Published: September 23, 2021
How William Gargan Learned to Accept God’s Will
By John Tuttle, contributing author
Isaiah’s prophetic biblical text provides a clear distinction between the way God works and how people tend to act:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts (Isaiah 55: 8-9).
In other words, God’s operation surpasses that of his creatures in every way. The human intellect and will, weakened by sin, cannot hope to be compared to the fullness of existence found in the God revealed as “I AM” (Exodus 3:14).
In the ordinance of Divine Providence, God has a plan for each of us. However, this is often unclear to us – especially when we are faced with suffering.
It is often difficult to understand God’s will in our lives. When we encounter difficulties, we can find ourselves calling out to God, “Why me?”
That was the same desperate question that got out of William Gargan’s head after the procedure to remove his larynx.
The actor, previously diagnosed with throat cancer, was pampered by his doctor, who tried to reassure him that the success of the surgery was positive. That didn’t stop Gargan from feeling miserable about his situation, however.
As he later recalled:
Here I was, an actor who couldn’t speak. It was like being an athlete who couldn’t run or a painter who couldn’t see. For 35 years I was active in the entertainment world, in films, radio, stage, television. Suddenly it was all over.
Gargan measured his success by his career, and this incapacitation dampened his mood considerably.
Ironically, the entertainer’s cancer diagnosis coincided with his portrayal of a cancerous president in the live political drama “The Best Man,” which was being staged in San Francisco at the time.
Although the original plan was to relocate the play to Chicago, the local popularity of The Best Man made the managers decide to spend another two weeks in San Francisco. As a result, the show lost its chance to play in Chicago and subsequently ended.
Gargan later claimed that this turn of events saved his life.
He had had a sore throat for some time and nothing seemed to help him. Back in San Francisco, his wife, Mary, asked him to have it examined.
After the examination, the doctors brought grim news to the couple. The choice was yours: have an operation and live or not operate and die.
The gravity of the matter surprised Gargan. Next, his shock turned into a bad mood. After discussing the steps to be taken, the actor and the doctors agreed to have an operation in 36 hours …
Gargan believed that those hours of waiting taught him something, something that is not often understood in everyday life. During this time he came to the realization that he did not fear death. But at the same time he was drawing closer to God. He prayed using a formula that he recited daily:
Look down on me, good and gentle Jesus, while I kneel before your face and pray with a burning soul and implore you to live deep in my heart feelings of faith, hope and love.
It was time. The operating room was getting closer. Shortly before the operation, Gargan mumbled his last words to his wife: “I love you …”
While the operation was successful, Gargan felt stripped of something essential of his identity: his voice. Although he had not feared death, he now feared life. He felt trapped in the depths of depression. Gradually he fell into an attitude of self-pity.
“Why me, God?” I asked with lips that couldn’t make a sound. “Is that a penance you are asking for something I did wrong?”
Every day, many times a day, I continued to say my prayers, but in the dark I suffered from the injustice done to me.
Still in a pouting state, Gargan was informed by his doctor that his recovery was so quick that he wanted to start speech therapy soon. The actor thought it was crazy, but there was little he could do to stop it.
Next, a woman named Teckla Tibbs came to him to take up the task of rediscovering speech. Gargan vividly remembers the introduction, which had a positive effect on him for a change:
“I’ve come to let you hear what esophageal language sounds like,” she said in a hoarse, mechanical-sounding voice. I must have been staring at her a bit strangely. “You won’t talk better than me, Bill, but at least,” she said gruffly, “you speak like a member of your own sex!” Her eyes sparkled and for the first time in weeks I felt like laughing.
After grueling hours spent developing false muscles and training to communicate through esophageal language, he discovered his new, albeit gruff, voice. This was an achievement that was achieved through much love and help from his wife and friends.
After getting a new voice, William Gargan quickly realized that his talent and testimony were part of a design that was much bigger than his acting career.
The American Cancer Society invited him to their fundraising campaign. He became a spokesman for cancer prevention and a symbol of hope for survival from cancer – for life after cancer.
That work, Gargan admitted, felt far more rewarding than the accomplishments of his mainstream entertainment career. Its fulfillment was no longer just about him. For him it was an enriching experience that led him to deepen his belief in God’s plans:
In this simple way, I am doing something to help others. I believe that God creates such opportunities for us forever, but often we are too busy with ourselves to seize them. So next time I tend to complain with a petulant “why me?” – I quickly change that to:
“Why not me, God?”