“WHATEVER YOU CALL ME, DON'T YOU DARE CALL ME A QUITTER. I will fight. I celebrate life. I can not predict the course of my cancer. I will live each day for what it is and give thanks that I got to show up. And marvel at the beauty in it all. Live in the light, not in the fear. Breathe in. Breathe out. It truly is all good.”
This was the header of Linda Casill Vogel’s blog. Words that have a value nobody can put a price tag on. LC, in the midst of her fight with one of the deadliest, most vengeful diseases known to man, stood bravely and smiled in its face. She was grateful. She was happy. She was fearless. She was a refreshing look at a world that can so easily be taken for a place filled with darkness, yet has a shine nobody can truly understand because of people like her.
Like many people in my life – thanks to two incredible parents – Linda and I built a relationship when I was too young to truly understand the kind of person she was. In fact, in her last few weeks of life, I probably learned more about her than I had in the many evenings we had spent together at the Mercer County Ultimate Disc League fields or the parties that we would mosey over to afterwards. Now, I only wish I could tell her so.
I remember her for being one of the few who would step in and separate my brothers and me from a fight. I remember her for being a force on the field, a woman who all the other women looked up to. I remember her for being a teacher, for being the kind of “girl” a 12-year old boy was willing to listen to.
This morning, when my dad called me with the news that Linda had passed, I had one of those frozen-in-this-moment-realizations in life. It was a moment where I could do nothing but consider the life Linda had led, where I could do nothing but see her path as a beginning and an end, a trail that was definitively finite. But, the moment I opened my computer, I realized that was a serious misunderstanding.
You see, Linda changed the lives of others. During her fight with cancer, she lost her liver function and kept her smile. Hoards of people would follow her blog or her facebook, praise her as inspiration and send her good energy during her fight. And, now that she is “gone” in one way, her path doesn’t truly have an end. What Linda left behind is infinite, it is forever, if in nobody else in me. She was dealt one of the worst hands someone can be dealt, but she put all her chips in and won the bet. She won because she saw a fork in the road, one between happiness and sadness, one between gratitude and complaint, one where she could rise or she could crumble. Not once did she choose the latter.
For the first time today, I had the realization that Linda and I shared the same number – 19 – on the Ultimate field. I remember the first night she came out to play after having one of her breasts removed. I remember seeing her without her hair. I remember fearing cancer as she stood in front of me the same way I feared cancer when my mom sat me down to explain why she’d be losing her hair. Yet, somehow, sharing something like our number had slipped through the cracks. Today, that number being on my back feels unworthy. Today, I realize that living life in the same aura that Linda did, with the same attitude that she held, is something every person should aspire to.
This morning was the first time I had written before noon in a long time. For me, the mornings are a place of solitude, relaxation, a moment to warm up the engine before the day begins. But, in many ways, the morning is a representation of life coming to. My new plants rest on the windowsill, taking in the rising eastern sun. The first birds chirp at the earliest light. The joggers come out to beat the traffic and their work schedules. Light floods out the darkness. Life, in many ways, comes alive.
And on this morning, as life rose around me with the sun, I took in the news of Linda’s death. How can you balance the two? The truth is that nobody knows. It is one of the great wonders of this world – how can we celebrate life in the midst of death? However, on this morning, because of Linda Casill, the answer is a little bit easier: you can celebrate life because she’d want you to. You can celebrate life because when she was here, when she had to mourn the deaths of her loved ones, she made the decision to celebrate life. To honor Linda, having a smile today is the least we can all do.
There is nowhere I’d rather be than with the MCUDL family tonight. Remember to play with a smile and a fire that could match Linda’s tonight. I’ll be thinking of you all and wishing I was at our home away from home more than ever.