Reflecting on the book and thinking about the many themes we have written about this semester, which theme you did enjoy thinking and writing about the most and why, or which theme intrigued you the most and why. Did this book spark a curiosity in you that encouraged you to read other texts on the same subject? Di you enjoy the book? Why or Why not?
In this chapter titled “Too Much Happiness”, Will and Mary Anne are reading a mystery novel called The Miracle at Speedy Motors by Alexander McCall Smith. Mary Anne is enjoying the novel because Mma Makutsi, a character in the story, describes some African villages she’s been to and they remind Mary Anne of the villages she has visited herself. The family celebrates Will’s Dad’s eighty-second birthday and Mary Anne confides in Will that a friend gave her a marijuana plant to “help [her] develop an appetite” (Schwalbe 308). Their last visit to Dr. O’Reilly is on September 1 and shortly afterward Will flies to San Francisco for a series of business meetings. Will is only in San Francisco for two days before returning to see his mother whose health is deteriorating quickly. Mary Anne is angry that Will cancelled his trip and returned home. Will updates his mother’s blog to let everyone know how she is not doing so well anymore and a nurse comes in to help the family take care of Mary Anne. One night, Nancy reads the bible to Mary Anne and she and Doug tell Mary Anne everything that's been happening with her grandchildren. Will’s dad spends a lot of time with Mary Anne telling her that they have had “a grand adventure” (Schwalbe 320) together. Will spends time telling her about all the books they’ve read. Mary Anne dies at 3:15 on the morning of September 14.
In the literary work Apology by the philosopher Plato, the main character of the story, Socrates, is put on trial for his life by the people of Athens as a result of his philosophical teachings. While on trial Socrates says “The fear of death amounts to one simply being wise” (Plato 29). In the novel Will says, “When I looked at Mom in that moment, I saw not a sick person, but not quite the same Mom I’d known all my life… I’d met a slightly different person, a new person, someone quirkier and funnier” (Schwalbe 307). What do you think caused Mary Anne do become this new person? Do you think this new Mary Anne Will describes was created as a result of her fear of death making her wiser like Socrates mentions in the quote above, or was it the new perspective she had developed as a result of having cancer? Or do you think something else caused this transformation in Mary Anne?
Plato, and St George Stock. The Apology. Oxford: Clarendon, 1948. Print.
Schwalbe, Will. The End of Your Life Book Club. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. Print.
**Please bear with me because I am reading from an electronic copy.**
In this week’s reading Will begins the chapter by telling us about David Rohde, who was taken by the Taliban and was a friend of Mary Anne. She had hoped and prayed that he would escape to find out that he had eventually escaped in late June. For their next book they read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Will does not want Mary Anne to die without having done certain things, for example many people told her that she had to read the The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo on multiple occasions (280). Before they begin to read the book Mary Anne’s doctors tell her that her condition is becoming worse. On page 281, Will says, “We’re all in the end-of-our-life book club, whether we acknowledge it or not; each book we read may well be the last, each conversation the final one.”
In August of my junior year of high school, at the time my 62 year old grandfather was diagnosed with what doctors originally thought was throat cancer. Him and my grandma have always had hundreds of friends, both have amazing careers, traveled constantly and basically never settled down. He was ALWAYS the life of the party and there was always at least one person who knew who he was wherever you went, it was crazy. As we were all under the assumption that he had a curable form none of us thought much about it until his third checkup. He had the rarest form of thyroid cancer that .02% of the world population has ever been diagnosed with. Needless to say there was no cure. He gradually began to get worse and we all knew it was just a matter of time. He was the guy that you would think was going to outlive everyone, and he was always a firm believer in “quality or quantity.” He turned down the option to put a trache in his throat and stopped radiation. Having a job in a field where patients pass away on a weekly basis it was a miracle to see that he had “accepted” it quite quickly. He had everything in order for my grandma and was ready, and never let anyone help him or try and do something because even though he knew we all love him, he was stubborn and wanted to do everything on his own. He eventually passed away November of that same year the Thursday before Thanksgiving. There were over 400 people at his funeral and it was an almost eerie thing to see so many people there and it made me realize that no matter how many flaws a person can have it can change how you see them knowing that they will not be there much longer.
Will realized he did not have much time left with his mom and knew that he had to help out live out her final days. He knew that the day was coming quickly.
Do you know or have you known anyone who has had an illness such as cancer and helped them live out their last day? If not, if you were in Will’s shoes how would you help a loved one live out their last days?
In this week’s reading Mary Anne and Will choose the books Suite Francaise, The Bite of the Mango, and The Elegance of the Hedgehog for their book club. The book Suite Francaise by Nemirovsky “is a book about refugees and life under occupation, by a refugee” (253). The book The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara is about how she was captured by the rebels and was witness of many terrible horrors. She wanted to escape from the rebels without being hurt but they chopped of her arms in order to let her go so she would not be able to vote (261-262). Mariatu Kamara received an award at the Women’s Refugee Commission lunch, which Mary Anne attend and was tributed. “Days after the lunch, mom got steady sicker, it’s as though she’d tapped into hidden reserve of energy to get herself through it, and now there was little left” (264). The last book The Elegance of the Hedgehog “is, in many ways, a book about books (and films): what they teach us, and how they can open worlds. But it’s really, like most great books, about people-and the connections they make, how they save one another and themselves” (273). On June 5, Mary Anne had a doctor's appointment and they discovered that the tumors were growing but that there was a drug that may help slow the growth of the tumors, and there was no more chemotherapies she had to go through (274).
The portion of the text that really made me think was when Schwalbe told Mary Anne that he felt guilty that he was not doing more for the world (254). Mary Anne responded “ Of course you could do more--you can always do more, and you should do more--but still, the important thing is to do what you can, whenever you can. You just do your best, and that’s all you can do” (255). Mary Anne was always helping out when she had a chance to. She was trying to make a library in Afghanistan and was part of a women’s commission. She was always trying to do her best in helping out other, that is what she tells his soon to do. This makes me think that I have never tried helping out my community as I should be. I only help a little but I do not try my best to help out in everything I can. It is probably because I think my contribution will not make a difference.
This brings me to ask, Do you try your best at helping others? Do you think your contribution is going to make a difference? If you help your community or the word, how? If not, why?
This week I’d like to discuss a conversation between Will and his mother in the chapter: “Suite Française”. Schwalbe summarizes the plot of the novel in which the writer, Némirovsky, gave her daughter a notebook containing two parts of a novel her mother had written just before she died. Will makes a “totally insignificant numerical coincidence” between the day the police knocked on Némirovsky’s door and his birthday. 20 years separated these two events. He explains how crazy it was to learn about World War II in school even though it had just happened. He goes on to discuss how horrible things happen all the time and how he feels guilty that he is not doing more in the world. He discusses this feeling with his mom who tells him that the way to truly help is simply to always do your best. She goes on to say that too many people use the excuse that they believe that their small actions will not make a huge difference to justify their lack of action. Mary Anne also advises that people should use their talents to help. For example, if you’re in public relations, you can offer public relations help to a charity.
This particular part in the chapter really hit me. I feel as though too often, we all find ourselves in the same situation as Will has found himself in. Maybe not to the degree of feeling as though we are not doing more to benefit the world, but I’m almost certain we have all at least once felt as though we are not moving forward in life. Earlier this week I noticed in our discussion in class regarding problems that we all face every day as students or young adults, we all are struggling with newfound responsibilities and tasks. I know firsthand how hard it can be to feel as though you are not moving forward as I’m sure all of you do as well. What I’ve learned is to remind yourself that everyone starts somewhere. Whether you’re starting a new sport, learning a new instrument, or even starting college, it takes time to adjust. You can’t expect to be amazing at everything when you first begin. It takes time to become a “great” or a “pro”. But with time and hard work, you will improve or move forward. As a music major, I believe that when I graduate I will use my talents to help educate my students on the beauty of music. I want my students to be able to understand the power of music and how it can make you feel. Even though it’s not exactly creating a charity or dying so that others can live; this is how I will make my difference and help.
My question to you is do you agree with Mary Anne when she says that the way to really help, is to do your best? How do you find a way to help? If you aren’t sure yet, how could use your talents to help make a difference?
As we get closer to the end of the book we start to get into a very personal yet emotional rollercoaster. We see Mary Anne Schwalbe and her son Will face many challenges throughout the book that makes us in a way feel like we’re in their shoes. Mary Anne in this part of the book is very optimistic and always have a happy spirit. The fact that she is willing to give up her seat when being on a bus says a lot about her. Especially knowing that she is sick. Most people that are very healthy struggling with no sickness would NEVER do that. Mary Anne is the type of person that cherishes every moment left of her life. She lives each day as if today was her last day of life. When Mary Anne was planning her party you can tell she was very excited and was looking forward to it. “This day was important… mom would find out if she qualified for any experimental treatments”(245). It can be quite scary having to sit in a waiting room having no idea if you’re sickness can be cured or if there is any way you can take treatments and if you’d even qualify for it. My mother is a breast cancer survivor so I know exactly what it’s like to sit in a cold sad waiting room waiting for the doctors to tell us if my mom's cancer was going to be cured by having special treatments. Sadly, my mother didn't have just cancer. She also had a tumor in her head that was mistakenly caused by a doctor that had no idea what he was doing. He said my mother had something going on in her head that needed to be operated quickly but when the operation was made they discovered my mom didn't have anything and that operation was not needed. The operation lead to many consequences and my mom later got a tumor in her head and had many problems with that. Is it wrong that I feel like some doctors aren’t taking their job seriously? Is it wrong that I feel like doctors should be more careful when making big decisions like the ones the doctor made for my mom. I know there’s many doctors that know exactly what they’re doing, It’s just sickening how that one doctor messed up on my mother and that caused her to live her life in a hospital fighting for her life each and every day. Mary Anne reminds me of my mother very much, as I’m reading this book I’m thinking about my mother. Mary and My mom both have the same personality. They’re both always looking forward and never regretting one single thing from the past. They both live each day like it’s their last. I’m very happy to say my mom got a new doctor and received the help she needed and over the years has gotten better. She is a cancer survivor and is now doing better than she was a couple years ago.
Will you do what Mary did? How she was willing to give up her seat in the bus knowing that she’s sick herself? Do you believe all doctors should be careful when making big decisions like the one my mom's doctor made? Do you live your life each day like it’s your last? Have you met someone or know someone that is struggling with an illness? Are they fighting for their life each and every day? If so, how? What are they doing?
In this week’s reading we are introduced to three books, Kokoro, The Price of Salt and The Reluctant Fundamentalist. In the end of the first chapter, a woman with gray hair asked Schwalbe what he was doing sitting alone that he should be with his friends instead (200). We later discover that Schwalbe and his mother are reading a book called Kokoro by Natsume Soseki. When they were talking about the book, Kokoro, they found out that they both have been “startled by the same quote”… “Loneliness is the price we have to pay for being born in this modern world, so full of freedom, independence and our own egotistical selves” (200). The Price of Salt, is about of saleswomen who had a boyfriend she didn’t love but one customer changes her life with just two words “Merry Christmas”(203). Meanwhile, while Christmas is just right around the corner Schwalbe reminiscences on his Christmas childhood memories(204-205). On New years, Mary Anne made a statement that Schwalbe hadn’t heard her say before, “I don’t any of you to be sad when I’m not here anymore. But I do want you to look after eachother. I’ll be very cross if I hear that any of you are fighting. And if anyone causes trouble, I’ll come back from the grave and get’em.”(210). The chapter closes when Schwalbe find his mother’s letter in the his own copy of The Price of Salt.(212). On the last chapter, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Schwalbe and his mother argue book while waiting at Memorial Sloan-Kettering outpatient care center(214). In the examine room Mary Anne finds out that her tumors were growing rapidly but she founds out that she can still go to Florida with her family(216-217).
When reading the chapter of Kokoro, the one thing that caught my attention was when Mary Anne told Schwalbe that missing people and being lonely are two different things(201). The reason why that caught my attention is because I have missed people before, which did made me feel lonely at times. Especially, when I went away for college. But what was true is that I was not lonely. I had family in Turlock checking up on me so I wouldn’t feel lonely. I never truly noticed that they were two separate things until I came across that quote. Which leads to one question have you ever felt lonely or did you just missed somebody before?
In this weeks reading Maryanne finds out about the Afghan Library. Soon after she is continuing to get sick “…that not even several courses of antibiotics could tame”(170). Maryanne goes into great detail telling Schwalbe how to answer condolence notes. What Schwalbe mentions is that “…Mom had forgotten to tell me and then [I] remembered-how to answer the condolence notes we would be receiving after her death”(171). Maryanne continues to be in and out of the hospital. When she gets home, Schwalbe and Maryanne choose their next book: one of Jhumpa Lahiri’s collection of short stories. “…Lahiri had moved as a child with her parents to the United States. Lahiri’s immigrant characters often have experienced the same kinds of dislocation that Mom had seen in her refugee friends; many of them grapple with balancing two cultures, trying to preserve the known while embracing the new” (172). Schwalbe states that, “The emphasis in both tales is on the survivors- a father and his daughter; a father and his son- and how their changed or changing circumstances bring to center stage their inability to communicate”(173). Schwalbe mentions that theres not a lot of speaking throughout the story but he comes to realize that “Lahiri’s characters, just like people all around us, are constantly telling each other important things, but not necessarily in words”(173). A few weeks later, Maryanne and Schwalbe choose to read Murder in the Cathedral. After they finished it Schwalbe asked Maryanne what made her want to read the book. She said to him, “I find the play very inspiring”(174-175). “He’s also able to accept death. He’s not happy about it but he's perfectly calm. When I stop all this treatment, it will be because its time to stop”(175). Schwalbe also brings up a very interesting thought in this part of the reading: “How does a doctor tell you that its over…if your aim is quality of life and not quantity of life, there simply are no good next treatments?” “What could be more human than want to live?” (175). In 2014 my Papa who I was very close to, took his own life. When I got to the hospital he was on life support. As a family we knew we could keep him on life support to have “more time” with him. But at that point there wasn't any quality to his life. The doctor told us there was nothing they could do to save him and that it was up to us to decide whether to keep him or let him go. Letting go of someone is never easy. Have you ever known someone who was close to you that you had to decide whether to choose quality or quantity? If so, did you look at how lucky you were to have them in your life, or did you focus on how much will be missing without them? and Why?
In this week’s reading, the book resume to the news that Mary Anne’s friend from Harvard is donating one million dollars to help build the Afghan Library. One of Mom’s friend passed away a week before she was set to go to Geneva and they were discussing how do you decide if you should go to a service or not. “If you need to think about whether you should go or not, you should go. But if you can't go, you can't. Then you write a nice note as soon as you can” (171). In this chapter, they decided to read Murder in the Cathedral which was a book his Mom and Dad kept a copy in their bookshelf. Mary Anne inherited this book from her grandfather. A few weeks later they found themselves in the urgent care waiting room. Mary Anne explains why she wanted to revisit the book for its beauty of language and Thomas à Becker, a character from the book. He was a man who accepts martyrdom rather than ignore his conscious. Mary Anne states that Becket was able to accept death. He’s wasn’t too happy about it, but he’s perfectly calm about it. She said, “When I stop all this treatment, it will be because it's time to stop” (175).
They only looked ahead far enough to schedule new scans and to plan Mom’s treatments around trips she wanted to take. She would spend six days in the hospital with a raging infection. The good news they receive was that a recent scan had shown that the tumors, though no longer shrinking, weren't growing. On May 16, Marymount Manhattan College was giving Mary Anne an honorary doctorate of laws. She gave a speech at the graduation ceremony of the Class of 2008. She stared off her speech by telling the story about a boy who had lost a leg and Bosnian family who insisted on helping him get to the polling station. She ended her remarks with a story of a pamphlet that she was handed when she was visiting an African country where people were able to vote freely for the first time. The pamphlet was called The Ten Commandments for Voters and she read a few aloud to the graduates. We were introduced that she was an Obama supporter along with most of the students. They knew just what she was talking about and cheered. She said that, “I have learned from the refugees I have met over the last 18 years to have hope for the future and that is what has helped me through my life, and I know that has been important to the class of 2008. I wish you all staff for yourselves and so much more” (180).
Schwalbe and his mother talked about acknowledgement cards and that there were to be given after her death. This has got me thinking about past acknowledgement cards I received in the past. What kind of messages would you like to leave behind? Positive, inspiration, humor, story, etc. What are the things you hope to be remember by the most? If so, why?
In this week’s reading, it is Mary Anne’s birthday. Before her birthday party, Mary Anne and Will went in for the results of her second scan since she’d been diagnosed. But she was soon taken off one of her chemo drugs; Xeloda because Mary Anne was reacting badly to it. They were warned that the results might not be as good as the first. Eventually Dr. O’Reilly had good news of the result from her last scan “About thirty percent of the liver was involved when you first came in [...] Now it’s much closer to fifteen percent” (148). Mary Anne has been feeling better lately she started to gain some weight and had a lot more energy. Mary Anne and Will start a new book the Continental Drift by Russell Banks, which was stated as depressing. Schwalbe says the book Continental Drift, is a story of a young Haitian woman. “The book tells in parallel the story of a young Haitian woman and her infant and nephew, and their journey as refugees as she tries to make a new life for the three of them. Things go horrendously badly-both on an illegal boat and long before” (152). They eventually didn’t have an opportunity to discuss this book because it was soon Mary Anne’s birthday. She was celebrating her 74th birthday at Daisy May’s; a barbeque restaurant where Will arranged a celebration with friends and family. Later in the book, Schwalbe mentions The Painted Veil where the main character; Kitty is told to consider the beauty of the nun’s lives as perfect of art. As Mary Anne continues to read this novel she admires Kitty’s perspective on the nuns “The nuns do what they do without fear; she does what she does in spite of it” (164). After reading that quotation, Schwalbe made me wonder if I knew someone that was fearless for their actions. So this brings me to ask, are you able to do what you want without fear ? Do you know anyone from your friends or family that is fearful ? If you are scared, how so ?