If you've listened to the radio program This American Life even semi-regularly, chances are you've heard David Rakoff's stories once or twice. Not to be confused with fellow TAL regular David Sedaris (who, is, as Rakoff was, a gay humorist), Rakoff died almost exactly one year ago, at the age of 47, from a rare form of sarcoma caused by the radiation treatment he'd received for lymphoma when he was 22.
After working for years in the publishing industry, Rakoff published three books of humorous and poignant essays (Fraud, Don't Get Too Comfortable, and Half Empty); his final work was released last month: a novel written in rhyming couplets called Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish. He finished it just weeks before his death, and completed the recording of the audio version a mere 13 days before he died.
I identified with the late David Rakoff in a number of ways. Sure, I'm a straight, Christian woman; he was gay and (as far as I can tell) non-believing, but we share a Jewish heritage and what he once called the "Jewish worldview"—the idea that "all joy houses the Newtonian capacity for an equal and opposite sorrow"—and a propensity for both worrying and self-deprecation. We were both anxious, omniphobic children, precocious in speech, remarkably small for our age, and desperately eager to please.
In several essays, Rakoff mentioned baking cookies for the nursing staff that looked after him during his bouts of illness, and for the hospice workers that were caring for his dying friend. These revelations startled me with their similarity to my own inclinations; at age 17, I spent the day before a serious surgery on my spine baking cookies to leave at the ...1
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