22 May 2013

Have you heard about Zach Sobiech? He’s a teenager who died of cancer on May 20. He was diagnosed when he was 14. On May 3, when he turned 18, Soul Pancake—Rainn Wilson’s online channel— posted “My Last Days: Meet Zach Sobiech,” a short documentary by Justin Baldoni about Zach’s life. Three weeks later, Zach passed. 

As Zach says, “Many people kind of live in the middle, between when will my dreams come true and you’re dying.” He realized that we make our own happiness. Waiting is a luxury many of us don’t have and why would we want to put any kind of happiness off anyway? 

Some people are born with old souls and Zach’s one of them. Like Mattie Stepanek, who died at 13, Zach was wise so far beyond his years...beyond any of our years. There are so many lessons to be learned from him in this video —all of which we know but so rarely live by— including live in the moment, be grateful for what you have, cherish the ones you love and the ones who love you, and tell people that you love them. Zach has a level of acceptance and serenity about his death that is admirable without ever being treacly. When he and his girlfriend talk about how they want to have four kids together, it’s heartbreaking. They talk about getting married because “til death do us part” will be easy to keep since he’s dying. 

The video isn’t maudlin, but it doesn’t try to sugarcoat how devastating getting such a diagnosis is... not only for Zach, but for his family and friends. And that for some people, there comes a time when even though there is the possibility of more treatment, that treatment has to be weighed against the quality of life—even if it means stopping treatment will cut your life short. He brings up faith occasionally, but admits he doesn’t know what’s coming after death.

Zach turned to writing music to get out some of his thoughts about his life and his situation. He wrote a song called “Clouds” about “falling down, down, down into this dark and lonely hole.” The documentary maker who was filming Zach’s story sent the song to the likes of  Jason Mraz, Bryan Cranston, Sarah Silverman, Rainn Wilson and Sara Bareilles. One scene features him watching a video of them singing his song  back to him. But the celebrity angle is just one part, and a very small one, of his story.

The biggest lesson Zach learned? “It’s really simple actually: just try to make people happy,” he says. Some people learn it the easy way, some the hard way, he admits, but “as long as you learn it, you’re going to make the world a better place.” 

I wrote a few months ago about how the novel “The Fault In Our Stars” affected me. It’s about two teenagers with cancer and Zach embodies Augustus, the male lead in the book...except he’s real  (the book was based on a teenage girl who had cancer and I gave to that charity earlier this year).

Watch the video if you haven’t already and then go out and seize the day. 

His family has established the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund at Children’s Cancer Research Fund. Today’s $10 goes to that. If you’re a fan of his music, some of which you’ll hear in the video, his CD is available on iTunes. Proceeds from that go to the fund as well.

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