I do not have cancer; I have never had cancer.
No one close to me has died from the disease. In fact, I have lived for 33 years blissfully distanced from one of the world's most ruthless illnesses. I have also never met ESPN anchor Stuart Scott, who on Sunday morning died after a seven-year fight with C. (He often called it that.)
Yet news of Scott's passing feels more real, more painfully tangible, than I could have predicted. And I do not seem alone in feeling this way; millions across the country seem bowled over by the news. I knew Stuart was sick, of course. We all knew. And still, I felt caught off guard watching Hannah Storm break the news this morning on "SportsCenter."
Tears, spilling uncontrollably?
Why? Why do so many of us feel this way?
Is it because we grew up watching Stuart Scott? Is it because his booming voice, his exuberance, was the soundtrack of our youth? Is it because of the dignified way he fought to live, and live well, and live his way, all along, including during those final seven years? Is it because his passing reminds us all that someday we will follow him into the unknown, a thought that is scary as hell?
Is it all of the above?
Yes. Certainly. All of that.
But it is also more. At least, I think. I am currently typing this on my smartphone while wandering the streets of New York, unable to understand the powerful melancholy of the day, wondering why I care so much about the death of someone I did not know. There are others who know intimately of what the loss of Scott means, for he was their father, brother, son or friend, and they knew of his hopes and fears. But I am writing this for those, like me, who did not know him, yet feel as I do: sad beyond rational reason.
A truth: I am sad over the death of someone I never met.
Another truth: I'm in good company.
I think, though, that the feeling has something to do with what Scott represents, who he represents, all of what he represents. We do that as a society: We have certain people who stand in for millions more -- often because of their jobs, or their energy, or their intelligence. Or for any of a myriad reasons. With Scott, it feels like all of the above -- so indefinable was his essence.
In life, we need individuals to share their lives, the specific details of their struggle, their loss, their love. We need to hear about the 90-minute workouts they completed after chemotherapy, the times they had to call on others because laying down and just breathing was all they had energy for. We need these details, this fabric of what life really is, these single moments that either crush our hearts or make them sing. They are real and true and we can feel them. We can feel the person.
They allow us to connect with life and loss and love.
Because the truth is, statistics are hard to feel. Every year, 7.6 million people die from cancer. That number is mind boggling. All the numbers about cancer are sobering and eye-opening. And still, numbers need a face. We need stories, like the one about the time Scott watched his youngest daughter's soccer match on Facetime while getting treatment in the hospital. Read that and the pain of life and death, the unfairness of it, is like a direct blow to the core.
A story creates a picture, which then lives in the heart as well as the mind.
I don't know, though. Maybe this is why today was so hard. Or maybe I'm just scared of dying. Maybe I miss being 13 years old, hearing Scott yell "boo-yah!" and "like butter" while I got ready for school. Maybe I'm sad knowing I'll never hear his voice again; never be that young again, either. Or maybe it's a combination of all of it, of everything.
Life is hard. And life is wonderful.
I did not know Stuart Scott.
But then again, in a way, maybe I did.