Friday, June 7, 2013

Life Is Not Fair

Photo courtesy of EW
Photo courtesy of Washington Post
If he had not happened to pass away the day before my own father, I would have spent some time mourning the loss of Roger Ebert this spring. I trusted Mr. Ebert's opinions on movies since my father, sister, and I would watch Siskel & Ebert on the weekends in the 80s. As a teenager in the 90s, I'd scan through his reviews in the newspaper (remember those?) before deciding which movie to go see each Saturday night. In college, I'd look up what he had to say about both classic films that I was just discovering, and the new releases that I loved to go see. By the time I reached my 20s and 30s, I found that reading his reviews after seeing a new film was an excellent way to both digest the story and understand how the film-making techniques helped to tell the story.

I loved Mr. Ebert's intelligence, his humor (which could be very pointed at times), and his absolute love for a story well-told. I loved how he loved movies, even the awful ones, because I feel the same way. A film is a brief encounter with a new world, and even the poorly-created worlds can have wonderful things to offer if you're willing to overlook their flaws. (So I Married An Axe Murderer and Knowing both spring to mind). And of course, there is the glee with which you can pick apart the flaws of the movies whose worlds you'd rather not visit ever again. (I'm looking at you Iron Man 3. I'm sorry, you just don't introduce a house-sized stuffed rabbit twice without then making some further reference, plot point, or joke about it. Seriously, did Shane Black have a friend who makes giant stuffed animals to whom he owed a favor?)

As much as I love Ebert's writing--and he was so very prolific that I still have hours and hours of unread entertainment waiting for me--a big part of my affection for him stems from his incredible response to his cancer battle. As I'm sure you know, cancer robbed him of a major portion of his jaw, his ability to talk, and his ability to eat. And yet, he was never bitter about it, just matter-of-fact.

I wish I could find the specific quotation, but in the days after his and my father's deaths, I remember reading where Ebert wrote that he did not consider his attitude toward cancer to be brave. It was simply handling the real truth of the cards he had been dealt. He felt that there was no bravery in accepting reality and moving forward with his life.

He may be correct that his attitude was not brave. But it is rational, and mature, and difficult to do, and a lovely gift to the people who love you. Simply accept the things you cannot change--as I'm sure that Mr. Ebert learned to do through his experiences with AA.

That attitude reminds me of my father. On the last day of my father's life, I spoke to my father's best friend Arnold in the hallway of the hospital where Dad spent his last hours. Arnold reminded me of the fact that Dad always said that life was not fair, and there was no point in expecting it to be otherwise.

He was certainly right. Life is not fair.
It's not fair that I lost my sweet father at age 62.

It's not fair that my son has to grow up without knowing firsthand Dad's humor and his love for films and his presence.

It's not fair that my second child will never know my father.
It's not fair that I can't call my father every day, at any time of day, to ask for his advice or guidance.
It's not fair that my father won't dance at my sons' weddings and know his great-grandchildren.

It's not fair that I have a hole in my heart that will be there until the day I die.
But no one promised me fair.

Life doesn't give you everything you want or expect, even if those wants and expectations seem reasonable.
It's reasonable to expect your father to live a long and healthy life.

It's reasonable to want your father to enjoy his time with his grandchildren.

It's reasonable to expect to be able to talk and eat and keep your jaw throughout your entire life

It's reasonable to want to be free of cancer.
But just because these are reasonable expectations does not mean they are owed to anyone. You get what you get, whether that is a life cut short or a life that is different from what you planned.

The only thing you can do is what my father and Mr. Ebert did:
Accept what you do get and be grateful for it.
So, even though I miss my father terribly and wish with all my heart that I could have him back, I'm going to follow Dad's and Ebert's example:

I am and always will be grateful for the time that I had with Dad and the lovely memories of him that I can share with my children.

1 comment:

  1. Emily, This is beautiful. I have a similar bond with my father and I am so grateful to still have him. I am sure your father would be proud of you for taking on this attitude. You are right, it may be rational, but it's not easy. I wish you comfort and peace as you continue to grieve.

    Elizabeth (Erika's cousin!)