Never Done: I watched the season finale of The Big C
I sometimes think about what The Big C would be like if it starred someone other than Laura Linney, who gives a full-body, stage theatrical performance like I've actually never seen on television. She plays a woman with Stage 4 melanoma. She is dying, but she looks quite healthy and seems quite strong. This is one of the things I love about this show -- it shows a character who has something very serious going on, which most people can't see unless they know her very well. From what I understand about what it's like to have cancer -- which is limited, because I myself have never had cancer (but both my parents and some very close friends have) -- this is incredibly important territory to cover. Do you look better than you feel? Do you feel better than you look? Do you feel like you can do something that a doctor would advise against? That your close friends and family are scared for you to do? What is appropriate for people to say to you if they are scared? What is appropriate for you to say back to them?
This is the heartland territory of The Big C, and also of cancer survivor, journalist, and author Lori Hope's newly re-issued book, Help Me Live -- 20 Things People with Cancer Want You To Know as well as her blog, What Helps, What Hurts, What Heals. These two resources have been invaluable to me as a support person to people with cancer, and also they've been invaluable to me as, well, just a person trying to think well about other people. Because at the heart of what Lori writes and reminds us about again and again, is the fact that to be a good friend is to listen, to be compassionate, to be there and follow through, and to apologize when we mess up. Not rocket science, and yet it is sometimes so hard to do. And just like the early rabbis who wrote about the Mussar practice said, "You aren't going to learn anything new in this book. You already know how to be a good person. You just need practice." (OK, that wasn't really a direct quote -- it was a paraphrase, but a pretty good one, I think.) Like those rabbis, Lori also offers us a practice about how to be a good person, a good friend, a good citizen, a good support person. It's not rocket science. We already know how to do it. It just sometimes takes someone to remind us.
I like getting my reminders from many sources. On the season finale of The Big C, when Cathy -- the main character who has cancer -- tells her husband she wants to run the marathon, he explodes. "I just can't predict your next move! Why is it that everything you do brings you further away from me?" To which she calmly suggests, "Wait for me at the end so I can run towards you." Was it her job to lead him to the right perspective in that moment? Probably not. But did she decide to take it on and extend a loving hand while still going for the exact thing she knew she needed? She did. Our models are out there. It's our job to learn from them.