Heroes of weakness

The prince races up to the dark, towering castle on his noble steed. The bridge is blocked with a thicket of razor sharp enchanted thorns, but this does not stop him. Our hero plunges in, hacking away with his sword until he reaches the smoldering dragon, which he slays with the utmost of ease. Collecting the sleeping damsel from her chamber inside the castle, he carries her away to safety. The damsel becomes his wife within a matter of days, surely happy to be wed to a man of such impressive and heroic strength, for a man so brave and strong as this must be worthy of anyone. He is far beyond the rest of the herd of average and weak humans.

The connotations behind the words “strength” and “weakness” in our culture reveal how most of us have been taught to live our lives. “Strength” connotes many words: good, powerful, sexy, inspirational, right, natural, and beautiful. “Weakness” is sad, helpless, ugly, depressing, unnatural, and abhorrent. These ideas are instilled in our minds when we are very young. The archetype of the strong, valiant hero pervades the stories and history of nearly every culture. These legends are held up as the most admired figures of their time. They are superhuman. They are godly.

And therein lies the root. A god. We as humans want so badly to have a living, breathing, visible idol with powers beyond our own that we can look to for hope and protection. Somehow, we have convinced ourselves that human beings can actually achieve this godliness.

So what message does all of this instill in us? Strength will define your life and give it real meaning. Unless you are strong, you are nothing. Unless you are strong, you are worthlessly average and no one will ever listen to you or care about you.  It is the reason why I have spent so much of my own life fighting to be strong. Growing up, I was always different. I gravitated toward art, music and theater rather than the typical athletic endeavors of all my male peers. Don’t get me wrong, I pursued athletics with dedication, competitiveness and some relative success when I was younger. But my heart wasn’t in it, and the people around me could tell. I was teased for my weight, my sensitivity, and the many small ways in which I stood out from the average pubescent male. Somehow, I just couldn’t relate to all the things that the other 12-year-old guys thought and felt.

The fact of the matter was that I had been labeled as “weaker,” and it was a horrible feeling. That was it! I would never be valued for anything in life. I spent the remaining part of my teen years, especially high school, desperately trying to change that label that others had given to me by excelling (with some notable success) academically, athletically and artistically. At 18, when I was eventually diagnosed with cancer, I forced myself to stand back up and fight. And fight. And fight. Giving up was never an option. Aside from having an intense love for life itself, I wanted to be strong. It was gratifying to hear people comment on my determination and strength to fight against the odds. I had always known myself to have great strength, and I was finally being recognized for it. I began to believe that if I could just be strong enough, physically and mentally, maybe I could generate some kind of supernatural healing.

Unfortunately, humans (myself included) seem to forget that the non-fictional heroic archetypes that occupy our imaginations are, in fact, human. Just like us, they have or will die. Like us, their bodies will eventually become weak and decrepit. Their strength and conquests in life, no matter how great, did not win them godly immortality. As my own body ignores my wishes and gives way beneath me, what I now realize is this: much strength lies in our ability to bravely accept weakness, which inevitably comes to us all. It requires so much more bravery and courage to lay down your weapon, turn to those around you and say “Help me. I have nothing left. Will you carry me for a while?” Instead of perpetually fighting, running away from weakness and remaining in denial, there comes a time when it is all the more honorable and courageous to stop, turn, and fully embrace your weakness.

Bearing all of this in mind, I am faced with a new challenge now. I have opted to be strong and accept whatever treatment was offered to me throughout this cancer battle. Now, however, on the day when I should be beginning the immune therapy trial that I opted to do, I receive the news from the head of the trial that I am no longer eligible to partake because my body is simply too weak with all the fluid in my lungs and my inability to breathe. It is more than devastating. I have fought and survived more than two years past the “expiration” date that science gave me when I relapsed three years ago. I have fought in pursuit of staying alive long enough to be one of the first humans tested on this trial. And now, after all that hard work, it has been ripped away from me because I am too physically weak. Medically, there is nothing left for me to do. All that is left to me now is to learn to experience the joy that can be found through meakly submitting yourself to God’s plan.

But I suppose this is the final answer to the question I posed to God daily over this past month: asking whether or not I should even do this trial. I toiled over whether the voice I heard that called me to join Him in heaven was really His or not. I prayed He would make it clear what the right decision was, and He has. I simultaneously find comfort in the thought that at the end of this five year process I opted to avail myself of every medical option and that I never chose to give in to circumstance; with this knowledge in hand, I can take my next step knowing that I fought the good fight.

Just now I think I’ll practice what I preach by sinking into this hospital bed and letting my nurses and family continue to help and care for me. Even when I might feel alone here in this cold room, I am surrounded by humans that reach out to me with care in their eyes. I wait here for an ambulance to transfer me to yet another hospital where I will receive yet another procedure on my lungs to help me regain enough physical stability to return home. Once home (hopefully late tomorrow), I will relish spending time with my brother, parents and puppies hiding from the snowstorm that looms on the horizon in the warmly insulated house that my dad built for our family. Each timber of this home was laid with the protection of the four of us in mind. There I feel protection and security. There I feel love; and there is so much love to be had when we embrace each other in our weaknesses. I can rest in this love knowing that it is far more powerful than the strength of any one human.

 

 

43 thoughts on “Heroes of weakness

  1. I believe that we do live forever, and not just as memories. The music we have made, what we have done, said, and written lives on in ways big and small, often subconsciously, in those whose lives we have touched. Thank you for touching so many lives. Wishing you a speedy return home and wishing your family and your many Sam-fans peace for this transition.

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  2. Sam,
    As others have said, your unique choice to share your thoughts and the way you have expressed yourself about your journey is a rare gift for all of us. With your words, you have met and surpassed the ultimate point of vulnerability — that which ultimately identifies and binds us together as humans.
    Sabrina has been questioning what we are put on earth to do lately. Your three blog posts provide a better answer and roadmap for life than any answer or other source I can think of.
    I cherish the song you and Daniel did with Sarah, as well as you and your family’s kindness during some difficult times for our family.
    Your legacy is not just your songs or your ‘strengths’ but your clarity, compassion and expression.
    Sheryl

    Liked by 3 people

  3. If you only knew how many people you touch. Sharing your experiences is such a gift to us all, and we can only hope to be as brave and faithful as you are. Thank you so much. I know we have only met once or twice, but I wanted to tell you that in my opinion being weak is fine because your friends and family will be strong for you. We all send you our hugs and our love (especially those from the other side of the country). You are in our thoughts and prayers all the time!
    Diane

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Samuel, I only spoke to you several times (I’m Erik’s mom), but I wanted to let you know I’ve been thinking about you and reading your blog. You are a beautiful writer, singer, and human being—thank you so much for sharing your journey. I will be thinking of you tonight as I play the magnificent music of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro…

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  5. Samuel Waters. I think I met you when you were 13. I never thought of you as weak. Not then and not now. I thought of you as oh so talented and full of life. And strong. I think of you that way still. Only now I can add: wise beyond years and measure; courageous; compassionate; eloquent.
    My ringtone is the song you and Daniel wrote and recorded – “Songs Unwritten”. Your voice is strong and beautiful and pure. Each time my phone rings, an angel sings. Thank you for your generosity in sharing your journey. You are a blessing to everyone who has known you. You’ve deeply touched even those of us who have known you only at a distance. With much love.
    Lynn

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Sam – I am humbled by your STRENGTH every bit as much as I was and am awed by your many talents. i’ve watched you perform at GM many times. my son Walter was in your class. I was stunned when my daughter came home from GM one day and asked if i heard that Sam Waters had cancer. I thought she must have misheard. Sam Waters the actor? The one who starred in the play? The singer. What? No. That can’t be possible, I thought. He is so young! So healthy. So strong. Yes I really did think that Sam. who but a strong person can stand up on a stage in front of so many people and sing like you can, act like you can, look as handsome and happy as you always did. i remember saying to one of the other Moms after the play that if i was in high school YOU my young friend would have easily stolen my heart.
      there was not a dry eye at GMHS graduation when you sang after first apologizing if your voice “wasn’t up to par.” I am so very sorry for all that you have had to endure. life is so unfair sometimes. i too am a cancer survivor. when i was going thru my own treatment YOUR strength inspired me through my own struggles. Thank you my young friend for all the joy you have brought to all of us who knew you even a little. Rest now. Your are so loved and admired.

      Most Sincerely,
      Donna LaVerde (Porzel)

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  6. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corin 12:10

    Samuel I am so deeply touched by your willingness in the midst of physical weakness to be so strong, and then to share this timeless spiritual wisdom of strength in weakness with so many others. While our driveway could really use the Waters’ manpower this weekend and I would love to know that you and Tyler are making a little extra money clearing the snow for us, I take great comfort in the picture of you ensconced in your beautiful home–built by your dad for your protection–clearing and walking this path with your mom, dad and Tyler. Know that so many people are standing at your side holding your hand and holding you up in spirit, if not in physical presence. Bless you bless you bless you with all my heart and soul, and that of Peter, Brian, Collin and Nora (and Muggles).

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  7. Samuel, thank you for sharing the wisdom gleaned from your experience. You have taught me much about strength, courage, and endurance. Blessings on you and your family. If it is time to lay down your weapon, then do so and turn to those in your wonderful family who will do all they can to help you when you have nothing left, and they will definitely carry you for a while. With the deepest respect,

    Peter

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  8. At one of the most challenging moments in my own life, my family wanted me to “buck”, and said “you always get back on your feet”, etc. Then my father called later and said, “I think you needed to hear that it is okay to need help, okay to fall apart for a while”. We all need to experience that at some point. Your strength is incredible no matter what especially making your decision. I am so sorry about the trial and your lungs. (Being a singer, it really sounds tough). Hoping they can relieve that and you make it home before the giant storm.
    Let your family take care and protect you. It is necessary and part of the process. I wish I could come by and just sing to you. I did that for many people who were at end stage of this particular life. You are loved and a dear person. Singing to you from afar.

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  9. Dear Samuel,
    As your family we feel so blessed that we can truly say we have and will never know anyone as brave and strong as you. Your music, but also your smile alone has brought so much happiness into our life and getting to call you a nephew and a cousin makes us feel incredibly blessed. The joy and peace you have brought to countless people’s lives will last for eternity. We pray for you and we send you endless amounts of love!
    Love always,
    Uncle Chuck, Aunt Susanne, TJ and Allie

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Samuel, there is such beauty, depth and wisdom in your words. Thank you for sharing your innermost thoughts. Thank you for trusting us with your words. I feel so privileged to have worked with you as a student at Shepherd…so gifted, dedicated and respectful. You inspire all of us, in so many ways. I pray for you and send you love. You have been through hell, but with your determined spirit, you have triumphed. May God bless you, dear one.xx

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  11. Samuel–
    I have never had the privilege of meeting you, learning of your talent and your story through the local newspaper. However, I know that I am one of countless strangers that hasbeen forever changed from having heard your voice–and now, from having read your words. Thank you for sharing your talents and gifts with so many people. Sending thoughts and prayers to you and your family.

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  12. Samuel,
    You are far, far stronger than I will ever be. You have insights into our mortal existence that are exceptional, and seemingly transcend normal human intellectual and spiritual limitations. And, most importantly, you have the capacity to love and be loved that can only be understood as a gift from the Almighty. Oh Samuel, you are so loved. Uncle Tom

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Samuel,
    Our earthly bodies are dependent and flawed but our souls give life to the vessels that carry them through this life. We find our strength in love- from those who touch us from the past, present and future………. You, my wonderful nephew, are a strong soul whose love has and will spread and spread……..like sunshine on a cold winter landscape……and will continue to touch those who have connected with you in ways you will never know. The truly strong have the wisdom to apply their talents to lift up those around them and that you have truly accomplished. God bless you and let you feel the love of those around you and those whose lives you have so deeply touched. There are so many. We loved, love and will love you always.
    Love, Aunt Therese

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Samuel, I love you and I love your family so much. I have never known someone
      With so much perseverance as you except for maybe your amazing dad. Please know that you have brought joy and smiles to everyone who knows you. You are so loved Samuel.

      Liked by 2 people

  14. Samuel – Thank you for having the courage to invite us to share your journey with you. You could have chosen so many other ways of experiencing these last 5 years, but you shared them. The Comeaus consider knowing you a great privilege. You teach us so much – and we still have much to learn from you. Please know how proud we are of you — you inspire us. We’re praying for your safe and quick return home to Falls Church. We’re so proud of you.
    Chris, Morna, Laura, David and J.C.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Samuel are a very strong man. Anyone that can face their destination with respect, curiosity, and most of all faith, is the strongest person I have ever met.

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  16. What incredible words. While you and I have never met, you know my daughter Sarah Vautour. She shared your blog with us and for that I am so very grateful. God bless you, sweet Sam, God bless your journey, God bless your family and bring them peace. From your words, I believe God has helped you find YOUR peace and your path. The picture you painted of your home and family caring for you now is beautiful and warm and full of light, just like the picture you chose above.

    Thank you for sharing your words and emotions, they are truly a gift. Lifting you up in prayer. Peace be with you.

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  17. My darling Samuel,
    Thank you for distilling your thoughts for us. The Lord has given you a clarity which is a gift to all, as well as you. May He continue to reveal Himself to you, and may you be a conduit for His revelation. Even now, we do not give up hope. The Lord is doing great things, and His mercy, goodness and love are with us. We are just beginning to perceive it!
    1 Corinthians 13:12
    For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
    Your loving mama.

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  18. Samuel, your name means “ask of God”. Your light shines bright for all to see and give thanks and praises to Jesus, The Author and The Finisher of our faith! I have three of my bible studies and prayer groups praying for you! We have not given up. Rest in the arms of Jesus! Rest in His love. We stand in Intercession for you, our dearest brother in Christ!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. WOW, Samuel, you are gifted! Your ability to express yourself is beyond my words. I’m sorry your teen years were so difficult and apologize for insensitivity. I pray you rest now in the love that surrounds you and in Our Lord’s loving arms. You continue to be a gift to me. Blessings to you and your family.
    9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” …”for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12: 9-11

    We are so so blessed!

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  20. Hi,

    I don’t know you but I happened to stumble across your blog. Your insights are key to our existence as beings. I haven’t read all your posts yet but I will. Every single action that we make in life causes an effect. A ripple in the entropy or randomness of this universe. I’m glad your experience and words, or ripple, came across me. It’s definitely helped me reflect on my life experience so far. I am so lucky to have the chance to continue and grow as an individual in my precious life and I feel like I have been blessed by having the chance to discover and read your words. You’ve humbled me and I feel so human. At the same time, I feel so enlightened and redirected back into the path of life. Your ripple is creating a wave that is bigger than you can ever imagine. Thank you. God is great, brother. I hope we will meet one day.

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  21. Samuel,

    I struggle for words.

    I knew that you were working on another post and kept checking for it and didn’t see it. Then I heard that your breathing was so much worse. I begged and pleaded with God over the weekend that the pleural effusions would be drained and that you would begin the immunotherapy trial on Tuesday. It was crushing to hear that you were no longer eligible for the trial. I couldn’t bear to think of your experiencing in your words “And now, after all that hard work, it has been ripped away from me.”

    When your newest blog posted, I was so relieved, because it made me realize that somehow you had been able to see beyond this most painful outcome to appreciating that in your words “I am surrounded by humans that reach out to me with care in their eyes.” Oh, and what a gift that is–the awareness of being a part of that love that binds us all together in the Body of Christ.

    In your observation that you began to believe that if you could just be strong enough, physically and mentally, maybe you could generate some kind of supernatural healing, I recognize a similar state of mind in myself. I think that, because it’s so unbearable to face losing you, I could not accept that eventually there might be no medical treatment option left for you.

    I am praying that you are home or will make it home tonight and bask in the warmth and love of Tyler and your parents and the puppies in that house your father built for all of you.

    As many have said, you are wise beyond your years and you really have loved and supported and inspired so many people. You and Tyler have brightened my life beyond measure. I love you so much and carry you with me in my heart as I pray for you.

    Mary Ellen

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mary Ellen,
      Such beautiful words. You have been our dear friend since before Samuel’s birth. You are a cherished member of our family, in both the earthly and heavenly realm. We love you with an everlasting love.

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  22. Samuel,

    I do not know you, and you do not know me. I found this post, and others, and have sat for days wondering how to tell you how beautiful this post is. You are a hero in every sense of the word. You are loved, you love, you have courage, you have honor, you have dignity, you have grace, you have faith, and you have hope. Your family and friends were blessed with your love and strength, and your love will forever live on in their hearts and minds. Every comment on this post is more beautiful than the last, showing how truly loved you are.

    You have already won. You have touched more lives in your years than most people ever do. You inspire people who have never even met you. You. Have. Won.

    I pray for you and your family and your friends, and I thank you for blessing me with your story.

    James T

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  23. Dear Sam

    I know I speak for many of us here at Rice University and at Brown College, your home away from home, when I say how touched I am by all you are sharing here with us.

    Speaking just for myself, not really as the College Master, but just as me, someone who has only recently gotten to know you, who doesn’t know you as well as I would like, someone who teaches literature, I want to say I appreciate so much your honesty here, and how you are keeping us close to you, as you go through what you’re going through. To me, it’s such a heartening thing to feel and see. I appreciate your humor, too — Eddie Murphy suddenly appearing in the midst of all this deep reflection! Thank you.

    I think you ask all the question we (professors I mean) hope people will ask, hope we ourselves will ask – literature offers a lot of points of reflection on questions you’re posing: about faith, love, the eternal, grace. Recently over the holiday recess I was reading a couple of Marilynne Robinson novels, Gilead and Lila, beautiful works that ask us to open ourselves to the biggest mysteries of life and whatever is beyond. I ended up thinking I’d been in some kind of literary sanctuary, reading them, and I felt in many ways they were over my head, in what they asked of me. There was, for me, some grace in that feeling, some transcending of the everyday, which is a feeling I take to be in the realms we typically call “spiritual” “religious” “grace.” They nurture me somehow.

    I will be thinking of you now all the time, and will be reading what you post. And again, I know all of us here at Brown College are sending you all our love and sweetest feelings. –Krista Comer

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  24. Colossians 1:26-27 says: “The mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Love, love, love!

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  25. You are always in my thoughts and prayers Sam. You are so strong and such a fighter, as well as one of the most talented people I know. The whole clinic sends their love and support your way.

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  26. Samuel, you are certainly loved by me and Lynn. We miss you so much. We enjoyed having you come spend time with us and bring along a couple of your hungry friends from Rice. Do you remember the time you came to visit and the skin on your neck was so burned from radiation. You said that they told you to put aloe vera on it. I hadn’t had an aloe plant in 20 plus years, but that morning I had bought an aloe plant. Was that a coincidence? or some type of intervention? We have always admired you, Samuel. You have all the best qualities there are in a human. We were lucky to have you as an “adopted grandson” when you were at Rice.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Sam, I’m SO grateful to have met you. I will always carry this message you expressed so beautifully that love fills the space of our weakness. I’m sending you and your family all the love and peace I can muster.

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  28. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies: You anoint my head with oil: My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life: And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.’ Psalm 23:4-6
    Samuel, praying continually for you! Rest in Jesus’ arms! He loves you so much! 🙏🏻

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  29. Hi Samuel,

    Although I haven’t seen you in years, I’ve been following your posts and have found your faith and strength truly inspirational. I will continue to pray for you and your family.

    When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. – Psalm 56:3

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  30. Dear Sam,

    Thank you for taking the time to share your beautiful writing and insight. I love how you continually incorporate art into your everyday life, and you have taught us all deeply reflective lessons. While I have always been hesitant using the words “strength” and “courage” with those at the end of life, I truly believe you have embodied these traits and feel comfortable attributing them to you. Just as you’ve alluded to, your strength is not reminiscent of adolescent athleticism, but rather the strength that comes with careful reflection, a deep understanding of self, and an unfathomably mature acceptance of what awaits.

    I am so glad you were able to spend your last day with loved ones at home. From what I gather, you have a beautiful and supportive family, and I imagine an incredibly peaceful passing. From just your writing alone, we can see that you have reached such a profound level of spiritual depth, that while death came too early and we wish to keep you here for ourselves, we do not worry about your journey. The love you radiated at the end of life is unforgettable, and we will take those lessons with us and imbue that love in our everyday relationships. It is a love that truly transcends life and death.

    You have left a beautiful legacy in your wake, and even within your first decades of life, you have left an impact on so many of us, that your spirit will continue on with us and the many people we will cross with you in mind. Like a web, your presence will resonate indefinitely and outwardly, and we are incredibly fortunate to have been able to share these fleeting moments with you.

    With much love,

    Alex Lam

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