If you are tapped into the science fiction and fantasy community, you probably know that Jay Lake died today. He was a talented author with an outsize personality, a quick wit, and an exuberant love of life. He will be deeply missed by everyone who knew him, but I'm not here to eulogize him, because people who knew him better are doing that, and better than I could. His passing has sparked in me an urge to reflect instead upon a lesson he taught us all, founded in how brave he was. Not just because he fought very, very hard to stave off the colon cancer that killed him, but because he wrote about his struggles in detail on his blog. He spared himself and his readers nothing in describing what he was going through, and I salute him for that.
It is not something I can do. On occasion I have shared with you and my followers on Facebook the bare facts that I, too, am fighting cancer. It affects my lifestyle, my energy, my motivation, my ability to concentrate, and pretty much every other damned thing about my life. But I have spent my whole life battling a distressing tendency to whine, and so I will avoid dwelling upon the depressing details lest I slide over the edge into the yawning pit of self-pity. As I gaze unwillingly down the road winding in front of me that Jay has already traveled, I cringe from the knowledge that all the things he wrote about likely lurk in my future as well. Don't expect me to share them, though, as he has already said it better than I can.
What I do want to share is a way for you, the folk who still, blessedly, have their health, to help and process the fact that your own friends, loved ones, and people you encounter have some loathsome disease you are helpless against. At Miscon recently, a good friend was hesitant to ask me how I'm doing because she was not sure I wanted to a) talk about it or b) be reminded of it, especially since Miscon is one weekend of near-guaranteed fun where you go to forget stuff like that. Truthfully, I would have been disappointed had she not asked. Pretending cancer doesn't exist doesn't make it go away, or make it any easier for the person who has it. Showing that you care, that you remember that your friend is facing challenges, means so much more than the mild, unpleasant jolt that may occur when someone brings it up.
Be there for your friends. Don't tiptoe around them and make them feel isolated from the life they once had. I wrote a story last year about a woman who viewed her cancer as like looking through glass at the life she had left behind. Yes, that careless health she never knew she had or appreciated until suddenly she found herself breakable. Flopping down into a snowbank and laughing, tumbling in the grass, simply wrestling rocks around her garden--these became do-nots for her as they have for me, a barrier to the things she (and I) once did without thought. And that is truth, for on the other side of the glass is that life you had, and on this side is the reality of what life is when you have a disease eating you up from the inside.
Jay fought hard, and so will I, because what he wanted, like all of us, is more time. Time to live the life he thought he'd have. Time to meet his goals in life. Time to watch his daughter grow up and himself to grow old with his beloved Lisa. Time for someone to finally find the "real" cure for cancer. Thousands upon thousands of researchers are racing to try and do just that, but for him the goal line was still too far ahead.
Maybe it will be for me, too. I don't know. But yes, I want time to write the books I feel wanting to be on paper. Time for the books I've already published to find their audience, for word of mouth to grow that hey, here's a great writer you should try. Time for family and friends and more weekends like Miscon, and holidays with big family gatherings, and quiet days in my garden. Time to admire more sunsets and ride my horse through mountain creeks, and sit beside a campfire admiring the quick spiraling of sparks up toward the stars.
Jay ran out of time, but he taught us so much in the scant 49 years he had. Do me a favor and help buy more people more time. That next Starbuck's latte or idle $5 purchase? How about you donate that to cancer research instead, or to battling some other disease for which there is no cure? Think of how much good $5 multiplied by a few thousand, or a few million, people could do.
Go for it. And remember that the best remembrance for an author is to buy their books. Go read Jay's, and remember a brave and lighthearted soul who is gone too soon.