I slid into a pew, removed my coat and tried to breathe normally. I closed my eyes, soaking in the quiet of the stone walls and the lingering aroma of spent incense. In some ways, I didn’t want to be there at all because, when it came right down to it, I was angry. I’m always angry when I try to figure out what happened to my father’s life.
The life of a person with a life-threatening or life-altering disease can be depressing and it can be terrifying. On good days, when our heads and hearts are in their right places, it can be also be majestic. Our lives can be frightfully ugly and they can be gloriously beautiful. But even when we seem to be in the midst of our lowest and most distressful times, we can choose to focus on the good and on God and his movement in our lives.
Over the course of my treatment, my chemotherapy drugs have caused what is known as “peripheral neuropathy.” In short, my hands and feet are numb. My size-ten feet tingle when I walk, which sounds a little like a line from a Broadway musical, but it’s far less entertaining.
The moment the elevator door opens on the seventh floor and I enter the treatment center, I feel as if I am in a different world from the one where I spend the rest of my days and nights. It’s different for a number of reasons: the place itself, my fellow travelers in treatment, and my own state of mind and spirit. Chemoworld, I call it.
This past month I celebrated a few milestones. It has been ten years since I was first diagnosed with a rare blood disease called Langerhan’s Cell Histiocytosis and embarked on a three-year journey of disease, treatment, recovery and remission, and seven years since I finished the manuscript for my book, “Embraced by God: Facing Chemotherapy with Faith.”
Somehow, it’s January 1 once again. We have made yet another trip around the sun. I’m not one for making public declarations of my resolutions (although I do need to step up my walking and watch my portions once again…) but today I return to a question that might lead to a good resolution for all of us to consider on this first day of a New Year: How do we begin each day?
My presence and openness to God, to the world and to those around me — and especially to those in need — defines me in a much greater way than the pride of my busy-ness. My silence before God labels me in a way far superior to the accolades for what I have accomplished.
Gratitude, it seems to me, is the starting point for our lives of prayer, creativity and living well among others. But gratitude is easy to say and harder to live by because it’s hard work. Saying “thank you” to God and to others around us is the simplest thing to do and, yet, we so often forget to do it. Or don’t make time to do it. Or don’t make it a part of our daily experience.
What kind of response the penitent thief was expecting we can only guess, but I can’t believe he thought for a moment he would hear this from Jesus: “Okay, I will,” Jesus says. “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Paradise — another world, another day, another chance.
What resonated was the thought that these few lines so simply and beautifully retold Jesus’ great commandment to us — that we are to love God with all of our hearts, minds and souls, and that we are to love those around us as much as we love ourselves.