I had purchased this book over six months ago and let it linger on the lower shelf of an end table until last month. In a fit of purging and “clearing out” the old or unused to make space for the new – new ideas, new projects, new perspectives to fill the new freedom I’d been granted – I darted from the bedroom to the living room to the closet of our tiny apartment compiling things to sort and either donate, give away, shred, or trash.
The Immortal Life was one of four books on my “waiting to make time to read” stack, so as I looked at it I wondered would I ever. I vaguely knew of the story but thought it would be too serious or sad a thing to take on at this particular moment. I was in need of positive, uplifting, inspirational words and lessons… and guidance for the slightly familiar but still uncharted road ahead. So, as I started to put it in a stack of things to give as gifts, I flipped to a page somewhere in the middle just to see if the person I had in mind for the book would be interested in the read. Thirty minutes later, I pulled myself out of the book only because my alarm went off reminding me to get it together for an appointment that hour.
Questions about the life of the woman who’s body produced the immortal HeLa cell line, the daughter struggling to make sense of her mother’s miracle of life beyond death and what that may also mean for her health and longevity, and the true story events and science behind it all kept crashing like waves on the shore of my mind, begging for a break – or in this case, resolution. So, as quickly as that appointment ended, I made my way back home to read the rest of the story no matter how long it would take that day.
And best believe, I parked myself on the couch, grabbed that book, and proceeded to read it from the beginning (taking a break every now and then) until I reached the point where I had haphazardly started on this literary journey earlier in the day. Holding pace and curiosity along with the desire to find out what happened next, I kept reading until about eight hours later when I looked up from the last page of the epilogue and thought to myself, “Holy Moly!”
So, I know I’m really late to the show when it comes to this book, the real life story it relays, and its success in the literary world. But gracious, after having finished The Immortal Life in basically one sitting, I still did not get the rest I thought I would find once I completed it. My mind continued to be hammered with wave after wave of questions, but this time, about the death of the woman who’s body turned so viciously against her in the last weeks and days of life, the daughter forgotten at the institution who also may have struggled to make sense of her mother’s abrupt absence and what that also meant for her own health and longevity, and yes, the true story events and science behind it all.
Those first few days after I read this book, it’s lessons lingered long after in my mind and, quite honestly, was a bit unnerving for me. The story of Henrietta Lacks’s life and death and her unknowing medical contribution to the world (past, present, and future) forced me to deeply contemplate my health, my mortality, and my potential to have a positive effect on the lives of family, friends, strangers, and the world (present and future). Having set out at the start of this year to make better use of my time, talents, and treasure while on earth, I am thankful time found me so I could read The Immortal Life and be reminded of how important we all are to each other. We really can and do affect the lives of those who cross our paths, so we must “be present” in that moment for their sake.
As someone who was in need of positive, uplifting, inspirational words and lessons… and guidance for the slightly familiar but still uncharted road ahead, I couldn’t have read this book – six months after purchase – at a better time for me this year!