Monday, October 31, 2005

Bad News From a Friend

I was driving in my car with my wife the other day when I said, "I have been unusually blessed in my life." My wife looked at me for a moment, examining my expression to see if I was being ironic. Finally she asked me, "Are you being serious?" I was, but I knew where she was coming from. My life hasn't been easy, that I can say for certain, but my life has been blessed as well.

When I needed to take a "semester" off from school and was living through some very rough times at home, I met my wife. She gave me hope and the knowledge that my three year long semester off was now over. Through her I was able to meet other people who could help me get back on my feet and who would begin mentoring me as an Undergraduate student and as a man. It was three of these mentors who really helped me when my mother died. They helped me keep my head together and to realize how much even small efforts of support can mean.

This is what I mean that I have been blessed, whenever I have encountered a roadblock in life I have always encountered a mentor who could guide me and provide me with advice in my current situation. What makes this such a blessing is that I am of the opinion that "mentoring" relationships are on a bit of a downturn. When I talk to Gen Xers all around, it is rare that I hear a good mentoring story. I usually hear about struggles and how those who should be mentors are hindering would be "mentees" or being generally ambivalent to the development of "the younger generation." This largely hasn't been the case with me, or at least hasn't been for the past 8 years or so.

One person who has been of great guidance to me in the recent past is Cathy Seipp. She's a blogger in Southern California who's blog I began frequenting after reading an article by her at National Review Online. I was going through my daily news cycle(LA Times, New Republic, NRO, NY Times...) when I saw an article by a West Coaster in the NRO. It wasn't a typical, i.e. Neocon, article and it focused on something happening out here. Truth be told, I can't remember specifics, but I was impressed and immediately clicked over to her blog. Eventually, I became a frequent poster in her comments section. The comments section that is much praised and highly thought of by its participants. I like to think of it as our internet version of Seinfeld, but more intellectual. Anyway, as any kind of pen pal relationship goes I began to think of Cathy as a part of my circle of friends, and like those friends it didn't matter whether I always agreed with her. All that mattered was how the conversation went. After all, even my wife and I disagree over the self-evident value of The Perfect Weapon. Cathy always, well okay usually, writes about interesting topics and even when she doesn't she writes well about whatever her subject is.

Evantually, I built up the courage to email her in order to communicate one on one. Alright, I had a good excuse to email her, I needed a Southern California conservative to speak at an event for work. But that excuse allowed me to overcome my initial shyness and begin what I consider to be a valuable relationship. Cathy has been a great mentor in many ways. My wife and I have had a bit of a chaotic year so far and Cathy has been a cornerstone of my confidence that everything is going to be okay. She has always put the events of my life into context, all without needing to refer to her own experience. She has been amazing, and without her I would be an emotional wreck and my wife wouldn't have her current (very cool) job.

Before I get to what the bad news is, I thought I would share that I was reticent to put the word friend in the title of this post. Not because I don't consider Cathy a friend, I do, but because I didn't want to be presumptuous with regard to her opinions. Many people have a high bar for who they consider a friend, in fact I am one of those people. I don't confide my utmost secrets to acquaintances or random passers by, and I have a number of good acquaintances but few friends. Needless to say, given the blessing she has been in my life I consider Cathy to be a great friend. In his Nicomachean Ethics, and I am paraphrasing here, Aristotle says that the best type of friendship is one based not on anything material you can gain from someone, rather it is a friendship based upon the character of the person you consider a friend. Cathy Seipp is someone of tremendous character.

Let me give you an example, and in doing so share the bad news mentioned in the title. Cathy recently shared with her internet community that she has Lung Cancer. In the post she discusses her thoughts on the matter, and does a better job than I can paraphrase so please read her commments, as always she includes a bit of humor in a deeply serious subject. I have known for a little while that she had cancer and was receiving chemo, but I didn't know what kind of cancer she was battling. I merely knew it was serious. Here is where her character comes in to play. As I mentioned above, my wife and I have had a hectic year. A part of that year is a "medical" event involving my wife. I won't go into details here because it is important to only a few people (though I will tell you via email Rob). Needless to say, Cathy was able to provide advice and consolation without once saying, "Bah, so what?! I have lung cancer! Top that you boob!" Nor did she say anything nearly as condescending. She was helpful, a friend in need and a mentor who could put life's events into proper perspective.

But her character doesn't merely reflect itself in her ability to help others. Her character is also manifest in the way she faces her struggle. Her daughter Maia, who also has a blog, posted a brief snippet of conversation with Cathy today. I will excerpt what I thought was representative:
Right before the movie started, she asked me out of the blue, "You wouldn't get rid of the furniture, would you? Its nice furniture, and you would like it right?"

In her conversation with her daughter, she was able to do something very brave. She was able to talk frankly, but without despair or false hope, about the big what if. How many times do we as people have the strength of character to do that? I would argue that it is far to rare a character trait, but that is Cathy.

I will finish with Cicero who in his treatise On Friendship wrote:

Is not prosperity robbed of half its value if you have no one to share your joy? On the other hand, misfortunes would be hard to bear if there were not some one to feel them even more acutely than yourself. In a word, other objects of ambition serve for particular ends - riches for use, power for securing homage, office for reputation, pleasure for enjoyment, health for freedom from pain and the full use of the functions of the body. But friendship embraces innumerable advantages. Turn which way you please, you will find it at hand. It is everywhere; and yet never out of place, never unwelcome. Fire and water themselves, to use a common expression, are not of more universal use than friendship. I am not now speaking of the common or modified form of it, though even that is a source of pleasure and profit, but of that true and complete friendship which existed between the select few who are known to fame. Such friendship enhances prosperity, and relieves adversity of its burden by halving and sharing it.

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