For Ryan

RIP Ryan Woods, November 7th, 2012

Ryan Woods had what many people dream of, and what's more it's obvious, unlike many of us, he truly lived with gratitude and appreciation of his good fortune long before his cancer diagnosis.

Watching his story and reading his last journal entries is a lesson in cruelty. It seems impossible to imagine he won't somehow be granted a miracle. Death looms and strikes out with impunity,  more importantly, as Ryan explains, this is not something to be afraid of, and in his case, to be adequately prepared for if you still have any time left.

Even if we accept world is a chaotic churning of events that respects no virtue, and can even reward vice and deception, why should this overshadow our experience, and our faith in acts of compassion and altruistic behaviour among human beings? Faced with stories like Ryan's, many people turn to nihilism as the clearest rational option. What purpose is there to embrace a world where the most gentle and exceptional people suffer for no other reason than being genetically unlucky? Why should we bother, why should we love? All is meaningless and ends abruptly, and often unjustly, in death.

Consider instead how Ryan felt worse for the people he is leaving behind than for himself, not because he isn't devastated that he is dying, but that his family and friends will feel the loss for so many years to come, while his suffering will have ended. Understanding the significance of this way of thinking and feeling, in the midst of the inconsolable, we might begin to give up the spiral of cold angst. Ultimately it reveals there is no notion of our self that is has much substance beyond these close bonds and collisions we make with others, and the connections we might never know about - forged to people in the wider world from to the fruits of our labours during our brief time here.

That's not to say you can avoid the aching horror of meaninglessness as you approach mortality - that too is a natural response. But surrendering to the most innate and desire for connection and acceptance can heal and mitigate some of the existential terror, and anchor your psyche on the precipice of death.  

From Ryan's blog: 

In no way did I feel alone in any sense of the word. How could I have? I was being held in the arms of a woman who in every single way has given everything for me. I don’t remember clearly what she was whispering in my ear tonight (nor do I remember what she whispered during other seizures) but the fact that she was there holding me and whispering anything was enough to keep my body in emotions grip, in the grip of those tears that have eluded me most of my adult life. Those tears that have become so utterly freeing.

It feels good to cry. It feels appropriate, it feels like I”m doing the right thing, like I can’t be judged for crying–I can only be loved. And I desperately want to be loved. Sometimes when I cry, when I really cry and cry hard, I’m honestly just in search of confirmation that I’m not simply wasting time here dinking around waiting to die. The thing is, I think you never feel more human than when you are dying.

If you've gotten to the end of the short film above, you saw his request to each of us watching. I don't think he asked for much, and I am happy to oblige.
What will your contribution look like?

Ryan's Blog

Singing to his Wife on Their Wedding Day
A Last Conversation between Ryan and the filmmaker

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