It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
January 27, 2012 11:12 PM   Subscribe

posted by erebora at 11:26 PM on January 27, 2012

Well he keeps it together for about 4.
posted by ReeMonster at 11:29 PM on January 27, 2012

I remember listening to this podcast last year on my way to a medical appointment while going through cancer treatment myself, and having to pull over and weep. Because goddamn, how the fuck do we live in the richest nation that has ever existed on the face of the goddamn planet, and yet it produces a system in which my health insurance was going to cover the vast majority of my medical care, while Anthony Griffith had to risk losing everything to try to keep his daughter alive? Am I a more valuable human being than his child? The hell I am.

When people asked if I felt unlucky for having cancer twice, this was the kind of thing that made me say sincerely that on the contrary, I felt very lucky indeed. What dumb, random luck made cancer survivable for me, and not for Anthony Griffith's daughter? Very lucky indeed, too, that I got cancer at an age where I felt I could make a sort of personal and philosophical sense out of my illness and mortality. But there is a special kind of senselessness to the suffering of a child, and the utter devastation that it brings to a family, and the hideous turn of the knife that our economic and political system delivers to that family on top of everything.

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
Woe, world-sorrow; on an age-old anvil wince and sing—
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked ‘No ling-
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief’.

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

posted by scody at 11:41 PM on January 27, 2012 [29 favorites]

I remember listening to the podcast on the way to work one morning, and weeping freely and openly on the rush hour train. Seeing the video is almost too much to bear. I don't know what else to say about this except that it left such an impression that I think about his story and his performance almost daily.
posted by Tiresias at 2:13 AM on January 28, 2012

Have you ever wanted to post something in a thread, but been so overwhelmed by the topic that you instead post a pithy half-asses comment in a thread about a street-sweeping video game?

Me neither; I couldn't come up with anything pithy to say there and instead I confessed the feeling in the thread that overwhelmed me.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:16 AM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I couldn't get past the moment he starts to crack. No, I need to start my day another way. But I will definitely go back to this, so thank you for posting it.

scody quotes a wonderful poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Funny, that poem is a touchstone of mine, too and I'm also a 4x cancer "survivor" (although cancer and me, we are cohorts now -- the phrase "survivor" is whistling in the dark).
posted by thinkpiece at 5:33 AM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh man oh man. I am going to be replaying this brutally powerful story in my head a lot. But right now, I think I'll just have this little weep.

Thought provoking, smart-talking, Hopkins-quoting, cancer-surviving scody, you are such a treasure.
posted by madamjujujive at 6:11 AM on January 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

When I was 25 I watched my best friend die slowly of cancer. He was an extraordinary person and fought hard, but after three years succumbed.

During the end stages of his illness I was at one point seated next to his bed, my throat locked up in a painful spasm (words stuck like rocks in my throat), tears brimming as I tried not to break down. I did not want to say goodbye or imagine a world without him; I did not want to lose him.

Suddenly Marc turned to face me and in an angry, chemo-roughened voice said, "How dare you sit there crying! You can stand up and, on your own power, walk out the door, get into your car, drive into town, buy food, eat and enjoy that food, walk outside, look at the sky, breathe freely and enjoy BEING. I will never, ever do any of that again. You have no right at all to feel sorry for yourself. None. You can feel bad for me, sure, but don't you ever DARE take what you have for granted."

That was 30 years ago. It changed my life.

Watching this very brave man strip off his skin to reveal the agony beneath left me weeping; but more than that it once again reminded me not to waste a moment, and to be joyful for what I have.

Thanks for posting this. Powerful stuff. And thanks for the Hopkins, scody.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:52 AM on January 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

Holy fuck. Wow. No words.
posted by Fizz at 7:00 AM on January 28, 2012

It's inspirational to see how his comic instincts kick in and he realizes that the suffering can take him to a dark, Artie Langish place at which he can mine new lodes of material and evolve as a comic. But the greatest source of stress (next to the cancer, of course) results from having to suppress this journey and tailor his work to the bland, inoffensive presentation that defines the Tonight Show and continues to be its hallmark today. He can't even fall back on the sad clown schtick from the old Jackie Gleason or Red Skelton routines. He's forced into the late 20th century genre of TV comedy that's artificially giddy to an extreme.

His breakthrough, mediated by the Training Day realization, is inspirational, too. It recalls another literary quote, from Hemingway rather than Dickens--"Courage is grace under pressure."
posted by Gordion Knott at 7:35 AM on January 28, 2012

posted by Marquis at 7:57 AM on January 28, 2012

I'd like to see clips of his 3 appearances on the Tonight Show.
posted by lathrop at 8:25 AM on January 28, 2012

I can't watch this. When I listened to the podcast, I sobbed uncontrollably. I had cancer as a child, and it's overwhelming to think about the pain it caused my family. This story brings it all back.
posted by ahdeeda at 9:04 AM on January 28, 2012

Mr. Griffith has a website.
posted by jiawen at 9:38 AM on January 28, 2012

Since I've had children I find it very hard to watch movies or current news about kidnapped or abused or murdered children, anything about children in danger, children starving, children profoundly sick, children dying. It's too horrible, too real to me - even if it's fictional. It taps directly into that fear of losing your children, of realizing that something bad could happen to any child - that there is no rhyme or reason - and there is nothing you can do as a parent to protect your child and shield them from suffering 100% of the time.

When you have a child it's such a huge leap of faith - I didn't fully comprehend this until I had my first baby. You are purposefully, deliberately exposing yourself to the possibility of incredible pain, with so much of your love wrapped up in a small, fragile being. You do all you can as a parent but there is so much you can't do - all you have after that is hope. And to contemplate that this happens all the time, everywhere, that it is happening to other parents and little kids are suffering right now is overwhelming.

This video made me cry. The tension between having to create comedy while your little one is sick and dying is so affecting. My heart goes out to Mr. Griffith.
posted by flex at 9:41 AM on January 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Man, that's powerful. I bet I'm not the only one who subscribed to The Moth on youtube from this.

Also, I'm not the only one that thought this said Andy Griffith, right?
posted by DigDoug at 10:29 AM on January 28, 2012

"MAN UP NIGGA!" SO damn powerful. That phrase really speaks to something you can feel as a man in general. I remember when my grandpa died and my mom flew to Mexico for his funeral. When she saw me and my dad waiting for her at the airport on her return, she started crying and me and my dad were both kind of trying to hold back tears because we felt like we had to be strong for her. Holding back something like that to be perceived as strong... I don't know.

Anyway, it's a very inspiring story and I'll probably watch it again whenever I need to get some tears out of my system :(
posted by d1rge at 11:30 AM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

When you have a child it's such a huge leap of faith - I didn't fully comprehend this until I had my first baby. You are purposefully, deliberately exposing yourself to the possibility of incredible pain, with so much of your love wrapped up in a small, fragile being. You do all you can as a parent but there is so much you can't do - all you have after that is hope. And to contemplate that this happens all the time, everywhere, that it is happening to other parents and little kids are suffering right now is overwhelming..

This, a hundred times. I always thought that I had some degree of compassion, but the day, shortly after my son was born, that I walked into a corner store and saw the cover of Time magazine or some such, featuring an African woman and her starving child, and realized-- really understood-- that this woman felt the same way about her baby as I did about mine was the moment when the world really crashed into reality for me-- other people, other people's suffering, the whole world full of other people and other people's genuine pain. I began to cry and left the store itself, but some part of my heart is still in that moment. As it should be.

I'm not sure if I'll watch the video or not, but thank you for posting it.
posted by jokeefe at 11:55 AM on January 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

I bawled like a baby when I heard this on my car on the way to work.

I don't even have children; I can't imagine how sad it will be if you listen to this as a parent.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 12:59 PM on January 28, 2012

I told myself I wasn't going to watch this, but the idea hung around in my mind all day, so I did, and it was as shattering as I expected. "25 kids enter - 5 walk out". Maybe it's better odds than that these days, but last Monday when we were in for a checkup there was a new little 18 month old patient, bald, NG tube, puffy from chemo, and we did the smallest of dances with her mom - we being her future she dare not plan for, while we fear a return to her present.

What he said about needing to be the strong one, too, in the grand scheme well, it's not about the parents but at the same time it is very much about the parents, and I one thing I have learned is there is an unfathomable gulf, perhaps an unspeakable one, between how moms and how dads experience both the pain of children's disease and how they encounter the system. Like a railroad, we're twin steel rails, separated by ties.

Anyway, Little C turned 3 yesterday. The day she turned 2, she got the trifecta of blood transfusion, chemo, and an MRI - but cupcakes first, in the morning in the oncology ward.

This year she got a Circus themed birthday party at the local rec centre, a house full of balloons, and pretty much the two biggest hugs any girl has ever gotten, ever.

But my heart keeps going back to the little girl in the oncology ward, ours last year, and the one on Monday, the same girl, really, and now Anthony Griffith's girl too. It is so incredibly hard to embrace hope. I am afraid of hope. I need to keep my guard up. Little C doesn't know she is sick or has ever been sick, so "hope" means nothing to her - yet it's all I have, and I hate it for that.
posted by Rumple at 9:50 PM on January 28, 2012 [10 favorites]

When she was born, my older daughter was in the NICU for six weeks. She was seven weeks early (this was in 1980), had hyaline membrane disease so she couldn't breathe on her own, and had a patent ductus arteriosus so she didn't get all her blood properly oxygenated. She was very sick and there were two other children about the same gestation and condition. My wife and I spent a lot of time in the NICU caring for her and came to know the other parents well. Our fear and joy were publicly shared and we bonded. Of the three kids, only my daughter escaped relatively unscathed. One ended up with severe cerebral palsy and the other died.

Recently, I went to a seminar where a young neonatologist was talking about the current state of care and how research was beginning to focus on the parents. He said that studies show that the parents have a high rate of symptoms of PTSD, just like soldiers who go to war. Watching this video brought back all the feelings I had back then and had again when my daughter was diagnosed with cancer at age 5. You never outlive the feelings and you never forget. This video was a brave and powerful statement. I don't know what it's like to lose a daughter, but I know that coming close twice has permanently shaped my psyche and I empathize with his grief and am thankful that I never had to experience it.

p.s. My older daughter is currently healthy, married, has a masters degree in public health, and works for the American Cancer Society. I could not be a prouder papa.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:09 AM on January 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

I could barely make it through this... especially where he talks about his plans. Oh boy.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with my son, he's healthy as a horse and amazing in every way - yet at the same time, I've had a dark side to me for so long that I can't possibly be the only parent in the world afraid to buy my son clothes two sizes up for fear that I'm going to be "jinxing" something.

That may be the most morbid, personal thing I've ever admitted.
posted by sonika at 12:01 PM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

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