Tikkun Olam In Action

In response to my post about Lisa’s lung cancer, we have received hundreds of supportive emails, phone calls, office visits, Facebook comments, retweets and other expressions of support. I’m sorry we haven’t been able to respond to them all. I spent most of Tuesday crying in my office with the door closed from the many ways people took concrete steps to share our story and help us out. It is overwhelming in the most positive sense, a tidal wave of love and the best qualities of the human condition that lifts my spirit and makes me think about how I can be a better person. Among the many amazing responses we got, this email stood out. Someone who I barely know wrote me:

“…your post made me think for the first time about my history as a former smoker and how it may have impacted others like your wife, who were smart enough never to start, but who may well have been impacted. I’ve wondered ever I quit 22 years ago, whether my 1.5 ppd history would ultimately bite in the ass but I’ve never even considered its possible impact on innocent third parties. I’m not an inconsiderate or thoughtless person by nature but it wasn’t until I saw your post that I really viewed my own past smoking habit from that perspective. I wish I could apologize on behalf of all smokers who have potentially caused such unintended harm but I find that many current smokers are so heavily addicted that they are in denial of the health effects on those around them – even their unborn children – because to do otherwise would create (in my opinion) an undeniable moral obligation to quit. So I apologize for myself at least…”


Here’s how I responded:

“I don’t really know what to say in response to this email except thank you for writing such an insightful and heartfelt email. It means more to us than I can really say. Lisa wanted to get the word out about the risks of lung cancer, and an email like this makes me think she’s succeeded in ways I could have never anticipated. It’s nice of you to apologize, but totally unnecessary. Instead, to the extent you are thinking about the ways you can make choices that make the world a little better, that puts a huge smile on my face, and I owe you a huge thank you.”


I have loved all of the posts where you’ve shared our story with your friends and family. Not only have many of you said kind things about Lisa and me, but it means so much when you’ve highlighted some fact you’ve learned and helped explain it to your audience in your words. That raises awareness of the risks of lung cancer better than we ever could. As one example of the responses that have simply overwhelmed me with their kindness and thoughtfulness, see this blog post from long-time friend and colleague Bennet Kelly.

I haven’t been able to thank everyone individually, but I do promise to repay each and every one of these acts of kindness by paying it forward, as much as I can now, and more when my schedule gets more manageable.

*** Note: Tikkun Olam means “repair the world.” In Jewish tradition, we are born into a world with flaws. It is our responsibility to personally undertake to fix some of those flaws.