I heard the news earlier today about your cancer and I'm so sorry. I feel compelled to write for a couple reasons, first of which is that ten years ago I had stomach cancer and my oncologist was a saint. He told me something I never forgot, "Never ask 'Why me?" because the real question is 'Why not me?'" He made me realize that cancer doesn't discriminate and is just a thing that happens and that feeling sorry for yourself isn't going to help. There is strength in thinking positively and in faith. My oncologist retired a few years back but he is now a hospital chaplain and I think of him often. As a survivor, my only advice is to stay positive but fight like hell.
My other reason for writing is to thank you. My words will be inadequate here but I'm going to try. When I first read your essay, Joyas Voladores, I knew I had just experienced my all-time favorite piece of writing. It still is and I teach it every year and will continue to do so until I retire. It is perfect. Then when you came into my school and spoke to my students and told stories, I saw how you felt about the power of stories and that has served as my biggest professional inspiration. I also loved stories but didn't realize how much and how vital they are until I watched you with my kids. You were mesmerizing. You made the kids feel so much and I decided I wanted to be able to do that. I've been trying ever since. Then when you came to read at night with my students and other authors I saw you in another light. You are truly the Godfather of the Portland literary scene. Everyone went up and read their piece and it was wonderful but when you took the stage, I saw the other writers look at you. They saw what I see: greatness. They saw inspiration. They saw you as something they'd be lucky to become. A true teller of stories. When I visited you in your office on campus, I was humbled that you'd take the time to just chat with me. It was a wonderful day because of that hour.
Brian, I don't write this to you as a goodbye. I write because I'm 48 years old and you have made me a better person. You have made me want to embrace life and its complexities. To become a storyteller. To live with passion. To create art. I am sure you're not aware of this because we've only ever seen each other three times, but you have had a large influence on who I am right now. Thank you. I have an essay coming out in the Spring issue of Slice Magazine. It's my first essay ever to be published and without you, I never would have done it.
Please give my best to your family in this trying time. Again, thank you for everything.