When a friend of mine was recently diagnosed with a severe form of cancer, he told me, to my surprise, that, though he is filled with fears of the gravest kind, he is also feeling strangely grateful. He said that, in the past, he has often thought about the fact that, at any given moment, hundreds of millions of people are suffering in the most relentless ways, and it has always saddened him that he has not been able to truly identify with them -- to really somehow be a part of, and feel, their anguish. He said he usually would think about them for a passing moment or two and then go on his way, living his separate life as though these suffering people were no real concern of his. He told me a strange thing has happened because of this frightening diagnosis: the fear he feels is almost completely balanced by a sense of comradeship and solidarity with all the countless sufferers around the world. He feels like he has suddenly fallen into an immense and valiant family – immense because suffering people are next door and down the street and everywhere, and valiant because nothing brings on bravery better than suffering. He says, yes, he cries a lot these days, thinking about his loved ones and long days in the hospital and the power of the pain he may feel and the feel of death doing its slow work, but he also feels oddly euphoric sometimes. He feels like his time has come, at long last, to step out from life-long self-centeredness and seek the wider world of understanding and compassion -- a world that offers more blessings than he ever thought possible. He said several times that he’s almost grateful for this disease, because it’s proving to be a stern and brilliant teacher. He says he’s committed to learning its lessons well.