Jane Biehl, Ph.D.
“Ring the bells that still may ring,
Forget your perfect offering,
There’s a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in”
I would not expect a crime mystery to have a verse like this, which was written by Leonard Cohen. It is highlighted in the famous book, A Fatal Grace
, by Louise Penny.
Penny admits that while her novels appear to be traditional crime stories, she wants them to be more than that. She expects them to teach about life, death, peace, choices and the fight for freedom.
In this particular novel, the famous detective, Armand Gamache, is admiring the paintings of a good friend. The artist points out that in every piece she paints, there is a tiny crack showcasing imperfection and impermanence. She makes sure that this crack is present in every single painting.
Gamache, being a detective, noticed this feature immediately and observed that the crack lets the light in and radiates in all of her work.
Every one of us has a persona that we present to the public. We want others to think of us as being kind and good; strong and not vulnerable; organized and energetic. Just witness the posts on any social media and you will see this. However, each of us knows where our faults are. It took years for me to admit my depression, and very few people know I was once involved in intense counseling, fighting for my black mood to lift.
We all have our cracks, and cancer provides a huge one. Perhaps for the first time ever, we present (and look) weak, vulnerable, sick and needing to ask others for help. One of the first articles I ever wrote for CURE
was titled “Being Vulnerable With Cancer Is OK
.” When I admitted this vulnerability on Facebook, I was overwhelmed not only with the support I received, but also with people thanking me for “being real.” I have tried to be real ever since.
This important and innocent-appearing novel teaches us that everyone has a crack in their lives, though these cracks teach us an important lesson. We begin to see the light beyond the crack. I compare it to many days of rain which happens periodically in Northeast Ohio, where I live. I tend to miss the sun, yet I know it is behind the rain. When the sun finally appears, I embrace it.
I do not enjoy flying like I used to, because it has become such a hassle. However, when I do, I am still thrilled as a plane climbs above the stormy clouds to the sun and I watch the rain below. This is a feature of nature that will always keep me in awe.
When my most serious “crack” of cancer appeared, I certainly did not see the light. Eventually, as the crack began to widen, shining rays began to appear. I made new friends, I found goodness in a lot of people, and I received support as I tried to help others. My writing exploded due to my wonderful oncologist’s encouragement. Most of all, I learned to let the little things we call “small stuff” go and appreciate life. The wisdom of getting older teaches many of us to let minor hindrances not bother us as much. However, cancer forced me to learn more quickly.
The artist deliberately placed cracks in her artwork. Gamache observed how this lets in the light. Sometimes the crack even radiates. None of us would ever want to put a chronic disease into our lives. However, a terrible disease like cancer can open up a whole new world of light and radiance as we learn to embrace it and each other!