“The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That's the deal.” -- CS Lewis
I have cancer.
That damn, frightening, life changing word... Truth can be very real sometimes.
I will have it the rest of my life. I've had a suspicion for over a month now since my first initial blood work came back. I am surprised by what I have as are my doctors, because my initial symptoms didn't present. And initial news is good. For my type of cancer, there is a very effective life saving treatment with minimal side effects. I should live a long time. But the sickness is inside my chromosomes now and will be my traveling companion, my shadow for the rest of my life.
Part of the happiness now is the pain to come. Happiness and pain are a chorus you see, dance partners, two sides of the same precious coin of life.
I am currently a resident in a military hospital doing Clinical Pastoral Education. It is ironic that this particular unit of CPE is focused on suffering and started off with the movie Shadowlands about CS Lewis and his wife he fell in love with late in his life and how it was to discover she had a serious cancer that would shorten their time together. Context changes meaning. One's future story, even if it is only possible, shapes the present. I find life is richer embracing all possibilities rather than hiding from any.
CPE is a program where a key component is to have personal goals. I love organization. So I was challenged, and accepted the challenge, to examine the messingness of life, the uncontrollable, that which appear absurd and unmeaningful, that which unravels everything we try to put together. That which makes us vulnerable and afraid. So I made this my goal. And I learned God may give what you ask for.
It is a paradox. In so many ways this news, the new truth, the absurd, messy, companion that makes me vulnerable also blesses me.
One day driving to work on my regular mundane route into San Antonio, not the most beautiful city in the world with flat, and concrete, pavements, and congestion... I noticed at one traffic light a flight of birds dancing off the powerlines. I watched the sun rise and felt blessed and alive. Walking in McCallister Park I felt more in tune with creation and its Creator than in a long. I felt as if I had developed a new level of awareness, a special seeing eye, that suddenly should the glorious mystery of life all around me and revel in it. It was not something to be sought out. It found. Little things. Hearing a little girl laugh in the neighborhood. Just listening to my own children and the little happy noises they make as they go about living. The love of my faithful wife. The taste of good Korean food and tea, the sound of music... all treasures newly appropriated.
If one had a choice of a cheap barrel of $3.00 a bottle wine or the chance for one glass of the most exquisite wine every made since the first day of creation, which would be the most incredible gift? I know my answer, but I'll leave the question and your answer up to you.
I have for some time felt as if something were coming, almost stalking me. I've been more conscious of mortality for some reason. These past few years I have been more conscience that fewer years lay ahead than lay behind. Erickson would say I am passing through a stage, and perhaps I am. But labeling and quantifying does not diminish mystery. One can analyze the greatest musical composition but does that mean one hears it?
I am blessed by God. I have access to the best health care the world has ever known and it has literally saved my life, most likely (92% probability). I have friends I love who are far sicker than I and I find myself feeling weak and powerless because want to reach out and given them a "magic pill".
Its like a Lazarus moment. Coming out of the tomb, knowing death is ultimately real, knowing others will die, the ones we love, and one day we ourselves. There is no hiding from it. No more pushing it away until later. Death is real, a shadow, a presence. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will
fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort
me." (ESV Psalm 23) But there is life. Eternal. Blessed. I find my Lutheran faith and framework holds up in the midst of such realities. The world is a fallen creation filled with echoes of former glory that cry out in pain and suffering but finding joy in the hope in promise. Christ is risen! The greatest exception is not death... but that one day I shall rise.
Death be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe...
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally, And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.