Review: John Joss
By These Things Men Live: Review
--John Joss, Sierra, Sierra
Hemingway wrote that courage is grace under pressure.
Hemingway didn’t know pressure like Bob Ellal’s and responded differently by taking his own life. Ellal saw it through, at levels of pain that induce deep empathy. He beat cancer four times, with gritty endurance and grace that defy understanding. That’s what this book is about.
No sane or loving person could have criticized Ellal if he had given up, rolled over, stopped the treatments and the pain, or ended his own life. Instead this brave man hung in, month after dreadful month, a pit bull with teeth embedded in the flanks of the beast, never abandoning his belief in and love of life. How did he do it? Probably he himself cannot fully explain it—not the process, you understand, which he elucidates in full in his great little book, but the motivation.
Beyond enduring bravely, he also had the courage to write about it, to explain what he had to undergo in the healing process. He writes at skill levels that match Hemingway’s in the sense of his command of the language, just for starters. And he exhibits a startling willingness to be naked in front of his readers, an openness and abandonment of self that few writers dare and even fewer succeed in conveying honestly. Most writers are cowards, afraid to expose themselves.
He even finds opportunities to mock himself in a charming, self-deprecatory way that is profoundly moving. He admits his own faults and failings in a way that is endearing. The man lost a career and a marriage, but he came through willing to live another day, to put one foot in front of the other, with dogged determination, as we all must in the end.
And he committed himself to another huge task: to write about it all.
The ending is mystical but sets the seal on a harrowing account of what it is like to place oneself in the hands of the living God—the modern medical establishment—and survive.
Though short, Ellal’s is not an easy book to assimilate but it should be required reading for anyone who has experienced life-threatening illness or has helped a family member through such a life-changing experience. It is at once terrifying and inspiring. Beyond the words on the page, one senses a deep spirituality conveyed in humble expressions that touch the mind and heart.
Now we must ask Bob Ellal to continue writing, to flex his literary powers and his fine mind, to tackle another issue or issues with similar skills and courage. He will win that battle, too, if there is a living God with an ounce of caring and intelligence.