This I Believe

Karen - Nashville, Tennessee
Entered on May 11, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: hope
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I believe in hoping big.

I was 36 when I heard the words, “There is no cure. You have six to twelve months.” It’s hard to hope when the only thing you have to look forward to is death.

I tried to convince myself that it was just a matter of changing the things for which I hoped – hoping small instead of hoping big. Instead of hoping for a job I loved, a wonderful man with whom I could spend my life, or to win the lottery – hoping big — I should hope for days without pain, the chance to see my niece born, and to have a “good death” – hoping small. But truly, deep down, that’s not what I wanted.

What I wanted was to live. It became a mantra for me. I would see a cardinal on the wing and murmur, “I want to live.” I would sooth myself to sleep at night by telegraphing one simple prayer: I want to live. I want to live. I want to live. When I found a four-leaf clover, tossed a coin in a fountain, or lit a candle in church, it was always the same: I want to live. I want to live. I want to live. I practically littered the streets of Nashville with hoping big.

That was 12 years ago. I’ve been living with terminal, metastatic breast cancer for 12 years. No one really knows why. Cancer hasn’t left my body, but it’s stopped growing. I went for big hope, and it bore fruit.

That makes some people angry. They want to know why I was so special, why I of all people should live when so many others deserved it more – young mothers with children who needed to be raised, scientists with important discoveries yet to make. All I can say is that I don’t know. I don’t believe hoping big made me live; I do believe there are others far more deserving than I of this quiet miracle.

I believe in hoping big, not so much because that hope might be fulfilled, but because of the way it’s changed the way I live. It’s ridiculous for me to hope that one day I’ll meet someone – how many men want to be with a dying woman, despite what the movies suggest? But I hope big because it gives me a reason to talk to men, to flirt a little bit, and even to dream once in a while. It’s preposterous for me to hope I’ll ever get that job I trained for, because what seminary wants to take on a terminal professor? But I hope big, because it gives me a reason to stay interested in my field, to keep reading and thinking about questions that matter to me.

I could go on, but the basic thing I believe is this: it’s more fun to hope big. Given the choice between dwelling on my death and enjoying my life, however little or much I have left, I’ll always take the preposterous one: hoping big.