If you thought you were going to die, would you still try to tell one last story? This writer did.

How do you start a story when you might not be around to finish it?

That was the question facing award-winning playwright Christopher Shinn after he was diagnosed with a cancer called Ewing sarcoma in late 2012. The prognosis, as he told his friends, was "very poor."

Chris was 37 at the time. He may not have been a household name, but his gripping work had been performed on stages from London to Broadway. He was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a Lortel and Olivier award winner, and a faculty member at the New School for Drama. And now he was grappling with the end of his life.


What else was he going to do but write a play?

Christopher Shinn in 2012. I met Chris in the fall of 2012 when his play "Now or Later" had its American premiere at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston, where I was working at the time. I can still remember the day he posted the news of his illness to Facebook — accompanied by a photo of his partially amputated leg. It was just six months since I'd last seen him in person.

"I'd always imagined I'd live to ninety and write twenty or thirty plays — it had never occurred to me that my career might be shorter than that," he told me.

First drafts are always rough — especially when they could be the last.

"Writing this play was a particularly intense experience," he explained via email.

"I really had to balance two things: faith that I'd be well enough to write and complete the play, and acceptance of the possibility that at any time I could be interrupted. I had to convince myself that the work would not be for nothing if I didn't get to finish it or it was delayed. That was hard since pretty much the only payoff of writing is in the finishing!"

Chris' goal was to do what he always did: tell the truth.

As he started the first of what would ultimately become 19 cycles of chemotherapy, Chris found himself reflecting on his childhood in Wethersfield, Connecticut, and the isolation he felt growing up as a gay teenager. He thought about his own struggles with love and intimacy — and the fact that his fiancé would be left behind to live without him. “I told [my fiancé], 'You have to love again' — it was my deepest wish that he love again," Chris said in an interview with The New York Times.

Deborah Hedwall in the world premiere of "An Opening in Time." Photo by T. Charles Erickson/Hartford Stage.

And then, an ending came that he wasn't expecting.

Chris's long-term relationship with his fiancé came to a tumultuous end in the winter of 2014.

Between the emotional devastation of the breakup and the ongoing cancer treatments, Chris worried that he'd never finish the play. As he told the Times, “There were so many fears. This play made me look deeper. Why have I had difficulty loving? Why haven't I been able to make successful intimacy last?"

But soon one ending led to another, more uplifting one.

The breakup was hard, but reckoning with those questions helped Chris to write a pivotal confrontation scene — and ultimately finish the play. "I remember finishing it just in advance of scans I was having at my hospital, and being terrified that finishing the play meant, in some bizarre logic ... that my life was now about to end," he said.

Adam Poss and Liam Benzvi in the world premiere of "Teddy Ferrara." Photo by Liz Lauren/Goodman Theatre. "Teddy Ferrara" is having its London premiere in October 2015, and Chris made several changes to the script to make it more trans-inclusive.

Though his life was still full of questions, Chris had a finished script — and soon, he had a production.

"An Opening in Time" began its world premiere run on Sept. 17, 2015, at Hartford Stage — mere miles from Chris' childhood home in Wethersfield, which is also the setting of the play.

And all those endings that he'd battled with since late 2012? They gave way to new beginnings.

Not only did Chris live to see his play on stage, but he recently learned that his cancer is in remission.

After six months in clinical trials, Chris is currently NED, which means "no evidence of disease."

"You never want to get ahead of yourself too much," he told me. "So I often remind myself that I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and ... haha. But it's true."

Chris Shinn answers questions about "An Opening in Time" for a crowd at the Noah Webster Library in West Hartford, Connecticut. Photo by Charles MacNaughton, website and new media manager for Hartford Stage.

As he puts it, "You never know when your time is up — so every play may be the last play."

But Chris is discovering more hope and optimism. As he told the Times, he's found himself thinking: "Wait a minute, I might live. I want more in my life. What's going to happen to me? When will I fall in love again? I feel like part of my soul is coming back to life."

And of course, this new outlook on life brought a new play with it. "The new play is about God. ... It feels like the kind of play you'd read in the middle of a writer's career, not at the end," he told me. "I'm envisioning a future of many more plays now."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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