Contributing a Verse

Yesterday it was my birthday.  I celebrate my birthday, even though I am heading toward 50 (ok, I have a few more years).  In truth, I try to celebrate every day.  Why?  Because I owe it to the people who have helped get me here.  I owe it to the people who I met along the journey who are no longer here.  And I owe it to myself.

In my forthcoming book, The Layman’s Guide to Surviving Cancer, I talk about how a return to “normal” after cancer is not the goal.  The goal really is, and should be, a life that is better than normal; a life that is not a return to the status quo ante.  Cancer reminds us of the need to grow, love, recognize, give and forgive.  We need to do these things because we have been given chances that many others never get: the chance to understand in a very present way how valuable life is and, once we have survived, a second chance of living it.  Therefore, we owe it to the too many others, the comrades in arms, who are no longer with us.

Last week a college friend’s wife passed away very suddenly.  I didn’t know her that well, but I was at their wedding, and danced and rejoiced with them.  I saw them intermittently over the years and caught up with them as to where our respective lives had taken us.  Then suddenly, in one swift, terrible moment, everything changed for my friend and his children.  The woman who had been intertwined with his life for some three decades was, in one awful instant, gone.  No time for reflection or to make amends (if there were any to be made).  No last chance to say the things that need to be said all the time.  No second chance to live with a renewed sense of appreciation for everything.  Now remains a very difficult, uncharted road for my friend and his children.

So yesterday’s birthday, like many days, was a mixture of emotions.  I felt happy and sad, content and angry, at peace and tormented, grateful and guilty.  But I owe it to others and myself to continue to celebrate.  Walt Whitman wrote: “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”  Life’s verses do not always rhyme, but it remains for us to write them and sing them out loudly for as long as we are given the chance.  What will yours be?

In healing,


This post is dedicated to the memory of Deborah Baron.


  1. Howard,
    “Cancer reminds us of the need to grow, love, recognize, give and forgive”. It appears that you have managed to “suck” the meaning out of this terrible disease. According to Viktor Frankl, this is mans life goal and responsibility: to find meaning, even in the most unwanted events.
    Without detracting from Cancer being our mortal enemy, it must teach us something, and by G-d, you seem to be doing your best to figure what that something is.
    with love,

    • Thanks Danny, I wholeheartedly agree. That’s the lesson that the torah teaches us as well in the story of Bilaam: from his attempts to lay a curse, a blessing flowed. That’s our lesson too; to draw from seeming curses the blessings that may be revealed through the experience. Shabbat shalom and regards to all.