I got news this week about a friend who is facing a diagnosis of bone cancer. We don’t know anything for certain yet except that it IS cancer and that it is either on his sacrum or in it. Depending upon the type of cancer that it is, they will let my friend know how best to treat it.
In the face of this news I began to pray because that it is the only thing I can think to do and because my friend asked me to pray. It is not nearly as instinctual for me as I’d like. I’d love to be the sort of “pray-er” who falls right into the well versed, proper stance for prayer but mostly it just follows Anne Lamott’s example of “help me, help me, help me” or “thank you, thank you, thank you.” Today I approach the throne with rather a surly attitude and all I can muster is “why?” and the occasional, “please!”
I’d like to say that it’s because of the injustice of it all and make some grand pronouncement about bad things happening to good people and the wisdom of God and not understanding God’s thinking on all of this but in the end it just boils down to me thinking about me, really. All I can think about is me, I confess. I feel like I’ve entered into a new phase of life in which I see people I love dearly passing into ill health, devastating crisis and fatality. Someone told me it’s because of my stage of life but this is a hard pill to swallow since I am only just knocking on the door to forty but I suppose she might be right.
It seems as though every year for the last 5 years there has been a loss of a friend or a friend’s family member or child and each time my response being mouth agape and lost for words. Because I’m a writer and because I’m a talker I look for the words when I see my friends who are suffering, who are facing treatment, chemo, radiation, nausea, death. I look for words and you know in the long run, words just fail…they just do. Once when I struggled to find something wise and comforting to say to a friend who was looking at terminal cancer I broke down and sobbed and she smiled the most peace-filled gracious and loving smile I have ever seen, she became the Comforter, the face of Christ and what a tremendous gift that was to me.
The same friend went through radiation several times. What is striking about this sort of treatment was that she could not touch or be touched for a few days afterward, she’d have to announce to people as she saw them with a stop sign palm out, “I’m neutropenic…” meaning that the radiation had destroyed so many white blood cells in the fight against the cancer that it also meant that our germs could hurt her, our touch could cause her more illness.
At a loss for words and a loss for touch…what am I left to offer?
My gracious smiling friend said to me once in the midst of her treatment that she was so glad for visitors because even though they could not touch and there was little, if anything they could say, she wanted to be seen, she wanted to be heard. This is what made her feel as though she was still a part of the human race. Her perception was that at first during her cancer people were everywhere, wanting to help, wanting to pray, wanting to speak but over time people drifted off somehow, got tired of the battle or got busy with their own lives. She suspected that the struggle was just too much. I suspect that the it was not the struggle but rather the loss..the loss of words, the loss of touch, the loss of control, the eventuality of the loss of a friend. Maybe we shut down to cauterize the pain of loss but forget that those still in the business of survival merely grieve for normalcy, for ordinary time, for the chance to have coffee and talk about American Idol.
I wish I knew more…I wish I could change things…I want to understand….I want to know God’s mind on this…I hope it turns out well…I hope my friend doesn’t die too soon…I hope he is not in pain…it all begins with “I.” Maybe “I” is all I have right now.
What comes to me is this; To see and be seen….to hear and be heard…maybe that is something. Maybe being present, being available, being eyes to see and ears to hear is enough. I hope it is a valuable. I hope it is a gift. I hope it is enough.