I've become attached at the hip to Funky Winkerbeam, a comic strip at which I'd never even glanced until a friend of mine, a hospice chaplain, mentioned this summer that one of its major characters was dying of cancer and had elected to forego further treatment. Suddenly I became a fan of heroic Lisa the lawyer, who challenges cancer by living each day with vigor and determination, and her embattled little family, circle of loving friends, and newfound son, whom she had given up for adoption in an earlier life.
The comic strip's creator gave a recent series of interviews from which I learned that Lisa would indeed die this fall, probably in October. He has been beseiged by fans begging for a miraculous cure, but he long ago decided that Lisa's story would be one of the hard ones.
Several days ago, on my daughter's birthday, Lisa appeared before Congress to testify about cuts in funding designated for cancer research. "This," she said, "is a war we could actually win." She didn't have any hair, but she retained her eloquence and grace as an attorney and spokesperson for those who walk in her shoes.
But then, a couple of days ago, Lisa's husband, commenting on her energy in going to Washington and coming home to host their daughter's birthday party, discovers as he cleans up after the guests have left that she has fallen asleep on the couch. I wondered, had that renowned energy of Lisa's suddenly and finally deserted her?
It seemed so yesterday, when Lisa honored the promise she had made to her daughter to walk her to her first day of school; she hugged Summer good-bye and then, unable to rise from the sidewalk, told her husband that she would wait for him to get the car. Summer had already gone into the building, her memory of her first day forever unmarred thanks to the loving courage of her mother.
I remember one of my last significant conversations with my own mother. I was just a little older than Lisa's daughter. It must have been sometime in September; school had started, we were in the car, and she was telling me that there was a plan afoot for me to skip into third grade. What did I think about that, she wondered?
A terrible idea! I pointed out that cursive writing was taught in second grade; if I skipped ahead to third, I would be in a class in which everyone would know how to write in cursive ~ everyone but me. I would be the "stupid kid," the one who couldn't write.
Oh, said my mother, quite thoughtfully, at least in my recollection.
And then within the next few weeks, in early October, both she and my youngest brother were killed in an automobile accident as she drove me to second grade one day, and there was no more talk for awhile of anything beyond survival.
I can hardly bear to watch Lisa and her family, and yet I am mesmerized by the journey they are making together. They are only characters in a comic strip, and yet I am overcome by the desire to shield them from the October that will inevitably come.