No Dominion

On Sunday evening, Jim and Deana Cavan’s beautiful, innocent, perfect baby son Everett succumbed to a cancer that spread aggressively over the past four months from a rhabdoid tumor in his liver to his lungs and, finally, his abdomen.  Rett spent nearly half of his brief but inspiring life in and out of hospital beds, fighting his illness with courage and resilience, his bright blue eyes and irrepressible smile suggesting some inner tranquility that seems impossible for one to whom life dealt such an impossibly unfair hand.  His was a grace that even the cruelest fate could not subdue, a grace inherited through the nature and nurture of parents who swaddled him in love and hope and determination to death and beyond. His father, with typical eloquence and unfathomable strength, posted this on Facebook:

With one last, perfect and peaceful breath, our baby boy finally set his spirit free at sunset last night. He departed as he arrived: on a Sunday, as stubborn as they come, but with an ultimate calm that spoke to the abiding grace and wisdom within him.

Buoyed by kisses of loved ones and blessings from countless people the world over, Everett’s soul is now one with the boundless beyond. And while the pain of heart and mind will never fully subside, Deana and I can breathe a little easier knowing his memory—afflicted by that evil disease though so many moments were—will be one forever defined by our little owl’s eyes and smiles. For every lesson he taught us during his too-short life on earth, there will be millions more for us all to glean as the days and years roll on, and his lasting legacy reveals itself in full.

To that end, we’re asking that, in lieu of flowers and gifts, donations be made instead to Rett’s medical relief fund, which Deana and I will soon parlay into a fund for Rhabdoid tumor research and helping families dealing with pediatric cancer. The lives our little man touched in life—manifold though they were—speak to a legacy whose reach will only deepen. Just as it will help heal the wounds wrought by this loss, so too will time define the everlasting impact of a life deferred. Deferred in flesh and blood, perhaps, but never, ever defeated.

In the meantime, we will look forward to seeing many of you at Rett’s memorial service, to be held within the coming few weeks. Mournful though it may be, let us see to it this occasion marks in equal part the full faith and credit of community, and the unconditional love Rett’s fight and spirit have sowed.

We love you to the most distant moon and back, son.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

— Dylan Thomas

We tell you this because Jim’s words, and Thomas’s, are true; because death is not an end but rather the passing of a torch, because lives remain to be saved and good, brilliant people need to be empowered to save them. We tell you this, too, because we’ve all found each other here on this little corner of the Internet, and because the only thing to do in the face of a world that bares the teeth of its worst evil even to people like Jim and Deana, which is to say, the kindest, gentlest, and best of us, is to band together, to refuse to concede to even the darkest injustice, to love as hard as we fight and to fight as hard as we love.

Jim’s depth of character is staggering. The good-natured goofiness that comes through in his writing is real, but it is no bigger a part of him than his biting intellect or his poetic idealism. Any ostensible incongruity between these traits can be summarily dismissed after sitting or speaking with the man for just a moment, which is all the time it takes for his fundamental and genuine goodness to shine through. We have so often sought entertainment and insight through a lens of apparent cynicism on this site, but Jim Cavan has never been a cynic. He’s a bighearted idealist who has waited patiently for the world to realize the potential he knows it has for beauty, giving it a push in the right direction whenever and wherever he’s had the opportunity.

We’ve all spent the bulk of the day—and during the many days and months since we learned of Rett’s illness—going over the thousands of conversations we’ve had and time we’ve spent with Jim. You build a friendship over moments, and then, without noticing or even truly understanding why, at some point you feel like you’ve known someone since forever, even if there’s no one instance in any of those thousand-odd scraps of dialogue that might indicate some kind of definitive turning point. It’s something ineffable and indefinable, save for the fact that you’ve arrived at a place where know you can say anything, even something stupid or angry, a dumb rant about meaningless Knicks-ian drivel, or to unpack some bit of ugliness that you’d only reveal to those nearest and dearest to your soul. You know in your heart of hearts that the person on the other end of the line/internet connection/sitting across from you in some crappy Boston bar will always respond with empathy or a joke or will cut through the bullshit to tell you what you need to hear, even if it isn’t pretty.

That’s Jim Cavan; a true friend in the most profound sense of the word and an even better father.

It’s unimaginable, the horror of what Jim and his family are dealing with. And we’re all struggling to find the words that might provide a scintilla of comfort, just because he’d do the same for any of us. Such language doesn’t exist, of course. There are no words that can avoid the agony or reversing the awful unfairness of it all. But it is also true that Rett, in his brief time in this world, touched the hearts and lives of so many.

If knowledge and community can one day be the undoing—as they surely must—of brutality and despair, we must first cast our lot on the side of our better angels. That can mean a donation or it can mean support for a grieving parent; it can mean a kind word when a harsh one was available or the constructive spread of knowledge when the dismissal of ignorance would have been easier.

Rett and his parents have been and remain heroic. Let their heroism have ripples. Let their friends be deepened in their resolve. And let this tragedy have no dominion.

— Kevin McElroy, Robert Silverman and Mike Kurylo.

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Robert Silverman

Hey, did you know that in addition to banging the keys here and occasionally for the NY Times and at ESPN, Robert is a playwright, an actor and a wand'ring mendicant/gadfly? He also once wrestled a bear...and lost.

24 thoughts to “No Dominion”

  1. “I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
    And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.
    What do you think has become of the young and old men?
    What do you think has become of the women and children?
    They are alive and well somewhere; The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,
    And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
    And ceased the moment life appeared.
    All goes onward and outward. . . .and nothing collapses,
    And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.”

    I’ve lurked on here for a while and have nothing but respect and admiration for Jim. This is impossibly difficult news to bear. I know poetry doesn’t help grief much, but I hope Whitman does his small part. RIP.

  2. I have only been on here a short time and I do not know Jim, but RIP, your beautiful son. I have yet to start a family of my own (29) and I admire your courage and strength.

  3. Jim your strength is mind blowing, and Robert (and whoever else may have contributed) your writing makes reading about this horrible tragedy just a bit easier. I’m at a loss for words but intend to help any way I can. RIP Rett, you inspired many.

  4. I’m a long-time reader and I feel moved to express how sorry I am to hear of Rett’s death. There are no words that suffice at a time like this, but Jim, I hope you and your family are able to find some solace in the love you are surrounded by, and the knowledge that Rett’s courage was an inspiration to so many.

    This site, and the knicks, have been an escape for me during the dark times of my life, and it feels only right to give a little of that back to you, who makes this site tick. Thank you for everything.

  5. Jim – although I don’t know you, your family’s struggle over the last several months has moved me to tears several times, and touched me profoundly. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

    As a frequent reader but rare contributor in the comments section, I must confess that the thing that always brings me back to this blog is the humanity of its writers. Robert, Kevin and Mike, your beautiful essay gives me a little faith in our kind, even in a moment of utter sadness.

  6. I can’t..I mean..I’ve never met Jim, I’ve only read his words..but I..this is truly heartbreaking for me- even as a person who has never met Jim and his family. Or even had a private conversation with Jim himself. It’s hard to find the words it say in a situation like this. So that said, I hope I can convey my deepest and most sincere condolences. Jim, there is love somewhere in this world and I think it goes without saying that all of us who frequents this site will support you in any way possible. I wish there was something more profound that I could say..but my prayers are with you and your family during this unbelievably painful time. Godspeed Jim.

  7. What a cruel world for this to happen. Beautifully written Robert and my deepest condolences to Jim.

  8. Walk Tall..Stand High…and spread the good news about Rett, the world deserves to hear it !

    May every day bring a nuanced smile from the memories of your love from and to your son !

    God Bless !

  9. There is definitely some dust in the room here…

    Jim I can’t say enough, or anything, that can bring you or your family any form of relief. I can not believe there is any worse tragedy then losing a little being that you brought into this world, nurtured, loved, and painted on their canvas since birth. May all the comforts that you can be given come your way and may Rett forever float in the Heavens with the Angels.

  10. Jim — As a father, I can’t think of any words to comfort you or make you and your family feel better at a time like this. Just know that there are many of us out here who have you, your family and your son in our thoughts and prayers.

  11. Jim,

    I hope you read this and see that we’re all thinking of you and your family during this time. Thanks for the words over the years.

    THCJ

  12. Jim,

    Solidarity forever! I am so sorry for your loss. I have no words that can help. Just know that you have many friends in this community who are aching for the opportunity to help you. If you ask, we will come.

    In the meanwhile, I am making another donation in Rett’s memory. http://www.gofundme.com/gjro0c

  13. So sorry to hear about this. I don’t know Jim outside of this site, but he comes across as a thoughtful, smart, and extremely talented writer. I can’t even imagine how hard of a struggle it has been over the past year, or how hard the struggle will be going forward. I offer whatever strength I can to him, in the hope that he and his family recover, and, sooner or later, we get to read his outstanding work here again.

  14. I have been absent from this site as of late, but I felt compelled to check in tonight after I heard the news. I an now openly weeping at my computer, trying to make sense of this and thinking about the Cavan family. I think of Jim and his writings and the good natured tone that always came across and marvel at his son’s beautiful and innocent face and it all makes no sense, unless what Robert, and Jim, and Dylan write is true……that Rett’s life is a life deferred that will have a lasting effect on many. as an outsider I will contiunue to try to make sense of this, but I pray that the Cavan family are able to find comfort in their belief in love, and community, and humanity.

  15. Jim, Deana, you and your family are in my thoughts and prayers all the way out here in Thunderland. As a parent, I could never imagine what you two must be going through. Stay strong you guys, and Everett, God bless and Godspeed. You will be sorely missed l’il man.

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