Trying to make sense of suffering and its redemptive attributes tends to further my recent aversion to thinking. I am well aware that no matter how hard one tries to fit sadness into a clearly defined catagory, sense is an impossible expectation. However, along the way, I believe we are given reprieve as our Father extends His grace in our direction and blesses us with a moment of slight understanding as foggy as the surrounding details may be. I received an email from a friend today forwarding the website of his good friend who is currently battling Hodgkins Lymphoma. I read his most recent journal entry and found him talking about some of the very things that have been occupying most of my thoughts on the character of God for the last three years, only his writing possesses the kind of clarity of which my thoughts do not. I have copied a portion of his entry below. It's lengthy but worth the read.
"Well, believe it or not, until I was diagnosed, I didn't have cancer, and I didn't believe in suffering. Now, obviously, I have cancer, and now, not as obviously, I believe in suffering. I believe it is cathartic. I believe it either destroys you or takes you to the grave in order that your old self and all of its pretensions, delusions of grandeur, the lust, the flesh, the eyes and the pride of life can be raised up whether that be temporarily or at the last day of the great divide. It is a baptism of sorts, but not being a Baptist, I see no need for any more immersions. The one baptism I received was really a pledge that I indeed would die and rise with Christ. Maybe this happens for all of us Christians over and over again throughout our life. The great Sacrament then is just a foreshadowing of the inevitable, but luckily, if you've been given an understanding of it, you know that you have been informed by it. That regardless of all the privilege, comfort, materialism and wealth of our culture, you've been called to be crucified with your Saviour. But this isn't some kind of masochism only known to Christianity. This is universal - the Church in its Sacrament of Baptism is merely bracing for the inevitable. It is abundantly clear that suffering, all of the let downs, the death of family and friends, the hopelessness we sometimes feel, all of it has been "the inevitable". And so God, in Christ, took on the inevitable in order to accompany us, not to make it go away. That's what I've learned. He's here to accompany me because he can, because maybe, better than I, Jesus of Nazareth knows what its like to have suffered the inevitable miseries of this life. A favorite Professor of mine said that more than anything else, she imagines Christ at the foot of our bed with us, weeping with us as we wake from nightmares that turn out to be realities in the morning. So, have I stopped praying for healing? No. But I have come to the realization that there is so much more than just getting "cured". The inevitable will always be a reality, and because of this, there is something much more curative than getting healed of cancer. The truth, the conviction, and the realization that there is one that accompanies us if we let Him. There is one that can truly say "I've been there". So let us pray for more than just the miracle of healing, but also for the miracle of accompaniment." --Jay Voltz: September 8
So here we are nearing the end of September...the month whose very existence I have been cursing. Inside of these past few weeks my life has completely changed...without my permission, I might add. It's good to have had it come and neearly go, still finding myself surviving...sad and exhausted, but surviving. This week has been the hardest yet. Everything makes me think of her and subsequently reminds me that she is gone forever. I find myself helpless against random crying episodes that strike about 4 or 5 times daily (which are really annoying). I still have that feeling of not being able to breathe and not wanting to continue living. It's not like losing my mom within itself causes this reaction. In general, it is just the pain of losing things that makes me not want to be a part of this world anymore. I'm really tired of loving people and then losing them, whether it be to death, tension, geography, or lack of time...whatever it is, I hate it. It sucks. I can feel myself wanting to eradicate from my life the inevitable pain that loving people brings. I want to run away and be on my own and never let another person enter my heart again. For some reason I am convinced that this will be less painful, despite all evidence to the contrary.
...I'm also very confused as to why the end of this posting has found itself a completely different color and it seems I am powerless to change it. Oh well, what can you do?
I woke up this morning about 4:30 with wet, puffy eyes acutely aware of the dull ache that has taken up permanent residence in my chest. I am vaguely conscious of its presence all the time, but I really notice it when everything is quiet. I raised the blind and stared out the window into the street. Without thinking, I reached for her wedding ring and pushed it up as far as it would go on my middle finger before I started twisting it around with my thumb; forcing it around the bulged skin over and over. Her fingers were so much smaller than mine. She had a brown spot above her ring finger about half way up her hand that she had checked every year for signs of cancer. Ironic. I often wonder how long it was alive in her body, mercilessly devouring little parts of her until the day it finally won.
I was in the shower when she died. Why did I pick that moment to leave? I had been with her in the same room watching her take every breath for the entire night. I
came out of the bathroom to find my father staring at her body with
tears falling effortlessly from his eyes; his face a perfect stone
sculpture. He didn't need to speak. I came in the room and sat on the floor beside her bed and held her hand. I
knew she wasn't there any longer but it was the only thing I could
think to do. Her mouth was open and her tongue had started to turn
white along with her lips and fingers. There was a stillness about her
that made her barely recognizable. That image haunts me. I
stared at her chest wanting so badly to see it rise with breath for
just one more minute"¦long enough to tell her I loved her one more
time. You always want one more time"¦as if that
particular time something magic will happen and it will feel like
enough and you will feel ready to let go. Instead, the last breath sort-of hung in the room with an unsettling pause. Six weeks later it is still hanging there. I
scream at myself sometimes in the car or when I'm sure no one will
hear me, "She's not coming back!" over and over again to try and
force it to sink in, but I can't.
I walked outside the door of my office today to the strangest site. Four grown men in suits, ties flung over one shoulder, were wheelbarrow racing down the hall. Sometimes I think this office building isn't real.
I work for a non-profit so we don't have the money to work in a fancy office building (not that I would want to). Instead, our office is located down the street from the Anheuser-Bush Plant (of the famous Budweiser and Bud Light fortune) in a slightly run down 70's looking building owned by the State Highway Patrol. The tenant list is peppered with New Age self-help groups, Alternative Medicine Practitioners, Massage Therapists, ESOL agencies, and other random small family-owned businesses. The randomness definately translates to the constituency (classic Birkenstock population). In fact, the interesting wheelbarrow behavior is not the strangest thing I have witnessed while working here.
A few months ago I was in the restroom washing my hands beside what looked to be a fairly normal young lady. I would guess her to be in her late twenties/early thirties. As we were washing our hands an older woman slipped out of the last stall and out the door. I barely noticed her. This was not true for my hand-washing friend. Not even pausing long enough to grab a paper towel, she ran into the hall following the woman yelling, "You are not going to wash your hands?!?! You are disgusting! Do you hear me? That is foul!" As the women quickend her pace and made her way back to her office (from which I am almost positive she will always hesitate to leave) hand-washing lady turns to three men waiting for the elevator and relays the happening in great detail. I'm sure they were relieved to see the elevator door open to reveal respite from the hand-washer turned story-teller.
Witnessing this episode, I asked myself what kind of commitment to cleanliness one would need in order to carry out his/her convictions to such a radical degree. The germ-ridden woman did not work with her, nor would she touch her, so what could possibly drive someone to this sort of action? This remains an enigma to this day. However, I do believe it my duty, after witnessing such an occurance, to caution all those who frequent public restrooms to make sure you wash your hands before exiting. You never know when you will run into a hand-washing enthusiast who will mercilessly call you out.