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Another Beautiful Essay

Posted 11/10/2013

Posted in

  As dusk closes in (at not quite 4:30) on this Sunday afternoon, I am content. We have had a very special weekend to mark my husband's birthday. Last night we took our adult family (all 12 of us) to a wonderful small chef-owned restaurant in Cambridge where we had the taster's menu (some the vegetarian and some the omnivore version) and delighted in carrot vanilla bean soup and shellfish salad and a remarkable little squash thing (like a formed souffle on a plate) and many other small and creative and delicious bites. We had an overflowing house last night with people in every bed and one on a couch and all slept well--although some slept too little (hard to be overly sympathetic about that since they stayed up until 2 AM to watch a movie and savor a single malt).

  This morning we staggered through coffee and began to set up for a large brunch--now including dear friends and the grandchildren. It was nice enough outside that a line was hung between two trees for the children and some intrepid adults to try to walk (very close to the ground, obviously) while others just ran around with dogs and rolled in the leaves and generally were happy. The food was delicious and plentiful--my first kugel was a hit, and I was completely taken with a brussel sprout and argula salad. Everyone has now departed by plane and car, and we are blissfully tired and blessed.

  I appreciate your humoring me with the past few paragraphs because it is a stretch to pretend they are an introduction to this marvelous essay by Susan Gubar from the New York Times. Maybe I can just say that it is a gift from her to us all.

  Living With Cancer: Tumbling Blocks

On a night several months ago, the digital clock blinked 11:53. My husband was asleep so I crept
down the hall, only turning on a light when I got into my study. On a sheet on the floor were fabrics
laid out for a new quilt in the tumbling block pattern. Pictures of my friends kept me company, but
there was no photo of the woman over whom I was grieving.
One of my former graduate students was dying of lung cancer, and no, she did not smoke. Her
name was Susan, too. In my email to her, I closed with “Susan2,” which quickly became “S2.” She
signed “Susan Also,” which quickly became “SA.” Students are supposed to outlive their teachers.
SA had heard the sentence from an oncologist that I expect eventually to hear: “I have nothing else
to offer you.” Weakened by metastases, she had asked her partner to call hospice for help at home.
SA is the third of my former graduate students to receive a cancer diagnosis. When many of them
convened on the occasion of my retirement, one had already died in her 30s from breast cancer. A
speaker invited to that event, a younger colleague from another university, could not attend
because she was sick with what turned out to be endometrial cancer. Another who did attend has
subsequently had to undergo surgery for ovarian cancer.

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