Open Holiday Letter To Anyone Who Has the Capacity To Love (Or Is Just Breathing)

You know, before 2012 I never related to George Bailey’s epic fall before his emotional salvation in that movie. But this year is different. Because this year is the first year I’ve watched it after getting cancer.
Publish date:
December 24, 2012

Dear Stranger,

It’s Sunday, December 23rd, 2012. My sticky 2-year-old niece and 4-year-old nephew are running circles around me, which makes it difficult to avoid their gooey, sugar-cookie-and-spit fingers, as I sit with my laptop in my lap and write this. Yep, I’m home for the holidays. And what’s on TV, but It’s A Wonderful Life?

You know, before 2012 I never related to George Bailey’s epic fall before his emotional salvation in that movie. I just thought, so many bells, so many angels, yay. Heart = Warmed. It’s a great movie. But I’ll tell ya what -- there’s a shit-ton of emotional availability in that movie that I never noticed before. Know why? Because this year is the first year I’ve watched it after getting cancer.

I never had to look at my life from outside myself like George did. I’ve never been as tall as Jimmy Stewart (this one I’m going to have to let go of and move on). No one in reality could get as low as he got and make it out on the other end. George Bailey was just a Capraesque hero. HE was so grateful to be alive in the end, he blessed the stairs in his house. His stairs that were broken. That’s some powerful shit.

Since cancer, I’ve been forced to reevaluate life, cut out the clutter and focus on what’s most important: the joys of living now. Even, metaphorically speaking, broken stairs.

I look at my life now as a new cancer survivor. Every month that I’m required to go back to my oncologist to see if the cancer has spread, I’m reminded how quickly my life can change. BROKEN STAIRS. I never felt sick before treatment. In fact, the treatment to “cure” me made me feel more ill than the actual cancer ever did. I had to get more sick in order to get well. BROKEN. STAIRS. George. How in the hell did you bless those broken stairs?

And getting well isn’t as easy as just getting a little chemo. The questions never end. Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Did I get this because I’m a bad person? When will people treat me like they used to? Who am I now? Do I want to be the person I was before? Am I going to grow old? If I die, who’s going to erase my browser history?

Me, me, me, always in my head, me, me, me (being a child of the 80s, this is an easy frame of mind). I’m sick of myself yet I can’t stop pitying myself (this is the 90s talking). You want to move on but you don’t see how you’re ever going to be able to. There’s so much, you just want it to all go away. Not life necessarily. But just the "it" of life. All the “it.” All the broken things you have to deal with.

Overwhelmed by my diagnosis, I reached out to my friend Daryl, who had been diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a type of bone cancer. He was in the middle of treatment. We were both surprised by our mutual unfortunate circumstances. We laughed about my reaction to his diagnosis a year prior.

I met up with him and our group of friends on Halloween 2011. Since everyone was in costumes, I just assumed he was, too. “Weird costume, though.” I thought. Before I could put my foot in my mouth and ask, “What are you for Halloween anyway? A cancer patient?!” I caught on to the conversation; Daryl had cancer. There’s nothing more awkward than making a casual joke about cancer to someone with cancer. I know that now in ways I never imagined. (Because I have cancer now!) Daryl laughed anyway.

Toward the end of my own treatment in October, I had read on Facebook that Daryl was doing well. Then in November, I read on Facebook that Daryl had also been released from treatment, but because there wasn’t anything more they could. Daryl died a few weeks later.

He died. He was doing well, and then he died. How does that even work? How does one go from doing well to dying? That’s not how it’s supposed to work. Is what I’m feeling “survivors guilt?” I don’t think so. I don’t know. I was just completing successful cancer treatment at the same time my only friend who could truly relate with my treatment died.

I look at my niece and nephew now. They are some happy children, you know? They can’t comprehend the complex feelings I have. They actually don’t care, either, and that’s kinda awesome. “Uncle H. Alan! Look at me jump! I can jump! Jump!” Life is sticky, like their hands right now, and I’m trying to avoid it but I can’t, because it’s life. I’m all deep about the life of life, and my niece and nephew are happier than I’ve been in the last 15 years because they just discovered JUMPING. They want to play. They want me to play because they love me. That’s all.

That’s it, it’s all about love. Not being loved, but loving.

I’m about to get very "Love, Actually" on you.

As a practicing member of the Church of Oprah, I read her Huffington Post blog on gratitude, stressing her belief in the, “power and benefits of being grateful,” as “a major cornerstone in building your best life.“ I keep thinking about that word “gratitude.” It’s hard to find the gratitude in your life when you have cancer. You’re grateful for life and you kinda hate everything else.

But being grateful is the cornerstone of building your best life, and possibly saving your life. I am grateful! I’m grateful for the opportunity to channel the awesome humanity left behind from Daryl and use it to love. I tried jumping with my nephews and you know what? It is kinda awesome, if you think about it. I think about it now! I have the unique opportunity to have experienced something so life-altering as cancer, and I’m turning it into a force of direction -- to love.

Clarence allowed George Bailey to see how important he was to so many people not because they loved him, but because of the love he showed them. Like George, I had reached a very low place, a sad place, and it took an angel like Daryl and his death for me to see what life really is about -- love. Sure, this is hokey, but it’s the holidays, a perfect opportunity to be as hokey as I want to be. So, B-one hockey stick-E-S-S you!

Did you like what I did there with “So, bless you”? I thought you would. You can use it. You’re welcome.

I can’t say with certainty that I’m cancer-free. I don’t know what tomorrow brings (other than knowing I’ll never be as tall as Jimmy Stewart. Still bummed about that). But I do know how to love. That’s all I, and you, need during the holidays.

Happy Holidays.

And God bless you, Broken Staircase.

H. Alan Scott

P.S. Now I want to watch "Love, Actually." #Livetweet party anyone?! @HAlanScott, hit me up!