That is often a one-word sentence that is used en français to remind someone to have courage, to be courageous, in the face of some type of struggle. Many people have said that to me over these past months as I talked about my journey with Susan. And other people have told me how they did not know how they would handle the situation if they were in my shoes, where they would find the courage or strength.
Susan and I have spoken about courage. About how people admire my courage to share what I’m experiencing with the blog writing. And they admire her courage for facing her terminal illness with such strength. When we speak about these comments, both of us are a little puzzled. Neither one of us feels particularly courageous. Susan has written that she isn’t afraid of dying, of her death. And that people need only to be courageous for things that they are afraid of. We don’t feel overly strong. We can’t quite fathom that what we are doing is heroic. It just feels, for the most part, normal for both of us. We feel true, and we can’t quite define it further than that.
The other night I was out for a supper and conversation with, Mike, a visiting filmmaker. Mike’s made a lot of films over the past 30 years, some of them focused on AIDS and HIV. He’s seen a lot of his friends die. We were catching up on the handful of years since we last saw each other. We shared thoughts with each other about health, disease, terminal diagnoses, teaching, yoga, and awareness. He asked thoughtful questions about my responses to Susan’s cancer and prognosis. It was a heartfelt dialogue and I was grateful. We were then joined by another filmmaker who happened to drop by. The conversation continued, but lost some of the intimacy, although none of the honesty. The new guy mentioned something about it taking a lot of courage and strength to go through what I am experiencing. And I paused, because here I was again, I just didn’t have a response, and part of me was a bit annoyed, not by what the guy was asking me, but that I didn’t have a response. I struggled a bit in that moment. Recalling what Susan said, I mentioned to the new guy at the table that I didn’t need courage to eat my supper, because I wasn’t afraid of it. But it still didn’t answer my own wondering about what it is that I am doing that seems so hard to convey. I said: it’s not courage, it’s not strength. I was looking into my hands hoping for some light, and both Mike and the new guy were quiet, letting me find my way through it. And in one of those rare moments when the universe offers an answer and I am there to catch it, I said: I think it’s love. I looked up and caught Mike’s eyes, and he nodded.
As I spoke with Susan some more, we wondered about love being an answer. And Susan reminded me that along with love, acceptance has been the foundation from which she moves forward. I too, have been fortunate to have acceptance (interrupted by the occasional wishful thought). Without acceptance we’d just be running from ourselves. I think it is possible to summon courage and strength, to reach deep into one’s stamina pool, and will oneself to persevere. But love? Well, maybe. I am not sure I can explain it, in fact I know I can’t, not yet anyway. But it feels like the right answer, so I’m riding that wave for now. I don’t feel heroic; courage and strength are the traits of heroes and super heroes. I’m just a guy walking alongside a dying woman, embraced by love.