Hello-hello-hello and Best Wishes to my readers for a joyful and fulfilling 2018 ahead! 2017—by Toutatis!—presented its own unique set of challenges (a direct casualty of which was the frequency of my blog posts), but I hope to do better this year. To that end, I’d like to share my thoughts about something BEAUTIFUL I read yesterday: a feature by Nora Krug in the Washington Post.
I first became aware of this essay in the Books section—entitled Two dying memoirists wrote bestsellers about their final days. Then their spouses fell in love.—via that inestimable font of knowledge and wisdom, Twitter, aided by a kind user named Regina Royan. The term ‘Dying memoirist’ immediately brought to mind the name of Paul Kalanithi, the Indian-American neurosurgeon at Stanford who passed away in 2015 at the prime of his life from stage IV metastatic lung cancer. The reason I know his name is because I read two of his brilliant but devastatingly heart-rending essays, one documenting his thoughts while he fought cancer, and the other, a New Yorker excerpt from his posthumously published memoir, “When Breath Becomes Air”, which we have at home.
Nora Krug’s feature also acquainted me with another posthumously published memoir I didn’t know about, “The Bright Hour”, by Nina Ellen Riggs, an American author/poet, who, too, was cut down at her prime by metastatic breast cancer in early 2017. The memoir chronicles the final two years of her life and documents her thoughts about her family, love for books, nature, and life.
Both memoirs, powerfully written, gathered critical accolade and commercial success, and were shortlisted for prestigious book awards. In course of that process, there were sporadic essays published featuring the respective spouses, Dr. Lucy Kalanithi (which I had read) and John Duberstein (which I hadn’t earlier), touching—perhaps inevitably—upon how they coped with their grief and carried on with their lives.
It was from Nora Krug’s recent feature (linked above) that I learnt that Dr. Lucy Kalanithi and John Duberstein have found love and solace in each other and their families. MY HEART SANG. It appears that in the years after Paul had passed away, Lucy and Nina had developed a friendship over Nina’s written work, and when John, a lawyer, was trying to come to grips with the devastating thought of Nina passing away leaving him all alone, it was Nina who suggested that he get in touch with Lucy, who’d be able to help. Even as a relative stranger at that point, Lucy was instrumental in helping John process his grief and vulnerability—all through messages emailed back and forth. Shared experience of intense grief and poignant heartbreak melded minds and unbeknownst joined their hearts. It was SO BEAUTIFUL, and when I read it last night past midnight, someone was assiduously cutting onions in my vicinity. [Do read this Washington Post essay by Nora Krug.]
As I have written many times earlier, I am not afraid of dying. Death comes to all. But that fact of life does not dull away the pain from losing someone irretrievably from our lives. Perhaps that is the reason why I found Lucy and John’s story so life-affirming and so gloriously beautiful. I had to, I just had to, respond to the Tweeted message by Regina Royan, which also tagged Lucy Kalanithi; so I posted an old favorite of mine, a poem/song written by one of India’s most beloved and distinguished of poets, the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Written in 1903 originally in Bangla (the vernacular of the people of Bengal), this composition speaks of the inexorable continuity of life through all the agony and bereavement we may experience many times over in our daily lives. I did the English translation a while ago; I hope you like it.
P.S. Hat tip to Ms. Regina Royan; the title of this post is the phrase from the poem that she declared her new favorite!