Loving Your Life and Cherishing Others

About a week ago, I got an email from my uncle. I read it in the morning, and I cried. I read it again that night, and I cried again. Two hours later, I set up this website.

To know how this experience affected me, it makes sense to know a little bit about me. I’m a competitive individual. I set high standards for myself, and when I get into something I go all out. Lots of my time is dedicated to improvement in rock climbing, videogames, writing and understanding myself. I’ve learned a lot, but sometimes I wonder: where am I, behind all that practice?

I woke up on Monday morning, three days after finishing classes, plagued with doubt. I turned on my computer, and in one of hundreds of empty routines checked my email.

My uncle Mike was diagnosed with MDS about a month ago, otherwise known as pre-leukemia. Patients develop blood conditions due to broken bone marrow. My uncle started chemotherapy, and will require a marrow transplant later on. The bright news is that MDS usually occurs in the elderly. Since my uncle is younger, there’s a good chance it won’t develop into leukemia. Also, since he’s one of five children, there was a good chance of finding a marrow match within the family.

For whatever reason, his diagnosis didn’t initially have a huge impact on me. My father described the news in a clinical fashion, using that serious tone reserved for family members. I shrugged it off with nonthinking optimism. This could have been simple immaturity on my part, a lack of empathy brought on by a defense mechanism that held things at arm’s length. I’ve had bad things happen in my life; I regarded them with distance and skepticism. Why dwell on them, right?

The email hit home. As I drank coffee and listened to obscure music, I read about his battle with a life-threatening disease; the tedium of treatment, long hours in hospitals and exhausting blood transfusions. And more bad news: none of his siblings turned out to be a match. Yet the whole time he kept a positive, realistic perspective. “A twisted journey, but one to be faced head-on one day at a time!” His wife has been there at every turn, his neighbors brought over “food for days” and did hours of yardwork, out of the kindness of their hearts. How can I help out? His suggestion: pay it forward by donating blood and registering for marrow donation.

And here’s the part that made me cry. He signed it:

Now, the English lit major in me quickly noted that the parallel structure in that phrase is off. It’s got the alliteration down, but life is a noun, laugh is a verb, and love can be either depending on how you use it. For all its imperfections, this peculiar message shone all the brighter. When he signed his name in that enormous blue font, he staked a claim—his struggle, his feelings, his words. Mike. It dawned on me; my uncle knows this as an opportunity. By staying positive, he can isolate and focus on the important things in life. “Love is Grand!” he wrote.

Later that night, things started fitting together. As I finished reading for the second time, seeing again the three assonant words in mock parallel structure, I felt chills shoot up my spine. My head tingled, my throat tightened; my eyes swam, my arms and fingertips warmed with blood. Life, laugh, love. All daily, petty concerns evaporated, and the fog of my ego vanished. This was what I was searching for, this whole time. These three things. This feeling.

I felt the rush of an epiphany. In the end, it’s just not about me. Every thought made tears ferment behind my eyes. Every choked convulsion of my diaphragm brought breath into my body, which radiated outward as limitless energy. Love. It felt like a spotlight had been shone on my life, and I saw a dazzling landscape of possibility. Everything was utterly clear.

Looking back on this experience, I started analyzing. A patient is diagnosed with a life-threatening or terminal disease, and he or she spends the next couple of months connecting with loved ones, cherishing every moment. Why is this familiar narrative so powerful? Above all else, in stories like these we see a choice. The conscious choice to remain positive, in the face of the most adverse conditions, is a testament to the character of the human spirit. It’s liberating to think that, under all the games, noise, and appearances which make up our daily life, human beings are fundamentally focused on caring for one another. It takes a wise man to see this, and a stronger man to live it.

I’ve learned that you don’t need to analyze life to enjoy it. For analytical people like myself, it can help, but only when used in moderation. Judge people by their actions; words, intentions, and conjecture about the future are largely worthless. Personally, I get too fixated on self-improvement. When I don’t see the results I want, when it becomes clear that my actions don’t line up with my intentions, then doubt permeates my life, and I drown in uncertainty and hesitation. In short, I over-analyze. But this email made me step outside myself—after all, what is all my work for? All the journaling, all the analysis in the world can’t give you the experience of feeling love. An individual is only as great as the joy he can bring into the lives of others. My purpose in starting this blog is to affect as many people as possible, and hopefully change their lives for the better.

In my eyes, every real action contains work, and every action is a product of choice. Because of his condition, my uncle Mike works every day with the whole force of his being. He chooses to celebrate life, and cherishes the support of his wife and loved ones. Every day, he embraces the ever-present love which makes us who we are. Passing on his message to others is my choice and my work. This is why I started this blog, and this is my message to you.

My uncle Mike is a quirky man. He’s not perfect—he doesn’t make millions, and his English is certainly critiquable—but that’s why his actions send such a powerful message. It doesn’t take a saint to be an example and an inspiration. It took me awhile to figure out why, but “Life, Laugh, Love” broke me down so bad because it was completely genuine. It’s a phrase that’s rough around the edges, quirky and overflowing with charm just like my uncle. This is my blog, and I am a literary kind of guy, so I was debating over changing it to match as three verbs. I think I’ll leave it, though. So live, laugh, and love—whatever way you can.

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5 Responses to Loving Your Life and Cherishing Others

  1. adamcmadison says:

    Hahahahahahahaha!

    “Now, the English lit major in me quickly noted that the parallel structure in that phrase is off. It’s got the alliteration down, but life is a noun, laugh is a verb, and love can be either depending on how you use it.

    “As I finished reading for the second time, seeing again the three assonant words in mock parallel structure…”

    This is where your genius lies: your awareness.

    I cannot wait to talk to you about literary devices! I’ve much to learn.

  2. Beautiful piece, Joe. I wish you the best in your endeavors, and I hope your Uncle gets better.

  3. Anonymous says:

    As best as I can, I’ll try to express what this post showed me.

    This was an incredible read. We’ve been friends for a long time, but it must have slipped by that i remembered you had such a talent. Your style of writing incorporates each factor a person looks for when reading and compresses them into an astonishingly well written anecdote. Not only did i enjoy the read, but i look forward to reading more of your work. My suggestion is to keep an archive of your work, whether it be printed or saved, have your work on hand. Create a journal of your created works from short paragraphs to large posts. It’s sad to think that this ever-growing digital age makes us forget about things like journals and photo albums. In the future, family reunion photos and classroom pictures will be kept on USB’s. Written works will be put on iPads and Kindles, and when the power goes out we’ll have nothing to look back on. That’s why i think it’s so important to hold thoughts and memories like these close to you. Remember projects like writing a future note to your senior self in freshman year? You get to read what you felt at that time, something tangible you could hold in your hands; I wrote this years ago. Whenever you think the time is right, i say give it a shot, start compiling a journal of your written works. And most importantly, do it for yourself.

  4. Great job man! I was looking forward to this and you have not disappointed. Your writing style…it’s so YOU, but it also shows that vulnerable side you almost let no one see (or at least don’t let me see. My 6’5″ big brother crying?) Oh Uncle Mike :/ I admire your capacity to have a (big) life change and still see it as an opportunity. It’s like the fundamental goal of being an individual and stepping outside of yourself to see optimism. ❤

    Soooo Joe, I think you've heard enough praise though, so I'm going to go ahead and play the annoying little sister and say you didn't even consider the parallel structure being dead on. "life is a noun, laugh is a verb, and love can be either…" ; ) Laugh can be a noun too; 'The baby's laugh was adorable'; 'the pirate let out a hearty laugh and spilled his whiskey.'

    Now write mooooore ^___^

  5. jejunejesuit says:

    Update on this post:

    My uncle is doing well! He received the bone marrow transplant 25 days ago, and is on his way to recovery. He has experienced various secondary symptoms, like fatigue, irritable skin, restlessness, and baldness due to chemo. They’re on the way out though, and he’s on various medications to help with the process. He stays at home now, and visits the hospital twice a week.

    Through his many stays, Mike has received the support and love of many. NFL players came by the hospital to visit patients, so he got to meet Anthony Hargrove from the Seattle Seahawks! For “cell day,” the day of the marrow transplant, friends put together a homemade card to show their appreciation. It’s like a birthday card, except it commemorates the day his blood type began to change!

    My personal favorite is a quilt that someone made in his honor. Mike has one green eye and one blue eye, so the quilt design “matches his eyes,” with a split zigzagging between blue and green patterns. It’s the cutest thing ever.

    He keeps in touch with my family regularly, although he hasn’t been well enough for a visit (infection is one of the main worries as his immune system recuperates). We send him our love and prayers, and we hope to be reunited with him soon.

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