When she was 12 years old, Esther was diagnosed with thyroid cancer that had already spread to her lungs by the time of her diagnosis. She went through a long string of aggressive treatments that were often torturous in themselves and endured the disease itself weakening her body for four years before it finally took her from us on August 25, 2010. Despite her physical suffering, however, she never allowed the illness to change her spirit or to dampen her love for life and the people around her.
I won't go into details here about my relationship with Esther. I'll just say that in 2008, she and a couple other people noticed me in a corner of the internet, observing with interest but bound in silence by my shyness, and they very sweetly lured me into conversations. They talked to me every time they saw me after that and their kindness gave me the courage to get increasingly involved in their community.
Over time I got to know many of Esther's friends and they were and continue to be some of the loveliest, funniest people I've ever met. I continued talking to Esther throughout the two years that I knew her and she was never anything but sweet to me, except on those occasions when she had to kick me out of my melancholy and remind me that life does go on.
As these friendships grew, I found the courage to branch out and eventually I met so many great people that I probably wouldn't even know most of the people reading this if it weren't for the seed that Esther planted. I would, in fact, be a very different person from the one I am today. I'm easily old enough to be Esther's mother and yet she taught me some important life lessons that I hope I never forget. She truly lived and died with the grace of her name and has lit a star -- Esther means "star" in Persian -- that won't go out in the hearts of those who knew her.
That brings us to today. Shortly before she died, Esther expressed a wish that people would celebrate her birthday, August 3, every year by telling the people they love that they love them. She wanted it to be a day for family and friends and for expressing the love that we sometimes have a hard time putting into words.
This is kind of a tough day for me. Partly, yes, because it's Esther's birthday and I miss her, but also because she's asked a hard thing of me. I do love a lot of people very much. If I know you well enough to have conversations with you, I almost certainly love you, and if I've opened up to you enough to know you well, you can be sure that I love you deeply. There are even a few people with whom I feel comfortable enough to tell them regularly that I love them. But it's not easy for me and it's much harder face to face. I don't know why it's so hard to say it, but I can barely drag the words out of my mouth and I feel embarrassed every time I do. So I find myself filled with love but lacking the ability to share it with anyone. It's frustrating, to say the least.
I will do it though. I'll do it for Esther and, even more, for all the other people that I love. I've already said it out loud a couple times today and I plan to say it at least a few more times before I sleep tonight. And for those of you that I don't see in the flesh or talk to with my voice, I'll say it here: I love you. I really, REALLY do. Thank you for what you mean in my life, for putting up with my quirks, my failings, my fears, my neurotic tendencies, and so much more. I love you.
And a belated thank you to Esther for drawing me out and showing me kindness, and for this day that reminds me to do what I should do every day. Thank you also to her parents and others who are keeping her memory and ideals alive by running the This Star Won't Go Out organization. If you'd like to learn more about Esther or donate to help other families of children with cancer, please visit TSWGO and/or buy a bracelet (all proceeds go to TSWGO) at DFTBA Records.
Now go say "I love you" to someone! You can do it! I know you can!