In the prelude to Why Faith Matters, Rabbi David Wolpe describes his visit to the bedside of a friend, Isaac, who was dying of cancer. Knowing the Rabbi had been through chemo, too, Isaac asks, "why did it happen to you?"
In his answer, Rabbi Wolpe muses, "Perhaps it is...about what you will bring to those who come to you for comfort."
While reading this passage, I recall a middle-aged man who was in my support group 16 years ago. He appeared well but was, in fact, dying. He knew it; we all knew it. This man said calmly that his things were in order, and he'd continue his longtime volunteer position at a local hospital until he couldn't anymore.
That's exactly what the man did, in the process searing into my mind the possibility of ordinary people choosing to use their last weeks as positively as possible. I may not remember his name, but I'll never forget his calm.
Rabbi Wolpe articulates the same message when he tells Isaac on Page xiv: "In sickness we are not powerless. We still have the ability to teach...I study scripture with a man who just turned ninety. He had often recounted what his mother said to him as she was dying: 'My child, do not be afraid. It is only death, and it has happened to everyone who ever lived.' A long lifetime later, his mother's words still bring him comfort and courage. "
As one's body weakens, the effort to teach others can help keep one whole.