Somewhere Towards The End, a book by publisher and author Diana Athill, is a memoir that won the Costa Book Award for biography, given to writers based in Britain and Ireland. Written in her 80′s, she reflected on her life and as she comes to the end of the book she writes about the realization, ”… that from up here I can look back and see that although a human life is less than the blink of an eyelid in terms of the universe, within its own framework it is amazingly capacious so that it can contain many opposites. One life can contain serenity and tumult, heartbreak and happiness, coldness and warmth, grabbing and giving – and also more particular opposites such as a neurotic conviction that one is a flop and a consciousness of success amounting to smugness.”
Do not ask me why, but my thoughts immediately jumped to Jim Chastain and I realized that if we are not careful, all we remember about him is that he died at a young age.
His life, of course, has been full of all the things Ms. Athill wrote about. There has been tumult and heartbreak - cancer, chemotherapy, loss of an arm and now the reality that his time with family and friends will be much more brief than he’d imagined.
BUT….there has been much serenity and happiness as well – college was fun and he made friends like Don and Shelly Greiner, with whom he’s stayed close all these years.
College is also where he met and married LeAnn, followed by the births of Ford and Maddye and a law degree. Jim became a published poet and author. He is a screenwriter, a film critic and a bright and fun and zany man who loves life and when life did not go as planned, he was able to make it useful.
Jim looked for everything funny in his first bout with cancer which resulted in the loss of his right arm and he wrote an honest and thoroughly delightful book chronicling those experiences. Everyone should read it.
Now in another time of tumult with this new bout of cancer which threatens to end his life earlier than what he’d imagined, he continues to make those dark times useful. This time he has graciously and with great courage invited us to read over his shoulder and when we read what Jim or Oklahoman staff writer Ken Raymond is saying, it is important we read all of it – not just the bad, but the good, the loving, the friendships, the delight in his wife and children, the passion for writing and living and the determination to make it all count for as long as he has breath.
There is much to be learned from Jim and his family through this dying experience, but equally important is that there is much to be learned from the way they have lived and are living each day – following their passions, staying in touch with friends and always making new ones, loving and supporting each other, and being honest about the hard times – which come to all of us.
As Athill reminds us, the glass is never half empty or half full, it is both. As you read what may be Jim’s final chapter, be sure you focus as much on the full part as you do on the part that leaves us feeling empty and sad.