I was diagnosed with ALS in 2005, when Claire was still in grade school. The doctor who gave me that diagnosis, and the cold statistics of this disease, offered no solace, no uplifting tune to anticipate. I hoped beyond hope, beyond any right to think of hope, to hear Claire’s name called for graduation. From high school.
Yet Sunday I was in the audience for commencement from Carthage College, listening intently to the rhythm of hundreds of names, knowing that each represented its own song from the past and yet-to-be-sung verses. Then came the part of the tune I came to hear: Claire Suzanne Heronemus.
There are no words for my feelings, which is why I write words invoking music. Yet even music fails to express my emotions.
There is no understanding why my life’s song has lasted to this day. This isn’t a result of some strength of will and this most certainly is not because of a depth of faith or some part of God’s plan. I’ve heard many, many melodies cut short which were far stronger, of people with greater faith and promise than me, and God certainly didn’t plan for people to suffer with disease.
There is only gratitude. There are times in every day when I simply listen to my breath, awash in gratitude for that sound while being completely aware that, should I choke, that breath could very literally be my last. Each breath I take is a gift. Each breath my family takes is a gift. Each breath you take is a gift.
There is only one response to receiving a gift - humble thankfulness. A gift is never deserved, and we are never entitled to a gift, yet we receive one with every breath. Each of us may have different strengths, background, religion, heritage, and beliefs, but we are equally gifted at this moment with the breath we just took, with the inestimably precious, greatest, and wholly undeserved gift of life.
There is no person more gifted than any other. There can never be a person more gifted, more important, more valued or valuable than you, me, your neighbor, or any of the 7.5 billion people who just drew breath.
Listen to your breath. Hear its precious sound. Imagine hearing the beauty of 7.5 billion breaths and try to fathom how to possibly be grateful enough for life.