This is a response to VC 33 Paul 4 ("On life and surprises")...
Of all the astonishing events that unfolded this Autumn, of all the catastophes and advenures that have befallen me and those I care about, nothing has bewildered and distracted and affected me so deeply as your sudden battle with, of all things, cancer.
It certainly puts every other problem I have at the moment, and even the very serious problems some of my other close friends and, indeed, other members of this group are now facing, in a certain perspective. There is something in the stars this Fall, some kind of dark wind blowing through Archipelago and blowing open the shutters of all our lives. But to you goes the honor of the brunt of that storm. A terrible wind is raising some of us up and knocking others of us down. Poor Stuart, in particular, is having his very heart sand-blasted. But you stand in the focus of the gale. The rest of us can only imagine what we would do in your place.
I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm having a hard time finding my role in this drama, and an even harder time finding my lines. How can I help? What can I say? There are all sorts of little everyday things I can do: along with all your other friends I've helped here and there and am eager to do more. But what I can give seems so small when measured against your need.
Perhaps the best any of us can do is provide some companionship, take your mind off your troubles for an hour or two, or maybe help you explore your situation and think it through, if such help is needed. I am convinced that you can lick this thing, but it will take persistance and courage, and if there's anything I can do to help bolster your courage I want to do whatever it takes, for my sake as well as yours. I think what we all want is to convince you, to the marrow of your bones, that you are not alone.
The problem is that, while in one sense you are absolutely not alone and can draw strength from all your many connections, in another sense you are very much alone. There's no getting around that. No one can take your chemotherapy for you, though there are some who would. That simple fact is a chasm that separates you from us. You are going in a direction we cannot follow, not yet, though each of us must face the same perils sooner or later. And you are changing in ways we cannot fully understand.
Knowing you as I do, I suspect you may be uneasy or even mildly impatient with this voice card, but I'm not sure. I'm not sure what I would want my friends to say if I were in your shoes, let alone what you want. You are in a situation you've never been in before, and so are all of us, your friends. I hope, at the very least, you will forgive us, forgive me, if I say too little or, more likely, too much.
I think, on the whole, that you have faced this situation in very much the way I would like to think I would. You have remained calm and even gallant. There has been some gallows humor, but that is to be expected. Only once, I think, did I hear some real fear in your voice and I wonder if you could hear the fear in my voice or in my silence. That fear is there, as natural as air, but you have not given in to it. Nor have you given in to self-pity or despair. You have maintained not only your usual sense of dignity but have even managed a sense of curiosity at times. At the very least I want to say this much: that I admire the way you've started this journey. Now, more than ever, I admire your style.
I have no doubt that Dostoevsky was right. If you can get used to this sore-throat-from-hell than I surely can. But no one said it was easy.