Less than a month ago the Tricycle editors received a note from a young man named Asher Lipson. It began:
“My name is Asher Lipson, I am 24 years old, and I have stage 4 cancer, a rare sarcoma that has spread to my lungs and brain. I was diagnosed just after graduating from college at the beginning of 2013. My oncologist has told me to carefully prioritize the things I want to do for the next year, because I may well die within that space of time.”
Asher told us of his spiritual journey, one that included Judaism, Catholicism, Unitarian Universalism, and ultimately, Buddhism. He wanted to know whether we would be interested in publishing his writing.
Before we could get back to him, Asher passed away. But we had been moved by his words.
Below we share an excerpt from Asher’s journal, written eight months before his death and sent to us by his father two weeks ago. It is bookended with verses from Shantideva’s The Way of the Bodhisattva. Together they seemed a fitting tribute to a young man grappling as we all are with the question at the heart of every religious tradition: how do we live a good life? —Ed.
Although on a day like today, I’m not sick,
Have food, and haven’t any injuries,
Life is but for a moment and will let me down:
The body is like something on loan for an instant.
It is frustrating to feel that you have mismanaged your time, or that there isn’t enough time to accomplish the things that you would like to do. Right now I feel that I haven’t used my time well, and it pains me to look back at all of the hours wasted. Our time here on Earth is so limited. I have a possibly fatal cancer; it might mean I don’t have much time left. As we were told at my college’s graduation interfaith spiritual service, “we do not have much time to love one another.”
I want to use my time for the benefit of others. I want to make my life meaningful and live by my values. And I can do it, at least imperfectly. Perhaps I should not be worried about mismanaging my time. Recalibration after failed moments must be part of learning how to give the most.
Making choices about how to direct your efforts can be confusing—daunting, even. And ultimately you end up making those choices, whether it’s a conscious choice or not. One thing I can do is to simply commit to paper my goals and activities. I can ask myself as I do this, what is important to me? What is most important? The most important thing to me right now is service. Caring for others.
I feel pain because I don’t know how much I have to give, and I fear it is not much. Maybe that pain comes from my ego wanting to be big. If there’s not much you can give, there’s not much you can give. But in doing your best, or near your best, and releasing the result, maybe you can find peace, fulfillment.
Just as a flash of lightning on a dark, cloudy night,
For an instant, brightly illuminates all;
So, in this world, through the might of the Buddhas,
A positive attitude rarely and briefly appears.
Text excerpted from Asher Lipson’s journal, written eight months before his death and printed with the permission of his family. Verses from Alexander Berzin’s translation of The Way of the Bodhisattva.