By Revd. Canon Deborah Parsons
I was unexpectedly moved by the news that George Alagiah had died earlier this week, nearly ten years after being diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer.
As tributes from his colleagues poured in, it was clear that he was deeply respected and admired: “gentle,” “kind,” “brave,” “warm,” “empathetic,” “good-humoured,” “insightful,” “so loved in our newsroom,” “a wonderful human being,” were just some of the epithets used to describe him. His television persona seemed to chime with how he was perceived in daily life, as a beloved mentor, colleague, husband, father and friend.
Reflecting on his own illness, before he died, he said: “I wish I hadn`t had cancer, obviously. But I have cancer and I`m glad of the things I`ve learnt about myself and about my community, my friends, and my family as a result. I`ve gotten to a place to see life as a gift. Rather than worrying about when it`s going to end and how it`s going to end, I`ve got to the place where I can see it for the gift it is. I feel that gift keenly every morning.”
By asking himself the question, “If the full stop came now, would my life have been a failure?” he was able to appreciate more fully, the opportunities his family had been given, the beautiful relationships that he had forged, in particular, his good fortune in meeting Frances Robathan at university, his subsequent long marriage and the gift of fatherhood. His diagnosis gave him the opportunity for self-reflection and to tell his nearest and dearest that he loved them.
I was once asked to write my own obituary and to imagine what my friends, colleagues and family would say about me at my funeral. It`s a sobering exercise, which I commend to you and is a good opportunity to reflect on what we give our time to and whether the life that we are living is the life that is living in us.
It certainly sharpened my appreciation of life, encouraged me to be less fearful, to take full advantage of the opportunities that I have been given and to not hold back in telling people that I love them. The media is peppered with stories of people who die suddenly, tragically or unexpectedly and do not have the luxury of time to reflect on the gift of life.
It also made me appreciate the gift of faith. In the Christian tradition, through belief in Christ`s death and resurrection, we have the comfort in knowing that the end of life is not a full stop but a comma. We move from life to greater life. Nor do we have to wait until we die to receive a foretaste of heaven. We have the opportunity to experience abundant life now.
How might you recognise that life is a gift? How might it change how you live in the present?