This story is part of a the Nob Hill Gazette’s feature, Perspectives on Beauty, in our March issue.
As a native San Franciscan, I’ve had the privilege of growing up in a place where beauty is never in short supply. A place that is often blanketed in fog hides within it a rich blend of history and culture. One minute you’re staring wide-eyed at the wall-sized murals of the Mission, or getting lost in the narrow streets of Chinatown, and the next minute you could be at the very top of Turtle Hill, or find yourself in a place where 19,596 people chant “Waarrriiioorrs” in unison.
It’s more than reasonable to say that these places capture the essence of the beauty the Bay Area has to offer; however, the real beauty is found in the diverse stories of the individuals that call this place home.
When I was 21, I was diagnosed with bone cancer. The word “shocked” was an understatement. I was young, active, healthy, and I just couldn’t comprehend how this was the hand I was dealt because the diagnosis contradicted how I lived my life. One second I’m a junior in college and the next I’m in chemo for eight months. I’m away from my friends, I have to amputate my right leg, and I get rediagnosed over and over again. The 21-year-old Xavier would have a hard time explaining what beauty meant to him because the world around him seemed dark and ugly. However, at 24 I have gained more of a mature perspective of what beauty really means.
Beauty is resilient. Beauty is never giving up even if you receive heartbreaking news over and over again. It’s shattering, but choosing to pick up the pieces and remaking yourself into something better. Beauty is walking the stage at graduation and more so seeing your mom’s face as you receive a diploma. Beauty is the person you love most on this earth refusing to leave even if the waters of life get rough. Beauty is not running from the storm but laughing while thunderclouds of doubt and fear try to drench your spirits. Beauty is not fragile. Beauty is the product of every second of struggle. It’s realizing that not everything can be beautiful and things that are beautiful come from the most difficult moments.
Butterflies have to break out of their own cocoons for people to see their wings, and coal must do well under pressure to become a diamond. In the last few years my life has gone through the most extreme circumstances, and while I’m not totally cured, I still feel this fire inside me that wants, even needs, to keep pushing myself each day. I believe the best is yet to come for me and all the dreams I have are still well within my grasp. Sure, people can throw out all sorts of statistics and facts, but I’m more than a number and no matter how much time I have left, I’m going to make the most of it. And perhaps that’s what beauty truly is.
Days after submitting this essay to the Nob Hill Gazette, Xavier Echon died peacefully on January 13 at home with his family. He was 24 years old. Make a donation to Echon’s memory at makeagift.ucsf.edu/childrenscancer