretched across the horizon. Bright red bougainvillea against leafy green trees colored the roadside and off in the distance a row of palm trees lined hillside and on the right stretched one of those nursery fields with potted plants and seedlings. I kept on riding. And thinking.
I’ll likely never see her again.
But I’ll remember her words – “I’ve got today.”
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2008
1Read the full text of Tony’s essay from October 2007 – my thanks to Susan Kemp