When I came out of the hospital, everyone suddenly seemed
consumed with irrelevant, foolish, temporal worries. Reading the fine
print of your mortality is a great sifter of rubbish. I frowned at the
complaints posted on social media when I was recovering — people who had
the flu, were annoyed by politicians, burdened by work, or who were
juggling jobs and children — and wanted to scream: BUT YOU ARE ALIVE!!!!
Alive! Each day is a glory, especially if upright and able to move with
ease, without pain.
I am still grappling with what all of this means. But in this short time, three age-old truths became even more apparent to me.
First, stillness and faith can give you extraordinary strength. Commotion drains.
"brave" warrior talk that so often surrounds cancer rang false to me. I
didn't want war, tumult or battle. Instead, I just prayed to God. And I
think what I found is much like what Greek philosophers called
ataraxia, a suspended kind of calm in which you can find a surprising
Second, you may find yourself trying to comfort
panicked people around you. But those who rally and come to mop your
brow when you look like a ghost, try to make you laugh, distract you
with silly stories, cook for you — or even fly for 20 hours just to hug
you — are companions of the highest order. Your family is everything.
we should not have to retreat to the woods like Henry David Thoreau to
"live deliberately." It would be impossible and frankly exhausting to
live each day as if it were your last. But there's something about
writing a will that has small children as beneficiaries that makes the
My doctor asked me a few days ago how I
became so calm before the surgery. I told her: I prayed, I locked out
negativity and drama and drew my family and tribe — all big-hearted,
pragmatic people — near. I tried to live deliberately.
"Can I just say," she said, "you should do that for the rest of your life."
This column first appeared on the New York Times website.
Julia Baird is a Sydney Morning Herald contributor who is working on a biography of Queen Victoria.