It is hard to talk about dying.
Even though there is a 100% death rate among humans, we don’t really know what to say about it.
Militant phraseology invades our lexicon when confronted with cancer or some other terminal illness. In the face of imminent death and life altering disease we use words like “fight” and “battle” and “strong” and “beat” and “winning” to mitigate the reality that death comes to us all, and we cannot escape.
D.G. Myers had terminal cancer, and he hated the warrior mantra associated with looming mortality. He wrote in his blog on July 22, 2014 that
I hate being advised to “fight” my cancer. I am angered by obituaries which say that so-and-so “lost his battle” against cancer. It’s bad enough the military metaphors imply that those who die of cancer have put up a weak and pathetic fight, as if they were sad sacks like the Polish Army overrun by the German Wehrmacht during World War II.
But what is worse, to seek to “fight” my cancer is to struggle fruitlessly against physical necessity. There is nothing I can do to fight my cancer. It is going to kill me, and within the next few months. To rage against the verdict is a waste of my inner resources. It is another form of denial.
I found Myers, a professor and literary critic, while listening to EconTalk, of all things. I found his straightforward approach to literature and death bracing and true, and I began reading his writing at A Commonplace Blog.
He died on September 26, 2014.
Very few critics and academics have the courage to dabble in something as bourgeois as morality, but Myers believed in “the moral obligation to write well.” This obligation shaped his criticism.
His dedication to this principle made me come to his site looking for more. I wanted to renew my reading of literary criticism. Not since college have I disciplined or indulged myself in much criticism.
I miss thinking deeply about books. I miss reading books that warrant such thought. I miss wrangling with the words and context and biases to find what lies beneath the surface. I miss the discussion that comes from such thought.
I came looking for literary criticism, but I also found an honest and hopeful perspective on dying.
Myers writings on his cancer and the way it limited his life are pragmatic, but not unemotional. He felt all the pain and sadness of his illness and of knowing that he would leave his wife and not see his children grow up or get to do any of the other many things he had hoped and planned for.
For Myers, hope in dying comes from truth.
There is hope in facing the truth about his cancer and how his life is changed forever. He finds hope in the sovereignty of God. He finds hope in taking every bit of life, however limited, as a gift from God.
I recommend you visit his blog and read some of his writing—if not for his thoughts on books then for his posts on cancer and how to talk to people with cancer.
However, if you do want to improve your reading, or indulge your dormant desires for thoughtful discussion of literature, there is an abundance of writing on that as well.