I've already written here about Kate C. Bowler and her magnificent podcast, Everything Happens, in my post from a few weeks ago, Weekly Inspiration: Two Inspiring Podcasts. My love affair with Kate's moving, funny, inspiring interviews continues, and I have been listening to both her new episodes and her backlist. So, scrolling through the TED Talk site today, it occurred to me to check if she'd ever given a TED Talk. She had, at TEDMed 2018, and wow, it's a powerful talk that speaks directly to those of us with chronic illness.
As with her podcast--and book-- her TED Talk is titled, "Everything Happens For a Reason"--and other lies I've loved. In it, Kate explains how she had spent years studying the "prosperity gospel," the basic concept that good things happen to good people, and if you just live a good life, you will be rewarded. Then she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer at the age of 35. She tells the story, with jokes and also with tears streaming down her face at times, much better than I can:
A couple of her points really hit home for me. She talks about this concept of good people being rewarded, which implies the opposite: if something horrible happens to you, you must have somehow deserved it. She describes how hundreds of people (through her writing) have tried to convince her of this (what a horrible thing to say to someone with cancer!). She talks about the underlying fear that encourages people to think this way, which is basically "if it happened to YOU, then it could happen to me." In this way, people try to find a reason for your tragedy, a way to explain why the same thing could never happen to them. But, as she says in the opening to her podcast each week (see my earlier post--the full quote is so powerful), "Hey, there are some things you can fix and some thing you can't, and it's OK that life isn't always better ..."
I have experienced this first-hand with people in my life who refuse to accept the severity or permanence of my illness. One person very close to me even went around telling everyone else that my illness was all in my head in my early years of ME/CFS. I figured out long ago that this fear Kate describes was likely at the root of all that, but it still hurts tremendously to be minimized or to have my suffering ignored by people I love. That's why it feels so powerful and encouraging to listen to Kate's talk and podcast and to feel like she is talking directly to me.
On the positive side, she also discusses an unexpected benefit of her experiences with cancer (hers is treatable but not yet curable). In talking of discovering this hidden world of illness (see my own article, The Hidden World of Invisible Suffering), she says, "My own suffering began to feel like it had revealed to me the suffering of others." She explains that this led to more connection in life.
I agree wholeheartedly! I've often written about exactly that (like in the article linked above): that one silver lining in a life of chronic illness is reaching out and connecting with others just like you. Finding others--online or in real life--widens your world and not only brings you comfort and companionship but allows you to offer the same to others, which can be incredibly rewarding. I wrote about that topic here, including how to find others.
She concludes with a statement I fully agree with: "Life is so beautiful and life is so hard."
Her talk is less than 15 minutes long, and is so powerful and touching. I hope it inspires YOU as it inspired me.