The thick fog of lives cut short by cancer is stifling the hope-filled sunshine that typically sustains me. My friend Michel's recent passing is the latest unbelievable loss. I am stunned by the suddenness of it even though he'd been battling cancer for some two years. My heart breaks at the pain most assuredly felt by those closest to him which I know dwarfs my own. I am angry with this outcome - though I am not sure who to direct it at. God seems like an appropriate target. Yet, I hesitate (which could probably be the topic of another day).
Besides Michel's tragic end, cancer seems to be all over my world. I just learned of the passing of a pancreatic cancer brother that I had been talking to by phone throughout the first half of 2011. A cousin was diagnosed with colon cancer and a work colleague with pancreatic cancer over the holidays. I am struggling to not drown in the overwhelming sadness, futility and sorrow of these injustices. I am struggling to see God very readily right now. Too little of it is making sense or seems fair to me – as if it ought to. As if there was any such guarantee. ("That's not fair" is one of my kids most used phrases. As if we are born with that expectation.) I feel fooled, like the rug was pulled out, while recognizing that there was never any promise. Life is not just. We can work to make it so with all that which is in our control. And then there's all that we can't. There's a line somewhere.
As usual it is the expectation of something different unrealized that creates the negative emotions. But, how to expect any different? Can we really go through life not expecting to see each person again that we say good-bye to when parting? How do we avoid expecting that we will each live to a ripe, old age, etc? The best we can do may be to sort through these emotions when the unthinkable does happen.
Although it is not quite wrestling with God ala Jacob, it is grappling with tornado events that blow apart our fundamental beliefs and the resultant tattered emotions left in their wake.
The reality is that these natural events do and will happen. Sometimes rarely, sometimes barely, but always eventually. By getting dirty with them in our lives, the struggle itself offers an opportunity to grow. By sorting through our pain and loss we mature emotionally and possibly spiritually too. We do have the option available to stay "clean" – to avoid or ignore the foundational challenges and emotional toll. That may be the path of lesser resistance and work for us for a while. That avoidance is not transferable though – neither interpersonally nor in time. It does not put us in a better position to help a neighbor when a tornado hits their lives. Nor does it better equip us to handle the inevitable next disaster in ours. And don't we want to be in the best possible position to help a loved one during their time of need? Is not our emotional fitness, like our physical, maximized by the very process of tearing down and rebuilding the muscles with which we respond?
In those many instances when I cannot change the external environment, what is happening to me or how someone else is behaving – I sometimes remember that I can always change my own perspective on the situation. Often, that's all we do control.
Yet we have a self-preserving/correcting momentum towards the most stable point. We want life settled, somewhat predictable and complete with an answer key. On a day-to-day basis, that perspective does not recognize that death could come at any moment either for us or someone we love. It would require much more energy to live with that awareness in every now. So, we emotionally conserve – by denying.
I have been reminded lately of the strength that can come out of brokenness. It is broken bread that nourishes us. God can come to us most (pointedly) in our brokenness. It may be that our greatest opportunity comes at that very moment - when we most want to turn away. Let's wrestle.