At the end of last year, I read a book titled “Aren’t You Dead Yet?” This memoir was written by Lucy Stanovick after she was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. I had studied with Dr. Stanovick as part of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Writing Project in 2009, and then I worked with her on the NPWP Leadership Team. I also had the pleasure of teaching her two children when I worked at Pleasant Valley Intermediate School. In picking up this memoir, I expected that it would be a powerful and moving read, because I had come to love Lucy’s go-for-the-jugular, tell-it-how-it-is style of writing, but my experience in reading “Aren’t You Dead Yet?” took me to places beyond what I expected.
Since I knew her, I had admired Lucy as a scholar, as a writer, as a teacher, and as a person. She pushed her students and all of those she met in life to go deeper, to avoid nothing, and to speak and write with a clear and intentional voice. She went above and beyond in her work as a professor, and she and her colleague Dr. Lesliee Antonette directed the Northeastern Pennsylvania Writing Project, which has been consistently referred to by teachers as “the best professional development experience I have ever had.” Besides that, Lucy was a very fun person to be with. I found Lucy to be a person I wished to model my own teaching and writing after. She always seemed to know what to do and what to say, and she seemed to have it all together. In reading her book, I found out that this was far from the truth. Lucy wrote about her struggles with anxiety, her painful experience of not fitting in at the university, and so many doubts and questions she had that left her feeling confused and messy…just like me. I am now even more captivated by the wonderful human being whom I got to know, and I wish that I could sit down with her and have a conversation about all of these things and connect over our shared questions about life and those thoughts that keep us awake at night.
After reading “Aren’t You Dead Yet?” I began thinking more about how so many of us go through our days alone in our heads, believing that we are the only ones thinking these things and feeling these things. We often don’t share some of those dark or confusing parts with our friends, our co-workers, our family members…we stick to the happy highlights. We share with others the pictures on our phones of our grandchildren; we post on Facebook the description of the great meal we ate over the weekend; we talk about our fun in planning the next vacation. And then others come to think that everyone else around them is functioning just fine and is without these struggles…and the difficult emotions become even more difficult, because there is the additional pain of feeling different and alone.
Interestingly, shortly after reading “Aren’t You Dead Yet?” I encountered several other displays of vulnerability and have been inspired and uplifted by them. One of my aerial teachers sharing publicly about overcoming an eating disorder, a colleague at school sharing a draft of a book she hopes to get published that is written in a beautiful and vulnerable way as she shares about a long period of trials and what got her through, and then also a woman I met at a yoga retreat who posted on her blog about the way this past year has tried her and who shared for the first time about the abuse she suffered as a child .
These have all been incredible reminders of how resilient we are, and I feel a deep and meaningful human connection with these people…a connection that I don’t feel with “perfect” people. In only sticking to the superficial in conversations, in keeping the messy stuff covered up and only sharing the highlights, we miss the “just like me” connection. What was most powerful for me in reading “Aren’t You Dead Yet?” was the way that Lucy’s feelings resonated with me, and I thought to myself, “Well, if she felt inadequate and unsure of herself and was able to be the wonderful scholar, writer, and person she was, then maybe I am not as lost as I thought I was…maybe it’s not just me.”
I thank each of these people and so many of my friends who make it a practice to embrace vulnerability. We all have ups and downs. We all are unsteady at times, and we all need help from those around us. Being vulnerable and human is what makes us alive, and as long as I’m alive, I will tell my stories.
If you are interested in reading “Aren’t You Dead Yet?” Lucy’s husband has reported that all of the books from the first printing have sold out. He is taking pre-orders for a second printing. If he gets enough pre-orders, they will do a second printing. To pre-order, send John a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.