(RNS) A few weeks ago, I woke up from brain surgery that yanked out most of a cancer I’d never heard of. And suddenly, people of more faiths than I can name were blessing me.
On Facebook, believe it or not.
People who may not agree about eternity, politics or the state of digital life – with each other or me – were making me feel better.
I’ll take a small bit of credit. And I’ll offer some moral and even spiritual advice for how almost everybody who will eventually run into bad news should live digitally from now on.
Here’s the summary of my news: I’ll turn 62 shortly. In early fall of 2016, I started occasionally forgetting some words. Comprehension didn’t drop, so I thought maybe it was simple geezerishness.
I’d been a professional journalist since 1981, so words were pretty day-to-day important. (In fact, I’d covered religion, ethics and values for almost 15 years, ending a few years back.)
Over time, the word gap got a little worse. But nothing else really bad was noticeable. Maybe it was hormonal? Maybe something else minor?
On Dec. 10, I suddenly lost a tiny spot of eyesight in my right eye. A small stroke?
Hauled by my wife on a fast trip to a hospital ER, I underwent a CT scan and MRI that identified the problem: I had a special kind of cancer called glioblastoma. A tumor the size of a freakin’ chicken egg, on the far left side of my brain.
Surgery happened two days later. And when I woke up, I actually felt better than I had in weeks. Almost all the words were back. But I couldn’t think about doing some regular things. The very idea of turning on the TV or even listening to music made me feel squeamish. Talking to people by voice in groups? Not fun.
So I grabbed my iPhone, opened up Facebook and put in several silent and individual paragraphs summarizing what had happened to me.
Pretty quickly, the comments started and hit the hundreds. Some simple good wishes, some jokes, some detailed information from incredibly smart friends who knew about glioblastoma.
And prayers. Jewish kinds. Varieties of Christian. Muslim. At least one I think is Buddhist. And un-labelable.
Here’s a sad truth about too much of the digital world and Facebook in particular: Too many people stay away from those they disagree with. They’ll insult others to make what they think is the valid point. Not me.
I decided years ago that I wanted to demonstrate that it is possible to disagree digitally in a passionate and even funny way about almost anything – but stay civil. I only insult my friends, and only for a joke.
I’ve reached out to people whose faith and plan for how that faith should affect the real world is incredibly far from me. Some of them are among my absolute favorite Facebook friends.
I’ve been that way for a long time. So when the universe smashed my brain and I went onto Facebook, I had invested in variety for a long time. Had I been as consistently nasty as too many are, then it would have been pretty darned hard to suddenly seek out broad help at a time of terrible need.
Here’s where I am now: Radiation and chemotherapy will start very soon. Chances are pretty good I’ll celebrate my 63rd birthday in January of 2018. Chances are not so good I’ll be alive for my 64th. But who knows?
While nobody is immortal in this world, I’ll admit that I hadn’t focused much on that fact – until now.
Count me as sorta agnostic Jewish in outlook because of how I was raised and what I’ve read over the decades. (I think atheism is as fundamentalist as any other hard-position religion. Absolutely no God? Prove it.)
So I’m not much worried about hell. I am curious about how I should think about the possibilities of the Great Perhaps. And I do know some interesting things about many religions already.
For a while, as long as my brain stays working together, I plan on doing some exploration and writing about it. Maybe I’ll come up with ideas for others? If any reader has any suggestions for what I should dig into, I’d love a suggestion.
Facebook will be me while I stroll toward the egress. Feel free to send me a message. I’ll reply happily.
(Jeffrey Weiss is a longtime reporter who covered religion, faith and morality issues for more than a decade. In December, he was diagnosed with a brain cancer. He’s exploring how a likely end of life should affect his thinking about beliefs and behavior)