Kyle Garlett is a four-time cancer survivor, and a survivor of the many illnesses caused by the cancer treatments he has taken off and on since his first cancer appeared when he was a junior in high school. Lessons From The Edge of Life, however, is not a cancer memoir. (I understand that he has written a story of his cancer experience, and though I have not read it, if it is anything like this book, it is a well-written and captivating read.) This book, though, is so much more than that. Here Garlett’s cancer is used only as a framework and a source of examples for a powerful and moving guide to living well.
While the book is structured in a “seven keys” format, it reads in a more fluid and far less kitschy way. While definitely self-help, this book is more than that. It is almost a spiritual guide. In the introduction, Garlett says of his own struggles:
I’ve often said that my health odyssey was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, and the best thing that’s ever happened to me. With it came great pain. Lost decades. Debt. Heartbreak. Fractured relationships. Unrealized dreams. A very real understanding that I have traded in years down the road for these days right now. But I do have these days right now. And along with them I have perspective. Compassion. Ironed resolve. The joy of the moment. Contentment and optimism for the future. I have purpose. I have strength. Adaptability. Compromise. Wisdom. Vision. Love. Friendships. Confidence. Clarity. Acceptance. Understanding.
And then he continues to gently explore how the rest of us, whatever challenges we may face, do have these days right now, and with Garlett’s guidance can live them with joy and compassion.
Though the book is filled with wisdom that has been shared for thousands of years, beginning with the lessons of the Buddha, Garlett presents it in a very fresh and immediate way. And it is a very real and down-to-earth message. While readers are encouraged to pursue their dreams and not settle for less than what they want to be and how they want to live, Garlett is no self-help cheerleader. He advises early in the book, “when the good is hard to find, focus on the not entirely terrible.”
He describes a mother as she watches her five- or six-year-old little boy who is being treated, as it turns out, for brain cancer, in the waiting room of a radiation oncologist. “Every ounce of her being was focused on him, and it was beautiful. Her presence there, as painful as it must have been for her, I welcomed. It brought a special level of life to a room that was otherwise dominated by the fear of death. It was humanity.” That is perhaps, the most beautiful thing about this very beautiful book. Garlett never turns away, never ceases to acknowledge the deep beauty and goodness in life, even when life is presenting its worst.
He handles the mundane as gracefully as he handles the sublime. After the gut punch of yet another cancer diagnosis, he writes,
… work still needed to be done. Groceries still had to be purchased. Gas still needed to be pumped into cars. There is a rolling resiliency to life that can be maddening, but also beautiful. It touches on our softest of emotions, but at the same time it underscores our greatest strengths.
It is this rolling resiliency that is really the heart of this book. People suffer, struggle, die too young, leave us bereft. And yet this book shows us that amidst it all, we can not only have joy, we can share that joy with others.
There is, of course, plenty of practical nuts and bolts advice here as well. Garlett tells us to choose how we see the world, to control the language we use to frame experience. He urges us to attend to the small details of life and live each day not as if it were our last, but as if it were our first—with all the wonder and joy that entails. But perhaps most importantly, he urges us to live not for ourselves, but for others. To plant trees under whose shade we do not expect to sit.
Beautifully written and told with a grace and joy and quiet passion not often seen in this type of book, Lessons From The Edge of Life will move you, touch you, and perhaps change your life. Don’t pass this one by.