My friend Fonda, who is ridiculously wise and insightful, says that everyone has a difficult thing (or things).
This is truth. Rather: Truth (note the capital T).
Somewhere along the way, life, if you live even a little bit at all, will hand you a Difficult. Thing. Of some sort. Likely more than once. Sometimes it will be Very. Difficult.
Maybe you were born with your difficult thing: a chronic disease or a miserable family of origin or something that makes you differently abled.
Maybe you grew up around a lot of violence and are unable to trust or feel safe. Maybe you’ve lost someone so dear to you that it seems the sun can’t possibly still be rising every morning. Maybe you battle anxiety or depression or just struggle with staying mentally well more than most. Maybe you deal with ADD, or have a profound learning disability, or are on the autism spectrum. Maybe you are a long-term caregiver for a dearly loved one.
Maybe the dream of what you thought your life would be has been shattered, beyond fixing it seems, and the path to some sort of wholeness and joy feels so very hopeless and long. Broken dreams are some of the most difficult things–because in their breaking we lose, even if temporarily, our sense of self, often finding ourselves navigating landscapes we don’t even recognize without so much as the most rudimentary map to guide us.
Mine no more or less than yours. Because, as my friend Meghan says, life is not a “suck competition.” Sometimes it all just sucks. For all of us. In a thousand-and-one different ways.
Real, painful, life-shaping, mighty, awful, difficult things.
The havoc and grief and fear and isolation that COVID-19 has unleashed on our world and our communities is a Very. Difficult. Thing. For reasons medical and practical and logistical and otherwise. And, perhaps most of all, it is damaging our collective psyches in ways that I believe we are only just beginning to see. This drawing apart from one another, even if we must, even if it is the right thing to do, even if…even if…even if…is leaving an indelible and painful mark on the most inward places of our souls. And the healing will take more time than any of us will like.
On March 13th, the Friday before most of my beloved Kentucky shut down due to coronavirus precautions, I was visiting, for the first time, the office of the doctor who I now know as my oncologist. He ordered many, many tests that day, the last of which took place on Good Friday, nearly a month later–a bone marrow biopsy, which, let me just say, I do not recommend as a fun way to kick off your weekend. Maybe go for a root canal instead.
As it turns out, I have a relatively rare form of non-Hodgkins lymphona.
And y’all? This is a Very. Difficult. Thing. The Universe and I are still struggling to come to civil speaking terms about this. Because I have plans. Things to do. Experiences to share with those I love best. I have a daughter that I fully intend to see to adulthood, lymphoma be damned. I have Things. To. Do.
Cancer was not on the list.
There was a time in my life when this would have leveled me. When I was weak in every way a person can be–in body, in mind, and in spirit. When dysfunction of all sorts had me hemmed in, and I had nothing even close to the mighty village of loved ones who have rallied around and behind me these last few weeks.
This is not to say this diagnosis has not brought me to my knees. It is to say, I did not stay there. And even if I drop there again, I will not stay there, unless it is in fervent prayer to the God I believe is with us in all things, in all times, in all places, no matter what.
And so, I am grateful that if this cancer has to be, that it is now. And not then.
I am also grateful for a brilliant and experienced medical team, and a supportive employer, and excellent health insurance. (All of this is privilege, and I have promised to not take it for granted.)
I am grateful for a faith community that believes as, I do, that prayer matters. How or why or when, I do not even pretend to know, I just believe it does. I am humbled by the prayers rising on my behalf. They give me more strength than I could even begin to name.
And I am grateful for texts and phone calls and FaceTime dates and Zoom happy hours and every other way we have of staying connected during these COVID days. I am grateful for those who know that super heroes and ginkgo trees are talismans of hope and resilience for me, and so have populated my life with reminders of them in recent days.
But most of all, I am grateful for the redemptive power and unending mercy that I believe real relationships create in our lives. I crave the touch of those I love; long for the day when my backyard deck is full of my favorites once again; cannot wait to hold hands and share hugs.
This gratitude is saving grace.
A week or so ago, I came across the poem pictured up top of this blog–it is from The Cure at Troy, by Seamus Haney. And it seems just right for these days I am–we all are– living. Because we are in difficult things. All of us. And, I, for one, have had more than a few days of finding hope hard to come by on this side of the grave.
But y’all–even in our difficult things, even in these days when we’ve hurt each other and are scared and unsure–even now, we are people made to be in relationship with one another, because it is only in committing our lives to one another that we find anything resembling our best selves, and so make room for the sort of mercy that falls in great and graceful torrents into the most aching places of our souls such that hope can grow.
Farther shores to reach. And healing wells to be found.
Justice League has been playing in the background as I write tonight, and it is no coincidence (because I don’t believe in those) that as I finish this post, the last lines of the movie can be clearly heard. They include, “Darkness, the truest darkness, is not the absence of light. It is the conviction that the light will never return. But the light always returns….”
May it be so.