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The Wisdom of Mortality with Jonathan Tjarks, Revisited After his Death

In March, my Good Faith podcast co-host David and I were honored to share the microphone with Jonathan Tjarks, famed NBA beat writer and podcaster for The Ringer. We asked him to be on the podcast after I read Jonathan’s piece “Does My Son Know You?” – a rare moment of candid sharing and distilled wisdom in light of his recent cancer diagnosis. 

It began:

“Waiting for a PET scan is pretty boring. The nurse brings you down a long hallway with a bunch of rooms on each side. Each is just big enough to fit a chair and a sink. They all look the same except for the picture on the wall. I’ve seen a pond, a lake, and some mountains.

“You walk into the room, sit down, and get injected with dye. Then you have to wait an hour for it to go through your bloodstream. There is absolutely nothing to do. The doctors want as little brain activity as possible in order to get a better scan. You put your phone in a locker and there’s no TV. You can’t even bring anything to read. If you are lucky, you get some sleep. Otherwise you are left alone with your thoughts.

“I got scanned for the first time last April. That’s when I found out I had cancer. I had been in and out of the hospital for two months. The doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong because what I had (a Ewing’s-like sarcoma with a BCOR-CCNB3 rearrangement) is so rare. Sarcomas are small tumors found in the bones and connective tissues of the body. They represent about 1 percent of new cancer cases in the United States each year among adults, and BCOR is an even tinier part of that 1 percent. The odds of me getting it were about 25 million to 1. My wife and I ran into a doctor who is friends with her parents. He asked how it felt to get hit by lightning.”

Jonathan went on to explain:

“Being diagnosed with terminal cancer doesn’t happen like it does in the movies. The doctors don’t actually tell you how long you have to live. They can’t predict the future. What they say is: What you have will kill you at some point. We just don’t know when. It could be months. It could be years. It could be longer.

“The only real hope they can offer is that someone might find a cure before it’s too late. All they can do for now is keep me alive as long as they can.”

Sadly, Jonathan died over the weekend.  His wife Melissa wrote about his death on Caring Bridge Sunday

“Jon passed away in my arms around 7:50 pm yesterday evening. He had a love-filled day surrounded by family and his two best friends. We shared our favorite Jon stories, laughed, cried, and caught the last few seconds of the UT football game. He’s in heaven now, probably asking God a thousand philosophical questions from the comfiest recliner, catching up with his dad Larry, and taking the occasional hoop or hot tub break.

“We are heartbroken at the loss of this beautiful man. He was the best husband to me, dad to Jackson, and son to Bernie. He was a friend to so many, and cared deeply for each individual person. He made me the happiest woman on earth. I never thought I could be so loved, and even in his final days, he was still loving me so well. He adored Jackson with every fiber of his being, and his smile lit up the room when he played with and talked about Jackson. Jackie Boy was his crowning achievement and greatest joy. Jon was such a precious gift and I’m forever grateful for the years we had together.”

As a way of sharing our condolences and offering hope in light of his death, David and I wanted to share this March podcast in which we talk about mortality, faith, and fatherhood. Here’s why I think this is meaningful:

Jonathan was a wonderful writer, but more importantly, a faithful follower of Jesus. I look forward to the Final Resurrection when I will get a chance to shoot hoops with Jonathan in his new body.

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