At a time when I should have felt abandoned by God, I experienced what Augustine called “the sweetness.”
I am at the office, pacing at my treadmill desk and flipping through my latest research, when my phone rings. “Hello, this is Kate.” It’s Jan from the doctor’s office. She has a little speech prepared, but my mind is zeroing in and out. I can hear that she is talking, but I can’t make out the words. It is not my gallbladder, I catch that much. But now it is everywhere. “What’s everywhere now?” I ask. “Cancer.” I listen to the buzz of the phone. “Ms. Bowler.”
The treatment at Emory begins at the end of October. I am tired most of the time, but I feel driven to catalog everything and wring every bit of time for all it’s worth. I start to write. In bed, in chemo chairs, in waiting rooms, I try to say something about dying in a world where everything happens for a reason. Whenever there is a clarifying moment of grief, I jot it down.
And then, in a flurry, I shoot it off to The New York Times, not thinking too much about whether it’s any good but sending it because I have been infected by the urgency of death. Then an editor there sees it and puts it on the front page of the Sunday Review. Millions of people read it. Thousands share it and start writing to me. And most begin with the same words. “I’m afraid.”
Me too, me too.
“I’m afraid of the loss of my parents,” writes a young man. “I know I will lose them someday soon, and I can’t bear the thought.” “I’m afraid for my son,” says a father from Arkansas. “He has been diagnosed with a brain tumor at forty-four, which would have been devastating enough if he had not already lost his identical twin brother to the same disease …