A Little Further on the Way

I apologize for inflicting another sarcoma-related post on you but sometimes it is the easiest way of updating people.

Yesterday I had a good chat with my oncologist about my latest PET scan. It came as no surprise to learn that three of the metastases in my lungs have grown, one of them noticeably.

Of course, part of me was disappointed at the news. I’d love to have been told that my disease had stabilized, but I knew it hadn’t. When I say I’ll just have to grin and bear it, I’m not being brave. I’m simply trying to find a way of coping with something over which I have no control, don’t fully understand, and wish were not happening at all. But it is happening, and there is no escape. I have always loathed the kind of piety that can lapse into sentimentality or leave someone with guilt feelings because they cannot emulate the model it proposes. I won’t go gentle into that good night, I’m sure of that. I’ll go as I have lived, though I hope there won’t be too much raging on my part — and no going anywhere for a good while yet.

I would like this post to be an encouragement to those of you who are treading a similar path to mine. It may be cancer or a stroke or heart attack or some other illness that you are trying to deal with as best you can. You may have very little time left, or you may have more than you expected (I’ve lasted much longer than anyone thought I would). The pain and limitations of your illness may be wearing you down; you may be anxious about your family/community, or worried because you have no one in particular to help you at a time when you must rely on others. You may have lost hope and feel utterly depressed. Being told that such feelings are probably a side-effect of whatever treatment you are having (or not having) won’t lift the burden from your shoulders, especially not at two in the morning when you are just a sweaty, sleepless bundle of anxiety and fear. The only comfort I can offer is the one I cling to, at least when I can. We are part of the Communion of Saints. Even in our darkest, most difficult moments, we are not alone. 

I think that is why I believe that no matter how bumpy life becomes, our lives are never wasted, never meaningless. Somewhere in the midst of all the contradictions there is love, a love we might never otherwise have known but for our illness.

Love is the unfamiliar Name 
Behind the hands that wove 
The intolerable shirt of flame 
Which human power cannot remove.

There is something else we do well to remember. Those who love us, who deal with us when we are at our weakest and most demanding, who forgive us our grumbles and cantankerousness, not only show us God’s love and forgiveness. They are his love and forgiveness — incarnate, here and now. They are a foretaste of eternity. Let us give thanks for them and pray for them. Truly, theirs is the harder, lonelier, path to tread.

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Setting a Good Example

Time was when the idea of consciously trying to set a good example was seen as unbearably priggish, smacking of Victorian do-goodery and implicit hypocrisy. Quite apart from the fact that I think we are unjust to the Victorians, I’d argue that the notion of setting a good example is one we need to re-visit. In the West we are only too ready to step away from responsibility. Politicians exclaim, ‘I have done nothing wrong!’ when caught out being greedy or in some shady activity. Parents exclaim, ‘They are out of control!’ when seeking to excuse themselves for their offspring’s behaviour. Even bishops have been known to disclaim all knowledge of what their priests have been up to. It is refreshing when someone has the courage to say, ‘The buck stops here. I take responsibility.’ But  we need to go further. It is not just responsibility for what has been done that we need to accept, but responsibility for creating the conditions in which certain behaviours are seen as acceptable. In other words, how we set a good example is something we all need to consider.

A short examination of conscience can be extremely helpful. The standards we actually live by, as distinct from those we publicly espouse, will soon show us what sort of example we are setting to others. Honesty, kindness, courtesy, hard work and so on are not specifically religious qualities, inasmuch as they are shared by many who would not claim any religious affiliation, but they do tend to point to the strength of our religious commitment. The intersection of public and private morality can be very difficult, and it is not made any easier by the way in which legislation can seem hostile to the open expression of someone’s beliefs. Wearing a cross or offering to pray for someone is not acceptable in certain situations, and I think most of us can understand why even if we do not always agree. It is much trickier when reservations about the morality of certain forms of research or corporate policy are in question. I remember, years ago, a banker friend putting his job on the line because of his objection to an advertising campaign which encouraged household debt. I am sure you can think of many similar instances.

The fact that something is difficult, however, does not mean that we can avoid making a decision, or ignore the fact that our decision, whatever it may be, will have an effect on others. We have recently celebrated Holocaust Memorial Day, and I was reminded of all those non-Jews in Occupied Europe who chose to put the Star of David on their coats to show solidarity with their persecuted fellow-citizens. We shall never know who was the first to do that, but the example he/she set was surely a good one. May we, in our turn, be just as ready to set a good example in both the big and small things of life.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Pausing for Breath

It is something I have to do more often these days when confronted with a flight of stairs or a steep slope (I have sarcoidosis, which means my lungs don’t work as well as they should). At first, I was irate. Why would my lungs no longer obey me? Why should I have to huff and puff and come to an ignominious stop every now and then? I found a dozen different ways of pretending I was stopping to admire something or other (a bit unconvincing half-way up a flight of office stairs). Finally I decided to be honest and just admit that I needed to pause for breath. Now I let people rush past or stare at me wondering whether to offer help and don’t feel embarrassed. Pausing for breath has taught me to take nothing for granted; to wonder at the simple act of breathing; to find joy in the ability of others to run and jump and do all the things I can’t. In an odd kind of way, I think pausing for breath has helped me grow up a little. What has helped you?Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail