My friend Ilana is sick. She’s in the fight of her life. And she’s winning. Please God and anyone else who may be listening, she’s winning.
Meanwhile, I’m listening closely, reading, tweeting, and retweeting. Because my friend, Rabbi Ilana Garber, educator, leader, and spiritual guide—this extraordinary woman of great courage, enormous skill, and powerful ability—is, it turns out, a person of tremendous generosity of spirit. Ilana, with whom I was once very close but now, because of the distance of time and geography, because of the demands of the professional and the personal, and because life is sometimes just like that, am rather less close, has been telling us all about it. With breathtaking courage and deep generosity and an amazing amount of guts, my friend has been chronicling her cancer.
I’m so, so grateful. I’m grateful because she’s invited me (and not just me) to be a part of her life when she’s at her most vulnerable. (That is true strength.) I’m grateful because she’s telling me (and not just me) how to care for her and support her, and she’s allowing us to be a part of her life even when we are not caring for her and supporting her as much as we could. (And in so doing, she’s supporting us.)
And, selfishly, I’m grateful because the kid in me, who grew up in a house of cancer and watched it take my father away (Ilana and I share that, too), doesn’t really know what to do. That kid, the once young and old soul (13 when my dad died, and old in the way that loss makes us be), is wary of making noise when silence is needed. That kid is careful not to intrude on exhaustion and weakness and sheer agonizing pain that leaves energy enough just for the closest of immediate family, and maybe not even them. That kid—who now has kids of her own, and is learning that things look different from the other side (my mother—how did she do it?)—has kept her distance without totally knowing if distance is wanted because I remember a different time when distance was needed.
And my friend Ilana has made that OK. Through her blogs, through her tweets, through her e-mail updates, my friend has allowed me to be part of her fight. (Check them out on Kveller and at her website. Prepare to be moved.) She’s welcomed me on to her team (it’s a big team, full of the many people who love her) and she’s accepted what I have to offer. And it’s all happened virtually. This is amazing to me.
For all of the incivilities and oversharings and impositions that occur online, the digital has now become a magical space to me, a space that traverses distance and hesitation and germs, a space where I can share in the journey of my friend when she most needs people around her. She’s rather far away, and her immune system is vulnerable, and phone calls are tiring and there are already lots of people she has to talk to (and I’m really, really bad on the phone). But thanks to her bravery in sharing her story, I am able to be a part of it and, quietly, on the sidelines, I am able to listen. And to cheer. And be part of her life.
It’s an extraordinary blessing, and an extraordinary thing that she has done, welcoming her family, friends, congregants, and even strangers into her road to victory. Because it’s hard to be sick, and harder to be vulnerable, and even harder to be honest about sickness and vulnerability. Because I’m not the only one who doesn’t know what to do, or how to do it, or when. Because it’s insane to imagine that illness should be ennobling when, simply, it sucks, and it’s important to make that clear. Because she is my friend and I am comforted in reading her words, and hearing her stories, and knowing that her voice is being shared.
Because she has cancer, and that’s a part of her now, and because it is only one part of her. Because she was extraordinary before cancer, and she is extraordinary still.