Much of what Jessica and I have been invited to live into with regard to cancer and community is the task of affirming the awkwardness that necessarily exists between us and you.
Huh? Am I calling you awkward?
Well, yes, kind of. And no, not really. The whole thing, to be honest, is hopelessly awkward.
When you stop me and you say “Ryan, how are you?” we both realize that this is an awkward question without a good response. ‘Cause we both know part of the answer, “How am I? Oh, I’m just dying of cancer, that’s all. How are you?” or I could just go the polite route, “I’m great. How are you?” which leaves both of us fully aware that we just had an incredibly superficial dialog that was wholly useless. How am I? What you’re really wanting to say is “Ryan, I care for you. I want you to know that I care for you but I’m not quite sure what to say or how to say it.” but saying that would be equally awkward now wouldn’t it?!
And so we rest in the awkwardness of there being very little to say–very few appropriate things to say for such a time as this. Good MRI reports often make it easier, it gives us positive content to focus on. “I heard about your good results! Congratulations!” or, in other words, “Hey, I’m so glad we’ve got something to talk about that feels more socially appropriate than death!” and you’re right. Death is awkward to talk about in a quick casual conversation.
Sometimes I like to enter death into the conversation way before it’s socially appropriate. Sorry. Sometimes it’s just funny. Sometimes it cuts the tension in such a way that I just can’t pass it up. Sometimes I seriously simply forget what’s normal.
What is normal though?