Saturday, May 28, 2011

This Discomforting Life

It was Monday. Laptop in hand, I was answering emails when the surgeon arrived in the family waiting-room to talk to my brother-in-law and me.

"One of the lymph nodes is diseased," he said.

Diseased. This meant my sister might have to undergo chemo. It meant the cancer had spread beyond the breast. Crap. Not what we were expecting. We were hoping the double mastectomy would do the trick and get rid of the cancer altogether. Realizing the depth of what he just said, Dr. J assured us that her prognosis was excellent and that the cancer had not spread to the other lymph nodes or any other part of her body.

A sigh of relief--then discomfort. My discomfort. I was in a role I rarely ascended to in my 40+ years of existence. I was at the front lines of the battle when I'm usually pulling rear guard. In a family of five children (three girls and two boys) I am the youngest daughter.  I know rear guard. I like it. In a family crisis, the two older sisters are the "go-to" team. Not this time. My second eldest sister was in surgery and the eldest could not be there. My sister needed her sisters (or at least one of us), and so up to Connecticut I went. It was my duty to be there with my brother-in-law on his journey for that day. To ask questions ("Excuse me, Dr. J, can you clarify this for me......?"). It was my role to inform the family of any news. I didn't like it.

And yet, I did. Somehow, this event fit perfectly into my life at this juncture. In fact, it was okay. It was really, really okay. And uncomfortable as hell.

Two days later, this article from Christine Valters Paintner of Abbey of the Arts, popped into my mailbox. Immediately, I was recalled to the fact of who I am--someone who does not like to put a positive spin on things, just for the sake of being positive. I like the real, raw picture of life. I like it so much, it became too painful to bear and I squashed that pain in a decades-long haze of compulsive eating. Now, with no buffer between me and reality, I have to make some sense out of this discomforting life.

Compassion. It is the very heart of Christian existence. It's also the reason why wakes are very popular. Our understanding of God has Him suffer as we suffer. Our hurt is His hurt. Jesus didn't cure everyone's ills--instead He held their hands; He comforted them. He suffered with them. As the old hymn tells us, we'll never walk alone.

107/365: Measuring Cups 4/17/10
"Dear God: Thank you for this abundance. May  it be enough for me today."

Every night for the past half year, I have gone to bed hungry. Not starving, just hungry. This is unthinkable for a food addict. It is insufferable. It's also a matter of justice. For years, I had taken more than my just portion. Now, even one grain of rice extra is more than my share.

The discomfort I go through every night doesn't cure cancer; nor does it take away anybody's pain. But it does make present the fact that cancer does exist and people do go through pain. And more importantly, it reminds me that I am so utterly helpless when faced with these things, that the only thing I can do is but a fraction of what Jesus did as I stumble in the attempt at holding somebody's hand in their time of need. Maybe, just maybe I will actually grab it.

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