I love this photo of NFL star Devon Still and his daughter Leah! How can you not? Both their faces are filled with love and joy, their body language projecting strength and fearlessness. It’s moving on so many levels – and that’s before you factor in their circumstances.
Leah was diagnosed last year with stage 4 neuroblastoma. And now, initial testing indicates that the four-year-old has no active cancer in her body. If that isn’t cause for celebration, what is?! You can understand why I – and hundreds of thousands of others on Instagram – love the picture and the story it tells. I really love them…but I have to say, I really hate a particular aspect of their story.
I’m reminded that the bigger prayer is not “only” for good outcomes, but for a total end to the causes of human illness and suffering which make Leah’s story so poignant.
Well, hate is probably too strong a word. I can honestly say that I hate cancer. What troubles me here is all the people showering love on this news item while they seem not to stop and consider how much better off the entire world would be without these stories – of families overcoming horror – at all. Or would we?
That’s the question I’m thinking about today. We love this story, and no matter how much we may not want to admit it, the love has at least as much to do with relieving our own fears and pain as it does with celebrating this little girl and her parents hopefully being released from theirs. As strangers to the family, why are we so moved?
To be sure, triumphs like Leah’s move us in part because most people are fundamentally empathic and compassionate – this story connects us to those traits. We really do want the best for others, especially children, whose victories do not conflict with our needs. We’re also moved because this story affirms the possibility of happy endings in general, including the struggles which are inevitably part of our lives as well. A positive result for Leah suggests that we can have the positive results we want as well. All good.
But wouldn’t our world be better if there was no cancer to begin with? Would it not be better if life did not bring inevitable pain and suffering? I know, some will say such painful trials are opportunities for learning and growth. That may be, but that’s a mighty high price to pay for learning and growth; if grave diseases like cancer are part of that, then I’d prefer to either find new ways to learn, or live a less educated and developed life!
So as much as I celebrate the love and affirmation in this amazing picture of Leah Still and her dad, and I’m happy for what I hope and pray is a long-term good outcome, I’m reminded today that the bigger prayer and greater aspiration is not “only” for good outcomes, but for a total end to the causes of human illness and suffering which make Leah’s story so poignant. I hope her story can drive us toward the goal of a cancer-free world as it could be – as much as the image thrills us and comforts us about the world as it is. May Leah lead a long and healthy life!
Brad Hirschfield is the co-founder and co-executive editor of The Wisdom Daily. A rabbi, Brad has been featured on ABC’s Nightline UpClose, PBS’s Frontline, Fox News and National Public Radio. He wrote a long-standing column, “For God’s Sake,” for the Washington Post, and has also written for The Huffington Post and Beliefnet.com. He authored the book, You Don?t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. Brad also serves as President of Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a leadership training institute, think tank and resource center in New York City.