A Letter to Kate

[I haven’t posted for a while on my reading project… But I’m still reading—more or less on track for the 50 books. More soon (Hi Mom. I know you’re the only one reading this… Mom? Mom?)]


Will you forgive me for addressing this reflection to you directly? I’ve known your scholarship and your story for a few years now. I am to the point where, I bet many of us way on the periphery of the “big life” that you’ve created—I think that’s what you call it—find ourselves. We think that we know you.

Your writing is so open and honest that it invites such deep connections. You must be an awesome sibling, friend, colleague, and daughter. You are clearly a great mom and spouse. Will you forgive me for wishing that you were my sister? You’ve made a family out of all of us who have been blessed to follow your journey. Like real family members, know that we haven’t been passive. We have been pulling for you, with prayers and good wishes.

Will you forgive me for thinking about you today, as I ran through a cemetery? Frankly, it was impossible not to. On my run, you were in my ears, reading me the last forty-five minutes of your soul-achingly beautiful book. Today, as it has been since I started the book last week, my reactions have circulated through: “God, Kate is funny.” “God, Kate is a good writer.” “God, Kate’s life is beautiful and so unfair” (I mean these as prayers as well as exclamations).

I run through this cemetery near my house when I want to return “home.” It’s the closest thing in Lincoln to Cambridge’s Mount Auburn cemetery, where I would (occasionally) run back in Boston. There is a nice mile-long circuit through its winding paths and roads. It’s beautiful in all seasons. It has brick roads, water fountains, sculptures, and gardens.

In graduate school, David Hall told us stories about the intent of the cemetery’s design. With gardens and greenery, columns and headstones arranged not in straight-angle lines but in arching semi-circles, the Unitarian descendants of Boston’s Puritans tried to erase the line between the living and the dead. A space where loved ones on either side of the veil could pull it back, and together enjoy a Sunday stroll.

Will you forgive me for thinking that, when I began it last week, this was, in part, what you were doing in your book? I thought that you were giving your readers lessons on how to face… I hesitate to type these words… death with grace and humor.

But this is not it at all. This book is about your life, which is singular and incomparable to anyone else’s. Will you forgive me for trying to extract lessons from your book, as if it were one of the prosperity gospel self-help books that you study and critique?

And yet, will you forgive me for reading myself into the book? When I do, I’m not you. I could never be, for I haven’t a clue what it must be like to go through what you are going through. As much as I’d like to be, when I read myself into your book, I’m not your brother. I’m not your colleague or student, though being either or both is clearly a blessing.

When I see myself in your book, I’m Blair, sitting with you enjoying an overly-priced Sunday brunch. I share with you—my very sick friend—what it’s like to lose a loved one to disease. I update you on my own struggles with mental illness. “I’m so fucking grateful to have you here,” I tell you (140).

All irony intended here, but will you also forgive me for thinking that you are blessed? And will you forgive me for thinking that you have earned those blessings?

You’ve earned them not because you’ve called upon God in just the right way so that he grants your heart’s desire—lassoing divine favor so you can ride atop it. If you had, I know that you’d ask God for a century of life with your beloved son and husband.

But you are blessed. Your blessings are the hundreds upon hundreds of people you describe in your book who have answered your pleas for help.

You seem surprised by their responses—by their willingness to mortgage their retirements, to call in closely-guarded favors, to abandon professional deadlines, to bake casseroles, to spend all night on the phone with you.

You have earned these blessings. They have come to someone who is worthy. Each and everyone of those people know that you’d do the same for them. And you probably have already.

You write about how, when they first learned of your sickness, your prosperity gospel friends suggested that you take an inventory of your life, so you could locate the source of the sin, the unfaithful thought or action, that produced your cancer.

I think they’ve got the right idea but are looking at the wrong ledger. I bet if you take an accounting of all the blessings that you have given to each and everyone of those loved ones who seem to have surprise you with their gifts of money, of time, of hugs and of handholds, they will tell concrete stories about what you’ve done for them. This is not to say their love can be reduced to reciprocity. Just the opposite. Their love is magnified by its mutuality.

If you were to take such an accounting, it could fill another book, and then some.

I hope you’ll forgive me for adding this little letter to that ledger. For your book has been a blessing to me.

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