I need to acknowledge something that I’ve spent the last few days trying not to acknowledge. Not even to myself.
Robert Linder has cancer.
On Wednesday, Chris and I found out that Robert would be going into surgery the following morning to remove a large brain tumor. I was in Tennessee, helping my sister move into her college dorm room when Chris told me. Chris was home in South Carolina. We were both in shock.
I first met Robert through Chris — they were in a show together — and he and I bonded quickly over Scrabble and movies and, of course, illness. Robert’s wife, Mary, is battling Parkinson’s disease. And I mean really battling.
At Robert and Mary’s house, my family has enjoyed some of the best, truest hospitality of our lives. The best food, the best wine, the best conversation. Robert and Mary are the kind of people who love to take care of others, even, and maybe especially, in their brokenness. They are the kind of people who don’t wait to have all their own business in order, who don’t wait until they’re feeling their best, who don’t wait until everything is perfect for them before tending to you. They are the kind of people who share their most essential selves with you, bravely and unapologetically. They are the kind of people who are kind.
Chris drove, uninvited, to Robert and Mary’s house in Tryon on Wednesday night, not knowing what to expect. Not knowing how they would greet him. And ready to turn around and drive home if they wanted to be alone. Instead, they seemed relieved that he had shown up — that there was no need to call. And Chris enjoyed another night of the Linder’s legendary hospitality the night before Robert would go to the hospital.
Hospitals and hospitality. How strange that those two words, one so cold and the other so warm, would share the same root.
Chris says the evening was everything your maybe-last night should be. There were lots of jokes and stories. Some philosophy. But mostly just being. At some point during the night, Robert called me to tell me what I already knew. He sounded like Robert, except that he stuttered and forgot some words.
“Emily. I have to tell you. I, I, I have a…a…a — what do I have again?!”
(Chris and Mary shouting in the background — A Brain Tumor!)
And then he told me that it was the size of a medium apple, that the doctors had done an MRI and found it the day before, that it had happened so fast — he had only been experiencing some mild symptoms for about two weeks. He said that he’d been reading the blog a lot and doing a lot of research into Lyme disease, especially the neurological symptoms, so he thought he was imagining some of his symptoms. Just getting too into the part.
And then he said: “So…so. That’s it. I, I, I have a brain tumor and it’s pretty serious. It’s pretty big and it’s pretty deep…and I might die.”
He dropped his voice to a whisper.
“But…but that’s not even what I’m really afraid of, you know? They, they don’t know exactly where it is or how big it is or how much they’re going to have to remove and I don’t know who I’m going to be in the morning. I’m afraid I might wake up as…not me.”
“Oh,” I said. I hadn’t even thought of that possibility. “Yeah…I’m afraid, too.”
I’m not sure who said it first, but then we both said I love you. I’ve never told Robert that before, and he’s never told me. That’s what he means when he says come over anytime and bring the whole family and that’s what I mean when I say if there’s anything you or Mary need. But on your maybe-last night, your maybe-last phone call, you have to cut to the chase.
Today, Robert got some of the best news he could hope for. He is still Robert, for one thing. And, since he’s otherwise healthy and strong, his doctors are recommending him for aggressive, cutting-edge treatment at Duke. They are optimistic, but it’s cancer and it’s scary.
This much is certain. We will still make this movie, GET BETTER. We will make it with Robert Linder as the father…if he is well enough to join us on set (and we fully expect him to be). Only now, our film will have a new reasoning to it, a new depth…a new sensibility.
GET BETTER is now a prayer for our friend Robert.
We love you Robert. We love you Mary. We will make you as proud of us as we are of you.