A book that will do you good.
One day at the library, I came across a book with a very peculiar title. It sat blithely among other classics, offering the golden opportunity of an intriguing and thought provoking read. A book - asking Death not to be proud - I presumed - had to be about intense, extreme and debilitating circumstances and raw emotions. What I didn't know and what I was stumped to find was that the book was about strength, and overcoming the seemingly impossible in the face of something terminal and fatal. Not narrated from a place of bereavement, pain, injustice but from a place of empowerment - this is especially poignant and shocking since its narrated by the father; that he chose to not cry himself hoarse about the injustice, tragedy and pain but keep calm in the face of a storm and elegantly chronicle Johnny's strength and courage and the battle that he lost but fought like a true champion - says a lot about his grit level.
Who wouldn't be drawn to a tale of not just surviving but triumphing, of not living in a place of darkness but light, of surpassing and transcending. A title that screamed - death did not win - was a book meant to be read. As I picked it up from the shelf and eyed the back cover with a certain curiosity and hunger, I knew this was a book I would cherish. And I wasn't disappointed.
Right at the onset, you learn that a brutal fate befalls a family when their seventeen year old only child is diagnosed with brain tumor. But, really, the sense of tragedy stops with those opening pages, and rest of the narrative is a poignant tale of the heroic choices Johnny makes.
To me, Johnny seemed an inexplicable phenomena; a mystery; an aberration. He seemed very Buddha like or as close a personification of Buddha as someone can be in such daunting, gut-wrenching, searingly heartbreaking situation. Frankly, how does one keep their cool in a life threatening situation that's perpetual and irrevocable? How do you accept that your own body has become your own worst enemy; that it's a hostile system that's killing you frighteningly fast? He did not obsess about the possibility of physical pain, did not wallow in pity or misery, did not let his mind go down the path that his body had chosen - that of self-annihilation. If his body was deteriorating, his mind was soaring to beatific heights on 9 out of 10 days.
Johnny adores science. One of his favorite things was to explore, learn and discover through chemistry experiments. He was curious and witty, shy and introverted, intelligent and discerning. Academia and science were his calling. This is pre-brain tumor. And post-brain tumor, nothing changes, he remains true to his calling. After being forced out of school for 15 months by this deadly disease that consumed his energy but not his spirit, he hires tutors, works incredibly long hard hours to catch up with his course work and to graduate with his class. Once he graduates, he takes the next big leap - he studies and takes the test for his dream school - Harvard. Johnny’s hospital excursions and his interactions with his army of doctors and nurses is a bag of humor, profound questions and observations, stoic adherence to protocols, and insightful and precocious conclusions.
Needless to say, his doctors and nurses are beyond dazzled by his intelligence and willpower; by how he beat the odds and lived longer and functioned like his usual brilliant self when afflicted with such deadly disease. The doctors had predicted bleak things for Johnny - his mind would be ravaged, he would be bedridden and in tremendous pain, and he would die very soon. In short, they wrote Johnny off and they were proved wrong. Its an enduring enigma as to why and how Johnny could retain his mental faculties until the day he died. His father thinks it might be the permutation and combination of various treatments that let Johnny retain his consciousness. His father ponders as to why a kid like Johnny, for whom the biggest asset and the most prized possession was brain, was chosen to suffer from brain tumor. Why did Johnny had to be terminal? Fervidly pursuing a multitude of treatments, praying, hoping, sleepless nights, and finally the inevitable void swallowing their child bit by bit - no words can describe what this must do to a parent.
I cannot recommend this book enough. It will have you gaping, stumped, incredulous and teary eyed. Its written beautifully and is a total page-turner.
The love for books & a hunger for stories was programmed into my DNA. And, sooner than later, life experiences sealed the deal. Books have saved me, transformed my life, enlightened me and have shown me the path I must walk. In a way, far too many books have played the role of kindred spirits and guides, leading the seeker in me to answers and paving a way for a new way of life. Books have helped me keep my wits, my sense of wonder, my sense of mystery and curiosity & my sanity in a life that has been anything but predictable and normal.