Friday, September 25, 2009

A Promise Mended

A little exposition on my For Teh Boobies post from earlier this week...

When I was 11 years old, my Godmother, Mardine Zazworsky, lost a long fight with breast cancer.

Aunt Mardine was one of those people who just personified what good is. She was kind, generous, loving, open, honest, friendly, compassionate, empathic (but not in a Marina Sirtis c.1987 way), and she always had a smile on her face. Everyone who knew her, by default, pretty much became a better person themselves in a small way. She had that effect on people, which only served to add to just how genuinely awesome she really was.

But then, of course, she came down with breast cancer.

Now there's a disease (along with cancers of all types) that no one should ever have to suffer from. Your own body effectively turns against itself: Cells mutate and grow, sucking bodily resources, crowding out and killing off healthy cells. It's a nightmare. And the treatment options aren't much better: Radiation, chemo, drug after drug after drug.

Back then, in the late 80s, cancer treatment was nowhere near what it is today, but even though we've come along a bit, watching a cancer victim suffer isn't pretty. Aunt Mardine was in a hospital bed that sat in her living room for the last few months of her life. For 11 year old Me, that was hard to see. It tore me apart that here was one of the most wonderful women in the world, saddled with the worst disease mankind has ever come to know.

Before she died, she told my mother that she had one request for me: That I get closer to God. She'd hoped her dying wish would turn me closer to the Church.

It feels kind of shitty, but when my mom told me that, I looked at her and said, "I'm sorry, Mom, but I can't do that. I just watched one of the most awesome people on this Earth suffer through this Earth's worst disease. There is no way I can believe in a God that would allow that to happen." I had no choice - My Aunt's suffering was the final nail in religion's coffin for me.

For the first few months after she died, that conflict made me a wreck. All the evidence in front of me was taking me in the opposite direction from where Aunt Mardine wanted me to go. My disenchantment with religion was too strong for me to accept the wishes of someone I loved and cared about very much. This would be the first real conflict I would face as an Atheist, and it took me a while to come up with a way to make it work in my own mind.

Instead of heeding my Aunt Mardine's wishes to get closer to God, I would skirt God altogether and decide for a more direct approach: I would honor my Aunt Mardine's life and struggle in any way I could. Thus began my involvement with charity organizations like Relay for Life.

Since then, I've participated in several Relay events, and donated time for others. For me, it keeps my Aunt Mardine's memory alive in my heart and mind in a vivid and very real way. I've talked with sufferers and survivors about her life and what kind of Godmother she was to me. I've found that, even through simply talking about her life, she still has that same effect on folks that she did during the better years of her life.

Even today, as Aunt Mardine's daughter Janine emerges as a breast cancer survivor, I continue to support any cause aimed at eradicating this horrible illness. If I walk, their names are on my wristband. If I donate, it is in their names. And if I speak out, their names are never far from my lips as I tell their stories of tragedy and triumph in the hopes that it will help inspire the end of the nightmare that is cancer.

And imagine that: My commitment to a secular mode of thinking and living actually drove me to do good things. Maybe we're not such heathens after all if we can do such things in someone's memory, and do them out of pure, real, unbridled love...

1 comment:

Terilynn said...

This is a beautiful post. Thanks for tweeting it.

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